This Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I project will develop integrated DC-DC power converters using magnetic thin-film power inductors. Currently, microprocessors and systems-on-chip (SoCs) are powered with board level voltage regulators assembled from discrete components. As supply voltages have scaled for digital integrated circuits (ICs), this power delivery paradigm has become increasingly inefficient, as power is delivered through the resistance of the power delivery network (PDN) at low voltages and high currents. In a typical case where 100W is delivered at 1V, 10% of the total power delivered may be wasted in the resistance of the PDN. The objective of this SBIR project is to commercialize power converters utilizing inductors with precisely engineered laminations of high permeability magnetic material. This will enable a significant improvement in power converter current density and subsequently enable power supplies for microprocessors and systems on chip (SoCs) to be downconverted in the same package, or even on the same die. This new class of integrated voltage regulators (IVRs), will provide as much as 20% reduction in total power consumption for digital ICs by reducing resistive losses and enabling improved power management techniques.

The broader impact/commercial potential of this project is a reduction in power consumption for all digital computing platforms, ranging from smart-phones to datacenters. The total energy savings potential for this new class of technology is estimated at 15 billion kWh within the United States alone, this is equivalent to roughly 10 million metric tons of CO2 emissions. This technology will also significantly reduce the footprint for digital ICs enabling a significant reduction in form-factor for all classes of computing platforms. Voltage regulators utilizing integrated magnetic thin-film inductors will have cost and performance advantages over the other voltage regulator products that are commercially available. Therefore this technology is expected to have a sizeable impact on the $10 billion worldwide voltage regulator market. Furthermore, the integration of magnetic materials with CMOS will facilitate advances in other magnetic based systems, such as magnetic filters, sensors and imagers. Likewise, the experience gained from commercializing a magnetic material process module with CMOS technology will lower the technological barriers for other forms of heterogeneous integration.

Project Report

Ferric Semiconductor, in a technology partnership with IBM, is pioneering an entirely new approach to power delivery based on integration of thin-film magnetic inductors with complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) technology, which enables a remarkable improvement in the integration density of voltage regulators compared with current commercially available technologies. Ferric is commercializing a new class of voltage regulators based on thin-film power inductors using precisely engineered magnetic laminations. These integrated voltage regulators (IVRs) exist as standalone integrated circuits, as stacked interposers for high current density and highly multiplexed supply applications, and as hard IP blocks that can integrate directly into customer integrated circuits (ICs). In addition to providing much higher density of output supplies, these IVRs provide improved efficiency by enabling power delivery at higher voltages on the packaging, reducing I2R losses in the power delivery network (PDN) and required supply voltage margins. More importantly, IVR controllers operate ~100× faster than board level VRs, facilitating active power management on nanosecond time scales, enabling substantial efficiency improvements. This technology has a direct impact on consumers, by enabling smaller computers with longer battery-life or less electricity consumption. It also provides an estimated national energy savings of 15 billion kWh by reduced power consumption throughout the IT infrastructure. Ferric's Phase I research objective was to develop an initial packaged integrated voltage regulator (PIVR) that addresses the needs of Ferric's first customer, IBM's Exascale Computing Group. Specifically, Ferric Semiconductor is developing a PIVR with an average efficiency of 85% across a load current range of 0.2 A to 3A with a 2mm × 1.3mm footprint. The PIVR must provide an interface over the power management bus (PMBus), which is an open-standard power management protocol that operates over a hardware serial interface and allows programmability of output voltage, switching frequency, load-line resistance and other operating conditions. The PIVR lifetime must match that of the load ICs, which is typically five years of constant operation. The PIVR worst-case voltage ripple must be less than 10 mV peak-to-peak on average over the load current range. Finally the PIVR must be unconditionally stable and the electromagnetic interference (EMI) generated by the PIVR must be within FCC limits and low enough to avoid interference with the load IC or other ICs that may be nearby. Meeting these research goals required successful research into optimal magnetic material design and processing, as well as optimal inductor and circuit/system design. Ferric Semiconductor has successfully accomplished all objectives for this NSF Phase I SBIR, with the exception of testing of the PIVR prototype which will occur in Q1 2013 due to the time required to complete manufacturing. The planning, modeling, simulation and design work, which was completed under this contract, confirm that the collaboration between Ferric and IBM will yield a valuable new technology. We have furthered our understanding of the limitations and opportunities for integrated voltage regulators with thin-film magnetic core inductors. We have developed circuits and systems that exploit the opportunities presented by integration of soft-magnetic power inductors with CMOS, and we have supported IBM’s efforts to commercialize this process. Finally, we have furthered a product development timeline that will provide Ferric Semiconductor, with a competitive initial entry to the power electronics market.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships (IIP)
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Juan E. Figueroa
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Ferric Semiconductor, Inc.
New York
United States
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