Robert Taylor is an applications manager in Systems Engineering Marketing group covering custom power supply design for the industrial and personal electronics market. His group is responsible for 500 designs per year and has designed 15k power supplies over the last 20 years. Robert joined TI in 2002 and spent most of his time as a power supply designer across a wide range of applications. He received his bachelors and masters degrees in Electrical Engineering from the University of Florida. Go Gators.
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John: Welcome to another edition of The Impact podcast. I’m John [inaudible]. I’m so excited to have with us today. Robert Taylor. He’s the applications manager and systems engineering marketing for Texas Instruments. Welcome to the Impact Podcast, Robert.
Robert Taylor: John, thanks so much. I am excited to be here. Really looking forward to this conversation today.
John: You have a big title, but we’re going to be talking about energy today and energy efficiency. And before we get to that, can you just share a little bit about your background and even you got here, Robert?
Robert: Yeah, for sure. So as, you can see from the background university of Florida, so go gainers. I got my bachelor’s degree in Master’s degree in electrical engineering. From there, first really got interested in electronics and you know, electricity, all of it. Because my father, so he was in the Navy and so he was a electronics technician for 25 years in the Navy. And so when I went to schooling the, I wanted to do engineering, electrical was kind of a natural path for me, and it’s been interesting ever since. You know, electrical engineering is a fascinating topic for me. And it’s affecting the world, all different kinds of things. It’s crazy [inaudible]
John: You know. How long ago did you join TI? How long have you been at Texas?
Robert: I’ve been at TI for a little bit more than 20 years now. So I joined Straight out of school. It’s the only job I’ve ever had. It’s great. Love TI. They’ve treated me very well. And you know, as a company we’ve always kind of been on the cutting edge of different technologies and different things that are going on, and It’s amazing to be able to impact so many different industries, so many different types of applications and different devices. It’s just very fulfilling, I would say, to be [inaudible].
John: You know for our listeners and viewers to find Robert and his great colleagues who are doing important work that affects the whole planet right now, especially since energy is one of the top issues on the planet. You could go to www.ti.com, that’s Texas Instruments. You know, coup a few months back, we had your wonderful colleague Pradeep Shink with us Yeah. To talk about sustainable energy. And this is sort of a follow up interview, and we’re so glad to have Texas Instruments back and have you on today Robert. We’re going to more specifically talk about energy efficiency and what’s going on right now. You know, obviously as we’re trying to move from a linear to circular economy and everyone’s trying to chase this wonderful goal of net zero and carbon emissions and get the carbon neutrality, we’re trying to do more with less. And so can you explain with regards to energy doing more with less, where semiconductors play a role in doing more with less across the planet?
Robert: Yeah, it’s a great point, John. So you know, there’s so many different things, whether it’s electric vehicles or it’s just reading today of the news. They want to get rid of gas stoves in people’s homes, right? [crosstalk] I can’t have gas throwing my home anymore, right? So now, so many different things moving from machine power to either, whether it’s gas or you know, other types of energy to electrical energy. And that’s going to do a number of different things. So one you know, I’m in the state of Texas, so we have our old power grid here, right? And so a lot of people probably remember when the power grid would strain, and as we started adding more electric vehicles, more electric machines in the, all more servers, data centers to handle all of the, AI big data that’s going on you know, it’s really going to put a strain on the energy grid. And some of the things that we’re doing at TI in terms of helping with efficiency of some of the, our conversion different things like that via through semiconductor. It is really going to make an impact small, if you think about it when you have a large amount of electricity and you’re trying to translate it through to a different level you know, a 1% gain in efficiency could impact a huge number of things there. And so you know, being able to handle things more efficiently, being able to drive the more effectiveness out of the grid, do more you know, computations or whatever it may be. Let’s take a data center for example, right? So, if I have a data center that has 50 megawatts of power coming in, if I have to spend that cooling the data center, inefficiencies and power offices, different things like that, that’s less YouTube videos that somebody could be watching that’s less you know, stock trades to get done on a single server, right? And so company are looking to increase the efficiency and if TI is really helping to push those boundaries.
John: You know, this issue you’re in Texas, I’m in California. Both states have faced just in the last year power losses. Talk a little bit about the innovations TI is doing in semiconductors to help keep power losses out of minimum.
Robert: Yeah, so one of the biggest industries that TI focused on within the industrial space is grid infrastructure. So grid infrastructure is going through a lot of changes where we have, whether it’s mechanical relays switching to solid state relays. High voltage translation different types of things where semiconductors are now able to be utilized as spaces that they weren’t before to build more reliable grids, to be able to switch different types of loading and things that are going on at a higher level so that we still run into those situations where we bring down the whole grid because of one failure. That’s somewhere else. It Texas [inaudible] involved in a lot of those different spaces to improve that quality of the power that’s being delivered. And also to reduce the downtime.
John: Give us a couple of idea versions of the innovations that in semiconductors that you’re doing to help reduce those power losses.
Robert: Yeah. so you know, to move back to the data center example for one, so right now you know, semiconductors in general are kind of on what we call the 3rd generation. So the first generation, there’s bipolar transistors and a lot of older technologies, some of which don’t get cute. The 2nd generation silicon moset, which are the backbone of all of the semiconductors that are used across many different industries. And now we’re moving into the third generation with wide band [inaudible] Provide the solicit silicon carbide or gallium nitride. And so TI per example is using gallium nitride in server applications for these data centers. Where we can improve the efficiency one to 2% over what’s currently available. And so that means a few different things. So one, I could get more computing hour, I don’t have to wait power cooling the server or the data center. Two, I could fit more servers into a given area. And these are being used wildly. So AI is taken a look if you look at like medical imaging and medical records and different stuff that’s going on there, right? Just think like every time when you would go to get, at least when I was a kid, they go get an x-ray, you go in there, they take a picture and they put it up on the thing. Now all of that’s digital, right? Like even if you go to the dentist now. It’s all digital and all of that information has to get store somewhere. And as we generate more and more content, more you know, videos, images even just like this podcast for example, this has to go in somewhere on a server servers, but if people can view it, and if we can improve the efficiency of the electricity to get delivered to that machine, so that people can access the content, that’s hugely beneficial to everyone.
John: You know, we get to deal with a lot of OEMs here at ERI with what the position that you sit at at Robert at Texas Instruments is designed for sustainability. Now a big deal at TI And is it officially named that or is it just what you do now? Is it just part of your culture and DNA.
Robert: Yeah, I would say it’s part of the culture, but still It’s kind of a shift in mindset, right? So a lot of customers would say, okay, give me the bare minimum cost in order to meet this set of goals or target specifications, right? So let’s say the power supply cost $50. Now people are saying, okay, I understand that the power supply costs $50, but if you could save me $50 in electricity over the car course of the next 3 years, right? I’m more interested in that. So total cost of ownership, whether you deliver a higher, more engineered valued product to the customer, maybe it costs more initially, but it’s going to save them money over time. A lot of people are really interested in that
John: Gallium nitride. Let’s go back to that now. You know, I’ve never heard of that element. Should you give a little bit, were you guys the first to employ or deploy the use of that to pick up that one to 2% and wide bang gap technology? Or was that something that was, or how did that work?
Robert: Develop a transfer, I would say going on in the industry right now. TI is not the first one to develop gallium nitride process. But one thing that TI is very good at is you know, manufacturing in general. And doing it at a cost effective pace. So because of the scale and because of the amount of manufacturing capabilities that we have, we’re able to offer technology to a wider array of customers at a more reasonable cost than, some of our competitors. So for example you know, back to the gallium nitride specifically you know, these devices allow it to operate at faster switching speed and more efficiently. So that basically equates to, I could build something that’s smaller, that’s more efficient and cost less than somebody else that’s using a different technology.
John: And you’re saying even in your industry, which is fascinating because I never heard it said the way you just did a couple minutes ago, picking up one to 2% of efficiencies is actually a big deal. It’s actually a big deal.
Robert: Yeah. So I mean if you think about it and you think about like you know, a solar panel or something like that, for example, which you know, typical rates for solar conversion efficiency are in the 20 to 30% rate. So if you add 1% onto that, maybe not such a big deal. But when we’re talking about power supplies, we’re talking about moving from 96 to the 98% efficiency. If we’re converting megawatts of power you know, that 1 or 2% could be huge, could be a lot there.
John: Share a couple of other real world examples of like how high power density applications that white band gap semiconductors or make a difference in [inaudible]. So we could bring it to more [crosstalk].
Robert: Most people know this is an adapter. Yeah. That you would get with say your cell phone for example. So if you look at a device that this side this particular adapter can put out 65 wats. Sixty five wats is enough to charge your laptop cell phone probably right around at the same time. Now, if you remember back to maybe the first phone that you got, right? That device probably put out 5 watt and was probably bigger than that. So we’ve increased the amount of power by a factor of 13 and cut the sizes in half probably. Versus that particular device. And so this particular adapter had gallium nitride inside as well, so that’s’ allowing us to get the smaller size. So I don’t know about you, but I travel a lot and everything that I got to put into my backpack, but I got to put a different charger from my laptop. I got to put a different charger from my phone and I got to bring all these different power adapters and different electronic. With gallium nitride and reducing the size of these adapters. And then especially even if we go off on a tangent and start talking about a USB type C and how they’re standardizing the charging for all these different devices, is going to make a huge difference. So the smaller that I can make that charger, the lighter I’m making it, the more happy people are they, don’t have to carry these around. And by the way, at the same time, instead of that old brick that he had, the big one that was probably some kind of linear charger that ran at like 50% efficiency. Now these run at 95% efficiency. Down on the amount of energy that gets weight.
John: Robert, what is the future of high voltage power really look like? What’s your vision of the future?
Robert: Yeah, I think the biggest thing that people see right now is the electrification of vehicles. And it’s great. So I have an electric vehicle myself. I love it. When I get to drive it, mostly my wife is driving it, but occasionally I get to drive it. It’s a fun car to drive and you know, I think a lot of people are really interested in that. And you know, there’s something to be said, right? So we’re taking the automotive industry and really changing it from internal combustion engine to electric engine. Now that makes that particular portion of it you know, really efficient and good. But at the same time a lot of people gloss over and don’t think about, okay, well where does that electricity come from? That electricity has to come from somewhere, whether that’s a coal fire power plant. You know, a nuclear power plant or maybe you got solar panels. The big transformation, in my opinion, where the next space that we have to go is we got to figure out how to generate more clean energy, generate more of that type of sustainable power. Because if we all of a sudden in your state of number one on this list to start banning you know, gas power cars, and all of a sudden everybody in California has plug in electric cars. I don’t think there’s enough electricity out there to handle that. So the innovations and the tainted in the next 5 to 10 years, while everybody’s excited about the automotive industry, are really going to have to come on the grid side of things. And in that, in terms of power generation, in terms of smart how we handle the power all of those different types of bank [crosstalk] are going to become really important.
John: That’s really fascinating what you just brought up. You’re saying our well-meaning politicians, and this actually happened this summer, and I’m sure you’ve read about it, you’re in this industry. They came out with that edict about 2035, everything having to be no more gas cars on the road here in California, literally, right? It wasn’t 3 days later where we had a power issue here you know, in terms of power losses. Governor comes on television and says, do you have an EV car right now? Please don’t use it. Don’t charge it. Right? So meanwhile…
Robert: That people can’t drive.
John: Right? So like you should [cross talk].
Robert: Yeah what happens if we start making ambulances or police card is their fire truck, if we start turning those into EV and now we can’t charge those, and all of a sudden they can’t get to where they need to go because we’d have an insufficient hour grid. It’s a huge problem that we’re going to have to address. And I feel like companies like take the picture with, we have some technology and things that are going to be able to really transform what’s happening here right now.
John: So you’re really saying, and [inaudible] beyond California, we are using California as a fun example and as an ecosystem giving us the largest state in the nation. And also have does some funny things with regards to those kind of announcements. But truly even well-meaning politics, policy makers and other people from your perspective. We have a, and in reality is which is very reality based perspective, we have a long way to go on a national basis for our infrastructure.
John: To catch up with.
Robert: No, I think every, everything has unintended consequences.
John: You’re right.
Robert: And you realize those as you start going into it. I mean, let’s look at automobiles, for example, in the gas that you put into the car. A lot of the taxes that go on that [ inaudible] go to help build roads than to build maintain the bridges and different things like that. You turn all the power electric, now you got to figure out where to get bad money from some somewhere else, right? And so that tax goes back to the power company and you know, are whatever we got to figure all of these things out. And they’re a lot of really smart people that of sure are doing that. But you know you can’t understand everything that’s going to happen until, you get there. And we got to be kind of careful with this one I think.
John: You’re one of these really smart people and so are your colleagues at Texas Instruments. Let’s talk about the future besides fixing our infrastructure issues, which are critical, what gets you out of bed in the morning you know, you’re there 20 years, Robert you know, what’s next for TI that you’re working on that you could give us a little bit of some exciting initiatives that’s coming soon. Not in 2030 or 2040, but maybe the next one or 2 years.
Robert: Sure. So yeah, I mean we keep going back to the data center and that area that’s somewhere where we’re affecting policy like right now. So you know, there’s new standards that are coming out. And because of work specifically that my team, we’re working on server data center power supplies from 1.5 to 5 kilowatts that will be deployed in the next couple of years. And those will save upwards of billions of dollars in electricity costs for the companies that deploy those servers. So that’s huge. Beyond that you know, great infrastructure and units is a big one. Battery theft. So all of these electric vehicles that we have require loads and loads of rechargeable batteries. And those batteries need to be formed. They need to be tested. And so we’re working on high voltage designs with high efficiency where we can test those batteries and help those manufacturers to form the batteries. The amount of lithium ion batteries that are going to be required for the automotive industry is in sync. And every one of those batteries, every one of those little cells has to be, tested. And so when you charge and discharge that cell, the more efficiently you can do that, the less power you have to put into that system. And so that’s the power that you put into that system is basically weight. So there’s you’re charging the battery, you’re discharging the battery to understand how that particular cell works, but that’s not delivering any value to the customer to anyone at all. So we really need to make sure that those types of systems are really efficient. Even on aircraft for example. So we’re doing a number of different designs where in the aircraft they really care about the weight. So if you have an inflight entertainment system that sits under the seat, they weigh 30 or 40 pounds, and I can replace that with something that weighs 5 pounds. An air aircraft manufacturers are really excited about that. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t like picking that little box that’s under the seat in front of me. So what if I can make that box smaller, if I can make it lighter and I can make it better for the aircraft manufacturer, and then that makes you know, it better for the consumers. You know, just a couple examples.
John: Hey how many people work underneath you on this team, working on these very innovative initiatives?
Robert: Yeah, so I have I have a team of 16 engineers that works for me. And pretty, my counterpart. So I cover the industrial space. So we’re doing everything from AVI military application to medical, the grid structure, the power delivery all of those types of things. And then [inaudible] team is covering the automotive industry. And so we have a similar number of people. So in total we have about 30 engineers that are spread globally. So most of my team is here in the Dallas area in Texas. But we also have a team in China, and we have a team in Germany as well.
John: Hold on.
Robert: So we’re really well positioned to handle customers globally. We see a lot of different innovations and we’re able to take our knowledge and our technology to help customers solve those problems. [cross Talk] that’s probably what gets me out of bed in the morning. I would say. [cross Talk]. It’s really invigorating and rewarding to walk in the best buy or walk into a store and see something on the shelf and be like, yeah I help to make that.
John: Or to see the new grid continue to expand with more charging stations and more EVs on the road.
John: And you’re part of that whole ecosystem.
Robert: Yeah, definitely. It’s definitely a huge responsibility, I would say. And also you know, very rewarding. It’s’ something failed with the grid failed, like, I’m not on the line, but at the same time you feel responsible if there’s something that you could do to impact that and it doesn’t happen.
John: That’s true. Well, we’ll, just like for with Pradeep, we’re so thankful for you spending time with us today. Robert, we thank you and your colleagues for all the important work you’re doing at Texas in Instruments. For our listeners and viewers to find Robert and his colleagues and Perdeep and all the great work that they’re doing, you can just go to www.ti.com. Robert, you and Texas Instruments are making the world a better place. We’re thankful for your time today. Thanks for making the great impacts that you’re making and helping us become more energy efficient planet. And you’re always welcome back on The Impact podcast,
Robert: John I really appreciate it. This was a lot of fun, so thanks for having me.
John: This episode of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors, industry experts and impact partners. Close loops platform spans the arc of capital, from venture capital to private equity bridging gaps and fostering synergies. To scale the circular economy, the fine close loop partners, please go to www.closelooppartners.com. This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit ERIdirect.com.