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NIST Models of Electronic Components Benefit U.S. Industry and Society

Mathematical models that simulate the performance of a specific type of electronic device are providing important benefits to society, including decreased production costs, higher quality and lower prices for consumer goods and increased energy efficiency. The benefits are detailed in a report recently completed by the Research Triangle Institute (Research Triangle Park, N.C.) for the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, which developed the models.

The models—for insulated-gate bipolar transistors (known as IGBTs)—were introduced in 1990. Since that time, the payoff to U.S. industry as a whole—and society in general—from using the IGBT models has been estimated at about 23 to 1, meaning $23 of benefits have been generated for every $1 invested by NIST to develop the models. These benefits are based on the reduced cost of designing new products using simulation modeling.

IGBTs are electronic switches that enable sophisticated electronic circuits to use small amounts of electricity to control devices that require much larger amounts of electricity. Applications include:

  • automotive ignition systems;
  • "adjustable speed drives," which enable electric motors to run more efficiently and provide more accurate control of precision equipment such as robotic machinery and X-ray machines; 
  • compressors for refrigeration and air conditioning; 
  • controls for household appliances; 
  • equipment used to ensure the smooth flow of power during severe storms and the efficient regulation of power in factories; 
  • and industrial technologies such as welding and electroplating.

The models were developed by Allen Hefner, an electrical engineer in the Semiconductor Electronics Division of NIST's Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory. They are used in software to simulate how IGBTs perform, enabling manufacturers to design and perfect "virtual prototypes" before investing in the parts, material and labor needed to build the actual prototypes. Hefner, who has led the NIST research since the inception of IGBTs (in the early 1980s), also has worked with software companies to use the model in commercial simulators and has provided ongoing support.

Economic and social benefits are detailed in a report released this month. The report, Benefit Analysis for IGBT Power Device Simulation Modeling (Planning Report 99-3) can be downloaded at, or requested by e-mail tolaura.gooding [at] (tolaura[dot]gooding[at]nist[dot]gov). Copies also are available through the NIST Inquiries Office by calling (301) 975-NIST, faxing a request to (301) 926-1630, or sending an e-mail message to inquiries [at] (inquiries[at]nist[dot]gov).

As a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration, NIST promotes economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards through four partnerships: the Measurement and Standards Laboratories, the Advanced Technology Program, the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Baldrige National Quality Program.

Released April 12, 1999, Updated November 27, 2017