Could you be converted?

Recom Group CEO, Karsten Bier, believes Recom offers cheaper and better alternatives to bespoke converters

Bespoke converters are the norm, but Recom CEO, Karsten Bier, believes standardised modules provide an efficient and cost-effective alternative

Practically all PCBs feature a converter. According to Karsten Bier, converter design is not, in itself a very demanding task. There are many development tools on the internet where users only need to enter a few specifications to obtain fully realised circuit diagrams, but as Karsten points out, the devil is in the detail.

As PCBs are essentially based on analogue technology with high switching frequencies, they feature a multitude of parasitic capacitances and inductances that are not clearly visible in a circuit diagram. This tends to lead to unpleasant surprises such as interference and reduced efficiency. Time-consuming re-design is common. The moment time-to-market becomes an issue, manufacturers are frantically looking for off-the-shelf modules.

Karsten explained: “Recom wants to replace bespoke converters with fully assembled, certified and standardised modules. In many cases, we can offer cheaper and better solutions.”

The company boasts extensive experience as a supplier of modular converters, switching regulators, and LED drivers, with products designed and tested in Gmunden am Traunsee, Austria, and mass-produced in Taiwan, in a dedicated factory owned by the Recom Group.

Keeping costs low

Production costs are obviously key as Recom wants to offer certified modules at a competitive price to substitute bespoke converters. The decision to produce in Asia was therefore taken for costs reasons, as the manufacturing process is quite labour-intensive, ruling out production in Europe.

Karsten said: “We need to compete in the global market and Taiwan has a tradition as a manufacturing location for converter modules, offering a skilled workforce and quality standards on par with European countries. It might well be possible to find a cheaper source for mass-produced goods in China, but Taiwan has proven unbeatable for us. We don’t just look at price but also reliability and quality.”

All prototypes undergo climate chamber HALT tests at the company’s lab in Gmunden in order to eliminate any potential problems and weaknesses. The same tests are repeated with the pilot batch produced in Taiwan, followed by random sample testing during series production. This ensures that defects or minor changes made by component suppliers are detected at the earliest possible stage, eliminating the risk of product failures or reduced service lives.

Recom converters are designed to last at least as long as the products in which they are used. This is obviously crucial, considering that the reliability of a component costing a few euros can determine the operability of expensive machinery. A faulty converter could, for example, bring a railway system or a vital medical device to a halt, with devastating consequences.

Maintaining quality

According to Karsten, counterfeit components are a serious threat. He revealed: “Chinese factories are terribly fast in copying our designs. Generally speaking, it takes around six months for a new converter type to be optimised and fully tested. To our dismay, we often come across copies of our latest models only two or three months after our first delivery. In some cases, they are shipped with exact copies of our data sheets.

“As long as such products are sold under a different brand name, we are not overly worried, as customers are aware that they are not buying an original product. Much more problematic are copies that come with a forged Recom logo and quality certificates.”

Buyers should be very wary, if an unknown supplier offers products at prices that are simply too good to be true. Sometimes it is necessary to examine parts under an electron microscope to confirm that they are illegal copies. Such nasty surprises can only be avoided by purchasing from authorised distributors and reputable catalogue suppliers.