In 2018, NASA’s Glenn Research Center forecasted that once it was “sufficiently developed,” SiC (silicon carbide) would take the electric vehicle and transportation industries by storm. SiC drastically improves power electronic devices in transportation systems, featuring higher operating temperatures, higher voltages, lower parasitic resistance, and smaller size than its silicon counterparts.
That day of sufficient SiC development NASA foresaw is a step closer, according to Microchip. The company recently announced a new unified system that puts SiC power devices into designers’ hands for widespread adoption in heavy-duty vehicles, auxiliary power units, charging, storage, inverters, and induction heating.
Power design block diagram. Image used courtesy of Microchip
The solution is two-pronged: Microchip is offering a digital-programmable gate driver “AgileSwitch” to address the challenges of operating SiC and IGBT power devices at high switching frequencies (200 kHz).
The second offering is a SiC power module, dubbed SP6LI, that may include a number of power modules based on Microchip’s SiC Schottky barrier diodes (SBDs). Using the company’s new generation of SiC die, the power modules come in 700 V, 1200 V, and 1700 V offerings. The kit also includes digital signal controllers (“dsPIC”) to provide flexible peripherals and cut power consumption.
A Simpler Approach to Procurement
One major advantage of bundling the gate driver and power module kit together is that designers won’t need to procure each device separately. Because Microchip’s gate drivers are already qualified for end-product production, engineers can skip the step of developing their own gate drivers.
AgileSwitch digital-programmable SiC and IGBT gate drivers. Image used courtesy of Microchip
The proven SP6LI SiC power module also helps developers sidestep the trouble of qualifying power modules for their designs. These two benefits can slash development schedules, sometimes by months, Microchip says.
Configure at a Click
The SiC power module and gate driver include Augmented Switching technology, which Microchip terms a “configure-at-a-click” method. This means that designers can use a Windows-based computer interface to review issues like voltage overshoot, electromagnetic interference (EMI), and switching losses. Designers can return to this interface throughout the design process, whether they’re evaluating dynamic issues early on or optimizing a close-to-final product—all without picking up a soldering iron.
Another tool in the kit called the Intelligent Configuration Tool is a booster for the Augmented Switching technology, regulating ringing, voltage overshoot, and EMI. This tool also enhances short circuit response and gate turn-on and turn-off.
Comparison of the new software-configurable gate drivers with analog gate drivers for various fault detections. Image used courtesy of Microchip
Microchip honed in on technical support with this release, calling it a “central point of contact” for engineers to double-check that the gate driver, power package, and die are tailored specifically for each other.
Speeding Development From Benchtop to Production
Together, these two solutions are all about simplifying and speeding a design’s time to market. The VP of Microchip’s discrete product group Leon Gross explained that this announcement is a direct response to developers’ feedback about the challenges of creating total systems solutions for Microchip’s analog and MCU products.
For instance, the software-configurable gate driver trumps analog gate drivers when it comes to preventing faults (or false faults, for that matter) in SiC and IGBT power devices, like ringing, EMI, overshoot, and undershoot.
“Now as SiC power modules increasingly enable the technologies transforming transportation and other industries, this complete product kit allows developers to focus on innovation and significantly reduce time to market,” Gross explains.
Microchip calls the new solution the industry’s only low-inductance SiC power module and programmable gate driver kit of its kind. Image used courtesy of Microchip
Microchip feels that with these tools in hand, designers may be more equipped to electrify transportation systems quickly—from trains, trams, and trolleys to buses, automobiles, and EV chargers—with SiC as a centerpiece.