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Electronic Design

Components Meld Mini Forms With Max Functions

Major advances help perpetuate the component designer mantra: Pack more features into less space.

Honey, I Shrunk The Components is now playing at a manufacturer near you. But this "picture" isn't merely freeze-framed within the world of discrete components. The packages and interconnects that shape them into a final product are following suit, too. Don't let their size fool you into thinking they're less capable, though, because they feature more functionality than ever.

You can pack a tantalum chip capacitor with 10 F of capacitance into a 0402 (1 by 0.5 by 0.35 mm) case. Ultra-thin inductors with several hundreds to thousands of Qs also can be obtained, thanks to microelectromechanical-system (MEMS) technology. Passive resistors have shrunk to the the point where specialized pick-and-place equipment is needed on the production line.

Yet when it comes to magnetics, particularly transformers, advances aren't so rapid-fire. Better magnetic materials based on MEMS technology have arrived for inductors and ferrites, but larger power transformers still lag technologically.

For fast growth, check out flat-panel and indicator displays. New pixel-rendering techniques improve brightness levels, resolution, viewing angle, and power dissipation.

LCDs and organic LEDs (OLEDs) are now in cell phones and widescreen televisions (see the figure). Meanwhile, plasma-panel displays (PDPs) try to keep pace with LCDs in the TV market, which is bucking the trend toward miniaturization with the largest commercial screens ever. And, beam-emitting displays like the venerable CRT and new technologies such as surface-emitting diodes (SEDs) keep improving.

In the backlighting realm, LEDs have made tremendous gains in flat-panel displays and other applications. Although originally developed as small displays for portable electronic applications, they're showing great promise as white-light emitters for general lighting applications.

Lots of R&D continues for this application, supported in part by the U.S. Department of Energy. These efforts target better lighting efficiencies and lower heat dissipation for general-lighting-LEDs. According to U.S. officials, their energy savings and environmental friendliness are key to the nation's interests.

No matter what component technology is involved, the ultimate goal is to interconnect all of these devices in an end product that delivers the most functionality in a given space. That's why packaging's role is so important.

IC device packaging has reached its scaling limits in the X and Y axes, leading designers to investigate the Z axis—3D packaging. They will encounter limits here as well, though, forcing package and IC designers to work closer together in stacking silicon wafers, boards, and packages in a larger single package.

Beyond single-package devices lie the technical challenges of pcboard package layout. Interconnect technology issues come into play here, as designers must deal with effects that limit circuit performance. Designers are creating smaller interconnect vias with newer materials to deal with these limits.

Fortunately, coming to the rescue are newer software modeling tools. While still in their infancy, these electronic-design-automation (EDA) tools have become more essential as device and package dimensions shrink further-and heat management gets more difficult.

Discrete power and RF devices dissipate lots of heat, making their packaging quite a challenge. Efforts are under way to include analog, digital, and power semiconductor circuitry on one chip. But these so-called "smart power" devices only can handle power levels up to a certain limit.

For power ICs like motor drivers, only so much on-chip integration is possible before it becomes impractical if not impossible given today's processing technology capabilities and limitations. Developers are researching better substrate materials and radically different topologies to improve integration.

For more, go to, "LCD, LED, OLED Advances Fuel Flat-Panel Market," Drill Deeper 11698.

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