When the first SiC diode was launched in 2001, the industry questioned the future of the SiC power business. Would it grow? Was it a real business?
Today, people don’t ask these questions any more – the SiC power business is a concrete reality, with a promising outlook. Yole Développement (Yole) estimates that the SiC power market, including diodes and transistors, was worth more than $200M in 2015.
The Yole report, ‘Power SiC 2016: Materials, Devices, Modules, and Applications’ forecasts that the market will grow beyond $550M in 2021, which represents a 19% compound annual growth rate over this period. Not surprisingly, the power factor correction (PFC) power supply market is still the leading application, consuming large volumes of diodes, but much more is happening.
SiC is gradually penetrating different industries for power conversion applications, including PFC power supply, chargers, photovoltaic inverters and trains. Customers are becoming more aware of the benefits that SiC can enable. Designers already know SiC’s advantages, but they also know the challenges they bring. Introducing a new product using SiC devices demands R&D investment, higher device cost, differences from familiar silicon devices, and a lack of field data. All of these factors present barriers to using SiC.
To accelerate SiC’s adoption, device makers must continue to educate end-users about the benefits at system level, and more importantly, support them in using these new products. Yole Développement is happy to see that device manufacturers have gradually learned from their experiences and are moving in the right direction. For example, facing questioning about reliability, SiC device suppliers are offering more reliability data, supported by internal and third-party testing. Understanding that the reliability standards for silicon do not completely suit SiC devices, different SiC power device makers have formed a consortium to establish new standards.
This education is bringing the market to an inflection point. Design wins have been increasing for more than six months. Evidence is accumulating that market growth will accelerate for two years, especially in the SiC MOSFET market, with SiC transistors making much more rapid gains than SiC diodes did.
The growth will reach beyond existing applications into brand new products. At the Power Conversion and Intelligent Motion (PCIM) conference in Nuremberg, Germany, in May 2016, Caly Technologies, a French start-up, demonstrated a surge protection device based on SiC current-limiting FET technology. The protection device’s performance has impressed many professionals. Yole is expecting other companies to follow. Another key point is that these new players are fabless, which means lower entry barriers to SiC commercialisation, which is very good for the industry.
So there are real applications for SiC, with more design wins, more reliable devices and new configurations. Will the wafer supply chain be able to support the resulting growth?
Despite the promising future, market players do seem worried about the SiC supply chain. There is an oversupply of 4-inch SiC wafers, however 6-inch SiC wafer supply is questionable over the next two years. The worry has been amplified after Infineon announced its acquisition of Cree’s wafer business, given that Infineon is also a SiC device supplier. Will Infineon keep supplying SiC wafers like Cree did? Will it make the best SiC wafers available? Or will it allocate supply between customers depending on whether they are competitors with Infineon in the device market (or depending on the amount of 6″ wafers available…)?
Right now, we do not know the answers to these questions. The coming months will be critical for the industry, and its ability to make the expected high growth sustainable.