January 12, 2024

    In modern electronic devices, versatility and control have become paramount. The expectations for flexibility are higher than ever, including customizing the date format on an alarm clock, navigating complex menus on a bicycle helmet camera, or harnessing the power of AI to predict home occupancy patterns and intelligently manage heating, cooling and hot water systems in a smart home. Even in the industrial sector, the convergence of technology and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is pushing boundaries, empowering sensors and devices to autonomously make decisions about what to measure and when to report data.

    All this flexibility is achieved through software, which can be pre-configured and updated at will, often over-the-air, to reflect changed circumstances, implement performance updates or fix bugs. At the hardware level, controllers and CPUs have become standardized, allowing data-processing components to be shared across multiple products and defining the final functionality during the last programming step on the production line.

    Amidst all this progress, however, one aspect of electronic products often lags in flexibility: the internal power system. In the past, a 5V logic supply and a 12V source for electromechanical components sufficed for most applications. Today, even basic devices frequently require more than ten different power rails, catering to various components such as the CPU, static and dynamic memory, digital and analog interfaces, isolated gate drive supplies, and more. These voltage values can range from 0.6V-12V, with input power sources ranging from a single Li-ion battery cell (3V-4.2V) to fixed, system bus voltages of 3.3V, 5V, 12V, 24V or 48V, derived from an AC-DC power supply.

    A Power Tree is the Starting Point

    Product designers create a "power tree" that outlines their final power needs as a starting point. From there, they reverse-engineer a configuration of series and parallel DC/DC converters to fulfill these requirements. Subsequently, they adjust the power tree to enhance overall system efficiency, minimize power dissipation, maximize battery lifespan, reduce size, lower cost or optimize any other relevant parameter. Figure 1 serves as an illustrative example.

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