Electronic Design

Smaller And Denser Components? Now That's A Challenge

It doesn’t matter if they’re simple or complex. Nowadays, all components must offer more features in a smaller form factor to satisfy market demands. Basic passive components, for example, have relied on thin-film deposition and chip-size formats to blend in with highly integrated active IC devices.

Resistors have always used bulk sheet resistances and chip forms. So have capacitors, which can be made in plated dielectrics. Capacitors as well as inductors are also benefiting from microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) technology, which enables their creation in the same package that holds the MEMS chip. To obtain greater miniaturization, designers are now embedding passive components within the same package holding the active IC.

More complex active components like displays are advancing at a rapid pace. Liquid-crystal displays (LCDs), light-emitting diodes (LEDs), plasma-panel displays (PDPs), and organic LEDs (OLEDs) are the darlings of the display industry in discrete and panel forms.

They’re serving a wide range of market functions, including automotive, consumer, industrial, medical, architectural, and business applications. The hottest advances are being made in LEDs and OLEDs, which promise to replace conventional incandescent and fluorescent lighting. The infrastructure for LED and OLED technologies is growing. Many companies are teaming up to build a viable manufacturing base and are exploring the latest materials and device design layouts. The object is to come up with cost-effective light sources and display panels that will compete with existing incandescent, fluorescent, and other display technologies in terms of efficacies, lifetimes, and overall maintenance costs to save on long-term energy costs and contribute to a greener environment.

Led by high-power LED manufacturer Cree, the LED City Initiative now includes Raleigh, N.C., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Toronto, Ontario, Canada. And in a sign of the growing popularity of LED technology, New York City will use more efficient and environmentally friendlier LED lighting to illuminate the historic Brooklyn Bridge, instead of its decadesold mercury-vapor lamps (see the figure).

Getting Connected and Packaged

Whether they’re passive or active, all component and IC designs must be connected or interconnected with each other and formed into a package that OEM designers can use.

Designers are working hard to keep pace with market demands for higher densities, smaller sizes, and higher performance through the use of new materials, novel layouts, and manufacturing improvements. Also, designers are keeping up with rising signal frequencies and wider bandwidths into the gigahertz ranges, a greater use of optical fibers, and different form factors that necessitate connections from all sides of a package or subsystem. Connector pin densities are rising per a given amount of connector size. Pin spacings are now commonly on the order of a few micrometers and are getting smaller.

On the packaging front, the trend is toward stacking chips, packages, substrates, and different combinations thereof into denser form factors, mainly taking advantage of the Z axis for 3D packaging. Heat management and removal are major challenges, prompting designers to minimize power consumption and formulate better heat-removal methodologies.

There also is a trend toward the use of wafer-level packaging. But there are many different 3D packaging approaches, many of which require proprietary processing methods. Some form of 3D packaging standardization is needed.

That’s the complaint of major EDA companies, which haven’t yet offered very helpful tools for 3D packaging. While EDA companies are very familiar with conventional 2D packaging and offer power tools, they’re just beginning to investigate popular 3D packaging approaches that lend themselves to mainstream use.

We can expect new materials and design layouts to evolve for packaging to meet increasing market demands for greater densities for a given amount of space. Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) and their high thermal conductivity levels will play a larger role in packaging developments. Through-silicon vias (TSVs) will be a key element in greater packaging interconnect densities as well.

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