Magnetics: Black Magic, Art, or Science?


It is often said that magnetics design is a mysterious realm – a mix of art and science in which many engineers lack confidence and understanding. A decade or so ago, when compound semiconductors emerged as viable, mainstream technologies promising dramatic improvements in power system efficiency and size, the spotlight fell even more intensely on magnetics. Have magnetics technologies kept up with the advances in semiconductor technology? Or have developments in higher frequency power conversion systems been hindered by the limitations in magnetic devices?

The answer to these questions is still open to debate but what is not questioned is the dedication of the members of the PSMA Magnetics Committee in their efforts to provide the industry with the latest information. This endeavor involves gathering data and support from manufacturers, researchers, consultants and academics working in this field. The work of the PSMA Magnetics Committee is all about providing the industry with the latest information and design insights. Over the past several years, the Committee has used the annual Applied Power Electronics Conference (APEC) as the platform for these efforts. In addition, for the last four years, the Committee has also sponsored an all-day workshop on the Saturday before APEC.

Here’s a brief rundown of what the Committee has done and is continuing to do:

APEC Magnetics Industry Sessions Address Need for Knowledge

Over the past several years, The PSMA Magnetics Committee has presented APEC Industry Sessions to bring magnetics theory, technology and design principals into focus. These Industry Sessions have combined presentations produced by magnetics materials manufacturers, academics and industry experts (Fig. 1).  

1. APEC Magnetics Committee-Sponsored Industry Sessions are well-attended1. APEC Magnetics Committee-Sponsored Industry Sessions are well-attended

Here’s a list of the APEC Industry Session titles going back to 2012:

  • APEC 2012 – Trends for AC Power Loss of High Frequency Power Magnetics
  • APEC 2014 – How are Magnetics Catching Up to SiC & GaN?
  • APEC 2015 – Nano-Magnetics for High-Efficiency Power Supplies
  • APEC 2016 – High Frequency Magnetics: Black Magic, Art or Science?
  • APEC 2017 – High Frequency Magnetics: Transforming the Black Magic into Engineering
  • APEC 2018 – High Frequency Magnetics Winding Design
  • APEC 2019 – High Frequency Magnetics: New Magnetic Materials
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Daylong Workshops Include Hands-On Demos

The creation of the APEC Industry Sessions has been met with an exceptional, and in some cases, standing room only response. It is clear that this technology area, once a pretty static domain, was being impacted by the advances in high-frequency power conversion. Rather than rest on their laurels at the success APEC Industry Sessions, the Committee set out, with the collaboration of the IEEE Power Electronics Society (PELS) to create full-day workshops to further educate and inform the engineering community. These workshops, held since 2016, have been very well attended.

The format of the workshops has remained consistent:  Opening with a keynote presentation and several lecture presentations dealing with key design considerations and technology developments. In addition to the brief Q&A period after each individual presentation, a panel of all of the presenters is conducted at the end of the session to address topics requiring more detail as deemed by the workshop attendees.

During breakfast, lunch and the networking hour at the end of the workshop (Fig. 2), attendees participate in interactive sessions of tabletop technology demonstrations addressing specific technical disciplines and capabilities consistent with the workshop agenda. Interaction between the attendees and the presenters is highly encouraged during this portion of agenda as a segue from the opening keynote presentation and the technical issues session.

2. Interactive table-top demonstrations are an important aspect of the daylong workshops2. Interactive table-top demonstrations are an important aspect of the daylong workshops

The 2020 Power Magnetics @ High Frequency Workshop

The fifth Magnetics @ High Frequency Workshop will be held on Saturday March 14th before the official start of APEC 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The workshop organizers will continue the tradition of the first four magnetics workshops, by bringing together experts from all aspects of the magnetics industry research and academic organizations, world renowned consultants and the everyday heroes of magnetics design who are responsible for commercializing magnetic products on a regular basis.  

Based on the post-event survey of 2019 workshop attendees, the 2020 workshop will address two major themes: 1) Characterization and Modelling, and 2) High Frequency Winding Techniques. Continuing Education Credits (CEC) will be available to workshop attendees.

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Free Download of All Magnetics Committee Presentations and Workshops

As a service to the power electronics design engineering community, all of the presentations – all of them – from all of the Magnetics Committee-produced APEC Industry Sessions – a total of 45 presentations in all –  as well as all four of the complete Magnetics @ High-Frequency Workshops – are available for download on the PSMA website – free of charge!

A complete list all of the presentations sessions and links to download the slides and videos is available at https://www.psma.com/technical-forums/magnetics/presentations

What Else is the Magnetics Committee Doing? The Core Loss Studies

With the extensive body of knowledge gathered and with all of that information that the committee has available free of cost, what else is the PSMA Magnetics Committee doing? When that question was posed to Ed Herbert, Co-Chair of the Committee, he replied, “Back in 2009, The PSMA Magnetics committee started a series of Core Loss Studies. The first three projects were done at Dartmouth College, Thayer School of Engineering under the direction of Professor Charles R Sullivan, PhD. Then in 2017, we undertook two additional special projects. In the first, some special cores were machined at Fair-Rite Corporation. In the second project, SMA Magnetics in Krakow was commissioned to study flux propagation in those cores and others. That project went very well, so a continuation with SMA Magnetics was started in 2018 and is nearly completed.”

The reports and data from these projects can be found at https://www.psma.com/technical-forums/magnetics/core-loss-studies.

As his final comment, Ed Herbert said, “It is very likely that we will sponsor future projects. Suggestions are welcome.”

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Invitation to be Part of PSMA

Since its founding in 1985, PSMA has strived to advance the interests of the power electronics industry through educational programs, technical forums, networking, conference sponsorship and publications. Our industry’s power conversion technologies and products are enabling many of the advances in today’s electrical infrastructure and electronics.

PSMA has grown thanks to the dedicated efforts of representatives from industry-leading companies and individuals. This article, presenting the activities of the PSMA Magnetics Committee, offers insights into the good work being accomplished through the voluntary contributions of PSMA members.

Member companies are afforded special benefits including free copies of PSMA reports (often valued at several thousand dollars) and discounts at PSMA-sponsored events. More information about membership and benefits can be found at www.psma.com



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