Electronic Design

Technology Trends Will Spur Circuit Protection In 2011

The electronica 2010 Expo held in Munich in November served as a strong indicator of the vitality of the global electronics industry. The exhibit halls, particularly the semiconductor areas, were packed the entire week.

Discussions with customers and global distribution partners also make it most clear that we are coming through a time of transition after a fast buildup of the supply chain this year. In considering this, the mood at the Tyco Electronics (TE) Circuit Protection Devices business unit is one of cautious optimism as we enter 2011.

Three megatrends are driving the passive components marketplace: increased power density in electronic systems, portability, and green energy. For circuit-protection device manufacturers, the growth of power electronics in automotive designs, a shift to dc power in enterprise networks and industrial applications, smaller form factors and denser printed circuit-board (PCB) designs in portable electronics, and the emergence of new battery technologies all present unique challenges and opportunities.

The automotive power electronics market has grown quickly, with comfort and active safety features becoming more common. As traditional mechanical functions such as power steering and electronic parking systems migrate to electronic applications, the demands on power electronic systems are increasing.

In parallel, the communications market is evolving. User demand for constant connectivity is leading to increasing density of IT server farms and telecom centers around the world, along with higher-power machines and denser PCBs. In terms of product safety and reliability, these trends translate to a need for more robust, reliable thermal management.

The preponderance of small, multifunction consumer devices has also increased board density and resulted in a demand for components that help conserve energy and improve thermal management. For circuit-protection manufacturers, this means the next generation of devices not only must be smaller, but also able to help drive greater functionality and reduce power consumption.

Finally, due to their increased power and lower weight, lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries are proliferating into new segments, such as power tools, e-bikes, light electric vehicles (LEVs), and standby power. While Li-ion batteries can be more powerful, lighter, and more environmentally friendly, they require more rigorous safety designs than nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries. Emerging safety standards that address Li-ion battery designs for high-power applications will require new levels of protection.

Partnerships And Technology
Collaboration is essential to help advance new technologies. With this in mind, TE is working with electronics equipment designers and manufacturers, developing new materials, and introducing industry-targeted and application-specific solutions.

In particular, China is a rapidly changing society with a growing local market. TE Circuit Protection’s research and development investments in the region grew by 70% in 2010, and targeted growth for 2011 is 40%. Another one of the world’s most dynamic markets is India, where strong regional incentives are driving the shift from software development to electronics manufacturing.

Collaboration initiatives reflect a business strategy of keeping development engineering close to where customers are designing, providing a productive and enjoyable customer experience. The combination of global infrastructure and local support, be it product development, applications engineering, technical support, or manufacturing, translates into the ability to help customers design next-generation products, cut time-to-market, and reduce production costs.

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Improving Safety And Reliability
In product safety and reliability, partnerships with customers have helped companies make customized products available for the development of emerging technologies, as well as deliver innovative, cost-effective solutions for existing technologies.

From the development of the first commercial polymeric positive temperature coefficient (PPTC) device, our goal has been to help customers meet stringent safety and regulatory requirements, improve product reliability, and reduce warranty costs. This goal will continue to be a priority through 2011 and beyond.

Forward-looking research and advanced materials science have let us push higher performance levels into new, smaller, and more convenient packages and advance the reach of circuit-protection technology by integrating polymeric materials with traditional products, such as metal-oxide varistors and Zener diodes to provide coordinated overcurrent and overvoltage protection.

The continuing miniaturization of portable devices has created a demand for innovative approaches to managing board density, and one of the emerging trends being explored is to move some of the circuit-protection components off the board and into the connectors.

The battery market traditionally has focused on low-voltage, low-current applications, such as mobile phones or digital cameras. However, the advent of new battery technologies and higher-density cells has created a demand for more robust circuit-protection solutions.

In response to the expanding market for high-rate discharge Li-ion batteries used in battery pack applications such as cordless power tools, e-bikes, and backup power supplies, TE recently introduced the Metal Hybrid PPTC (MHP) device. The MHP device connects a bimetal protector in parallel with a PPTC device. This industry-first technology platform helps provide resettable overcurrent and short-circuit protection and utilizes the low resistance of the PPTC device (Fig. 1) to help prevent arcing in the bimetal protector at higher currents.

Another example of creating enabling technologies that address specific trends in the electronics industry is the Reflowable Thermal Protection (RTP) device. Developed in collaboration with automotive and power electronics OEM customers, this secondary protection device addresses the need for more robust thermal protection in automotive electronics systems.

The RTP device focuses specifically on the potential for serious thermal issues when power components such as power FETs, capacitors, resistors, or ICs fail due to harsh environmental effects. When it’s mounted in close proximity to a FET, it tracks the FET temperature (Fig. 2). If the FET exceeds its normal operating temperature limit and generates an overheating condition, the RTP device activates and opens the power source line.

The Bottom Line
These new, enabling technologies demonstrate a present and future commitment to the expansion of circuit-protection technology into higher-power applications, as well as dedication to providing leading-edge solutions to consumer electronics equipment manufacturers. TE’s growth strategy depends on early design involvement with customers and collaboration with other business units to create synergies across the organization and around the world.

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