Part 3 of the poll that the Technology First team at element14 is inviting your comments and nominations for the most influential technologies and products for 2013. This is a list for all of us to build together, we have some ideas here for starters. Please join in to discuss the entries below or to submit yours.


You may also be interested in reading Part 1 – Game Changers of Tomorrow and Part 2 – Technologies enabling Electric vehicles on the road  from which these entries are continued.

Category: Catalysts for change

Latest news on technologies and services that improve lifecycle management and reduce cost.


7. DC-DC Converters Offer Lower Cost of Ownership

Most electrical/electronic equipment require some form of voltage conversion; often provided by the AC-DC power supply or the battery with many also requiring additional DC voltages to power various parts of the system; the most popular being 3.3 VDC, 5 VDC, 12 VDC and 24 VDC. How to generate these rails is a decision the engineer has to take early in the design stage, normally taking cost, size and time-to-market into account.

For lower power levels, say 1 Watt, the engineer may consider designing their own component solution. Whilst the component solution may look lower cost initially, the designer must consider the time to develop your own DC-DC circuit. Other criteria that can be critical to the overall system performance include line and load regulation, ripple and noise, and critically the emc and thermal performance of the circuit. The design is further complicated if isolation is required or positive and negative output voltages need to be generated, for example +/-5 VDC. Lastly, in today’s green world, the overall DC-DC circuit has to be efficient, especially if multiple voltage rails, and hence circuits, are required.

The emergence of disruptive power architectures including micro inverters and dc-dc converters will be one of the most important trends in the near term. Source: element14 Applications


The alternative way of generating the additional voltage rails required is to use standard off-the-shelf DC-DC converters. Once the engineer has the specification determined, it is a case of browsing the readily available DC-DC converters in the market and selecting the appropriate device, thus reducing development time and improving time-to-market. When utilizing off-the-shelf DC-DC converters the device will have been pre-tested by the manufacturer and you are aware of how the device will perform, having had the opportunity to review the full specification on the datasheet, outlining such details as input range, isolation, temperature range, MTBF, efficiency, emc performance and many other specifications. You also have the opportunity to order samples prior to committing to the final design. Lastly, efficiencies in procurement and stocking are improved offering often hidden cost savings throughout the manufacturing process.

It is clear that when taking all costs into account, the overall cost of ownership of buying DC-DC converters rather than designing component solutions can be lower. With new devices coming onto the market, such as the Multicomp range of 1W DC-DC converters, at a lower price point than previously available, the case for buying an off-the-shelf device is strong.

8. Energy saving whilst optimising plant efficiency


Many applications of industrial systems remain invisible to the everyday user yet are opportunities for strong near term improvements. Automation solutions help optimise operations at a gravel plant in Austria. Source: Eaton

Operating gravel and sand plants in harsh environmental conditions is no easy deal. Experts in the field know the problem of starting iced up elevating conveyors in the morning in freezing temperatures all too well: The stiffness of the empty conveyor belts due to frozen water in the belt pockets causes the motor currents to increase right up to the operating limits. When material is then added, the drive enters the overload range and the motor protection shuts down the conveyor. A restart is then mostly only possible after the conveyor line has been emptied by tediously shovelling off the conveyed material by hand.


A hardware solution such as a speed sensor, load shedding relay etc. is required for a real and reliable feedback signal. When the set current value of the drive is exceeded in the event of an overload, the drive is shut down immediately in order to protect the motor from being destroyed and a fault is indicated. This results in several unplanned breaks in operation that can take a lot of time to rectify and often involve high downtime costs. Solutions such as Eaton‘s new SmartWire-DT communication and connection technology implemented in combination with the PKE electronic motor-protective circuit-breaker allow iced up belt to be automated to “run warm” until the operating current has dropped to “idle running”. This allows controlled operation of the plant close to its maximum output limit, i.e. optimized and safe plant operation. A neat and extremely fast “wiring” of SmartWire-DT, its space saving design is particularly ideal for the limited space available in the control room.

9. Low power MEMS


Amongst latest product releases, Analog Devices's ADXL362 MEMS accelerometer enables wireless sensor networks, wearable motion detectors and other portable systems to significantly extend battery life.



This extremely low power consumption allows the ADXL362 to be used in applications that require battery life expectancy of months or years, and where battery replacement can be impractical or dangerous to the equipment or operator. ADXL362 MEMS Accelerometer Enables System-Level Power Savings.


Many such wireless sensor networks will open up several near term opportunities to improve power savings through the lifecycle. Many companies are already developing applications which are improving asset tracking type applications and universities that are looking at complementary systems like the MicroGen BOLT(TM) recharger from Cornell!


Submit your suggestions or discuss the above ones. If you have suggestions for the categories of game changers of tomorrow and technologies for electric vehicles, please drop in your comments and we would love to include them!