Have you ever heard of Moore’s Law? According to Intel founder Gordon Moore, electronic devices double in speed and capability about every two years.
Think about all the times you’ve relied on your electronic devices today—from the time you hit the snooze button on your phone, pressing the switch on your coffee maker, to turning the key (or pushing the button) in your ignition, or swiping your debit card at a local bakery. Our entire modern electronic life is currently owed to the silicon chips running those devices. It’s both strange and exciting to think that in another decade, most or all of these devices will have become obsolete.
And they’ll probably owe their downfall to wide bandgap semiconductor technology.
Wide bandgap semiconductors (WBGs) operate at higher temperatures, frequencies and voltages than silicon chips, and conserve more power in electricity conversion--up to 90 percent. That means that fewer chips are needed, which in turn makes electronic devices smaller, faster and lighter. That’s not only important for small consumer goods like laptops, tablets, and smartphones, but also for applications like drive trains, power inverters and industrial motors. What’s more, WBGs are increasingly cost-competitive with silicon-based power electronics.
It’s imperative that manufacturers begin to understand and adopt these WBG technologies now, and stay at the forefront of producing what consumers will want in the near future. That may sound like a tall order, especially for smaller manufacturers, but there is already some framework in place to help them stay ahead of the innovation curve.
In 2015, NC State was tapped to lead PowerAmerica, the $140 million Manufacturing USA® advanced manufacturing institute designed to unite academic, government and industry partners in an effort to revolutionize energy efficiency across a wide range of applications. The sole focus of PowerAmerica’s research and development efforts is WBG technologies.
Experts from the North Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NCMEP), TMAC (the Texas MEP Center) and GENEDGE (the Virginia MEP Center) are embedded at PowerAmerica to serve small and medium-sized manufacturers interested in developing and adopting this technology. They do this in two ways: 1) developing and testing service delivery mechanisms, and 2) testing business models for engaging small manufacturers on a large scale, with a focus on finding those that work for the Institutes, small manufacturers and MEP Centers alike.
Any power electronics manufacturer can engage with PowerAmerica—the only criteria is an interest in adopting WBG technologies. The first step for an interested manufacturer is to connect with NCMEP. The MEP Center works closely with the Institute, and can discuss WBG technology opportunities, technical assistance programs for manufacturers and programs for collaborating with small manufacturers.
Ten years ago, smartphones were brand new, and most of us thought our flip phones were pretty slick. The world changes quickly, like Moore said— be sure you’re changing with it.