Smart power requirements are looking to improve efficiency and reduce systems-development costs

BY John Keller

Aerospace and defense systems integrators increasingly are demanding digital power control in advanced electronics for a wide variety of reasons, among them ease of reconfigurability, flexibility, and low costs of design, and the ability to prognosticate the status and life cycles of power-management components.

"We need to use digital control-at least use a digital interface," explains Ernie Parker, director of technology development with the Crane Electronics Inc. Power Solutions segment in Redmond, Wash. Digital control enables prognostication of components and batteries, Parker says-for battery power levels, where a given battery is in its life cycle, and when power-management components are starting to behave in a way that indicates they are wearing out.This capability is important, particularly as systems designers try to squeeze out every bit of efficiency in aerospace and defense electronics.

"High efficiency is the most important trend," says Dennis Kelemen, administrator of Pico Electronics Inc.'s Power Products Division in Pelham, N.Y. "We make a small power converter, and are always looking for higher efficiency." One way is to use digital control to make sure power-management components are working at top performance all the time.

Digital control also enables power systems designers to evolve devices over time to meet customers' changing requirements. "As they tailor systems, it is easier to make changes and adapt with digital control, in-loop response, and interface commands and signals," says Parker. As a result, digital control in POWER ELECTRONICS can aid reconfigurability and reduce development costs.

Batteries represent a prime area for digital power management, even though adding digital control to batteries can increase up-front costs. When it comes to lithium-ion batteries for energy storage, digital control can enhance efficiency and safety. "Everything we are doing there is FPGA controlled," Parker says. "These batteries are getting more expensive with the power-control electronics built-in, but our customers don't just want to replace batteries, unless there is a need to." Today's batteries in aerospace and defense applications require indicators for state of charge, state of health, and state of life.

State of charge indicates whethera battery has a full charge, or enough power to fulfill its mission. State of health indicates if it is functioning properly and operating at peak efficiency. State of life indicates if a battery is wearing out and needs to be replaced. "A lot of work [is] going on in that area now," Parker says. "The mil-aero industry expects absolute accuracy for safety-critical applications, and accuracy is not there yet."

The ability to prognosticate a device's state of charge, health, and life is not confined to batteries, Parker points out. "This expectation for prognostics [will] expand beyond batteries to more complex power systems. Our customers need something that does not just indicate a fault, but rather something that is tending away from its norm so you can repair or replace it before it fails."

Systems integrators are increasing requirements for radiation hardness and device upscreening to ensure reliability in harsh operating environments, says Pico's Kelemen. "This is a whole different level, where we have to address environmental issues and do careful upscreening," Kelemen says. "There is no JAN standard for DC-DC converters, so it's important to ensure that components are qualified for their operating environments." Systems designers are asking for power components with the ability to resist the effects of radiation, for space and a few in-flight applications. "Aircraft are flying higher and longer, with more exposure to radiation."

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Mil & Aero Magazine

February 2014
Volume 25, Issue 2
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