Photo by Alexandre Debiève on Unsplash

A global symposium at FIU showcased power supply devices, which convert electricity from power sources into the proper voltage, current and frequency for electronic devices.

All electronics rely on power supply, whether they are medical implants, smartphones, laptops, data centers or planes. Yet while the latest innovations in cars and phones grab headlines, improvements in the small devices that power them often fly under the radar.

Power supply devices convert electricity from a source such as a battery and supply the correct voltage, current and frequency needed for an electronic device to work. It is too bad that these devices don’t make more news, says Markondeyaraj “Raj” Pulugurtha, an Associate Professor at FIU’s College of Engineering and Computing. Because if a person understands the latest developments in power supply devices, then they can get a stronger idea of how electronics are made to meet market needs.

“The way that power supply devices are integrated into electronics is completely changing,” Pulugurtha says. “In order to compute using artificial intelligence, devices are becoming more and more efficient in how they use power.”

In February, FIU hosted the Fourth International Symposium on 3D Power Electronics Integration and Manufacturing, where approximately 100 industry experts discussed the latest research on power supply devices. Sponsors included Amkor, KEMET, Indium, FIU Biomedical Engineering and Wolfspeed. FIU faculty Osama Mohammad, Arif Sarwat, Arvind Agarwal, John Volakis, Peggy Wang, Pulugurtha and their students made 11 presentations in the 3-day conference with 13 sessions.

Pulugurtha, who helped organize the symposium, discusses the latest advancements in the industry from his perspective for FIU News.

How are advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) affecting the power supply device industry?

Pulugurtha: You need incredibly powerful computing for AI, so the devices supplying power need to be highly efficient. We are seeing AI and other advanced applications cause the old way of thinking in the power supply device industry to completely change.

In most electronics historically, the components of a power supply device have been spread out and connected by wires. We are learning that these long wires drag down power efficiency. The new way of thinking in the industry is to integrate all aspects of the power supply device in one place: right onto a computer chip or, even better, practically speaking, right underneath a computer chip.

Power supply devices are benefiting from AI, too. There are a lot of constraints with these devices, whether it is size, efficiency or electromagnetic interference. So, you use machine learning to come up with solutions to improve the device. Power supply and AI, therefore, have a mutual give-and-take relationship.

What is the relationship between power supply devices and electric cars?

Pulugurtha: In the automotive world, you cannot design a power supply device to stand alone. You have to consider how the whole car works. You need to incorporate power supply, conversion, power management and cooling, all into a tiny box.

When it comes to electric cars, you might think that engineers design power supply devices focused mostly on electrical performance. But that is not necessarily the case. Since everything in these devices is so compact, engineers must think about thermomechanics as well. They need to consider how materials and their interfaces operate at various temperatures. After all, electric cars are sold worldwide and operate in a wide variety of temperatures.

On top of that, the automotive industry is very stringent when it comes to testing their products. Some automotive parts don’t go to market even if they have a rate of failure of one part per billion. So, designing power supply devices for these cars is very complex, and we saw a lot of presentations on how to best do it.

How are innovations in materials affecting power supply devices?

Pulugurtha: After some time, electrical innovations in power supply devices are limited. In fact, it is innovations in materials that are enabling much of the progress in the industry today.

Nanomaterials, which are only a few billionths of a meter wide, are becoming very important in these devices. Take nanocopper. Copper is an old material, but processing nanocopper into the power supply device is a new opportunity. Similarly, you will need to bring magnetic nanomaterials into a device to achieve higher power density and efficiency.  Same with getting rid of the heat in electronic systems. You will need nanomaterials such as graphene composites with nanocopper.

Nanomaterials also help with device-to-system assembly. Most of the time, you can’t make an electronic system all in one place. You have to bring one component from Taiwan, one from China, one from Japan and then you have to assemble them all. To bond them with guaranteed long-term performance, you need nanomaterials.