Helix Semiconductors is a fabless semiconductor company committed to reducing energy consumption through the development of highly efficient power conversion integrated circuits. Their innovations represent a quantum shift in the power management industry – with the goal of reducing energy waste, size, heat, and weight. Below is our recent interview with Harold A. Blomquist, President & CEO of Helix Semiconductors:
Q: Helix talks about their products achieving extremely high efficiency. Why is this so important?
A: For Helix, the value proposition is not just efficiency, but improvement in power density (PD). Efficiency is one key enabler for improved PD, but not the only one. To the layman, this means reducing, or potentially removing that pesky “brick” in the power cable for laptops, tablets, phones, and many other electronic appliances.
On a bigger, broader scale, better energy efficiency is one of the most important challenges of our time. Global electrical grids are burdened to the brink. Vampire loads (electronic products which are plugged in but either not in use or using very low power) globally have reached thousands of Terawatt hours-per-year in energy consumed. This equals billions of dollars lost annually worldwide as well as billions of pounds of CO2 being spewed into the atmosphere.
Our patented MuxCapacitor® technology has a higher peak efficiency and maintains that efficiency across a much greater portion of the load curve when compared to traditional magnetic based power conversion devices. This feature creates higher operating efficiency and reduced heat generation across a wider range of applications than traditional power converters.
Q: What is the big deal about transformerless technology? How is it a game-changer?
A: The traditional approach to isolated power suppliers, AC-DC or DC-DC, requires the use of a transformer. Transformers are bulky, heavy and typically are the defining factor in the size and form factor of a power supply. Most transformer-based solutions have poor efficiency over the entire operating load range and do not support true “zero power” mode operation. Choosing a capacitor-based approach for isolation, a transformerless approach, along with Helix MuxCapacitor® capacitive voltage conversion and capacitive isolation driver ICs, enables new highly efficient, high-power density and cost-effective architectures for AC-DC and isolated DC-DC power supplies. Transformerless isolation creates a new paradigm for end product or sub-component power supply design.
Q: What are the most common applications for your energy-efficient technology/products?
A: Early adopters of our solutions are varied, and many, and include power modules for laptop chargers and edge sensors in the IoT environment, to head the list. Target applications for our transformerless technology include AC-DC power supplies for mobile communications and mobile computing; isolated DC-DC power supplies for industrial and commercial video cameras; PoE: wireless access points, security cameras and VoIP phones; IoT & IIoT gateways; electric and hybrid automobiles; industrial controllers and HVAC; telecom and data center auxiliary functions.
Q: What are Helix’s plans for the future?
A: Due to the many ways in which Helix’ chip technology can be used to make smaller, more efficient power supplies, it is our plan to build on the early market adoption of our chips by Murata and others. We foresee AD-DC transformerless power supplies from a few watts to 100W plus. We also foresee broad proliferation of our DC-DC chips into embedded power supplies in everything from Power-over-Ethernet to industrial controls to industrial IoT and even into such rapidly innovating applications as electronic vehicles. We expect to serve these markets as a pure fabless chip company using fab, assembly/test, and fulfillment partners to support global demand.
Q: What does it take to successfully run and grow a start-up like Helix?
A: First and foremost a sound technological foundation. Then the ability to solve real-world problems with the technology. Since there are so many ways in which designers can use cool technology, the next key step is the ability to understand and focus on the best-fit opportunities. Excellent leadership with a clear vision and decisive ability are needed in order to execute aggressively and achieve outcomes. Then the ability to rally the technical troops and key customers into alignment makes it possible to start down a path of significant value. Excellent financial support from general shareholders and visionary financial support from strategic investors round out the formula for success.
Q: What is your management style? How do you motivate employees and get the best out of them?
A: I think most people would describe my management style as a team builder who is unafraid to make solo decisions where needed, but who teaches, trains and empowers his team to be free to act on their own to achieve their part of the overall vision. I perceive myself as being able to formulate and implement successful strategies that enable teams to get far more out of themselves than they could individually. I am a firm believer in the fundamental principle that people want to do good, to be good and to win. I set clear goals in collaboration with the individuals on my team, provide them the resources and support to do what they commit to do, and then hold them accountable, as I hold myself accountable, to do what they say. Some might say I am brutal in pursuit of agreed upon goals. I might say that the only people who feel that way are chronically unable to do what they say, and who feel the pressure of accountability. I work hard, and I play hard. My teams work hard, and they learn to play hard as members of my team.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: Personally, I know that I am not the true innovative visionary who invents the “next cool thing!” I am, and have been for my entire career, able to pick excellent innovators and attach myself to them and enable them, and me, to make successful businesses out of their clever ideas. One of the market’s first automatic DRAM refresh chips was invented by a colleague. I worked up the business plan and together secured funding to make it happen. The market’s first high-density chip-carrier package was developed as a result of my intuition and execution. Under my leadership, third- and fourth-place teams have been able to feel the wonder of becoming first-place teams. Others come up with unique solutions, I enable outstanding execution by the team in order to make it happen.