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APEC Insight: GaN is Here and Now

April 4, 2019

Throughout the recently concluded APEC, the buzz and excitement around wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors and, specifically, GaN could not be missed! The sheer number of sessions dedicated to GaN across all programs was impressive. Plus, it was evident that the questions being asked no longer centered on if GaN power devices were successfully commercialized but which applications are leading the way; how many suppliers are successfully achieving high quality and reliability (Q+R); how many end user solutions are in the market; and what will be the next GaN wave in 2019/2020!

Trends observed by me at the show follow:

Jumping on the “GaNd”-wagon
I counted 15+ companies targeting GaN power solutions and 10+ with exhibition booths. They provided offerings ranging from sub 100 Volts to more than 650 Volts and 900 Volts—with the leaders among these exhibitors showing impressive data on user acceptance and Q+R. Emerging providers, whether they were larger Silicon power semiconductor players who don’t want to miss the boat or startups hoping to capitalize on what may be unique angles, are all in the mix now.

This reminds me of an analogous situation in GaN LEDs that happened in the mid to late 90s—when the market acceptance was validated beyond doubt, a host of small and big entities entered the fray. Many did well, but it was truly the ones with control of the technology, products, manufacturing, and strong IP that dominated the market for more than two decades to follow.

Behind the Fanfare: Quality and Reliability
At the end of the day, it’s clear that behind all of the show-and-tells, customers care about one thing more than anything else in a new technology—a very solid Q+R backed by a stable manufacturing supply. It was reassuring to see a number of GaN players talking about significant improvements in reliability during the industry session “Current Reliability & Product Qualification Topics for SiC & GaN Wide Bandgap Devices.”

Transphorm’s own VP of Quality and Reliability, Ron Barr, presented on our behalf. He discussed the testing methodologies and results behind our recently released AEC-Q101 qualified Gen III GaN transistor. Notably, our Gen III platform is automotive-qualified at 175°C, marking another first for high voltage GaN. Additionally, for the first time, multi-billion field operating hours (gained from end user systems in the field) were reported with low, single-digit FIT rates.

Q+R at Transphorm’s Core
Our team’s emphasis on quality and reliability comes right from our core. We focus on:

  • Passing qualification standards
  • Testing for extended reliability; proving extrinsic, intrinsic and field reliability rates (to include FIT)
  • Accelerating our testing to aggressively stress devices
  • Intrinsic life-time, eventual failure modes and activation energies for various stress factors
  • Demonstrating switching reliability in various applications and ensuring safe operation within the mission profiles.

While it is critical to understand and ensure safety within specific mission profiles for specific applications, the approach we’ve taken entails qualifying our parts for all intended uses in broad categories of standard (commercial/industrial) and automotive systems versus simply claiming reliability for a narrow set of applications. Then, as stated in our Q+R approach above, additionally verify for particular mission profiles where applicable.

High Voltage Range Expansion
600V/650V is here, along with 900V. And, 1200V is well within reach. Stay tuned! If there are any doubts whether GaN can address higher voltages, commercially released parts from Transphorm on Digi-Key should bury them. Essentially, GaN addresses the vast majority of the power market—from sub-100V(well-addressed with products from companies like EPC), 600/650V (well-addressed by many players, led by Transphorm), 900V (Transphorm released its early offering in this range) and 1200V (inevitable in the future).

Staying Lateral
Interestingly, in a panel on WBGs (GaN and SiC), a question was asked, “When will we see vertical GaN?” Admittedly, I have been somewhat skeptical on vertical GaN’s ability to make a near term impact. Yet, the answers from the panel’s company leaders were more striking. To quote a few: “Never.” “Wrong business idea.” “SiC performs better than vertical GaN.” “GaN substrates are in the maturity curve where SiC substrates were 10-15 years ago.” “Lateral GaN outperforms vertical GaN.”

Being an entrepreneur at heart, I never like to say a new technology or the next startup idea will not make an impact. But, for now, it is apparently safe to assume that GaN electrons are just happy cruising laterally!

All in all, I’d say it was a GaNtastic APEC. And, 2019 indeed promises to be another year where we continue to see the adoption in applications ranging from servers to adapters, gaming to renewable energy, and the beginning run of GaN in automotive design-ins to include converters, chargers, and inverters. Anticipating this year to be our most exciting yet!

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