Origins of the SMPS Technology Knowledge Base

How the SMPS Technology Knowledge Base evolved from presentations to Navy contractors by Jerrold Foutz about problems and solutions associated with switching-mode power supply design.

Between 1972 to 1980 Jerrold Foutz helped establish and served as head of the Power Electronics Branch at the Naval Ocean Systems (NOSC), San Diego, California (now called the Naval Command, Control, & Ocean Surveillance Center). The branch charter included becoming the repository of the Navy's corporate knowledge on the design and use of power supplies as used in Navy electronics equipment. This knowledge was made available to Navy contractors through the branch's role as trusted advisor to Navy Program Managers in the field of power supplies for electronics.

The mission of making this knowledge available was accomplished first by accumulating and indexing one of the most complete data bases on power supplies for electronic systems existing. Problems and solutions were then extracted from this data base along with key papers that described the problem and its solution.

If papers were not found, industry or universities were funded to find and publish the solutions.

These problems and solutions were then reduced to viewgraphs (several hundred), which were used to brief Navy program managers and their contractors. The way these viewgraphs were used is that the requirements of the program were first determined and then viewgraphs selected that addressed the problems associated with those requirements. For example, if the requirements included TEMPEST (preventing eavesdropping on unintentional signals produced by most electronic equipment), then viewgraphs dealing with TEMPEST and power supplies were included.

Two presentations were prepared from these viewgraphs. One, lasting about 50 minutes, was an executive overview that discussed the problems, associated program risk, and risk management, but excluded technical solutions. The second, which immediately followed the first, was for the responsible design engineers and their management and lasted three hours. In this presentation, solution options were discussed and a copy of one or more papers on the subject were provided to the contractor. The rest of the day was spent on doing topological design reviews of the contractor's proposed designs or discussing specific problems and solutions.

Jerrold Foutz gave this presentation, in one form or another, to over 350 Navy power supply design activities during his eight years at NOSC.

The presentations were extremely well received. Several contractors thought the presentations should serve as a model for technology transfer and the Navy should give a similar presentation in all technology areas, not just power supplies.

After leaving the Navy, Jerrold Foutz used the same problem/solution orientation to key the original version of the SMPS Technology Knowledge Base, which was an inverted file database of power electronics literature. Over 100 problems were used as keys, and by using one of these keys, you could recover all papers in the database discussing the problem and its solutions. The problem was users did not know the keys! To overcome this short coming, expert systems were tried for making an intelligent front-end to the inverted file search engine. (See [FOUT86A], [FOUTZ87A], [FOUTZ88A], [FOUTZ88B], and [FOUTZ88C].) While trying to reduce the labor involved in doing this the hypertext paradigm was tried, which became the ultimate solution.

Those writing papers may want to recover all past papers on the subject, but designers just want the one best paper that helps them solve the problem. In its present form, this is what the SMPS Technology Knowledge Base is all about. Copyright law prohibits providing you the best-solution paper, but you get an abstract of the paper and a full reference so you can get your own personal copy. Other resources, such as websites, that are relevant to the problem are also given.

In retrospect, the SMPS Technology Knowledge Base is just an updated version, in hypertext form, accessible through the World-Wide Web, of the viewgraphs and papers used at NOSC to help Navy design activities recognize problems and find solutions. The major difference is that it is not tailored to your individual requirement. You have to use the contents, indices, tutorial, and the problem/relevance/solvability/solution abstract at the top of each problem to determine if the material applies to your design.

Webmaster and editor: Jerrold Foutz,
Original: August 23 1996, revised July 29, 2003