Drives & Controls January 2024

NEWS n 5 UK start-up says it can boost drive efficiencies and shrink sizes A UK POWER SEMICONDUCTOR developer is one of two winners of a competition organised by ABB to nd start-up companies that are pushing the boundaries of drives and motors technologies. Cambridgebased Quantum Power Transformation (QPT) is developing a power semiconductor technology based on gallium nitride (GaN) that, it believes, could deliver substantial energy and size savings compared to other technologies for variable-speed drives and other applications. As the joint winner of ABB’s Power Density Start-up Challenge 2023 for Motor Drive Products, QPT will collaborate with ABB in a project worth up to $30,000 with the aim of producing a commercialisation plan by the third quarter of 2024. The other winner was a Canadian company, Calogy Solutions, which is working on a low-cost technology for managing battery temperatures. QPT was established in 2019 to solve the challenges of designing with GaN transistors, and to unlock the potential of GaN to provide substantial energy savings across a wide range of electrical devices. Although GaN power semiconductors can, in theory, deliver signicant energy savings over silicon and silicon carbide (SiC), they need to operate at frequencies of up to 20Mhz to deliver these savings and high power densities. But operating at these frequencies creates electromagnetic interference, making it di—cult to achieve the benets. QPT claims it is the only company that can run GaN transistors at frequencies up to 20MHz without EMI issues or overheating, thus delivering the promised benets. “Our technology enables drives controls to be made much smaller as we achieve the best power densities and e—ciencies of any current technology by enabling GaN to be hard-switched at 1 to 2ns,”explains QPT’s founder and CEO, Rob Gwynne. “Current VSDs are bulky which means that they are invariably located away from the motor itself and then connected by copper cables that are big and heavy to cope with the hundreds of Amps or so going through them and also waste energy in the process. “QPT’s next-generation GaN technology shrinks the size of a VSD to around a twentieth of the size so that it can be integrated beside the motor,”he adds. “The need for big, costly lters that Si, SiC or slow existing GaN alternatives require and preclude easy integration, is also eliminated, further reducing the overall size which further helps integration.” QPT says that it has already developed patented techniques for operating VSDs at PWM (pulse width modulation) switching frequencies of up to 2MHz, providing switching speeds of 12ns without any EMC issues. (Silicon and SiC transistors, by comparison, typically switch at 2050ns.) The result is up to 80% less energy wastage in chopping processes compared to existing VSD designs. QPT adds that its future products will switch even faster. The rst generation has been designed to work with existing motor control chips which cannot operate faster than 2MHz. Drivesmakers can replace existing silicon or SiC power stages with QPT’s GaN-based power modules to make their VSDs more e—cient. Another advantage that QPT claims for its technology is that unlike conventional VSDs, whose e—ciency of around 97% drops o£ “rapidly”with speed, GaN-based VSDs have an e—ciency of around 99% which hardly decreases with speed. At half-speed, traditional VSDs are typically 95% e—cient, at quarter-speed 93% e—cient, and at eighth-speed 88% e—cient. QPT suggests that its technology could produce integrated motors rated at around 75kW, which would allow energy to be recaptured through regenerative braking. The company envisages other applications including robots, servodrives, welding systems, as well as HVAC systems and EVs. In servo applications, for example, GaN modules could boost productivity because they settle faster, allowing more moves to be achieved per hour. QPT has recently opened a funding round on Crowdcube with the aim of raising £500,000 ( -access/qpt). A pioneer of GaN technology, Geo£ Haynes, who co-founded GaN Systems, is the lead investor for the round. January 2024 VOLVO CARS is buying more than 1,300 robots and functional packages from ABB to build its next generation of electric vehicles. The robots, which will be deployed at sites in Sweden and China, will help the car-maker to achieve its sustainability targets by cutting its energy consumption by up to 20% through the use of regenerative braking on the robots, and e—cient power electronics in their controllers. This deal includes the supply of ready-touse functional packages for tasks such as spot-welding, riveting, dispensing, ¦ow drilling and ultrasonic weld inspection. To ensure that production is not interrupted while the robots are being deployed, ABB will use its RobotStudio planning and programming software to visualise and optimise the installations before the robots are installed. By developing and validating the automation systems virtually, Volvo and ABB will create systems that can be engineered once but deployed many times. “The automotive industry’s historic transformation, driven by increasing consumer demand for EVs and a desire to operate more sustainably, is creating new opportunities as well as challenges,”says ABB Robotics president, Marc Segura.“Through our new, energy-e—cient large robot family and OmniCore controllers we will help Volvo Cars to deliver energy savings of up to 20%.” 1,300 robots will help Volvo to cut its energy use by 20% QPT founder and CEO, Rob Gwynne, with one of the company’s GaN modules