Improved reliability in power GaN will further drive its market growth – An interview with Transphorm

Recently, the power GaN market has been changing! It is shifting from being driven by high-end applications to mainstream consumer applications. Indeed, thanks to its high efficiency, small form factor and high switching speed, GaN found a sweet spot in phone fast chargers. Several OEMs have adopted GaN for their inbox chargers and aftermarket chargers as a differentiator from the competition. As reported in Compound Semiconductor Quarterly Market Monitor: Q3-2020 from Yole Développement (Yole), the overall GaN market is expected to increase from US$24 million in 2019 to more than US$660 million in 2020.    

Since the end of 2019, following the adoption of GaN HEMT for Oppo’s inbox SuperVOOC 2.0 65W fast charger in Reno Ace, the GaN market has been thriving. Indeed, many OEMs such as Oppo, Vivo, Realme, and Meizu opted for GaN-based inbox fast chargers for their flagships released in early 2020. Also, other leading players such, as Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and more, have chosen GaN for accessory chargers. The consumer market will pave the way for other applications, such as automotive. Thus, it is expected that in the mid and long term GaN power will find volume in automotive applications, where several OEMs are interested in GaN HEMT devices and are currently testing and qualifying the technology. GaN is of great interest in 48/12V DC-DC converters in mild-hybrid electric vehicles and bi-directional on-board charging applications in electric-vehicles. Yole expects that GaN power will enter automotive OEMs’ supply chains and enjoy increasing volumes starting from 2023-2024.

Transphorm, a vertically integrated GaN manufacturer, offering 650V AEC-Q101 and 650V and 900V JEDEC qualified devices with high reliability, is testing and developing GaN devices for automotive suppliers, and has recently entered the consumer market.

Yole recently met with Philip Zuk, VP of Worldwide Technical Marketing and North America Sales, to discuss Transphorm’s technology status and the company’s roadmap for the coming years. This interview was conducted by Ahmed Ben Slimane and Ezgi Dogmus, both PhD., Compound Semiconductors & Emerging Materials Technology & Market Analyst at Yole.  

Ahmed Ben Slimane (ABS): Could you please briefly introduce Transphorm?

Philip Zuk (PZ): Transphorm is a pioneer in and global supplier of high reliability, high performance GaN power conversion semiconductors.  We are a pure-play high voltage GaN manufacturer and are vertically integrated owning all stages of our technologies – design, EPI, and process stages. This is key to Transphorm’s ability to produce high reliability, high performing FETs as we can innovate at every stage of development. As a result of that innovation, we designed and manufactured the first JEDEC- and AEC-Q101 qualified 650 V GaN devices and the first JEDEC-qualified 900 V GaN devices.

Notably, Transphorm is the only GaN company to publicly report field reliability data. We are also the first pure-play high voltage GaN manufacturer to go public (now trading on the OTCQB as TGAN). Trading commenced on August 3, 2020 (see press release here).

ABS: What is the specificity of your products compared to other GaN companies? What is the developmental status of your GaN power products?

PZ: Transphorm excels at reliability with performance. Our GaN platform currently offers a FIT rate of < 1.0 and a field failure rate of < 3.3 dppm. This is based on more than 9 billion hours of field reliability data. 

We offer the only GaN 650 V AEC-Q101 qualified devices at both 150°C and 175°C. We also offer the only GaN 900 V JEDEC-qualified technology and recently released a second 900 V GaN device—the TP90H050WS.

Our two chip normally off GaN solution provides the most robust gate available today. Our FETs are uniquely offered in the easy-to-design and heatsink 3-leaded TO-220 and TO-247 packages. These packages are well known and well used, and ultimately minimize costs while increasing reliability for high power designs.

Transphorm recently released its Gen IV GaN platform that offers still higher performance along with the high reliability our customers have come to expect from us. Given Gen IV’s patented design and technological advancements, this and future generation platforms are called SuperGaN™ technology. We also offer the broadest portfolio in the market capable of supporting 30 W all the way to greater than 4 kW. Lastly, we are also developing 1200 V solutions.

Transphorm is currently the only pure-play high voltage GaN manufacturer to go public (OTCQB: TGAN) – Courtesy of Transphorm, 2020

ABS: Transphorm has the only AEC101 qualified 650V-rated GaN products. What is the current adoption of these products by OEMs and what would be the time to market for GaN in EV/HEV market?

PZ: We have seen a good adoption of our AEC-Q101 650V product and, in fact, many automotive suppliers worldwide are testing and developing circuits based on it.  We estimate that the earliest time-to-market would be late 2023 or 2024.

ABS: Transphorm has released 900V rated GaN devices. Which applicative markets do you target with these devices?

PZ: The market for these devices would be 3 phase power supply applications in industrial markets.

ABS: Transphorm entered the consumer market with a fast charger product. How do you see the growth of this applicative segment? Can you please describe Transphorm’s roadmap in this market?

PZ: The power adapter market for greater than 30W is growing quickly, which includes the fast charger market, is a huge opportunity for GaN. Our GaN technology is ideally positioned to support this trend. We are currently working with adapter ODMs and suppliers. In fact, earlier in 2020, we released our ROMOSS product, and there are more to come.

ABS: What are the key challenges that you face today when you introduce GaN products to your clients?

PZ: There are several challenges depending on the customer’s GaN knowledge and experience.

We sometimes witness customers being intimidated by GaN. There is a fear of the unknown…the technology’s quality, reliability, robustness. Concern over the risk of failure. Related, customers may also lack experience with digital firmware programming, something that is incorrectly viewed as a necessity for totem-pole PFC designs.

Then there is the selection process. Learning and deciding between the various device configurations: E-mode, Switched D-mode, Two-chip normally off, Hybrid or monolithic driver plus e-mode, Hybrid driver plus two-chip normally off. It can be overwhelming to properly vet all these options not to mention time-consuming.

The desire for a true second source comes up often. As does cost. And, lastly, we sometimes see a lack of end customer pull through even when GaN power systems are designed and ready for the market.


Transphorm’s Microchip collaboration on the TDTTP4000W066C evaluation board with pre-programmed firmware helps engineers design GaN power solutions more easily – Courtesy of Transphorm, 2020

ABS: How do you directly address these challenges?

PZ: Well, we focus heavily on developing our technology and design tools to meet customer needs as well as capabilities. We also educate often and engage in partnerships that are beneficial to them.

For example, let’s take the digital firmware expertise…or lack thereof. To address this, we’ve released two evaluation boards providing engineers design options based on their desired end results and comfort levels.

Option 1: We collaborate with Microchip on our TDTTP4000W066C-KIT. This is a 4kW bridgeless totem-pole PFC board with a Microchip digital signal controller and pre-programmed firmware. That firmware is managed through Microchip’s popular MPLAB X IDE. As a major plus, Microchip’s global support team is available to help engineers customize the firmware settings.

Option 2: For customers wanting to avoid firmware all together though still gain the benefits of our GaN, we released the TDTTP4000W065AN-KIT—a 4 kW bridgeless totem-pole PFC board with an analog controller. It can deliver higher power outputs as system maintenance power is lower given there is no digital signal controller to power.   

Both boards can be scaled to lower or higher levels depending on the designers needs.

We are addressing the cost concerns in two ways. First, by educating customers on the total system cost benefits enabled by our GaN. All too often, they get caught in the part-to-part cost comparison between GaN and Silicon for example. It is important to realize that our GaN gives engineers the ability to remove peripheral components and supplemental equipment such as cooling fans. The ROI of a GaN solution outweighs a part-to-part cost benefit as it drives down the whole system cost considerably.

We also address cost concerns by evolving our GaN platform. Our Gen IV SuperGaN™ technology has design, manufacturing and device assembly efficiencies that allow us to drive down cost per part to be more in line with what customers are used to with Silicon transistors.

We’ve solved the second source issue through our partnership with Nexperia. We eliminate the reliability and performance concerns through our two-chip normally off cascode and packaging choices.

To that point, a more reliable solution than the 2-chip normally -off Cascode does not exist. An e-mode gate’s sensitivity to damage has always been a concern for production and long-term reliability. I have seen cases where this exact issue has caused customers to reject the entire GaN power solution industry, which hurts adoption for everyone.

In short, we understand our customers’ concerns and have intentionally developed our tech, tools, and company strategies to alleviate them.

Patented innovations behind Transphorm’s SuperGaN™ Gen IV platform are driving down device costs while increasing performance – Courtesy of Transphorm, 2020

Ezgi Dogmus (ED): Transphorm is identified as one of the leading IP players in the GaN Power patent landscape, well ahead of other GaN pure-players like EPC, GaN Systems, Navitas Semiconductor, Exagan or VisIC… Could you please tell us more about Transphorm’s patent portfolio and patent strategy?

PZ: Transphorm has the strongest IP in the market with more than 1000 patents currently valued more than $225M, putting us well ahead of other players.

Our IP encompasses critical patents across the full value chain, touching on materials, device design fabrication, circuit, packaging, and applications uses of our GaN products. These patents are evidence of our leadership position in high voltage GaN and give strong assurance to our customers that they should not have to deal with any IP issues when securing products from Transphorm in high volume.

ED: According to Knowmade’s investigation, some of Transphorm’s patents were granted to Nexperia as security in April 2018.

PZ: Nexperia pre-funded certain future deliverables by Transphorm. Certain patents were granted to Nexperia as security for this funding. Once we deliver the products, the security lapses.

ED: Could you comment on this partnership?

PZ: In 2018, we entered into a five-year cooperation agreement with Nexperia, a stand-alone power semiconductor business spun out from NXP, to secure funding for us. This also gave us access to a second source of supply for our GaN products or equivalent products, which certain customers may require to be available in the market for broader adoption of our products. At the same time, it gave us a stronger long-term outreach for the automotive market than was possible with our own resources.

ED: Transphorm was recently awarded a commission by US Navy to develop GaN epitaxy for RF applications. Yole sees a great market opportunity for RF GaN in military applications with deployment of emerging AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Arrays) radar systems.

What is the product roadmap of Transphorm in the next five years in this domain?

PZ: This is purely an Epi play…a starting material offering for us. Our objective is to commercialize nitrogen polar (N-polar) GaN, which is a breakthrough technology beyond the incumbent Ga-polar GaN. N-polar GaN holds significant promise for the future of GaN-based electronics, particularly in today’s RF electronics and future power conversion systems.
The technology that was developed through ONR, DARPA and UCSB is exclusively licensed to Transphorm.

ED: In the RF GaN market, GaN products are being significantly adopted in new 5G based Wireless infrastructure.

What is your vision for this market?

PZ: We can support this market with EPI, but our core focus is still on the power electronics side of the market, for example power supplies for telecommunications equipment and fast charging USB Type C PD/PPS for mobile phones. As stated in a previous question, we support a wide range of power levels in all markets with our JEDEC and AEC- Q101 GaN FETs

ED: Does Transphorm target this market?

PZ: Yes, in filling critical technological voids for DoD systems. We plan to commercialize the EPI for 5G and beyond.

ABS: In March 2020 Transphorm completed a reverse merger with Peninsula Acquisition Corporation. What are the main changes in the business and operations?

PZ: Transphorm continues to drive its GaN technology into its focus markets. Outside of additional regulations, being a publicly trading company (OTCQB: TGAN) gives us increased visibility and affords us access to capital markets. Beyond that, we continue to innovate with the same focus on reliability and performance as we have always done.

ABS: What is the status of the joint venture agreement between Fujitsu Semiconductor Limited and Transphorm related to AFSW?

PZ: We are currently in a joint venture with AFSW that includes an IP and manufacturing partnership.

ED: Do you want to add a few more words for i-Micronews.com readers?

PZ: Transphorm offers the highest reliability and most robust technology in the market and now having the backing of the United States government validates our technology and expertise in not only the power electronics market, but also in the fast-growing RF space.

Interviewee

Philip Zuk is Vice President of Worldwide Technical Marketing & NA Sales, Transphorm. Philip leads Transphorm’s global marketing and North American sales strategies driving adoption of high voltage GaN power transistors. He previously worked for Vishay (Siliconix), heading up its high voltage superjunction technology division. He also held positions with Fairchild Semiconductor, Medallion Instrumentation Systems, and Microsemi PPG where he oversaw high voltage MOSFET, FRED diodes, IGBTs, and SiC marketing efforts.

Philip’s expertise spans RFID, power supply designed systems and applications, high power semiconductor devices and project management. He holds a M.B.A. (Hons) from I.H. Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba; a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, University of Manitoba; and an Electronic Engineering Technology Associate Degree, Red River College. He also holds two U.S. patents, a trade secret, and has authored many technical and application papers.

Interviewers

Ezgi Dogmus, PhD. is Team Lead Analyst in Compound Semiconductor & Emerging Substrates activity within the Power & Wireless Division at Yole Développement (Yole).
She is managing the expansion of the technical expertise and the market know-how of the company.
In addition, Ezgi actively assists and supports the development of dedicated collection of market & technology reports, monitor as well as custom consulting projects.
Prior to Yole, Ezgi worked as a process development engineer for GaN-based RF and power solutions at IEMN (Lille, France).
Ezgi has authored or co-authored more than twelve papers.
After graduating from University of Augsburg (Germany) and Grenoble Institute of Technology (France), Ezgi received her PhD. in Microelectronics at IEMN (France).

Ahmed Ben Slimane, PhD. is a Technology & Market Analyst, specialized in Compound Semiconductors and Emerging Substrates at Yole Développement (Yole).
As part of the Power & Wireless team, Ahmed is contributing to the development of dedicated collection of compound semiconductors market & technology reports and monitor. Previously, he worked as an epitaxy (MBE/MOCVD) & fabrication process engineer for GaAs-based photovoltaic applications at TOTAL and IPVF (Paris-Saclay, France). Ahmed also completed his PhD in Material Engineering from KAUST (Saudi Arabia), where his mission was focused on GaN-based microstructures for flexible solid state lighting.
During his career, Ahmed Ben Slimane proposed lot of presentations towards an international audience. He authored/co-authored more than 20 publications in the semiconductor field and submitted a patent on the III-V hetero-structure for PV industry.
Ahmed obtained his Master Degree in Electronics Engineering from INPG (Grenoble, FR).

Related reports & monitor

Compound Semiconductor Quarterly Market Monitor

While EV/HEV and consumer fast charger applications boost the power SiC and GaN markets, 5G smartphone and telecom infrastructure markets will drive the GaAs and GaN RF businesses.

Power GaN 2019: Epitaxy, Devices, Applications & Technology Trends

First design-win for GaN HEMTs in the high-volume smartphone fast charging market.



Source: http://www.transphorm.com

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