Qorvo’s UnitedSiC Acquisition in the Race to SiC

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Qorvo has acquired Princeton, N.J.-based United Silicon Carbide (UnitedSiC), a manufacturer of silicon carbide (SiC) power semiconductors. The acquisition of United Silicon Carbide expands Qorvo’s reach into the fast-growing markets of electric vehicles (EVs), industrial power controls, renewable energy and data center power systems.

In an interview with EE Times, David Briggs, senior director of programmable power at Qorvo, and Chris Dries, former president and CEO of United Silicon Carbide and now general manager of Qorvo’s Power Device Solutions, analyzed some of the aspects of this new acquisition and the market implications. According to Dries, Qorvo’s acquisition of Active-Semi has triggered its interest in the power electronics field. The aim is now to offer a great diversification strategy by leveraging UnitedSiC’s compound semiconductor manufacturing.

Chris Dries

“The programmable power business is growing very rapidly and Qorvo wants a bigger footprint in power. The acquisition accelerates opportunities to go in there and start creating solutions that combine both our programmability flexibility and analogue control IP with the UnitedSiC products to create an end-to-end solution for our customers,” said Briggs.

Silicon Carbide
UnitedSiC has developed SiC in a cascode arrangement for power electronics applications that require a normally-off device. A power MOSFET is placed on top of the JFET in the cascode configuration, and the two are packed together for very low thermal resistance.

SiC FETs, JFETs, and Schottky diode devices are among the products offered by United Silicon Carbide. The JFET structure is the most basic switch made of SiC. Because it has no gate oxide and is a unipolar conduction device, it avoids some of the drawbacks associated with MOSFETs. The newly revealed fourth-generation SiC FETs have a maximum operating voltage of 750 V and an RDS (on) of 5.9 milliohms, allowing numerous industries to achieve new levels of efficiency.

Improved switching and RDS(on) allow for more robust new applications in electric vehicles, such as traction drives and on- and off-board chargers, as well as all stages of power conversion in renewable energy inverters, power factor correction, telecommunications converters, and AC/DC or DC/DC power conversion in general.

New opportunities
The combined experience of the two companies allows them to offer a certain amount of differentiation in terms of automotive solutions. “The architecture that silicon carbide provides offers an opportunity to differentiate the types of solutions and control mechanisms that we can create for the overall power architecture. The goal is to bring added value to our customers in terms of safety and control and optimal overall system performance. So these will be things we explore as we move forward with the merger,” said Briggs.

David Briggs

SiC is growing and will increasingly compete with IGBTs until becoming the only player. The rapid growth is really driving the cost down. “We have just released our fourth-generation devices, which are 30 to 50 per cent smaller in die size, driving the cost of the solution even further down. And then, when you consider the efficiency benefits you get from a silicon carbide inverter, all the more reason to consider this opportunity. My view is that, by the end of the decade, silicon carbide may start to dominate in higher power vehicles in particular,” says Dries.

Briggs added, “IGBTs will be there and they won’t easily make way for SiCs, but eventually the efficiency and performance and reliability of silicon carbide will take over and command the majority share sooner rather than later.”

For this reason, it is important to have a good supply chain and, according to UnitedSiC, securing a diversified supply of substrates and epitaxy can ensure market leadership. “Between the different epitaxy suppliers and substrate suppliers, we have about five different qualified supply chains. We see competition and I think that’s enough to push the cost down,” said Dries.

It will be very important to ensure reference design solutions, so as to offer simple design opportunities and reduce time-to-market. This will accelerate the adoption of SiC for all those designers who are used to working only with IGBT solutions. According to the speakers, reference designs are a great way to leverage the engineering capabilities that already exist within Qorvo. And as Briggs said, providing a fully integrated solution, not just a discrete semiconductor, is an opportunity for growth.

“We are currently working on solar inverter designs, SiC is expected to be at the heart of solar installations but also energy storage systems,” said Dries.

“What we will be looking at is how we can help drive further in terms of energy efficiency. It’s all about efficiency and how to maximize it, so this will combine with our technologies and we’ll see how we can create better solutions for that market space,” said Briggs.

SiC FETs are commonly used for power conversion, circuit protection, and motor drives. One trait shared by many of the applications described, according to UnitedSiC, is that the gate drive characteristics are compatible with other devices such as MOSFETs and IGBTs, making them simple to integrate into existing designs.

The addition of UnitedSiC’s solutions to Qorvo’s portfolio will cover a number of applications in emerging markets, primarily related to energy. UnitedSiC and Qorvo have highlighted the opportunity to continue to build the business with scalability and speed in order to accelerate the adoption of SiC and thereby increase the efficiency of powertrain solutions that can support the deployment of electric vehicles.

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