Industrial environments demand a lot from control systems. Devices such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs) must operate continuously with various components and as little maintenance and downtime as possible. However, a PLC is only as good as the input /output capabilities of the digital channels connected to the industrial ecosystem. Harsh, noisy environments and various unknown factors can all contribute to design challenges that affect digital channel reliability, resulting in possible circuit damage, downtime, and system failure. In the dual webinar sessions, Protecting 24 V Digital Outputs from the Unknown and Factories are Dirty – Protecting Industrial Digital Inputs, senior product manager Asa Kirby and applications engineers Travis Lenz and Kevin Huang describe the design challenges specific to industrial digital channels and how to mitigate them using Silicon Labs' Si834x and Si838x digital isolator devices.
Industrial ecosystems present a multitude of conditions that can result in damage to digital input and output channels. The most common challenges include:
Input/output-specific challenges include managing overload conditions and driving inductive loads for outputs and device compatibility and assembly/installation protection for inputs. Industrial systems must be able to handle all these varied design challenges while operating in harsh environments.?
Silicon Labs’ Digital Isolator Solutions
Silicon Labs' digital isolators provide optimal solutions to the unique challenges of industrial environments. Our Si834x isolated smart switches are ideal for driving resistive and inductive loads, including solenoids, relays, and lamps commonly found in industrial control systems. They are fully compliant with IEC61131-2, so they interoperate well with other channels. Each switch can detect an open circuit condition and is protected against over-current, over-voltage from demagnetization (inductive kick or flyback voltage), and over-temperature conditions. An innovative multi-voltage smart clamp can manage an unlimited amount of demagnetization energy (EAS). Si834x switches are available in Parallel or SPI input types and sourcing or sinking output types. With substantial power savings and?a compact 9x9 DFN package, these switches reduce board space and design headache!
Our Si838x isolated multi-channel input isolators are high-density, highly flexible devices that are ideal replacements for traditional optocouplers. They offer eight channels of 24 V digital field interface in a single compact QSOP package with integrated safety rated isolation. With a few external components, this structure provides compliance to IEC 61131-2 switch types 1, 2, or 3. The input interface is built on our ground-breaking CMOS-based LED emulator technology, which means the devices can handle sourcing or sinking configurations without a power supply on the field side. By utilizing our proprietary silicon isolation technology, these devices support up to 2.5 kV RMS withstand voltage, enabling high-speed capability, high noise immunity of 25 kV/μs, reduced variation with temperature and age, and better part-to-part matching. One Si838x isolator can replace eight traditional optocouplers, making them ideal solutions for space-constrained industrial facilities.
Watch these webinars to learn more about how our digital isolators provide optimal solutions to the unique challenges and harsh conditions of industrial environments: Protecting 24 V Digital Outputs and Factories are Dirty.?To learn more about our Si834x and Si838x devices, contact your Silicon Labs sales representative.
Silicon Labs recently received the highest level of certification available (see press release) through the well-known Platform Security Architecture, or PSA. This Level 3 certification, which has been designed to provide laboratory assessment of IoT chips with substantial security capabilities, represents a significant milestone for chip vendors targeting connected devices. We’re actually the first silicon provider to achieve this but what does it mean and why should any device manufacturer care?
What is Platform Security Architecture?
Before Arm developed PSA Certified and shared it with the world, it was essentially left to each silicon vendor to develop its own security systems. Of course, this resulted in varying degrees of robustness and confusing terminology in describing the different solutions. Arm responded by spending several years talking to security experts in the semiconductor world and coming up with a universal architecture that took all of those good ideas and put them into a single security architecture specification they named the “Platform Security Architecture” with the mission of providing what they called a “Hardware Root of Trust” in a secure microcontroller.
Some tenants of this “Hardware Root of Trust” philosophy are functions, including:
Enter PSA Certified
If Arm had stopped there, customers would still be taking the word of silicon vendors about its PSA implementation. Arm recognized this and created the PSA Certification process. They formed psacertified.org, joining other heavy hitters in the security certification industry including Brightsight, Riscure, UL Security Solutions, and TrustCB.
PSA Certified’s first priority was to write a simplified protection profile, starting with the PSA Architecture as a base requirement, then add assurance levels on top of that. Protection Profiles define “what” security a vendor is claiming in a particular component. The assurance level just means to what level or extent the security features in the Protection Profile are evaluated or tested.
So PSA Certified set about creating three separate documents. The first was what they called a Level 1 questionnaire which is a self-assessment of how a vendor meets the PSA “Root of Trust”. This questionnaire is submitted to TrustCB for scrutiny to prevent manipulation. The two other documents were Protection Profiles for two different levels of assurance against software and physical attacks.
By far the most common attacks are software attacks, which can be either local (the device is in your hands), or remote (you are connecting to the device either wired or wirelessly via some communication medium). The PSA Level 2 Protection Profile specifically addresses scalable software attacks and details security functions necessary in the silicon to prevent those types of attacks. PSA Level 2 is not simply a questionnaire, but also requires independent third-party labs to spend a specified amount of time and various methods trying to break the prescribed Level 2 security functions.
PSA Level 3 adds hardware attacks (again either local or remote), which have historically required more time, ?more experience, a much more expensive equipment to execute. So, if local hardware attacks aren’t as common as software attacks, why would Silicon Labs, or any other vendor, go through the trouble of getting this high level of certification? The answer is because there are tools reaching the market that effectively remove two of these barriers by bringing down the experience required and the cost of equipment for a physical attack. For example, NewAE has a product called ChipWhisperer ?and for a mere $3,800 you can get a starter kit that makes it possible to do some pretty effective side channel analysis attacks by stealing secret keys in the device as they are being used in the crypto operations. This same company also sells a tool for $3,300 called ChipShouter which is an inexpensive EMF fault injection tool which can cause the software in a product to glitch (often called glitch attacks) and allow malware to be injected in the product or do things unlock a locked debug port. I am sure there are more advanced tools available on the dark web that are even more deadly, these are just examples of tools that are easily bought by anyone.
The Growing Risks of Inaction Against Physical Attacks
With these relatively cheap tools, a criminal enterprise can pretty easily do some serious damage to a brand, ecosystem, or the bottom line of a company. An easy way to make money if you’re an organized cyber criminal is to steal the intellectual property of a company and sell it to someone who has the resources to produce knock-offs of those devices. It’s estimated that 10 percent of consumer electronic devices sold on the web are counterfeit, including sophisticated devices like a Wi-Fi router. Companies try to protect against IP theft by locking the debug port to prevent someone from simply dumping the whole contents of the product. With the ChipShouter tool, you can simply perform a glitch attack on the software that locks the debug port and boom, all the IP comes spilling out.
Another example might be when you have a sophisticate attestation procedure for your ecosystem to protect against rouge or fake devices from joining your network. This requires a secure identity in the device and a secure handshake to verify your device is authentic. With ChipWhisper and a real device in your hands, you can steal that secret identity and clone the device easily.
Silicon Labs is committed to anticipating our customers’ security needs and addressing them before they become an issue. That’s why we’ve adopted the PSA Architecture and achieved its highest level of certification - to create products that proactively stay ahead of this ‘cyber mafia’ rather than being forced to react to them after they’ve wreaked havoc.
For more information on how Silicon Labs is securing the IoT, visit silabs.com/security.
The healthcare industry is very focused on treating chronic diseases, providing effective aging-in-place support for an increasingly elderly population, and ensuring a smooth transition between inpatient hospital care and outpatient home care. The coronavirus and its impact on remote care have underscored and accelerated the importance of and demand for continuous patient monitoring provided by intelligent sensor solutions connected remotely to a cloud-based infrastructure. This has triggered the need to build secure, low-power wireless end-products that keep end-user data privacy at the core of their security architecture.
That was the topic of discussion I had the pleasure of participating in during a recent Parks Associates Connected Health Summit panel discussion regarding smart medical devices.
I encourage you to watch the discussion, which spanned a range of challenges and opportunities facing smart medical devices, perhaps most importantly the necessity to ensure healthcare data is kept private and secure.
The rise of connected medical devices has caught the attention of hackers, who are launching more attacks on operational and infrastructure targets, typically using ransomware schemes to enrich organized crime groups. As highlighted at the RSA conference in early 2020, the level of sophistication of these ransomware attacks is growing exponentially, and – if left unprotected – vulnerable wireless devices are an effective means to compromise systems remotely using a wide variety of attacks. In order to combat the threat of cybercrime, it’s clear that the individual components being used in medical devices must have an enhanced level of security robustness that delivers security from chip to cloud.
Bluetooth? Low-Energy (BLE) has become the most popular wireless connectivity solution for patient monitoring products and the Bluetooth SIG began introducing protocol level security features in 2015 with the ratification of BLE 4.2.
In addition to the BLE 4.2 security protocol, more stringent system-related security augmentations must be deployed to most effectively secure data and privacy. This is especially true for BLE, as the way to communicate the end-user / patient information to the cloud is often performed using a smart-phone and software application that jointly offers vulnerabilities for hackers attempting to gain control of medical sensors.?
Additional security starts with the need to identify the end-product application and the silicon ICs used the first time these ICs initiate a connection to the cloud infrastructure. It is also critical to understand that embedded systems assume that the proper software is executed. To achieve this, a Root of Trust (RoT) must be in place so that true software authentication is performed before any code execution. This ensures that malicious software can be detected and reported and that additional measures can be deployed as needed, such as immediately cutting off the potentially infected medical product from the network.
The lifecycle of many medical products is long, often available for purchase for several years after they are first produced. All the while, hacking techniques continue to evolve. New tools can help expose weaknesses, new hacks can occur, and new flaws can be discovered. It is therefore critical that connected medical devices are equipped to be remotely updated through secure over-the-air (OTA) updates.
Silicon Labs made a major announcement in 2020 with its Secure Vault Technology on EFR32 Series-2. Secure Vault offers an impressive list of technical hardware and software features that can be used to develop extremely robust, secure IoT wireless solutions. These features include Secure Loader with Root of Trust, Secure Debug with lock and unlock capabilities, Secure Key generation and storage, and Advanced Hardware Cryptography with DPA countermeasures. ?Secure Vault has achieved tremendous recognition on the market and earned a gold medal in the 2020’s LEAP (Leadership in Engineering Achievement Program) Awards Connectivity category.
PSA Certified – a respected security certification body for Internet of Things (IoT) hardware software and devices created by Arm Holdings – officially?certified Level 3 status to Silicon Labs’ EFR32MG21 wireless SoCs with Secure Vault. Silicon Labs is the world’s first silicon innovator to achieve PSA Certified’s highest level of IoT hardware and software security protection.
As most in our industry are no doubt well aware, Embedded World 2021 is happening this week. Although this year’s event is virtual instead of in-person as it typically is in Nuremberg, Germany, embedded technology innovators from around the world will be logging-in to participate, and Silicon Labs is no exception.
In fact, Silicon Labs will be sharing our IoT expertise throughout Embedded World 2021, with presentations and papers focused on a variety of topics: the compelling advantages of Wi-SUN mesh technology for smart city utility applications, the most pressing IoT security issues the embedded industry faces today, and how to prevent bad actors from penetrating embedded hardware and software applications.
We’ll also be front and center of an expert panel discussion exploring the latest developments in wireless connectivity solutions for IoT, ranging from interoperability to security and reliability, and provide an outlook towards the future.
Here’s the roster of the Silicon Labs experts presenting this week, what they’ll be presenting, and when. We hope you’ll join us for all of them!
We hope you’ll join our embedded IoT experts online at Embedded World 2021. For more information on Silicon Labs’ state-of-the-art security solutions, visit silabs.com/security. For more information regarding the advantages of Wi-SUN for smart city mesh networking applications, we encourage you to read our recent guest blog Q&A with Wi-SUN president and CEO Phil Beecher.
Yes, the title of this post is correct. In 2017, ARC Advisory Group estimated the global downtime in manufacturing industry is in the range of one trillion dollars annually. That is a lot of money, and to put it into a perspective, the global GDP in 2019 according to World Bank was 87.8 trillion dollars. It is not surprising that reducing the downtime is one of the most attractive outcomes industrial IoT can provide.
Why does downtime cost so much and how to reduce it?
What options exist in reducing downtime? Predictive maintenance has proven a cost-efficient application to address downtime challenges and provide ROI to justify projects. IoT Analytics forecasts that the predictive maintenance market is growing at 39% CAGR to $23.5 billion dollars in 2024. What makes predictive maintenance so attractive is that it addresses two key issues at the same time. If the machinery or components like motors, pumps and bearings are run until they fail, there can be more costly damages done to the equipment due to the failure. In addition, there is the time spent by the staff trying to get replacement parts on site and then working overtime to fix the issue. All of this adds to the final cost of an unplanned downtime event and contributes to lost production. On the other hand, if the equipment is over-serviced by changing wearing parts too often or too early, the downtime also increases because of the too-frequent scheduled service breaks. In predictive maintenance, the algorithms use sensor data collected from the machinery and components to warn the operator of a future failure condition ahead of time, allowing ample time to schedule and plan for the maintenance before the failure occurs.
Key care-abouts in predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance solutions commonly rely on detecting anomalies in vibration fingerprints of motors, pumps, bearings, and other devices that run the industrial and commercial processes. Because cabling costs for adding vibration sensors are immensely high, these sensors are typically leveraging wireless communications and powered from a battery. We have?some unique advantages for predictive maintenance solution developers. Our products include industry-leading low-power consumption wireless SoCs and modules. Using the built-in low-power modes, the sensors can benefit from fast wakeup times and balancing time between sleep and active modes. This power optimization translates into longer battery life, which means lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for the end customer because the sensors require less maintenance during their lifetime.?
Choosing the best-fit wireless technology for your application
The environments in which predictive maintenance solutions are deployed vary to a large degree. This is why the solution developer should partner with a communications expert like we that can support a wide range of wireless technologies in multiple frequency bands. For longer-range needs, technologies such as Wi-SUN, Mioty, or other sub-GHz options are more suitable. Local networks within a factory or a plant could benefit from Bluetooth and mesh technologies, or leverage existing dual-band Wi-Fi infrastructure to connect the sensors.
Embedded AI/ML changing the landscape for predictive maintenance
Artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI//ML) has extended its reach from being a cloud-level application requiring massive computing resources to something that can be efficiently executed at Cortex-M level microcontrollers. Silicon Labs' AI/ML partners have built tools that allow predictive maintenance algorithms to run on just a few kilobytes of RAM memory. The edge pre-processing means that the local radio can be turned off until there is an anomaly that needs to be reported to the back office system and the operator. This can further conserve the precious battery capacity and enhance the TCO.
How to get started?
If you want to take part in solving this trillion-dollar question, a good place to start is by exploring our?Thunderboard Sense 2 Evaluation Kit. This kit integrates wireless communications with an array of sensors, including accelerometer and temperature, which are the most common in predictive maintenance applications. You can also browse our Design Network for partners, who can help you to design solutions that run on our wireless SoCs and modules. Finally, take a look at our recent case study on Sensemore, which chose our pre-certified Bluetooth modules for its predictive maintenance sensor. This decision allowed them to fast-forward their development efforts and get to the market quicker.
We recently had the opportunity to speak with Dave?DeMona,?Arrow Electronics’ engineering manager for lighting,?about Arrow’s new smart horticulture platform:?Arrow?Growhouse. Concerns about global population growth, sustainability, and?ecologically?friendly?farming are encouraging growers to adopt innovative technologies to improve?farming practices.?
Late last year,?Arrow Electronics?–?one of the?leading?electronics distribution companies?–?introduced a new IoT platform?with superior lighting controls. These controls?help the commercial farming industry improve crop yield?and gain better?control of their indoor crops,?decreasing?water,?space,?and pesticide?usage. The platform?also?equips growers with?remote?wireless?control and?monitoring?of indoor farming operations and conditions.?The demand for smart agriculture products such as this one has been growing rapidly.?Dave explains below what prompted Arrow to build the?scalable and smart?horticulture system and how exactly it works.??
Can?you?tell us about?Growhouse??
The Arrow?Growhouse?platform is a flexible, scalable, smart agriculture solution for monitoring and controlling key aspects of a commercial growing environment. It combines environmental and plant-level monitoring and multichannel lighting control into a single,?cloud-based user interface with both a web and mobile app. It's compatible with most of the horticulture luminaires?currently in?the?market, and the underlying architecture allows for easy development of additional sensing and control modules based on a customer's individual needs.?
What components are included in the platform??
The system can be bought either piecemeal or as a complete system, depending on what the user needs.?The basic kit includes a gateway?that?communicates back to the?cloud?and a?multichannel?LED controller?that?connects to the horticulture luminaire itself, allowing the?user to control the different color channels.?The kit?also includes a soil sensor?to?monitor the moisture level and the pH of the soil.?Customers?can add more sensors and controllers as needed.??
The architecture of the system?is?customizable: if a?farmer?has unique needs and wants to monitor aspects of the system that the base package doesn't cover, it's easy for us to develop additional sensor modules to?fit their needs.?
What was the inspiration behind creating this smart horticulture solution??
Over the past few years, we've been involved with a number of different horticulture and horticulture-adjacent customers. We?noticed?that?–?although clients had?great ideas on how to?optimally?grow plants?– there was an?underlying set of?fundamental?requirements. This client base is predominantly growers, not hardware and software experts, so we thought: What if we built a base platform that could be individualized and customized for their unique needs???
How long has the product been available??
The product was launched last year?and?was enabled by a combination of?recent?technology advancements:??
The maturation of LED technology?enables?practical implementation of controllable LED luminaires for horticulture. Suddenly,?farmers could?control?the?spectrums that a plant sees?throughout its growth, which can trigger specific characteristics.??
In?addition,?advances?and cost reductions?in communication and sensing started to allow for better monitoring of what's happening at the plant level.??
These?combined factors?sparked?a revolution?a few years ago and this reflects on the?feedback?surrounding?Growhouse?to date. Systems have historically?been disparate?and manual?(such as?lighting,?environmental controls, and fertigation), but?Growhouse?integrates?all?of?the?monitoring and control capability into a single, intuitive user interface.???
Why did you select Silicon Labs’ technology for your platform??
Like?many IoT platforms,?Growhouse?involves a gateway, end devices, and communication to a cloud and a user interface. Communication between our end devices is via Zigbee, and communication for commissioning is via Bluetooth. We chose?Silicon Labs?Zigbee modules?for the radio because?it’s a?high-performing,?integrated dual technology that?tackles our needs.?
What are?the primary?market drivers?of?smart horticulture??
Growth in the market is?due to a variety of needs:?resource conservation, population growth, a desire for local production,?reduced transport of produce and grown items, and?the?reduced use of pesticides and fertilizers. A lot of these needs?tie back to the?intent of creating an ecologically sustainable method of farming.??
Smart agriculture?also?provides a?highly?controlled environment, so?growers?end up with not only faster-growing crop yields, but more consistent yields with less waste fallout.?Adding control to different aspects of the growth environment allows the grower to ensure their crop is behaving the way they want it to, when they want it to.??
There has been a boom in indoor horticulture in recent years.?How?is?indoor farming?better for the planet??
It really is all about the control of the?plant?environment.?When you're growing outside, you're subject to the whims of the weather. With indoor horticulture, the grower has complete control over that environment, leading to?significantly reduced water usage?and?needs for fertilizers and pesticides. Indoor agriculture?also allows for farming in regions that may be unsuitable for certain outdoor crops.?For example, in some?areas in Africa?where?you really?can’t?grow certain crops in the ground,?growing food?within a?warehouse or container?allows?people?to?cultivate locally.?
How do you see IoT technology?supporting sustainable?agriculture in the future??
We look at the evolution of farming as the evolution of human history. Until recently, we haven't had a lot of insight and data into how to?farm?better.?The direction?I see IoT going in smart agriculture is?in?the implementation of AI: doing something with all the newly?derived?data?now being?gathered on a more and more granular level. I think we?will?see a continuation of automation from the time the seed is planted in the ground until it's ready to harvest.??
Everything will be based on the sensors' data and the rules developed, enabling better quality and crop consistency, less fallout, and more locally grown crops. We'll start seeing smaller versions of these systems at a local level – whether that be for a small city or a college campus – all the way to the point where we may have these systems in our own homes, much like a micro-garden in your kitchen. Regardless of how green your thumbs are, you'll be able to create quality produce at home, and get rid of all the transportation needs and other external factors.?
We are excited that Dr. Manish Kothari has joined Silicon Labs as Vice President of Silicon Labs India. In this role, Manish will grow our company's?wireless engineering talent, build scalable infrastructure, and foster local partnerships in Hyderabad, Silicon Labs'?newest and fastest-growing wireless development center.
Manish brings more than 20 years of technology management experience, most recently serving as head of wireless software product development at Qualcomm Hyderabad. He has built and managed teams of more than 1,000 wireless developers, holds more than 100 patents, graduated from?the?Indian Institute of Technology Madras,?and received his MS and Ph.D. from?the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Manish as he steps into this new and important role for the company.
MS: Could you share your high-level vision for our Hyderabad development center??
MK: The Hyderabad development center is Silicon Labs’ fastest-growing site, playing an important and strategic role in helping the company as a whole scale to meet the huge demand for Silicon Labs’ solutions. ?
My vision is to build a world-class development center here that embodies Silicon Labs’ culture and engineering best practices, with a highly motivated and talented team that has a passion for execution, innovation, collaboration, integrity, and fun. We will also remain very customer-focused and strive for continuous improvement. Another key goal is to become an industry-leading technology center of excellence for Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi 6. Silicon Labs’ 2020?acquisition of Redpine Signals’ Wi-Fi and Bluetooth businesses included a very strong IP portfolio that expanded and accelerated the company’s ability to be a true leader in low power, secure Wi-Fi solutions.
MS: What is your management style and philosophy??
MK: My management philosophy is grounded in humility (I know that I don’t know everything and there’s something to learn from everyone), reliability, accountability, integrity, a thirst for learning, and respect for everyone. The technology industry can be a very intense environment, so I seek to inspire, empower and motivate teams by setting the same standards for myself as I do for my teams and work with a sincere focus to help ensure successful outcomes. Work-life balance starts with all of us enjoying the work we do, and I am always mindful about making the office a fun place to be.
MS: From your point of view, what are the most exciting things happening in IoT??
MK: The IoT is already improving productivity and quality of life in a variety of consumer and commercial settings. In my humble opinion, the most exciting things in IoT are still to come and perhaps not yet even imagined. Here’s an example of one such possibility: the creation of powerful, decentralized AIoT (artificial intelligence IoT) networks with ubiquitous wireless end nodes. In this scenario reliability, privacy, and security improvements promise to be huge, much like the key underpinnings of Satoshi-San’s bitcoin, because there won’t be a single point of failure anymore. This scenario also shifts power away from centralized ecosystem/cloud and opens new possibilities and the benefits that come with a decentralized system.?
Silicon Labs is uniquely positioned to disrupt the industry as these “not so simple” wireless end nodes leverage AI and machine learning to become more intelligent (and powerful) over time. And history is on our side. After all, technology disruptions typically occur from the bottom up, as detailed in the famous book?Innovator’s Dilemma. We are only limited by our imaginations, as the saying goes, and I consider myself fortunate to be part of this incredible journey of disruption where Silicon Labs is right at the forefront.
MS: What do you like to do outside of work?
MK: I love spending time with my family, especially my two boys, and participating in their various activities like losing badly in NBA 2K/FIFA on PlayStation. I have always been an “outdoor” person and love to travel. Both my wife and son are certified yoga instructors, so I am a (sometimes forced) fitness freak. Sports is a big deal in our family, and almost every major sport is a topic of discussion during dinner time. I love traditional dance, called “Bhangra,” and I used to teach it to school kids when my boys were younger. For me, dancing is my go-to stress buster!
MS: Thank you, Manish, and best of luck to you!
Silicon Labs’ Hyderabad site headcount has grown approximately 30% since the Redpine Signals acquisition. The company continues to hire hardware and software engineers in Hyderabad, and candidates may review and apply for open positions here.
From the types of power switches you use to the layout of your printed circuit board (PCB), numerous design decisions will affect the robustness of your high-power inverter designs. In this Power Hour webinar, Staff Product Manager, John Wilson, and Sr. Staff Applications Engineer, Long Nguyen, describe the key issues and solutions to consider when designing high-power inverter systems. They introduce the Si828x isolated gate drivers and explain how they can benefit your high-power designs. The following highlights are some key takeaways from the presentation.?
One of the first decisions to make when designing your high-power inverters is the type of power switch you will use. Power switches have unique capabilities and requirements, such as voltage limits, temperature ranges, and operating frequencies, that will drive numerous design decisions for your high-power inverters, including which type of gate driver to use. The four main types of power switches are:
Working voltages are another essential factor to consider. Designers must evaluate the maximum voltages the system will be exposed to under normal conditions and ensure that the gate drivers and power switches can meet these power requirements. For the gate driver, the working voltage rating will exceed maximum expected peak voltages. For switches, a rule of thumb is that the maximum expected voltages should be less than 80% of the device family’s voltage rating.
Gate drivers and power switches have critical protection needs that must be addressed in the design. For example, undervoltage issues generate heat and efficiency loss. Overvoltage can cause switch damage. Fortunately, these issues can be mitigated with solutions such as desaturation detection, using a Miller clamp to prevent switch parasitic turn-on, and careful PCB layout techniques.
There are also application dependencies to consider. For example, a stable, high-power application, such as a steady-running industrial motor inverter, may not need much protection. In contrast, a dynamic application, such as an EV traction inverter, may require extensive system protection.
PCB board layout is also an important consideration when designing a power electronic circuit because it determines the power circuit's performance, efficiency, and reliability. A well-planned PCB layout minimizes parasitic inductance and capacitance and improves reliability and efficiency.?
A final consideration is determining how to supply power to the secondary side of a half-bridge device. This task can be accomplished discreetly or in an integrated fashion.
As you design your high-power inverters, look for power switch technologies and gate drivers appropriate to the working voltages required by your system application. Consider the critical protection needs and choose gate drivers that can provide solutions accordingly.?
Silicon Labs offers a full spectrum of solutions with our Si828x isolated gate drivers. An?integrated dc-dc converter within these devices simplifies layout and provides?each driver with its own power supply, which translates to?reduced noise and inductances and a more compact and smaller PCB.
The Si8285 has all the apps and features of the Si828x family (desaturation detection, Miller clamp, etc.), as well as an industry-leading noise immunity of 125 kV/us. We also have a robust reference circuit that enables adjusting various parameters based on the type of power switch you are using.?
In addition to the Si828x series, we offer an extensive isolated gate driver product family that is suitable for inverters. Altogether, these devices offer a broad range of benefits, from power robustness to extensive flexibility.
One of our guiding values is to hire, foster and empower great talent. Silicon Labs’ internship program cultivates this philosophy through highly sought-after positions in software, design, operational engineering, technical marketing and sales, as well as corporate marketing and finance. During their time with us, interns help us solve real-world problems and work on meaningful projects essential to Silicon Labs. They also get to experience a corporate culture that celebrates diversity in thinking, reasonable risk-taking, and challenging the status quo. Our interns get to work alongside some of the brightest minds in the IoT and semiconductor space who are also invested in helping develop our interns into our industry’s future leaders.
Sometimes they even get to sit down for coffee and ask for career advice from executives like Chief Strategy Officer, Daniel Cooley.
Having begun his career as an intern at Silicon Labs in 2002 Daniel recalls being eager to put the engineering fundamentals he was learning in school into real-world practice. Over the years, Daniel has curated a list of valuable resources for engineering students that spans the history of the semiconductor industry. He shares a bit about how it came about:
“The semiconductor industry is so fascinating because it is the culmination of almost all our modern scientific knowledge: physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, material science, communication theory, computer science, machine learning, and the list goes on. It is the most global and interconnected supply chain on the planet, shipping hundreds of billions of chips per year into every corner of the global economy. I like to tell people that in all possible futures, semiconductors are even more important than they are today.
I have the utmost respect for the innovators and business leaders that came before us and built the semiconductor industry. I also believe that you must study, understand, and appreciate how the industry came to be in order to have the most impactful and rewarding career. Trying to navigate your career without this historical understanding is like trying to sail across the ocean with no map or knowledge of the seasonal winds and currents…not something I would attempt.
I made it a point to search for and consume as much content about the history of our industry as possible. No source is perfect, but considered as a group, you can quickly make sense of this complicated but beautiful industry. This is a partial reading list to get you started. If you finish, there are literally hundreds of additional sources if you’re willing to spend some time looking for them…”
The first time I saw a wireless electronic shelf label, it was virtually indistinguishable from the old-fashioned paper labels I was accustomed to. I only realized it was electronic when the price changed before my eyes. These electronic paper displays (EPDs) are changing the retail game. What once took hours or even days, with a person walking around manually updating shelf labels and industrial signage, can now be done in seconds. The EPDs have reflective properties that only require ambient light to be visible, meaning they don’t have the glare of typical electronic displays. This makes the displays more like the pages of an e-reader that mimics what it’s like to read a paper book. They are also bistable, which means they can retain an image even when no power is connected.
The pixels of an EPD are composed of millions of tiny microcapsules, each about the diameter of a human hair. E Ink, a pioneer in electronic signage, developed its 3-pigment ink system specifically for electronic shelf labels. It works by applying a charge to the pigments and to a top and bottom electrode to facilitate movement. Since EPDs have the ability to draw zero current, the power consumption of the microcontroller unit (MCU) and the rest of the application is very low, and therefore, ideally suited for these applications.
Our EFR32 MCU is a great fit for EPD applications due to its energy efficiency and storage capacity. To help developers get started, we’ve put together this Application Note showing how to drive an EPD with the EFR32xG22-based Wireless Starter Kit. You can also find more info on our GitHub page. The flexible energy modes of the EFR32 allows the MCU to draw as little current as possible and in many cases the MCU’s Energy Mode 4 can be used, resulting in power consumption as low as 170 nA. Memory is another important feature for saving frame buffers and images and the EFR32 has large memory options, both for Flash and SRAM. This application note also makes use of E Ink’s EPD extension board, which is available along with a HULK Driving Board here.
Even though the EPDs draw no current while showing a static image, they require a significant amount of current while updating the display, which is the only time they consume any power. An update can take between 12-18 seconds at room temperature, and aside from the time requirements, the MCU must complete the power-up/power-down sequences and transmit frames to the panel. For this reason, EPDs are not suited to applications that require a high update frequency.
The app note discusses ways to optimize power consumption during a display update, including putting the MCU into its optimal energy mode. Learn more about how electronic shelf labels contribute to retail infrastructure here, and if you set out to develop an EDP, we’d love to hear how your project is going.?