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Christoph Wolf RECOM Power, INC.

A conversation about RECOM’s expansive power portfolio and how some of their products have become industry standards.

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A look at how new flexible batteries can become the solution to our power supply problem.

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Electrical Engineer


LiCoO2 with 700˚C annealing


Protective Encapsulation

Mica Delamination

Transfer onto polymer substrate




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ight years ago, when the ubiquitous Motorola RAZR V3 was released, it came equipped with an OEM battery with a capacity of around 1250 milliampere-hours, which could last for several days. Today, the iPhone 5 comes with a battery capacity of around 1440 millampere-hours, (mAh) with which some users have difficulties sustaining their phones’ life for even a day. As our mobile device technologies increase with their performance and are upgraded with larger, brighter screens, battery life has not kept up and in fact has been largely stagnant over the last decade. Quad core processors, LTE and GPS radios, and more powerful graphics have increased the power consumption of smartphones so greatly that many users are now unable to get a full day’s worth of use on a single charge, keeping them tethered to a wallsocket and charging cord. Why haven’t mobile battery technologies been able to keep up? And






INTERVIEW RECOM Power, Inc. is an international, market-leading power conversion company started in Frankfurt, Germany. For over 37 years, RECOM has invested millions in developing new technologies, insuring product quality, and broadening the scope of their offerings. With offices in Germany, New York, and Singapore, RECOM prides itself on being available to its customers to provide the quality support that is integral to new product development. Christoph Wolf began working at RECOM at the Frankfurt offices. In 2006, he relocated to New York City where he currently serves as Senior Executive VP of the company. We spoke with Wolf about how RECOM developed one of the broadest power product portfolios on the market, some exciting new industry trends, and how some of their products have become industry standards.





“RECOM is really strong in dealing with a lot of the high-end applications that are not in consumer products. We are providing strong support to help the engineers find the right product for their application.”

Could you tell us about RECOM and the products they offer? RECOM is a German/Austrian company, so our focus is on German engineering. We have been in the market for over 37 years. We are a privately owned company with revenue of about $50 million. RECOM is really strong when it comes to low power DC/DC power modules, so anything from ¼ watts to 60 watts is really our bread and butter business. Over the years, we came out with low power AC/ DC modules and switching regulators, which are really quite popular. In the past few years, we’ve really established a presence in the LED lighting sector. We are also making constant current LED drivers with AC input and DC input. In a nutshell, we have about 25,000 part numbers so in this commodity sector, we are the market leader. On the higher power side, we are not only strong on the commodity side, but we are also specializing a lot more on high-end applications such as medical, railway, and energy efficiency, developing special products for these markets.

What are the typical markets that you serve? With the business originating in Germany, we have a really large industrial company base. Our biggest piece of the pie is in the industrial controls and automation sector along with test equipment. Historically, anything with a motor controller or anywhere where you need a converter to change voltages, is really standard for us. Lately, we have been seeing a lot of growth in the medical converters for reinforced DC to DC converters. With a long design cycle, it takes a year or two with the FDA approvals, but



now the results are really good. In terms of emerging markets, we are now getting a foothold with the smart grid, which is also in the beginning stages. LED lighting is also very interesting, but it’s a bit like the Wild West, I’d say. We’ll have to see what kind of standards will come about

What kinds of products do you offer that have significant energy savings? Energy efficiency is one of the biggest trends in the market today and we are working very hard to address it. A good example of this is the R78 switching regulator, which is a very important part. In the past, applications wasted energy when they used a linear regulator with a heatsink to step the voltage down. With our switching regulator, you don’t need any external components—you just drop it in and you can convert it down from 34 volts down to 3.3 volts with efficiency up to 96%. Engineers are now working on battery operated applications, where they are looking at finding ways to extend the lifetime of the batteries, and the R-78 switching regulator modules come in handy. When I’m talking with customers, I use this example: when you look at a TV from 10 years ago, when the TV was on standby it still consumed about 60% of the power and it had a big power supply. What we are now seeing is that a lot of people just want to have a low-power AC/DC module around 1, 2, or 3 watts and just keep their application in the standby mode. We have extremely small, low-power AC/DC modules with a very low no load consumption from 1 to 10 watts, which meet EnergyStar requirements. There is a huge demand for that.

INTERVIEW There are a couple of things. We are really playing in a niche market—we’re not in the consumer world. RECOM is really strong in dealing with a lot of the high-end applications that are not in consumer products. We are providing strong support to help the engineers find the right product for their application. Also, 25% of our parts are semi-custom, so there has always been the possibility with our 25,000 part numbers to tweak the standard product to really meet what the customers need. One of the key differentiators is our product development. We are investing heavily in building a whole new engineering and application development center in Austria in order to prepare for the next generation of new products. This will include a test lab for standard testing and with the capability to conduct additional tests for demanding customers. What’s also very important in our industry is also what we call “private label.” For example, there are a lot of companies that buy parts in China, put their name on them and re-sell it. However, that’s not really a good option for, let’s say, a medical customer—they really want to have the full support. It’s really important for certifications where we can provide additional test data and really provide extra value with our design engineering team to the customers. In terms of support, we have head offices in Frankfurt, Austria, New York and Singapore. We also have satellite offices and in most countries, we also have local sales representation or we are working with worldclass distribution companies.

What are some of the other industry trends you are seeing and what is RECOM doing to address them? One of the trends we are seeing, which is actually pretty good for us, is that companies are hiring new engineers. What we are also seeing is that a lot of these new engineers are not necessarily analog specialists like we used to deal with 10 or 15 years ago. At the moment we are seeing that a lot of the newer engineers are very good in digital power supply design. Very often, they just want to have a modular solution which is pretty much what we do—you plug it in, it’s UL approved and they don’t have to deal with designing a complete circuit discretely and getting it UL approved or tweaking the design for added efficiencies. That’s one trend in the industry. This is triggered by the time-to-market. A lot of our customers are design companies who have to deliver new designs or frequent product revisions. There’s not a lot of time to sit there, develop your own power supply and deal with the approval process.

“Engineers are now working on battery operated applications, where they are looking at finding ways to extend the lifetime of the batteries, and the R-78 switching regulator modules come in handy.”

» »

What is RECOM doing to differentiate from its competitors?





“25% of our parts are semi-custom, so there has always been the possibility with our 25,000 part numbers to tweak the standard product to really meet what the customers need.”

Could you go into detail about the process of coming up with customized solutions for your clients? First of all, we have to distinguish if we have to start from scratch, or if we can adjust something that we already have. Having a big portfolio, especially below 15 watts, we are really great at making a lot of things possible—changing output voltages, changing power, dealing with high isolation voltages, and optimizing the parts. This is what we are really strong at, even in lower quantities. On the other hand, there are sometimes certain requirements where people would like to have a new development. If the volume justifies it, we are definitely interested in doing it. The process is pretty simple. Our local application engineers and sales representatives are working with the customers and seeing if customization is an option, if they aren’t already designing a new part to the customer’s specifications.

in a module and selling it versus doing everything discretely. This became an industry standard. On the flipside, you cannot have a patent for it. We are basically taking what everyone can do discretely but we are putting it in a small footprint, optimizing it and making it available for a large number of applications. In the DC/DC converter sector, below 15 watts, we are pretty much the market leader. We know this because we are also getting reverse engineered a lot. As soon as we have a new product, we have about half a year to promote it really well before other companies and private labelers have it. A good example of this is the R-78 switching regulator. That is definitely a part that eventually became an industry standard in the past. People were interested in this R-78 because they had a heat problem or a space problem on the board. What’s also helping us is that the big players are obsoleting parts, so with this family, we have some parts that are now industry standards and we’ve created a demand. Another sector where we have created an industry standard is the reinforced segment of low power DC to DC converters. Anything below 10 watts, we now have reinforced converters up to 10 Kilovolts of isolation, which is something that wasn’t there before and is something that medical customers have been asking for.

What kind of volume is necessary in order to develop a custom part?

In what direction is the industry headed in the next couple of years?

We can do a tweak starting at a couple hundred pieces. If we have to do something from scratch and get it approved, then it requires a bit bigger volume. We also have to understand that customs are much easier in the DC world, but dealing with AC voltages, it can get a little trickier—not for our ability to make the custom, but more for the approval process.

At the moment RECOM is a $50 million company. In next 3 to 5 years, we want to be a $100 million company, which is what our CEO, Karsten Bier, believes is possible. For that, we definitely are entering new markets, diversifying from just the plain industrial side, which will continue to be strong in. The important question that faces engineers these days is “Make, or buy?” In some cases for engineers, it will be necessary that they design their own power supply. However, in a lot of other applications, they don’t have the resources to do that, so that is definitely an opportunity for us. With strong distribution partners and sales rep firms, we are taking advantage of this development. ■

Have any of RECOM’s innovations led to the creation of industry standards? First of all, when you look at our DC to DC converters in general, this technology is not that old—it’s maybe 25 or 30 years old. This also led to a whole new idea of putting everything





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High-Performance OIS Driver IC With the RAA305170GBM from Renesas, product developers can bring high performance on par with that of standalone digital cameras to the smartphones or tablet PC camera modules. This level of performance allows smartphones and PCs to meet general consumer demand for camera functionality that enables them to capture high-quality video and still photos without ever missing a good shot, while uploading these videos and still photos to the web immediately without any need for image processing...Read More

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ADC for BTS Feedback and Receiver ADS54T02 is a high linearity dual channel 12-bit, 750 MSPS analog-to-digital converter easing front end filter design for wide bandwidth receivers. The analog input buffer isolates the internal switching of the on-chip track-and-hold from disturbing the signal source as well as providing a high-impedance input. Two output modes are available for the output data. It can be decimated by two or the data can be the output in burst mode. The burst mode output is designed specifically for DPD feedback applications where high resolution output data is available...Read More

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High Performance Instrumentation Amplifier The ISL28617 device is a high performance, differential input, differential output instrumentation amplifier designed for precision analog to digital applications. It can operate over a supply range of 8V (±4V) to 40V (±20V) and features a differential input voltage range up to ±34V. The output stage has rail-to-rail output drive capability optimized for differential ADC driver applications. Its versatility and small package makes it suitable for a variety of general purpose applications. Additional features are not found in other instrumentation amplifiers enable high levels of DC precision and excellent AC performance...Read More

Versatile Off-Line PWM Switch TOP100-4 is a 3-pin switch device for an off-line switched mode control system. These include high voltage N-channel power MOSFET with controlled turn-on gate driver, voltage mode PWM controller with integrated 100 kHz oscillator, high voltage startup bias circuit, bandgap derived reference, bias shunt regulator/error amplifier for loop compensation and fault protection circuitry. Compared to discrete MOSFET and controller or self oscillating (RCC) switching converter solutions, a TOPSwitch integrated circuit can reduce total cost, component count, size, weight and at the same time increase efficiency and system reliability...Read More



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Light-to-Voltage SensorEyeC The MLX75305 Light-to-Voltage SensorEyeC is an easy-to-use light sensor that converts light intensity into an output voltage. The sensor is designed for high-volume applications like ambient light detection, LCD backlight dimming and LED light control. The SensorEyeC series are perfect replacements for discrete photodiodes, phototransistors and light dependent resistors. SensorEyeC devices are integrated light sensors with photodiode, transimpedance amplifier and output transistor in one chip to simplify application design and minimize use of external components...Read More

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Low Power Capacitive Touch Sensor The AK4160 is a low operating voltage and low power consumption 16-channel capacitive touch sensor. It has a maximum of 8 channels out of the 16-channel that can be configured to LED drive or GPIO. The AK4160 has a channel independent automatic correct function of environmental drifts for each sense input. It reduces false detection by continuous calibration of the internal reference value in the situation when the input capacitance of the touch switch is changed by external factors such as hydrothermal conditions...Read More

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with Outside-The-Ba Thinking

M. Todd Wyant Tyler Wyant Manufacturing Technology Manager Computer Engineering Student & at Texas Instruments IEEE Student Branch Chair


ach year the semiconductor industry routes a significant volume of waste materials to recycling and waste sites due to our packaging and shipping bill of materials. Current methods, adopted years ago, have remained relatively unchanged in the industry. As corporations have become increasingly committed to social responsibility, it has led to the development of new packing solutions offering waste reduction from pack and ship methods on wafer chip scale package products and improvement in shipping quality. In this article, a proposed packing solution is outlined below. The solution requires the adoption of an innovative material set combination, but does not require changes to current industry specifications or equipment capability to implement for a worldwide customer base.











hen it comes to waste impact, avoidance and reduction are the top two impact items, reuse and recycling follow with less impact on waste. Avoidance and reduction are the two biggest items with the greatest influence on overall waste reduction. Packing is the final step in getting a good product to the customer. Various packing solutions and methods are required by the end user and remains critical to many business opportunities. The main delivery methods utilized today are direct wafer form, tubes, waffle packs, gel packs, and tape and reel. Each delivery format has benefits and unique qualities that are important to the end user. Wafer form delivery is the easiest and least preferred delivery format. Wafers are typically delivered in carrier format, or coin stacked, and the end user is responsible for final packaging and assembly processes. They must receive the wafer maps and they are responsible for picking only the good components and the assembly operations. To add to the complication, this delivery method provides the customer insight into business and product yields.

Gel-Paks and Waffle packs are another useful form of die scale delivery. Both of these formats utilize a tray type format that hold individual die into pockets or standard pitch format that allow the end user to remove components and place into their assemblies. This delivery format is typically lower volume and the handling, in addition to the tray cost, required increases the cost to deliver the parts. This format is not widely used in high volume operations, except for unique customers or use requirements. The format does provide ease of manual visual inspection and typically is used for face up direct placement applications, but is not limited as bumped devices can also be delivered in this way as well with increased inspection capabilities after placement operations. Tubes are a key delivery format for packaged parts and many end users require packaged parts to be delivered in this format today. There have been some instances where large scale chip formats have been delivered in tubes, but this has been extremely limited in scope. The handling and use of tubes is readily available and it is a very cost effective means of delivery that utilizes the least amount of waste. The down side to wafer level chip scale package (WCSP) or bare die delivery in this format is that part size limits its use. WCSP and bare die are typically too small to utilize this delivery method. The primary volume driver for the majority of WCSP and bare die delivery is tape and reel, so it is in the tape and reel area where the biggest impact on our waste stream and savings opportunities occurs. Shipment of carrier tape to customers has been long established and has seen minimal changes in recent years to improve impact from a waste supply chain management approach.

Figure 1: The embossed carrier tape is constructed from polystyrene (PS) or polycarbonate (PC) film.



Today, all tape and reel parts shipped are put into shipping materials that are discarded upon receipt from customers. Because industry packing methods have not changed with the smaller form factor packages, there is additional wasted space in pack formats. The final reel solutions are generally still placed in a metalized bag and vacu-

TECH ARTICLE um sealed with desiccant to protect from moisture, but moisture is no longer a concern as the products are qualified in moisture sensitive level one formats (MSL1). Reels, carrier tape, and cover tape have long been antistatic coated to protect parts and components from electrostatic discharge (ESD). While many semiconductor manufacturing companies use materials that make their products as recyclable as possible, it is likely some of this packing material can end up in a landfill instead of being recycled at customer sites as there is generally little control over their use. Thus it is more important than ever to eliminate any items that are not necessary for shipment and do not add value to the components in the shipping process.

Figure 2: The embossed carrier tape is constructed from polystyrene (PS) or polycarbonate (PC) film.

The current industry packing bill of materials (BOM) standard is outlined and defined from various EIA standards and is also controlled by various MIL specs outlined below. This standard calls out industry requirements for 8mm through 200mm embossed carrier tape, punched carrier tape and components. The key area referenced here calls out all the critical dimensions for the output reels utilized for shipping products. EIA 481-D references the output reel critical to require set inner diameter and drive sprocket requirements that are critical to customer usages. The outer reel dimension is only referenced as a maximum of 609mm in diameter, and only the most commonly used reels are referenced, but no specific limitations exist for reel outer diameter size.

• EIA-541 “Packaging Material Standards for ESD Sensitive Items” • EIA-583 “Packaging Material Standards for Moisture Sensitive Items” •EIA-625 “Requirements for Handling Electrostatic Discharge Sensitive (ESD) Devices” •MIL-B-131 “Type I – Barrier Materials, Water vapor proof, Grease proof, Flexible, Heat sealable” •MIL-B-81705 “Type I – Barrier Materials Flexible, Electrostatic-free, Heat sealable” • MIL-D-3464 “Type II – Desiccant, Activated, Bagged, Packaging Use and Static Dehumidification” Utilizing two millemeter pitch embossed carrier tape can reduce the quantity of carrier tape material as well as reel and box size needed by half and up to a 75 percent reduction in the case of one millimeter pitch.



PULSE One and two millimeter pitch is becoming an industry standard and used commonly for products. This reduction in pitch should have no impact to the using community. The pitch between pockets has been driven by the industry norms of 4mm increments. This requirement is now only driven by the distance between adjacent pockets and 2mm pitch pockets are readily formed and available for use in solutions with die sizes less than 1.4mm in the pocket width direction. Figure 3 details the difference between two pocket sizes at different pitches in 8mm embossed carrier tape. With a component size reduction much of this area has become dead space and a waste adder to our processing and carrier tape usage. Switching to 2mm, and to 1mm in the future, pitch carrier tape drives out waste and cuts the length of carrier tape needed by 50 to 75 percent. This can be enabled on all components less than the 1.4mm threshold on a size and is applicable to both 8mm, and 12mm width embossed carrier applications. Another major component of the proposed green BOM solution is the output reels used to reel and ship our embossed carrier tape components. The output reels winding area needed to store our 250pc and 3000pc packing solutions can be significantly reduced as less winding area is needed in the tape and reel application. This enables usage of a 5.5â&#x20AC;? output reel diameter and also a new custom pizza box. This equates to decreased shipping cost and also less fuel usage and global impact due to weight reductions in the final shipped product. Lastly, with antistatic reels, carrier and cover tape, the die are well protected from ESD and with WCSP products that are MSL1, the bag is not needed for die shipment applications. This also reduces the required bag and reel label that can contribute to label mistakes, as well as enabling product distribution centers (PDC) to input the customer label directly onto the reel and thus eliminating part mixing after the bag is removed at our end customer sites. This reduction in carrier tape length, reel size, and box size can enable a reduction of packing materials by 40 percent and thus reduces waste impact to the supply chain by lessening chances



for label mistakes. The end advantages of this new BOM over existing long standing solutions are as follows: 1. Reduces mislabeling. With only a reel label and outer box label, we can directly check the reel label and it eliminates the risk of mixed reels inside the bag versus the outer label. 2. M  ore than 50 percent reduction in waste generated at the end of processing. 3. The new outer box design reduced storage area by 30 percent. 4. Does not change standard reel label or outer box label strategy. 5. Does not need to cut reel out of the bag or pull out of the bag, reducing the changes of generating a charge on the reel that must be dissipated and ours chance for ESD damage. 6. Reduces labels and the paper materials used to print them at the factory, as well as ink cartridges for the printer unit. 7. In some cases, customers request special ship labels placed on the reel at PDC locations, which requires opening the bag, removing the reel, placing the label, and resealing at the PDC facility. This new process will eliminate the need to remove and reseal labels, and reduces ESD risk on the components from charge generation due to removal. Qualification requirements require verification and a standard pack BOM test to meet industry requirements. The key areas with influence are shipping environment, ESD and dust particle. Innovation is a way to remain committed to corporate responsibility. With a few simple design changes, we can enable elimination of a high waste item from the value stream. Implementing a solution that would enable waste reduction and quality improvement, while maintaining compliance to industry specifications for delivery of parts in embossed carrier tape, can best take place during project scoping and evaluation. â&#x2013; 

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Get the Datasheet and Order Samples

Radiation Hardened Ultra Low Noise, Precision Voltage Reference ISL71090SEH12


The ISL71090SEH12 is an ultra low noise, high DC accuracy precision voltage reference with a wide input voltage range from 4V to 30V. The ISL71090SEH12 uses the Intersil Advanced Bipolar technology to achieve sub 2µVP-P noise at 0.1Hz with an accuracy over temperature and radiation of 0.15%.

•• Reference output voltage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.25V ±0.05% •• Accuracy over temperature and radiation . . . . . . . . . .±0.15% •• Output voltage noise . . . . . . . . . . 1µVP-P Typ (0.1Hz to 10Hz) •• Supply current . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 930µA (Typ) •• Tempco (box method) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10ppm/°C Max

The ISL71090SEH12 offers a 1.25V output voltage with 10ppm/°C temperature coefficient and also provides excellent line and load regulation. The device is offered in an 8 Ld Flatpack package.

•• Output current capability . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20mA

The ISL71090SEH12 is ideal for high-end instrumentation, data acquisition and applications requiring high DC precision where low noise performance is critical.

•• Operating temperature range. . . . . . . . . . . .-55°C to +125°C

Applications •• RH voltage regulators precision outputs

•• Line regulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .8ppm/V •• Load regulation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35ppm/mA •• Radiation environment - High dose rate (50-300rad(Si)/s) . . . . . . . . . . . 100krad(Si) - Low dose rate (0.01rad(Si)/s) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100krad(Si)* - SET/SEL/SEB . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86MeV•cm2/mg *Product capability established by initial characterization. The ““EH”” version is acceptance tested on a wafer by wafer basis to 50krad(Si) at low dose rate

•• Precision voltage sources for data acquisition system for space applications •• Strain and pressure gauge for space applications

•• Electrically screened to SMD 5962-13211

Related Literature •• AN1847, ““ISL71090SEHXX Evaluation Board User’’s Guide”” •• AN1863, ““SEE Testing of the ISL71090SEH12”” •• AN1864, ““Radiation Report of the ISL71090SEH12””



VIN 0.1µF

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August 8, 2013 FN8452.1



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FEATURED ARTICLE This past week, 10 lucky engineers from all over the country participated in the annual Speed2Design promotion sponsored by Littelfuse, Inc., a circuit protection company based in Chicago, Illinois. The sweepstakes offers these 10 engineers the opportunity to tour facilities that most never get the chance to see. After last year’s IndyCar tour, Speed2Design switched gears to offer a once-in-a-lifetime look at the NASA Ames Research Center located in the heart of Silicon Valley. The tour promised to offer a glimpse of the cutting edge technologies that NASA develops to advance space exploration and to make life better here on Earth. It’s safe to say that the tour did just that, and more. Alex Maddalena—Editor at EEWeb

NASA Ames Research Center





he tour, headed by David Morse, Chief of Technology Partnerships at the Ames Research Center, started out with a brief presentation that offered additional background of the Ames facility. The center was founded in 1939 in San Jose, California because of the city’s low population density at the time (if you can imagine that), inexpensive hydroelectric power, and access to worldclass universities. This location evolved over the years to become one of the largest concentrations of tech companies in the world, an invaluable asset to the NASA Ames division. The accessibility of these tech companies has led to a number of NASArelated “spin-off” technologies—everything from low cost MRI systems to anti-icing formulas to prevent train delays. The innovative drive that permeates throughout the Silicon Valley start-ups certainly makes its way into the NASA Ames campus as evidenced in their truly groundbreaking technologies.

This is not the first time Littelfuse and NASA have worked together. In the 1960s, Littelfuse was chosen as one of the few mission-critical suppliers for the Gemini manned space flight program.



PhoneSat: An Open-Source Satellite The abundance of DIY-type projects was notable (see: NASA’s SpaceShop), as NASA engineers are constantly striving to innovate complex technologies at an affordable price. The most notable of these projects was the PhoneSat—a nanosatellite comprised of consumer-grade smartphones. Led by Jim Cockrell with his team of young engineers (average age: 23), the PhoneSat project came to fruition by simply comparing the specs of a smartphone with the seemingly antiquated technology of current orbiting satellites. Cockrell and his team strive to reduce the cost of satellites without sacrificing performance. To do this, the team built a 4-inch cube enclosure and added an unmodified, consumer-grade smartphone for high performance computing capabilities. When you think about it, a smartphone has all of the requirements a satellite needs—an operating system, GPS, cameras, and processors—and has the small form factor needed to pull this project off. Given the use of consumer-grade components, the team was able to keep the cost of the PhoneSat between $3,500 and $7,000, which is an astronomic price reduction from traditional satellites. The first iteration of the PhoneSat was launched to function for a short period of time while taking pictures of Earth with its embedded camera. After the success of the first launch, the team started developing the next versions, which incorporate solar panels for longer missions and, get this, an antenna made from a tape measure. Since the current PhoneSats are run completely off of the open source Android platform, they are easily accessible from Earth.

FEATURED ARTICLE A PhoneSat in front of two tested prototypes

The Hyperwall’s visualization of the Earth’s ocean currents



PULSE An image of the Universe at a quarter billion pixels

Images of newly discovered stars and their orbiting planets



TECH ARTICLE Hyperwall Visualization System Perhaps the most impressive stop on the tour was the Hyperwall—a group of 128, quarter-billion-pixel, high definition monitors that offer visualizations of extremely complex data. What could power such a grandiose display? That’s where the Pleiades comes in. With 126,720 cores, 45-petabytes of archive storage and 915 terabytes of online disk cache, the Pleiades is without a doubt one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. The capabilities of this computing network are in line with NASA’s astonishing technological capabilities, with processing capabilities of 1.24 petaflops (2.88 at its theoretical peak). This allows the Pleiades to make 2.3 quadrillion (1015) computations in one second. Having trouble comprehending that? Well, if a person were to manually do a computation per second every day, all day, no sleep, no lunch breaks, it would take them 11 million years to do what this computer can do in one second. The data sets on screen ranged from a fullscale map of the world’s ocean current speeds to an extremely high-resolution image of the universe and its galaxies. The NASA engineers rely on the Pleiades’ computing capabilities to sort through these massive data sets in order to make new discoveries for agency missions. While the Pleiades far surpasses current supercomputing standards, NASA engineers are constantly adding computing and graphics capabilities, allowing it to reach at least 3.2 petaflops by the end of 2013.

The Importance of Circuit Protection Although these technologies may seem disparate, they are unified in their dependence upon circuit protection. This became clear after speaking with Gordon Hunter, President and CEO of Littelfuse, about the sights we saw

THE PLEIADES’ COMPUTING POWER • 126,720 cores (and growing) • 45 Petabytes of archive storage • 915 Terabytes of online disk cache • Processing capabilities of 1.24 PetaFLOPs • Capable of 2.3 quadrillion computations in one second

on the tour. Hunter reiterated that whether it is in the large computer stacks connected to the Hyperwall or in the mobile phone charging ports of the PhoneSats, circuit protection products offer protection to the equipment and the users—a concern that is paramount to NASA engineers, given their unique applications in outer space. Devices like fuses and varistors offer protection against overloads for virtually any application with a power source. Protection diodes are used to prevent any ESD issues that could compromise the functionality of say, the life support systems on board a spacecraft. What’s amazing is that behind these complex and often massive technologies are tiny devices that ensure their reliability and operations. The omnipresence of circuit protection products spans an endless amount of applications and industries—from IndyCar to NASA—which leaves us wondering where Speed2Design will take us next. Are you disappointed that you missed out on this opportunity? Well, there’s still time to enter into the second part of Speed2Design 2013! This time, the promotion takes place at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. All it takes is filling out a simple form from the link below and you will be entered into the selection pool. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! ■




Mica Substrate



Protective Encapsulation

Polymer Wrapping




ight years ago, when the ubiquitous Mo around 1250 milliampere-hours, which 1440 millampere-hours, (mAh) with wh device technologies increase with their perfo in fact has been largely stagnant over the las increased the power consumption of smartph charge, keeping them tethered to a wallsocke will there ever be a solution to our power sup


er y Technologies ERY TECHNOLOGIES Alex Toombs Electrical Engineer

LiCoO2 with 700˚C annealing


Mica Delamination

Transfer onto polymer substrate

otorola RAZR V3 was released, it came equipped with an OEM battery with a capacity of h could last for several days. Today, the iPhone 5 comes with a battery capacity of around hich some users have difficulties sustaining their phones’ life for even a day. As our mobile ormance and are upgraded with larger, brighter screens, battery life has not kept up and st decade. Quad core processors, LTE and GPS radios, and more powerful graphics have hones so greatly that many users are now unable to get a full day’s worth of use on a single et and charging cord. Why haven’t mobile battery technologies been able to keep up? And pply problem? Visit:




As flexible displays become more practical and devices begin to come out, flexible batteries will be necessary to provide power to wearable computing devices.

Problems with Energy Storage Storing energy well has always been an issue, and it is one that limits alternative energy technologies, alternative transportation systems, and mobile technologies. Solar cells and wind power can generate electricity, but the electricity they generate has proven difficult to store for use in cars or to power homes at night and in calm weather. Even batteries used by the leading electric vehicles today, like the Tesla Model S, can only last a few hours on a given charge. This is a problem for anyone on a long drive, such as a cross country road trip, and Tesla is trying to solve the problem with an abundance of free solar-powered charging stations. Compared with the high energy and power densities of gasoline per volume, batteries and ultracapacitors cannot keep up, particularly in the field of refueling. A tank of gasoline can take a few minutes to refuel, and then supply energy to a car for several hundred miles. The highest end Tesla Model S can drive around 275 miles before needing a recharge, though the charge of lower end batteries lasts closer to 160 miles. Batteries take hours to charge in many cases, and the expensive costs of each cell make it difficult to own multiple batteries to swap in and out at will. And even the highest quality batteries need to be replaced within a decade.

How Batteries are Changing

1: iPhone 5 Lithium Polymer Battery Âą Figure (courtesy of Wikimedia user MyXyloto)



Recently, phone and laptop manufacturers, including HTC and Apple, have decided to fuse their productsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; backs and undersides on, removing the ability of users to replace

TECH ARTICLE batteries. Owners have typically been able to remove and replace the batteries of older phones and laptops when the capacity wears out. Now, Apple’s Macbook Pro, iPhone, and iPad lines, in addition to many other manufacturers’, use every inch of space afforded to them. Every inch between components is filled with lithium-ion polymer batteries that can be molded to fit. Instead of using a common packing for a battery like the similarly-shaped batteries that Dell laptops use between multiple generations, batteries in these devices are custom-molded, increasing battery life with the downside of making them difficult or impossible to remove at home. This molding is possible because lithium polymer batteries can be shaped any way the manufacturer wishes, unlike lithium ion batteries. An example of a lithium polymer battery used in Apple’s iPhone 5 is shown in Figure 1. Lithium polymer cells can be molded because unlike traditional lead acid, NiMH, or lithium ion batteries, li-po cells come in “pouches” instead of hard-shelled cases. Compared to lithium ion batteries, also popular in consumer electronics, li-po batteries deliver much higher power densities (up to a factor of 20) while also containing lower energy densities. They are, at the moment, more expensive to manufacture than traditional lithium-ion batteries, and thus are most often found in high end consumer electronics like the iPhone and Macbook Pro. With further advances in the technology and manufacturing of the batteries, the costs should come down over time and we will likely see them used in electric vehicle battery packs as well.

New Batteries for New Technologies From research into the ability to create even more flexible lithium-polymer batteries have come new advances in the field of flexible batteries. As flexible displays become more practical and devices begin to come out, flexible batteries will be necessary to provide power to wearable computing devices. Many companies have managed to make flexible cells work using technology similar to second generation solar cells, wherein organic polymers between gas layers produce a voltage that can be utilized. The downside, like with second gen solar, is that these devices suffer from low durability and must often be replaced— a killer for flexible consumer

2 Thin Film Li-Ion Battery Diagram ± Figure (courtesy of Wikimedia user Chem511grpThinLiBat)

With further advances in the technology and manufacturing of the batteries, the costs should come down over time and we will likely see them used in electric vehicle battery packs as well.






With desktop and laptop computer markets shrinking in favor of smartphones and tablets, device manufacturers are looking for new ways to appeal to a saturated market. electronics. A February joint publication from Northwestern and the University of Illinois in the journal Nature Communications detailed their breakthrough in creative flexible, durable battery packs from tiny lithium-ion cells. These devices can be stretched to over 300% of their original size before being shrunk back down to size without any loss of charge capacity. These devices work by using thin film rechargeable lithium ion batteries, which can be on the scale of micrometers or even nanometers, and consist of a cathode, anode, electrolyte, and current collector layered upon a substrate. An example diagram of one of these batteries can be found in Figure 2. These films have been used in thin batteries for a while now. The breakthrough that the Northwestern and Illinois group published about was combining small thin-film cells printed directly onto a flexible polymer with S-shaped wires connecting each cell together. As the polymer is deformed, the wires adhering to it bend or compress in order to maintain connectivity between each cell, providing a durable battery that could be used for a number of applications. Devices like the Google Glass project and other wearable display prototypes could benefit greatly from this durable and size-reducing material.

The Future with Flexible Batteries While the research published two months ago is preliminary, Nature is one of the most discerning collections of scientific publications, meaning that the article was well-reviewed before being published. Hopefully, this



means that there is enough practicality behind the technology that we will be able to see its impacts several years down the road. With desktop and laptop computer markets shrinking in favor of smartphones and tablets, device manufacturers are looking for new ways to appeal to a saturated market. Mobile wearable computing will need more research breakthroughs before it can become a legitimate field— but these types of breakthroughs often begin with the existence of a suitable power source.

About the Author Alex Toombs is a recent graduate of the electrical engineering program at the University of Notre Dame, concentrating in semiconductor devices and nanotechnology. Alex’s academic, professional and research experiences have exposed me to a wide variety of fields; from financial analysis to semiconductor device design; from quantum mechanics to Android application development; and from low-cost biology tool design to audio technology. Following his graduation in May 2013, he joined the cloud startup Apcera as a Software Engineer. ■

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