Power ICs: NPIs Drive Tighter Relationships with Distributors

Power IC manufacturers are tightening their distributor relationships to ensure product is readily available

By Gina Roos

Image of Infineon CoolMOS C7 Product Family
Infineon expanded its high-voltage portfolio with the CoolMOS C7 product family with a new 650-V Superjunction MOSFET technology.
Power semiconductor manufacturers, along with many other electronics component suppliers, try to offset some of the inevitable price erosion for commodity parts by continually introducing new products and technologies to capitalize on higher average selling prices (ASPs). They also face new business challenges as market segments such as mobile devices exert more influence on the market, resulting in the need for new technologies and products at a faster pace.

Changing end market demands have driven some power semiconductor manufacturers to change their product mix. Fairchild Semiconductor, for example, used to heavily focus on computing, but that has changed as that market has become "much more commoditized," says Eric Hertz, vice president/general manager of Low Voltage & Standard Products Group, for the San Jose, Calif.-based company.

In 2012, ASPs fell in the computer and office sector because of lower demand for computing equipment, adds Victoria Fodale, senior semiconductor market analyst for industry researcher IHS. "This led to inventory build ups and price reductions."

As a result, Fairchild is focusing its new product development in the areas of data communications, telecommunications and mobile devices, including wearable technology and ultra-portable products.

For Fairchild, this means product development has shifted into two general segments: mobile applications that are looking for more efficiency as well as smaller size, and the higher power area around data centers and servers that are looking for more integrated products as well as higher power trench technologies.

Similarly, the big markets for Infineon include data communications, server power supplies and mobile computing, along with motor control. The company is also hopeful that solid-state lighting will have a faster than normal growth market.

One of the ongoing challenges is that key market drivers, including the tablet market and the companies behind them, seem to exert more influence quicker and faster, moving the markets more dynamically, says Ryan Scott, marketing manager, Infineon Technologies AG, Livonia, Mich. "This means you have to work on products that are specific for certain applications to be successful as opposed to just beefing up your standardized component portfolio with all sizes of products."

Infineon is betting on higher demand for high-performance devices like the recently introduced C7 series of CoolMOS MOSFETs as more customers revamp their product lines to be more energy-efficient. If you can get higher efficiency out of a device in a data center that means less heat which lowers the cooling bill, says Scott.

"The ultimate cost is the energy consumed,” he says.

The C7 introduces Infineon's 650-V Superjunction MOSFET technology. The product family touts best-in-class Rds(on) for all standard packages and efficiency improvements over the full load range due to its low switching losses. The fast switching performance enables customers to operate at switching frequencies greater than 100 kHz while meeting Titanium levels of efficiency in Server PFC stages.

Over the past year, Infineon has introduced a host of new products, including its cost-competitive 600-V CoolMOS P6 MOSFET family, fast switching IGBTs, silicon carbide (SiC) diodes and new packaging innovations like the TO leadless package for high-current applications and 4-pin MOSFETs. During the upcoming year, Infineon expects to launch a variety of medium-voltage parts from 80 V up to 250 V.

In comparison, Fairchild Semiconductor sees more activity around integrated products that combine the driver + MOSFET in multichip modules. A lot of the adoption is happening in the server space where these integrated solutions enable a lot higher efficiency, says Hertz. Buyers can expect new integrated products at the beginning of the year that include current sensing.

One of Fairchild's integrated product lines is the Smart Power Stage (SPS) family. The FDMF5822DC, for example, is an integrated MOSFET + driver power stage solution for high-current, high-frequency, synchronous buck, DC-DC applications. The FDMF5822DC integrates a driver IC with a bootstrap Schottky diode, two power MOSFETs and a thermal monitor into a thermally enhanced 5-mm x 5-mm package.

Image of Fairchild FDMF5822DC
The Fairchild FDMF5822DC integrates a driver IC with a bootstrap Schottky diode, two power
MOSFETs, and a thermal monitor into a thermally enhanced 5 mm x 5-mm package.

Despite the move to integrated products, Fairchild continues to support its discrete devices, including diodes, zeners, rectifiers, transistors and MOSFETs. One example is the FDZ family of small, surface-mount P-channel and N-channel products that are said to be leading the way for battery management in mobile devices. The latest devices include the FDZ661PZ and FDZ663P P-channel, 1.5-V specified PowerTrench MOSFETs housed in a 0.8 mm x 0.8-mm WL-CSP with an ultra-low-profile height of less than 0.4 mm when mounted to the printed circuit board (PCB).

Image of Fairchild's FDZ P-Channel and N-Channel MOSFETs
Fairchild's FDZ P-Channel and N-Channel MOSFETs address board space,
efficiency, and thermal issues in mobile device designs

However, bringing new products to market is not enough to meet buyer demands. Suppliers have to be ready to support the business with product availability, reference boards, demo boards, app notes or anything else the buyers need. In these cases, power semiconductor manufacturers are leveraging the services offered by their distributor partners more and more to help with their new product introductions (NPIs). Ultimately, this means buyers have faster access to products and related data.

Partnering with distributors on NPIs "offers an air of legitimacy to a product introduction," says Scott. "When you partner with a catalog distributor, they have the product in stock and they are ready to go."

As a result, Infineon is spending a lot more time and energy on developing their relationships with catalog channel partners.

"It's an area where we need to grow and increase our partnerships, and work with the tools we're offered by working more closely with them," says Scott.

Infineon's internal program, called "mass market approach," is all about how the company can work and interface better with catalog distributors, and bring its own tools up to speed. It's all about how "we ensure that everything we're producing and doing is getting where it needs to be."

Part of the engagement with catalog distributors is that they have to keep product in stock, says Scott.

"In terms of the overall market, which includes broader channels and mainline distributors, it's a two-way street in terms of the balance of inventories. Inventory is one of those floating liabilities some times,” Scott says.

"What we really need to do and continue to work with our partners on,” adds Scott, “is to make sure we have the right inventory for the right customers as those customers go through a ramp or through some predefined build cycle. Distributors have done a good job of keeping product available for those types of customers. Inventory is pretty healthy and is meeting the key needs of the market."

Similarly, Fairchild Semiconductor is building closer relationships with its distributor partners as it looks to add more content across an entire board and make it easier for customers to buy more products.

"We are working closer with our distributors on total BOM solutions as well as further integration combining several product/functions into a single package for those customers that value performance and board space," says Hertz.

See related article: Power IC Tags to Fall 4% in 2013

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