A Bag Full Of Components Graces Most Electronic Designs

Sept. 27, 2007
As an EE, you might remember your first encounter with the components needed to build an electronic circuit or device. For me, it was an AM radio kit my uncle gave me. I still remember looking at the bag of resistors, capacitors, and other compon

As an EE, you might remember your first encounter with the components needed to build an electronic circuit or device. For me, it was an AM radio kit my uncle gave me. I still remember looking at the bag of resistors, capacitors, and other components such as the case and speaker and thinking, "Wow, that's a lot of parts." But I was used to building plastic models, which also had lots of parts, so I was confident that I could make this move into electronics.

My first try at soldering all the components together resulted in a non-functioning radio. My uncle helped me troubleshoot the problem, and we zeroed in on a faulty capacitor. I was dismayed when he replaced the cap from the kit with one that didn't look exactly like it, but the radio worked and I was happy.

Electronic products still require lots of components, be they resistors, capacitors, LEDs, switches, or whatever. As I'm writing this column, I'm sitting at my desk with a notebook computer in front of me, a smartphone to the side, and an inexpensive digital clock behind that.

There's a 14-in. display on the notebook, a 2.5-in. display on the smartphone, and a 1- by 2-in. monochrome display on the clock. Then there are two keyboards, full-size and miniature, a bunch of pushbutton switches, a bevy of connectors, and - you get the picture.

More componets? You got it! All this is to introduce a new section called EEPN in Electronic Design. For many years, EEPN covered all sorts of components and assemblies, as well as ICs, boards, test equipment, and other products and services. Electronic Design has been covering components, but not as extensively as EEPN did.

The section will blend new product coverage with an introduction by Mat Dirjish, former associate editor at EEPN, and articles from component manufacturers regarding trends, new technologies, and other important issues. Mat will be visiting component companies and attending trade shows in a quest to find the hottest products and latest technologies in the components space.

We expect this section to be of high interest to you, the design engineers who read this publication. Everyone knows that a design doesn't end with the selection of an advanced semiconductor, even though sometimes it may seem that way. A design comes to life after all of its other components are taken into account. Just take a look at any electronic device teardown, and you'll see a long list of these components. The new section will appear in the second issue of each month. To help you contact component manufacturers, we will continue a feature we introduced at EEPN called EEPN At Your Service. This Web-based tool provides links to datasheets, app notes, samples, and company contacts. You can find its editorial content at www.eepn.com/service and information about advertisers at www.eepn.com/adservice.

A 10x power source? I got a chance to speak with Peng K. Lim recently about micro fuel cells. Peng is president and CEO of MTI Micro, a company that develops micro fuel cells for the purpose of powering portable devices such as cell phones, MP3 players and PDAs.

The company's Mobion power packs are based on direct methanol fuel-cell (DMFC) technology. According to Peng, these power packs are two to 10 times more powerful than lithiumion batteries. The company uses a proprietary approach to manage the water flow internal to the fuel cell, which you can read more about on their web site.

The Mobion chip is at the heart of the fuel cell (see the figure). But it isn't a silicon chip - it's an electrochemical chip that converts the methanol to power. It's about the size of a battery you might find in a smartphone.

Peng made a point of saying that unlike a lithium-ion battery, which is a storage device, a fuel cell generates energy as you go. Thus, there's no recharge time. You simply replace a methanol cartridge, and you're ready to go. It sounds like you might go well beyond a 10X power boost with a bunch of cartridges in your briefcase.

Peng assured me that his micro fuel cell would look just like a battery to the electronic system it powers. Output voltage is 4.2 or 5 V from a dc-dc converter embedded in the Mobion chip. The company is partnering with Gilette/Duracell on the battery side and with Samsung Electronics on the electronics OEM side, ostensibly to power Samsung's cell phones in the future.

For more information about MTI Micro, point your browser to www.mtimicrofuelcells.com.

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