In blog number 3, we are going to divert a little from our normal trend of evaluating power supply design and simulation tools. Instead, we are going to look into power management tools that are online.
Power management is no longer restricted to just allowing a power supply to ramp up. Sophisticated power sequencing is now possible and required by many devices. In an effort to control all of this and properly sequence the various rails, communications busses such I2C, SMBus, and PMBus have been implemented and/or developed. With each of these protocols, digital communication is required. When communication is required, there is almost invariably the need to write code. For many engineers, this becomes a learning effort that ultimately requires time to understand the code and protocols. Fortunately, those that are making the sophisticated power management controllers and sequencers are also making GUI interface software that assists in developing the control sequences and in some cases the code. I recently visited two of these products, Intersil’s powernavigatorTM and Linear Technologies LTpowerplayTM .
Although the ultimate goal of using these tools is to set up power sequence and fault management, I found myself liking them for the GUI interfaces. I especially liked them for the analog display of the voltages and currents. I likened the display to the Torque application used to show automobile engine performance via a smartphone. My son from the cooler generation turned me on to Torque and now I’m sharing this gadget with my fellow engineers. I believe they’d be interested in creating analog gauges that display the various engine status levels. This is performed via the ECM or engine control module via the OBD (onboard diagnostics) protocol connector featured in most cars in the last twenty years. Enough about Torque. This is a blog on power management. I’ve included more information on Torque in the references.
Of the two products featured, I was able to test run Intersil’s powernavigatorTM . In addition to the easy to use GUI, the software generates the code for you. You can save files in a config or a project format. There is also a Command Line tool that allows you to research and write any PMBus command that the chosen device supports.
Both products support fault management of the system. In addition, power sequencing is also programmable. The GUI screens show ramping of the system in a manner that makes sequencing a visually pleasing experience. These guys have done their homework and thought of the customer.
When looking into the Linear Tech LTpowerplayTM I learned a lot from the product demonstration videos. I then downloaded the software in an attempt to take it for a trial run. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it past the licensing phase as my email was gmail based instead of that of a corporation. I’ve hit this roadblock before and although I own a corporation and plenty of URLs that I could use as a home email, I don’t find it to my advantage at this point in my business development. The key take away is that the Linear video showed how the software tool provided a great deal of interface ability in an easy to use GUI environment. In addition, I really like the way the Linear Tech tool let you zoom in and out of the system while having waveforms that tracked your level of zooming. There is no easy way to explain this so I recommend that you view the video listed in the References.
There is only so much detail that can be addressed in a blog and in my opinion, it doesn’t do these two tools any justice as they are both very sophisticated. The best way to learn these tools is to use the information provided by the vendors. More specifically, I found the Intersil User guide and Linear Tech video to be very informative. For engineers that are expected to manage power sequencing and faults in addition to creating the various voltage rails, these tools ease the intensity of programming the devices while allowing you to take full advantage of the various features of very sophisticated control ICs. Not only will they save you time, they will save power and make your loads happy.