TDK established its European Advanced Technology Centre (ATC) on the Bristol and Bath Science Park in 2012 and now employs ten engineers for both evaluating new technologies and research and development.

The Japanese company has a factory in Ilfracombe after it bought Coutant Lambda from Invensys in 2005 to become TDK-Lambda, making high-end power supplies for customers all around the world. The ATC supports that factory and other global groups by evaluating new technologies and then working out how to fit them into new power supply products.

Breaking the product design Catch 22

“One of the challenges of developing new products is that if you don’t have a separate mechanism for evaluating new technology you end up taking higher risk integrating new technologies into a product development programme,” says Andy Skinner, chief technology officer and director of the centre (pictured above).

“We have a history of developing modular and configurable products to make all sorts of end products”


“The result of that is often project slippage, and time to market matters to us as for any engineering company, so you have two solutions to that problem – not to use anything new, which is fine when the market stands still, but it isn’t – there’s more competition with startups and Far East companies. Or keep abreast of the new technologies but minimise the risk.”

“We have a history of developing modular and configurable products to make all sorts of end products, and we have a history of working with platform designs so we can evaluate technologies in platform type applications, effectively in a power supply and understand what it can do, but also what it can’t do, what the limitations are,” says Skinner.

Global research and development

Working across the different factories and product groups requires coordination. “We have a steering committee that oversees what we do and involves the R&D groups in what we do – we don’t want to develop something to an end product to evaluate it but develop it enough to prove it will work,” he says. “We are 50% funded by Ilfracombe R&D and Israeli R&D but we are global so we share what we are doing with other groups globally Japan, China, Singapore, and the R&D managers from across the company get together each year.”

“It is quite important that we have a dialogue with the engineers and we have design procedures and guidelines that we follow,” says Skinner. “We have a technology release process from scoping the project, early definition, milestones and the roll out, with seminars and white papers within the company to get the maximum awareness.”

The six engineers in the APC look at the latest technologies such as low power and high power gallium nitride devices, new microcontrollers and digital control techniques, as well as writing new algorithms to control the power supplies. There are four engineers in R&D that take the technology forwards for the different product groups.

What they do depends on the technology they are evaluating. For example a new semiconductor technology where reliability might be a concern is taken through the standard reliability testing in a fairly finished process, or a new MOSFET device could need a design tweak. Alternatively a new microprocessor could be assessed for new algorithms to improve the performance of a power supply design.

All of this needs analogue and power design skills which are in short supply in the UK. “A power engineer in Shanghai costs the same as the UK, so it is important that UK universities produce more engineers – power electronics has been given government focus in the Virtual Power Electronics Centre, and we hope that’s going to raise the profile of power electronics and produce more graduates from UK universities.”

TDK-Lambda in Ilfracombe is backing a team from a local school in a Formula One competition. You can read about it here.