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Electronic Components

The benefits of flexible electronics

Flexible electronics is an area of study that has come on in leaps and bounds in recent years and is an area of interest for many electronics companies. Liquid metal circuits are being researched as a potential step-up for wearable tech and biomedical devices.

At present, there are certain elements that make the advancement of flexible electronics difficult. One of these elements is the conductive material inside. If a rigid material like copper is used in flexible circuitry, it may break.

Some researchers are looking into the use of conductive threads, like those made out of carbon nanotubes. Others are taking a different approach and developing liquid metal circuits.

Quicksilver

Liquid metal used for circuits has not been a popular concept for a long time, mostly due to the fame (or infamy) of mercury. Mercury is a liquid at room temperature, but is highly toxic and couldn’t be used in electronics for safety reasons. Gallium, however, is beginning to look like a viable alternative.

While Gallium has a slightly higher melting point than mercury, it is not toxic and can conduct heat and electricity. The metal forms an oxide layer in the open air and this was viewed as a disadvantage in the past. Now, though, it could be advantageous when creating flexible circuitry.

Soft robots

Flexible electronics could have a number of uses in everyday life, and one hoped use is for soft robotics. With soft robots food could be handled safely without the risk of cross-contamination. It also opens up a wealth of possibilities for deep-sea exploration and specimen collection.

In a different area, soft robotics could have biomedical uses. Wearable technology, drug delivery devices and artificial organs are all potential utilisations of stretchable, human-mimicking electronics.

Soft robotics are already being used for prosthetic limbs. In 2020 a prosthetic hand was created for amputees, with functioning fingers and a moving thumb. Although in the very early stages of development, the prototype could pave the way for life-changing robotics in the future.

Virtually real

Aside from the more medical or safety-focused applications, there could be more recreational uses too. The use of soft robotics in conjunction with VR could make for an even more immersive user experience.

Stretching or twisting a mesh of gallium wires by it will change the electrical current running through them. At the moment this is still being researched, but it could be used for VR in the future. If gallium mesh was used in gloves, it could detect the pressure applied and translate it into VR.

Whether it’s for recreational, medical or safety purposes, exploring the use of liquid metal circuits and researching their potential could be greatly beneficial to the electronics industry, and the industries that come after it.

Cyclops Electronics can provide a substantial range of electronic components, and we’re experts at sourcing hard-to-find components when others cannot. If you’re looking for components, whether they’re obsolete or day-to-day, choose Cyclops as your supplier. Contact us now on (+44) 01904 415 415, or send us an email at sales@cyclops-electronics.com.

This blog is purely for entertainment and informational purposes, it is in no way instructional.

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Electronic Components Future

3D printing of electronic components

We talk a lot about the ways modern technology are a benefit to the electronics industry. There’s no better example of this than the ability to 3D print electronic components.

Print preview

The first 3D printer was invented in the 1980s, and used a technique called stereolithography (SLA). You might recognise the term from photolithography, a process used in the manufacturing of semiconductor wafers. Stereolithography is slightly different, it uses a laser to harden layers of photopolymer successively in a pre-defined shape. Photolithography is for etching patterns onto semiconductor wafers.

SLA is still the most commonly-used method of 3D printing. There are, however, other methods that have come into use, including digital light processing and liquid crystal display.

With the printing of components or circuits that can conduct electricity, special inks that contain conductive nanomaterials are required.

The process

First, a digital model of the desired component is required. This is referred to as a Computer Aided Design, or CAD model. Then a base layer of the material, usually thermoplastics, is formed using fused deposition modelling (FDM).

After this a trace is created, which is the little web of wiring you can see on a regular PCB. These traces need to be much thicker on a 3D-printed board because the nano-inks naturally carry more resistance than copper.

Once this is complete, the additional components of the board are added in layers until it is finished.

Why use 3D printing?

The process of retooling an entire factory setup versus uploading a different design to a single machine are vastly different. Retooling can be a costly and painstaking process, especially if you are manufacturing on a small scale or just prototyping.

The flexibility that comes with 3D printing is also an advantage. Where regular machinery may have limitations, 3D printing could have significantly fewer.

There would also be a reduction in the waste produced by the process. Most of the time, boards are manufactured and then the excess material is cut away. With 3D printing there would be remarkably less waste produced as it only prints what is needed.

3D printing of electronic components is currently used for small batches or for rapid prototyping, but in the future it could easily be used for more complex components and larger batches.

Just a reminder

Although Cyclops Electronics does not specialise in 3D printers, we do specialise in electronic components of all kinds, and can supply stock as and when you need it. Make Cyclops your electronic component supplier.

This blog is meant for informational purposes only and is in no way instructional.

Categories
Electronic Components

Price of semiconductor equipment increasing

The price of chip manufacturing is increasing. From skyrocketing raw material prices to continual high demand for semiconductors, it/ is an expensive business right now. Semiconductor manufacturing prices are also on the rise.

Global manufacturers are announcing price hikes to combat the expected rise in inflation, passing the cost onto the customer.

Is reshoring reassuring?

Aside from the supply chain issues and raw material shortages, the drive for reshoring will drive up the cost and demand of semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

In both the US and the UK, new legislation is in the works to provide funding for the electronics industry. It comes alongside a push to reduce reliance on semiconductors sourced from Asia, especially powerhouses like Taiwan and China.

The Chips Acts

In the west’s new legislation, funding and incentives are offered to domestic and international companies looking to build fabs. One such company was TSMC itself, which was rumoured last year to be opening a branch in Germany.

While these grants and investments will go some way to covering the cost of new semiconductor manufacturing equipment, it will only be part of the massive price manufacturers pay.

A new challenger

This may not be the only international development affecting the price increases of semiconductor equipment. New competitors are throwing their proverbial hat in the semiconductor manufacturing ring. One of the countries that is beginning to manufacture more is India.

As the US and Europe are already heavy-hitters in the industry, India will have to make hefty investments into manufacturing. Bulk-buying machinery and technology for facilities will mean more demand, and distributors putting on a bigger price tag. Taiwanese manufacturer Foxconn announced it would be setting up a fab in the country.

Other costs

The cost of making the semiconductor manufacturing equipment also comes into play. As companies are persuaded to move west, the cost of their manufacturing will increase. Many companies based in the east have access to cheaper labour but European and US labour costs will be higher.

Outside of Asia, in areas that are reshoring, there will also be the struggle of finding highly qualified employees. Since there was no need for skilled individuals when there were no fabs, there is a gap in the industry. It will take some time to catch up with industry standards of education.

Kit up

As the chip shortages continue, there’s no guarantee when the cost increase of semiconductor manufacturing equipment might slow down. As with all things, we’ll have to wait and see.

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