First Power ‘ChiP’ Fab supports automotive electrification and data centers
Article by: Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio
Vicor’s latest integrated converter (CHiP) manufacturing facility is a world’s first, setting the standard for manufacturing scalable, high-volume, cost-effective and reliable power modules in the United States
Power supplies are critical to the success of applications where high efficiency, reliability and performance are mandatory requirements. This includes the most recent applications in the automotive sector, where the progressive electrification of the vehicle fleet imposes unprecedented challenges to increase range and reduce charging time, as well as the size and weight of the distribution network. of energy. Data centers, where a huge amount of data is stored and processed (also thanks to the help of artificial intelligence algorithms), require ultra-efficient power solutions capable of operating 24/7 while minimizing energy consumption and occupying less space and weight.
Vicor Corp., the industry leader in the design and manufacture of innovative power modules, recently celebrated the opening of a new, state-of-the-art 90,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Andover, Massachusetts. The power module manufacturing facility, established to meet demand from the rapidly growing automotive electrification and data center/AI industries, is the world’s first integrated converter (CHiP) manufacturing facility. The new chip fab sets the standard for scalable, high-volume, cost-effective, and reliable power module manufacturing in the United States.
Vicor chip factory
“This new chip factory is vertically integrated, which means we’ve developed proprietary technology and brought it under one roof rather than outsourcing it,” said Tom Curatolo, director of chip engineering. applications at Vicor. “We believe this makes us much more efficient in meeting our current and growing data center demands and the huge automotive demands that will begin to increase in the near future.”
The new plant, shown in Figure 1, is designed specifically to manufacture some of the new products that Vicor brings to market. For example, Vicor’s proprietary vertical power delivery solutions require higher volume production of their SM-ChiP parts such as the Modular Current Multiplier (MCM) and MCM Drivers, as well as new products taking into supports the ball array (weld sphere attachment) requirements that aerospace and satellite communications customers need.
“We have always done much of our business with the aerospace and defense segment, and this has continued into our new advanced products,” Curatolo said. “It’s a key aspect for our manufacturing because if you’re dealing with aerospace and defense applications as well as satellite type applications, reliability is key.”
These products include the DCM DC/DC converter, which regulates and transforms, as well as chipsets consisting of PRM regulators and VTM current multiplier modules which can also be molded and ruggedized to withstand environmental conditions.
Additionally, the facility and manufacturing process used inside has been carefully focused on environmental sustainability using clean, environmentally responsible manufacturing processes that far exceed the sustainability criteria of competing production facilities. .
Working closely with local, state and federal environmental agencies, the operation was designed for zero waste water and air discharge. Wastewater will be recycled into ultra-pure demineralized water which will be reused in normal operation. Vicor has taken a multi-phase approach to filtering water to ensure the highest quality. The initial phase induces the solidification of the dissolved substances so that they can be easily filtered. Additional filtering removes organic particles and residual chemicals through a variety of mechanical and chemical filtering processes.
It has been estimated that this new sustainable wastewater treatment process will save up to 20 million gallons of water each year, which is an outstanding achievement. Additionally, solid contaminants filtered out as part of the process are collected and recycled where possible. This multi-step process has been built on industry best practices and refined to achieve high levels of purity.
Chip production process analogous to semiconductor approach
The new vertically integrated chip fab uses a proprietary production technique analogous to that used by semiconductor wafer fabs. This patented process sets Vicor apart from its competitors by allowing the production of the most powerful products on the market, but also allows for better quality, reliability and scalability.
The process (see Figure 2) begins with a bare silicon wafer-like panel onto which multiple instances of high-performance modules can be mounted and soldered using state-of-the-art pick-and-place machinery. These modules include PRM, DCM, VTM, BCM, etc. Different components can be made from these panels, and they can be mixed, matched and separated. Or they can be arranged together like a table. Therefore, this manufacturing method is very flexible and offers high throughput (up to 420,000 components per hour).
After the SMT components are placed on the panel, it is overmolded to create a reliable and thermally matched assembly. Then, the assembly is plated, creating the interconnects as well as the thermal interface of the package. Finally, the power modules are separated from each other by a process called “singulation”. The final product is then subjected to the required acceptance and qualification tests (including total radiation dose for parts that will enter a satellite application), ensuring that it meets the data sheet specifications and applicable standards. .
“The concept is similar to the semiconductor wafer, except that it is not a semiconductor wafer but a panel,” Curatolo said. “It’s a multi-layered proprietary PC board, made as a single unit and then separated.”
One of the main advantages of this solution is that it is an easy and repeatable manufacturing process and involves much less waste. If you were to make each of these pieces individually, you would end up with a lot more waste. It is also more cost effective and guarantees better quality. According to Vicor, smaller modules not only have higher power density, they also become cheaper to manufacture – like in the semiconductor industry, performance and cost can be improved at the same time.
“This panel concept is a major leap in how we can produce things and make things quickly,” Curatolo said. “That’s really important in today’s environment, where you have to deal with supply chain issues and there’s a lot of pressure to get these modules built and released immediately.”
Preparing for new high-growth automotive and data center markets
Today’s markets increasingly demand more power-dense devices. This is true for the automotive industry, where electric vehicles require efficient, small and lightweight power solutions because weight is critical. The need is similar in satellites: since there is not much space available for the rooms, each must be small.
Besides automotive, aerospace and defense, the data center is another key industry for Vicor. “Data center is an umbrella term that includes AI, machine learning, edge computing, and applications that require high power density,” said Steve Germino, director of public relations and customer relations. media at Vicor. “The new factory allows us to meet the demand of these fast-growing markets. Our proprietary process sets Vicor apart from our competitors and sets a new standard for manufacturing high quality, low cost, and reliable power modules in the USA.
The Vicor ChiP factory ushers in a new era of power module manufacturing. From the semiconductor-like approach to automation and a focus on durability, Vicor has focused on manufacturing excellence. Vicor took these steps not only to meet customer demand, but also with sustainability in mind to maintain control of the entire manufacturing process, which now includes plating under one roof.
This zero wastewater recycling system is a perfect complement to Vicor’s state-of-the-art manufacturing processes, which have been continuously innovated for over 40 years. As the leading designer and manufacturer of high performance power module solutions, the new facility will support a new era of growth, advancement and innovation for decades to come.
This article was originally published on EE time.
Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a doctorate. in physics and is a telecommunications engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. It collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronic design.