How Are You Managing Thermal Requirements of Shrinking Industrial Sensors?

October 9, 2018

Thong Huynh By: Anthony Huynh
Principal MTS, Applications Engineering, Industrial Communications Business Unit, Maxim Integrated


Intelligence is moving to the edge in automated factory environments, and cyber-physical systems are becoming more autonomous. The connectivity of machines, devices, sensors, and people is good news for factory uptime and productivity. Smart sensors, courtesy of IO-Link technology, are at the heart of this manufacturing convergence. With the real-time data collected by these sensors, factory equipment can make decisions and adapt to changing needs on the fly.  

From a power standpoint, there are two big challenges involved with designing smart sensors: managing thermal requirements and shrinking the solution size. Particularly with intelligence moving to the edge, the trend is toward miniaturization. I’ll be at the upcoming Sensors Midwest conference, October 16-17 in Rosemont, Illinois, to talk more about these issues.

In the meantime, it’s important to note that these issues around power and size are not limited to industrial environments. They are challenges that many engineers must face. For example, the same challenges apply for power supplies supporting various applications. In a recent blog post, Bonnie Baker wrote about the trend toward smaller and lower power wireless local area network (WLAN) devices for the home. She notes that the device that drives the power supply for WLAN devices contributes to the system’s footprint and thermal problems. Among the device options here are buck converters and low-dropout regulators (LDOs). Compared to an LDO, a buck converter can provide a more efficient power-supply solution. However, buck converters typically call for a discrete inductor, which requires additional capacitors in order to fully implement the power-supply conversion—not exactly a PCB space-saving approach. Baker suggests using a highly integrated buck converter module instead in order to meet thermal and size requirements for WLAN devices.

Industry 4.0 factorySmart sensors inside automated factory equipment can benefit from highly integrated buck converter modules.

One such module for compact, efficient power-supply designs is Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC™ power modules. These modules integrate a synchronous wide-input Himalaya buck converter, which includes built-in FETs, compensation, and other functions, with an inductor. They deliver up to 90% peak efficiency in solution sizes of less than 15mm2. For example, the MAXM15462 4.5V-42V, 300mA high-efficiency, synchronous step-down DC-DC module features an integrated controller, MOSFETs, compensation components, and an inductor in a 2.6mm x 3mm x 1.5mm uSLIC package. For more details, read my white paper, "Meeting the Efficiency and Power Dissipation Needs of Space-Constrained Applications."

Hope to see you at Sensors Midwest. Stop by and hear my talk, "Powering Miniature Sensors," from 11:10am to noon on Tuesday, October 16. I’ll discuss ways that you can reliably and efficiently power increasingly tiny sensors without overheating and also provide more details about our uSLIC power modules.