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Unification of AC adapter connectors with USB-C, introducing the BCR controller IC at an affordable price

Mr. Yoshiyuki Yamada Mr. Yoshiyuki Yamada

 At least one AC adapter (battery charger) is included when you purchase a laptop, tablet or a flat-screen TV. There are many end users who are dissatisfied with these AC adapters. This is because when you buy a new model, you can no longer use your old AC adapter and it becomes useless. There are lots of people who have AC adapters that are no longer usable just sitting in their desk drawer.

 And it goes without saying that AC adapters are not usually compatible with other electronic devices. You cannot use or charge your laptop, smartphone, tablet, digital video camera or electric shaver with a single AC adapter. Therefore, when you go on a business trip or on vacation, you have to pack several AC adapters in your luggage which just adds unnecessary weight.

 Cypress Semiconductor is currently working on a project to solve these problems. The name of the project is the “Barrel Connector Replacement (BCR)”. The aim is to promote the replacement of the barrel connector, which is the mainstream of current AC adapters, with the USB-C connector. So, in this article, we talked with Mr. Yoshiyuki Yamada, the Marketing Director of Cypress’ MCU & Connectivity Divisions, Wired Division about the project outline, what triggered the start of this project, and the benefits, as well as which controller ICs are compatible.
(Interviewer: Technical Journalist = Katsumi Yamashita)

Can you explain the outline and purpose of the “Barrel Connector Replacement (BCR)” project?

Changing the AC adapter charger connectors to USB-C

Figure 1: Changing the AC adapter charger connectors to USB-C
Currently, there are many cases where the power connector of the AC adapter (charger) uses a barrel connector or a unique connector. The “Barrel Connector Replacement (BCR)” project by Cypress Semiconductor aims to transition this to a USB-C connector.

AC adapters that can no longer be used (chargers)

Figure 2: AC adapters that can no longer be used (chargers)

Yamada: Currently, when you purchase a laptop, tablet, smartphone, flat-screen TV, digital camera, electric shaver, etc., one AC adapter (charger) is included. The connector used for the AC adapter is either a barrel connector or a connector unique to each company (Figure 1).

 The barrel connector is a cylindrical connector that is compatible with coaxial cable connections. However, there is no standard for external dimensions and the diameters and lengths vary from company to company. Naturally, each company’s own original connector also has a different shape for each electronic device manufacturer. Therefore, there is no interoperability guarantee.

 Which is why most AC adapters (chargers) cannot be reused. Even with laptops from the same company, if the products are from different generations, the older AC adapter (charger) can no longer be used. These AC adapters (chargers) either end up stuffed in the back of a desk drawer or end up in a cardboard box (Figure 2).

 This is one of the things that adds to “e-Waste (electric waste)”, which is now emerging as a major problem in the electronics industry. According to a market research company, 1 million tons of e-Waste is generated in the world every year (The Global e-Waste Monitor 2017).

 We want to solve these problems, which is how the BCR project got started. We aim to replace barrel connectors and original connectors used in AC adapters (chargers) with USB-C connectors. We are currently working with various electronics manufacturers to adopt USB-C connectors as a standard instead of using their own custom connectors.

Why did you choose the USB-C connector as the standard?

USB-C connector can not only transfer data, but also supply power as well

Figure 3: USB-C connector can not only transfer data, but also supply power as well
The USB-C Specification has a specification called “PD (Power Delivery)”, which can be used not only for high-speed data signals but also for supplying power up to 100W.

Will spread to automobiles in the next 5 years

Figure 4: Will spread to automobiles in the next 5 years
USB Type-Cs are now widely used in laptops and smartphones, but it is expected that they will be commonly used in automobiles in 5 years, and in embedded devices such as electric shavers and cordless vacuum cleaners within the next 10 years.

Yamada: When you use the USB-C connector, you are able to use the specification called “PD (Power Delivery)”. This can be used with many applications because it can supply up to 100W of power. In addition, the USB Type-C specification standardizes the shape of the connector so that interconnectivity between electronic devices can be secured. Because an alternate mode is also available, high-speed data signals such as Thunderbolt, HDMI, and DisplayPort can be transmitted (Figure 3).

 Moreover, the USB-C specification is rapidly expanding. Since its introduction in 2015, it has been adopted in various electronic devices such as laptops, smartphones, tablet devices, and computer peripherals. Within the next 5 years, it will also be installed in automobiles (Figure 4). Furthermore, within the next 10 years, it will be installed in embedded devices such as cordless vacuum cleaners and electric shavers.

There are various standardization organizations in the world. What position do these organizations take in regards to the standardization of AC adapters (chargers)?

Yamada: For example, the “USB-IF (USB Implementers Forum)” industry group working to promote the USB interface are actually trying to spread the use of connectors that comply with USB specifications for AC adapters (chargers) in European countries and China. Various safety organizations in each country are voicing their opinions to electronic device manufacturers. However, these efforts have no legal standing. Which is why the movement of electronic device manufacturers in each country is slow.

Under those circumstances, why did Cypress start the BCR project?

Yamada: Because we believe that if it is an initiative that benefits both the electronics manufacturer and the end user, there would be a natural transition to the USB-C connector.

The key to expansion is controlling cost increases

What do you think are the key points in making the BCR project successful?

Yamada: There will be two key points. One is to reduce the cost of transitioning from a barrel connector or an original connector to a USB-C connector. This is because if the cost increases significantly, there is a greater risk that many electric device manufacturers will be reluctant to make the transition.

 The other key point is that the output voltage and output current are variable. If this cannot be done, even if the shape can be standardized, it won’t be possible to use a single AC adapter (charger) for various electronic devices. In other words, it cannot be reused. On this point, there is no problem as long as it conforms to the USB-C PD (Power Delivery) specifications. With the USB-C, the necessary voltage and current can be determined by negotiating between the AC adapter (charger) that supplies power and the electronic device that receives power. Therefore, one AC adapter (charger) can be used for various electronic devices.

Standard support for 12V output

Could you explain what kind of product the BCR controller IC is?

BCR controller IC

Figure 5: BCR controller IC
Cypress Semiconductor has commercialized the BCR controller IC “CYPD3177”. Simply attaching an external power MOSFET or 8 resistors enables power supply via the USB-C connector. The supported fixed voltages are 5V, 9V, 12V, 15V and 20V.

Yamada: The part number of the BCR controller IC currently on sale is “CYPD 3177” (Figure 5). It was developed based on our existing product, the USB-C controller IC “CCG3PA”. As a result of our own market research, the 5V, 9V, 12V, 15V and 20V were selected as the standard supported fixed voltages as a special feature. Its maximum output current is 5A. In other words, it supports output of up to 100W at 20V/5A.

How does selecting 5 voltages become its special feature?

Yamada: Actually, the USB PD specification does not include 12V among the voltages that need to be supported. For example, standard specifications are that electronic devices of up to 15W output must support 5V, electronic devices of up to 27W output must support 5V and 9V, and electronic devices of up to 60W output must support 5V, 9V, 15V. It does not include the 12V.

 In other words, it can support 12V, but support is not absolutely necessary. However, our research showed that 12V is widely used, so we purposely chose to support 12V as a fixed voltage.

What other benefits does the CYPD 3117 have?

Yamada: Not only does it support PD protocol, but it also has a short-circuit protection function between the VBUS and CC terminals. There are two reason for installing this function. The first reason is that the CC signal is so important that there is a risk of loss of control if a short circuit occurs. The second is the VBUS and CC terminals are physically next to each other. Another major advantage is that firmware development is not required. It can be used as a drop in.

Is the BCR controller IC installed on the AC adapter (charger) side or on the side of the electronic device, such as a smart speaker?

Yamada: The BCR controller IC is installed on the receptacle side. In other words, it is mounted on the electronic device that receives power. It only requires an external MOSFET that switches the VBUS on and off and eight voltage/current setting resistors. Of course, Cypress has a solution on the AC adapter (charger) side that is compatible with this BCR.

Why are the output voltage and output current set with external resistors? And why don’t you use an external digital signal setting method?

Yamada: Basically, the initial settings of the power supply voltage and supply current of an electronic device doesn’t change. In many cases, there’s no problem with having them fixed. That is why we use a method that uses an external resistor that is inexpensive and easy to handle. However, since it has an I2C interface, the power supply voltage and supply current can be dynamically changed by directly rewriting the value of the internal register.

Highly cost effective

Earlier, you mentioned cost reduction as a key point for a successful BCR project. What is the actual increase in components costs compared to barrel connectors?

Yamada: The cost of the connector itself is higher for USB Type-C connectors compared to barrel connectors. Furthermore, the cost of the BCR controller IC and MOSFET and eight resistors are added on as well. Of course, we have set the price of our BCR controller ICs relatively low in order to promote them, but even so, an increase in component cost of 50 to 100 yen per electronic device is unavoidable.

Do you think it will be difficult to promote with the increase in component cost?

Yamada: No, the BCR project should be valued not only for the receptacle component cost, but also from a larger perspective for its cost-effectiveness (cost/performance).

 By using a USB Type-C connector, you can reduce the cost of an AC adapter (charger). This is because the AC adapter can be reused. Therefore, you won’t need to include them with electronic devices like smart speakers and smart phones and the cost can be reduced accordingly. Furthermore, there is no need for personnel for AC adapter procurement and inventory management, thus reducing labor costs.

 There are lots of great benefits for end users as well. They will be able to charge computers, smartphones or electric shavers by just bringing one AC adapter and cable. You won’t have to carry around multiple dedicated AC adapters for each of your electronic devices.

 On top of that, there is another merit in promoting the BCR project, which is the reduction of the aforementioned e-waste. In other words, we would be making a meaningful contribution to society.

So, considering these points, you’re saying they will become popular in the future?

Yamada: That’s right. Considering cost reduction areas such as the ability to reuse AC adapters and e-Waste reduction, the number of electronic device manufacturers that promote the replacement with USB Type-C connectors should continue to increase.

Everybody wins

If the AC adapters are reused, the power supply manufacturers that have been manufacturing them will lose their market. Will you be able to get the approval of power supply manufacturers?

Yamada: Actually, the reality is that power supply manufacturers are hardly profiting from the manufacturing/sales of simple AC adapters. This is because cost requirements are very strict. That being the case, it is better to transition to a sharing and reuse model as soon as possible. In other words, everybody wins. That is why I think we will be able to get the approval of power supply manufacturers.

Tell us about the current situation of electronic devices that use a USB Type-C connector for power supply.

Many electronic devices already use power supply via a USB Type-C connector

Figure 6: Many electronic devices already use power supply via a USB Type-C connector

Yamada: Devices (electronic devices) that use USB Type-C connectors for power supply are rapidly increasing. Over 250 models of laptops, over 60 models of smartphones, and 500 models of PC peripherals and mobile batteries (power banks) sold by third-party companies have been commercialized (Figure 6). In addition to this, compatible models of smart speakers and digital video cameras are also making an appearance.

 The number of compatible models will surely continue to increase. As a result, the benefits of the BCR project for electronic device manufacturers and end users are sure to increase as well.

Are there any developments with competing semiconductor manufacturers?

Yamada: There are competing semiconductor manufacturers who are also moving in the same direction as us. Semiconductor chips with similar function have been commercialized by competitors more than six months after we started shipping products. There are also Chinese companies developing products.

 However, we have a 35% share of the USB Type-C PD controller IC market and are the leaders in the industry. Due to our abundant track record, we have the competitive advantage of extremely high reliability for interoperability.

Do you have an evaluation kit?

Evaluation Kit

Figure 7: Evaluation Kit
The part number is “CY4533”. A small board of 3.7cm x 2.5cm equipped with a BCR controller IC “CYPD3177”, power MOSFET, voltage/current setting dial resistor, USB Type-C compatible receptacle, DC output terminal, and I/O terminal for connection to external microcontrollers.

Yamada: We do. The part number is “CY4533” (Figure 7). In addition to the BCR controller IC “CYPD3177”, a resistor whose resistance value can be selected by turning the dial, a USB Type-C compatible receptacle, a power output terminal, and an output terminal that supports the I2C interface. If you connect the evaluation kit and a charger, you can see how they negotiate and supply the set voltage and current. The voltage/current can be supplied directly to applications such as smart speakers.

Convert barrel connectors to USB Type-C in 3 easy steps!

CY4533 EZ-PD™ BCR Evaluation Kit

The CY4533 EX-PD™ BCR Evaluation Kit introduced in this manufacturer interview is on sale.
The BCR Kit is a kit that can easily convert a barrel connector into a USB-C connector with power delivery function.
Developed products can be powered from a USB-C power adapter that is compatible to the USB Power Delivery profile that you want.