IBM Enters The Power Management Chip Business

Wireless integrated on a power management chip promises to help the drive towards sustainable power and smart buildings

IBM has launched itself into power-management (PM) semiconductor manufacturing with a chip that incorporates wireless communications. The chips are designed for alternative energy regulation and control systems in “smart” buildings.

The inclusion of wireless will also make the units smaller and more affordable, IBM claims that it can cut production costs by as much as 20 percent. The chips will have applications in solar panels, consumer electronics and mobile phones. Anything that has any levels of wake and sleep modes are candidates.

Efficiency improvements

IBM’s wireless PM technology can be used to create advanced power-optimising chips for individual solar panels. Working in concert, the electrical output of an entire array can be boosted by saving up to 57 percent of the power typically lost.

In smart buildings, energy monitoring of cooling systems by wireless can improve efficiency. The company reckons that buildings use 40 percent of all the energy we use and a 50 percent improvement would result from using smart monitoring.

The wireless element also means that older buildings can be turned into smart buildings because the wiring required is vastly reduced.

Market researcher iSupply values the current PM chip market at $31 billion and predicts that this will double by 2014. Another growth element will be the increasing legislation on sustainable energy and reduction of carbon footprints.

“This new process can be used to create new types of affordable wireless sensors, the kind needed to monitor and connect the smart systems coming on line in the next few years – from alternative-energy products being developed by industrial firms to consumer companies looking to deliver mobile entertainment,” said Michael J Cadigan, general manager of IBM Microelectronics Division.

“Integrating communications and power sensors on one chip cuts costs for the industry and is an example of our ‘smart-planet‘ technology vision, one that we back up with R&D,” he explained.

IBM is also selling the chip-making process CMOS-7HV to chip manufacturers. This is the equivalent of commoditisation in the consumer world. The process uses similar processes to the way that computer chips are produced. This area has seen large reductions in manufacturing costs and IBM has said that the same could soon apply to the PM market.