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IHS selects highlights from PCIM Europe 2015
IHS analysts attended PCIM 2015 in Nuremberg and reports that the show has again increased in size. It occupied three halls of the Nuremberg Messe with more than 500 companies exhibiting.

Richard Eden, senior analyst, power semiconductors, IHS Technology, notes that once again there were technology announcements by silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN) start-ups at the show, adding that some well-established manufacturers are now explaining their development strategies and introducing their own products.

In recent years, SiC and GaN semiconductor companies had to explain the benefits of their devices in practical applications, but the message appears to have got through and design engineers are now proactively asking them for products to help provide power conversion efficiency gains, says Eden. According to IHS, the SiC and GaN power semiconductor market is conservatively estimated to surpass $270 million in 2015.

The dominant silicon suppliers are reacting, several showing new devices at PCIM for the first time.

Fairchild Semiconductor introduced its fourth generation of discrete IGBTs which it claims can slash energy loss by 30%. Eden says that the company’s new approach should enable new ways to efficiently control large amounts of power.

Infineon Technologies launched an Intelligent Power Module (IPM): the MIPAQ Pro, integrating into one robust, reliable package IGBTs, gate drivers, the heatsink, sensors, digital control electronics and digital bus communication. It provides an integrated solution for new scalable and compact inverter designs for wind, solar, and industrial motor drive applications.

These two examples illustrate two trends, says Eden. First, the devices are aimed squarely at improving power efficiency; and second, the increasing integration of power transistors with sensing, control and communication functions in common module packaging.

The most important application for power semiconductors is the industrial sector. That always has been the case and will likely remain that way for many years, believes Eden, however, according to several discussions in Nuremberg, the fastest growing application would appear to be automotive electronics, due to the growing number of semiconductors used in new cars.

There is a need on the legislative front to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which is being realised by electric motors and pumps that replace hydraulics within power steering and other vehicle systems. Although slower than forecast previously, sales of hybrid and electric vehicles are creeping up.

In the future ADAS (advanced driver assistance systems) will progress from assisting driver safety, through semi-autonomous driving to fully autonomous driving. While premium car brands are early adopters, these comfort and safety features soon trickle down into mainstream mid-range cars, which increases shipment volumes.

The number of semiconductor business mergers and acquisitions has increased recently, and the appetite for mergers and takeovers within the semiconductor industry is expected to continue. For power semiconductors, the biggest story of 2014 was Infineon Technologies' purchase of International Rectifier (IR). The deal completed in January 2015, so the PCIM show was the first time in Europe that the combined power portfolio of Infineon and International Rectifier were presented as one company.

Although neither NXP or Freescale exhibited at PCIM, there was a lot of discussion surrounding the recent $40 billion merger. NXP already supplies discrete power semiconductors to the automotive sector, so combining this strength with Freescale's significant presence in automotive microcontrollers should increase the merged company's penetration in that market.

Until 2008, the power semiconductor market grew at roughly 8% each year. Since the financial crisis, long-term market growth projections for the next five years has slowed to around 5% (Figures from HIS). The key factors causing this are general global macroeconomic conditions, the weaker Chinese economy, concerns about the Euro-zone countries' prospects and the Euro-to-U.S. dollar exchange rate.

Eden concludes his PCIM report with the projection that power semiconductor companies can look forward to an environment of continued merger-and-acquisition activity, customers' demanding improved energy efficiency, and exciting and new technologies and products. However as long as the need exists to convert electric power into useful work with increasing efficiency, the power semiconductor market will continue to grow.



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