Siemens researchers are working on simulating the development of power electronic components entirely in the digital space. This will be a decisive breakthrough, because it will mean that hardware can be developed almost as quickly as software. It will also increase the efficiency of systems and devices containing power electronic components – a business-critical factor.
by Sandra Zistl
Power electronics is integrated in photovoltaics, wind turbines, electromobility, plant control systems, and even in every power supply unit that we have in our homes. Without it, many areas of our lives would cease to function. As a critical element in converters, power electronics keeps things running on both a larger and smaller scale.
The ongoing improvement of electronic and mechatronic system performance was a central focus for Randolf Mock, project manager in the ELM Technology Field at Corporate Technology. Randolf Mock died unexpectedly in November 2018. The reason he was so enthusiastic about this topic was that he and an international team consisting of different research groups had taken a key step toward an even more promising future. The team will continue achieving technological successes in his memory. The promise of the future is in extracting even more power from power electronics and shifting hardware development to the digital realm. It’s a leap into an entirely different world, and the key is simulation.
Although simulation has already been used for decades to determine how power converters will behave in a specific environment, it has never been possible to apply it to the entire development process. “We knew that one day it would be crucial to have digital tools that would allow us to feed in data beforehand and afterwards turn out compact models for simulating the layout of PCBs and circuits,” Mock explained. For example, combining the CAD data from a heat sink with the electrical design of a PCB had always been a problem. It was “laborious and only possible using a lot of workarounds.”
"Today we have an opportunity to charge ahead of the competition, because heat dissipation in power electronic circuits is a key topic."
With the integration of NX and Mentor in the Siemens portfolio, these gaps can now be closed. It requires merging different software environments. As a demo, the expert team undertook a project with SITOP PSU 8600, a standard power electronic power supply system in industrial automation. The goal was to be able to control this new generation digitally and, therefore, more efficiently. “The team broke development down into separate issues that we can process using programs from NX and Mentor,” said Mock.
The results are astounding. The simulation chain can be closed. Using so-called state-space models, it’s now also possible to simulate the interaction between temperature, mechanics, electrics and, ultimately, device performance. With this differentiated knowledge, the efficiency of power electronics can be exploited even more fully.
Five years ago, according to Mock, they wouldn’t have even considered that something like this was possible. “It was inconceivable. Today we have an opportunity to implement it and charge ahead of the competition, because heat dissipation in power electronic circuits is a key topic.” Optimizing the efficiency of converters while guaranteeing their predicted service life is “a rather ambitious challenge.” The main task is moving the heat out of the devices.
„By simulating hardware development, we can approach the speed of software development. This makes it highly relevant for our business."
The breakthrough that is now within reach is an important step toward the virtualization of hardware development and, according to Ludger Meyer, is a “decisive step for digitalization.” Meyer heads the Electronics and Mechatronics Technology Field at Corporate Technology. In the case of software, he explains, we talk about “sprints.” These are short development cycles from which intermediate results are derived. It’s an extremely agile method. In the case of hardware, on the other hand, parts often need to be built and measured in reality.
“By simulating hardware development, we can approach the speed of software development. This makes it highly relevant for our business,” says Meyer – above all, because these issues can be superbly handled using Siemens’ own tools. The working title of the new digital workflow is “Comprehensive Simulation Tool Chain for Power Electronics.”
The exploratory phase has now ended. The next step will be to integrate the new knowledge into a consistent, end-to-end tool chain using Siemens’ own design and development tools.
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