Editor’s note: On this Memorial Day, let us all remember our cherished men and women who gave their lives in military service to this country, America.
If you are in power electronics, you may have been the tail wagged by the dog Letni. In order to power microprocessors, the Voltage Regulator Module specifications were created. Because Letni was such a large market for PCs, this sent many power control IC manufacturers scrambling after the business.
The control of a product design is typical in markets where the customer drives the vendor. In the case of the 800 pound gorilla Letni, the vendor also drives the customer. I worked both sides of the situation during my career.
While in a semiconductor company, I pursued the VRM market. Luckily, I chanced upon the opportunity to take MOSFETs to a level where my company became the main supplier of synchronous rectifier transistors. I was not as successful with IC design of the controller. Back then there were rumors that if you got one design, you wouldn’t get then next improvement so that you would focus on your current obligations. Observations were that business tended to leap frog in manner such that you might get every other design win. The impression stated by most however was that you yourself were the leaders in the race. It was interesting to see people at the power conferences reiterate this claim only to find out others were claiming the same.
It reminded me of the Dire Straits song lyric, “Two men say they’re Jesus. One of them must be wrong.”
When I transitioned from vendor to customer, it was now time to be in command of the situation; or so I thought. As it turned out, Letni controls their customers in the same manner they control their vendors. Microprocessors only sold if they had a new computer available at the same time. Therefore, Letni drove the designs with the computer manufacturers as well as the IC controller manufacturers. Incidentally, designs turned every one and a half years at the start of this job. When I left, it was one year between designs. We had improved one and a half times (depending on how you look at it). Ironically, our paychecks hadn’t. Imagine that.
The 800 pound gorilla may have had control over the microprocessor market however power electronics proved to be a different animal altogether. I joined a startup that was founded by several ex Letni employees who had lucked into way more stock than they were worth (with the exception of one). They thought having an inside track and the Letni momentum would enable them to command the market. Boy were they wrong. Power as it turns out is not so much a controlling technology as it is a necessary evil. Someone is always willing to do it better and cheaper. This resulted in my startup dream going bust unlike many of my graduate school classmates who got in at just the right time.
I recently read that the 800 pound gorilla had lost some weight. The PC market was down and along with it went the control. This resulted in a levitation to the point where the gorilla’s head was now in the clouds or the singular version, the cloud. I hope you don’t find this blog too confusing. If you follow the industry news you’ll realize what I’m referring to. As for Letni, you might just have it backwards.