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Electronic Components Future Semiconductor Technology

The effect of AI on the electronics supply chain

AI and machine learning technology is improving all the time and, consequently, the electronics industry is taking more notice. Experts predict that the application of AI in the semiconductor industry is likely to accelerate in the coming years.

The industry will not only produce AI chips, but the chips themselves could be harnessed to improve the efficiency of the electronic component supply chain.

What’s included

In an AI chip there is a GPU, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), and application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) specialized for AI.

CPUs were a common component used for basic AI tasks, but as AI advances they are used less frequently. The power of an AI depends on the number and size of transistors it employs. The more, and smaller, the transistors, the more advanced the AI chip is.

AI chips need to do lots of calculations in parallel rather than sequentially, and the data they process is immense.

Think about it

It’s been proposed by some that designing AI chips and networks to perform like the human brain would be effective. If the chips acted similarly to synapses, only sending information when needed, instead of constantly working.

For this use, non-volatile memory on a chip would be a good option for AI. This type of memory can save data without power, so wouldn’t need it constantly supplied. If this was combined with processing logic it could make system on a chip processors achievable.

What is the cost?

Despite the designs being created for AI chips, production is a different challenge. The node size and costs required to produce these chips is often too high to be profitable. As structures get smaller, for example moving from the 65nm node to the latest 5nm, the costs skyrocket. Where 65nm R&D cost $28 million, 5nm costs $540 million. Similarly with fab construction for the same two nodes, price increased from $400 million to $5.4 billion.

Major companies have been making investments into the R&D of AI chip infrastructure. However, at every stage of the development and manufacturing process, huge amounts of capital are required.

As AI infrastructure is so unique depending on its intended use, often the manufacturers also need to be highly specialized. It means that the entire supply chain for a manufacturer not yet specialized will cost potentially millions to remodel.

Beauty is in the AI of the beholder

The use of AI in the electronics industry could revolutionize how we work, and maximize a company’s profits. It could aid companies in supply forecasts and optimizing inventory, scheduling deliveries and so much more.

In every step of the electronics supply chain there are time-consuming tasks that AI and machine learning could undertake. In the sales stage, AI could assist with customer segmentation and dynamic pricing, something invaluable in the current market. It could additionally prevent errors in the manufacturing process and advance the intelligence of ICs and semiconductors manufactured.

Artificial intelligence

We’re not quite at the stage where AI has permeated throughout the industry but it’s highly likely that it will in the coming years. That said, this blog post is all speculation and is in no way to inform decisions.

Cyclops can provide all types of electronic components, no matter what you’re building. See how we can help you by getting in touch today. Contact us at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website to get results fast.

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COVID-19 Electronic Components Semiconductor Supply Chain Technology

Price hikes in the electronics industry

Chip prices will continue to increase, despite some component lead times improving. This is due to inflation, labour shortages, and scarcity of raw materials, among other things.

Intel was the latest company to announce price increases, which it will supposedly introduce at the end of this year. It joins firms including TSMC, Samsung, and Texas Instruments in raising the cost of its products.

As has become very clear, the pandemic contributed to supply shortages the world over. However, there have also been issues with labour shortages, material sourcing and the increasing costs of everything.

Reverse psychology?

Processors are increasing in price at Intel and other companies. It has been suggested that this actually may be due to oversupply. If the cost of the components is increased vendors are more likely to buy the stock before it occurs. As they stock up, Intel’s supply levels will decrease. This may lead to shortages in the long-term.

These increases are due to be introduced at the end of 2022, but people are suspicious it may happen sooner. If prices are instead increased in autumn, they can be discounted for events like Black Friday and Christmas.

War and price

Inflation is causing the price of materials to increase also, which inevitably would be passed down the supply chain. The price of raw materials was always going to increase over time, but the conflict in Ukraine has exacerbated this. Gases like neon, which is used in semiconductor production, is almost wholly (70%) sourced by Ukraine. Similarly, 40% of krypton gas is also from Ukraine, which is in conflict with Russia.

Aside from these materials, the price of lithium, cobalt and nickel, used for EV batteries, is also rising. The EV industry already had price hikes when the pandemic began, when the chip shortage took its toll. Now, following the 15% increase in 2021, automakers are facing another potential price increase.

Expansion

One of the largest players in the industry, TSMC, announced its price increases would take place in 2023. Despite not being as severe as first speculated, the 6% price increase will be enough that customers will notice.

Aside from the cost of raw materials, electricity and labour expenses, TSMC is also expanding. To fund this expansion it is increasing the price of fabrication.

Could we have stopped it?

Years before the pandemic, as far back as 2017, there were signs that a shortage was on its way. New technologies were mounting and other geopolitical difficulties were afoot. Even then, the best way to avoid this would have been to redesign the tech and improve the fabrication process. This would have been a time-consuming and expensive process, and whenever it happened it would result in delays and losses.

Conclusion

The amalgamation of all these factors will lead to lasting price increases for electronic components. Even if these prices are discounted in peak times like Black Friday or Christmas, suppliers will still have to deal with inflation and material shortages.

The expansion plans of some of the industry’s big players, and the cost of the tech to sustain them will also lead to price increases. How long the effects of these will last, we’ll have to wait and see.

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Electronic Components Semiconductor Supply Chain Technology

PCB assembly

Circuit boards, Assemble!

We’re not quite the Avengers, but we do know a thing or two about assembly.

As an electronic component supplier, Cyclops works to get customers the electronic components they are looking for. Further down the line, manufacturers construct the printed circuit boards (PCBs) featuring our sourced components.

The assembly of a PCB is a delicate and painstaking process. Just one millimetre of misalignment could mean failure of the whole board. Here’s a brief run-down of what’s involved.

Applying solder paste

The first step in the assembly of a PCB is applying a layer of solder paste. The PCB is overlayed with a stencil, and the solder paste is applied over this. The right amount must be used, as this is spread evenly across the openings on the board.

After the stencil and applicator are removed the PCB will be left and moves on to stage two.

Pick and place

The automated placement of the surface mount devices (SMDs) is done by a ‘pick and place’ robot.

The pick and place machine will have a file containing all of the coordinates for the PCB’s components. Every component will have its X and Y coordinates and its orientation included. This information enables the robot to place components on the layer of solder on top of the PCB accurately.

Reflow soldering

From the pick and place machine, the PCBs are directly transferred to a 250⁰ oven, where the solder paste melts and secures the electronic components to the board. Immediately after this, the boards are moved into a cooler to harden the solder joints.

The alternative to reflow soldering is a process called wave soldering. Much like the name suggests, in this method a ‘wave’ of solder moves across the board instead of being pasted on to start with.

Inspection

Once the reflow solder is cooled the PCBs are checked. If anything became misaligned or any solder or components are in the incorrect position, this inspection mitigates the risk to the customer.

When it comes to inspection methods, there are a few options:

Manual inspection – The most basic form of inspection, done with the naked eye. Better for PCBs with through hole technology (THT) and larger components.

Optical inspection – Using high resolution cameras, machines can check large batches of boards for accuracy at a high speed.

X-ray inspection – Give technicians the ability to check inner layers of multi-layer PCBs. This inspection method is usually reserved for more complex boards.

What a Marvel!

Cyclops Electronics can supply obsolete, day to day, and hard to find components to PCB manufacturers. We can source components efficiently to keep your production line running. Contact us today at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.

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Component Shortage Electronic Components Future Semiconductor Supply Chain Technology

Procurement executives concerned about digital innovation

Manufacturers are using digital advancements to battle current supply chain disruptions.

Almost all (97%) of those surveyed said they had significant disruptions in their direct materials supply chain.

67% said they were not confident that the technology can cope with the current or near-future challenges.

The most significant technology disadvantages seem to come with lack of visibility into supplier, ‘disjointed’ source-to-pay process with multiple systems, and a lack of spend reporting.

Even more (87%) said modernising the manufacturing procurement and supply chain takes precedence, and it is their biggest challenge yet. A further 92% said avoiding disruptions to their supply chain is their main goal for this year.

Among the main concerns for modernising the supply chain are potential disruptions during implementation, skills shortages, and scale and challenge of change management.

Around half of those surveyed (44%) predicted that the supply chain crisis would begin to calm by 2023. Significantly less (18%) thought it would reduce by the end of this year.

The study surveyed 233 senior procurement executives from US and UK manufacturing companies. It was commissioned by Ivalua, a spend management cloud provider.

See the original press release from Ivalua here.

While Covid-19 was seen as a factor in the supply chain instability, it was not the only culprit. Global supply chains had already been in a vulnerable position, partly due to factors like too much outsourcing and an overreliance on ‘just-in-time’ supply management.

What some are calling ‘outdated technologies’ are slowly being replaced in Industry 4.0. However, the implementation of tech like IoT, AI, machine learning and cloud computing is not a quick process.

The issue may be that this transition period would only further add to the current shortages rather than solving them in the short-term. Most companies are being deterred by this potential loss, and have been avoiding the change for as long as possible.

Whenever digital innovation comes, it will be a gradual and time-consuming process, but businesses will be better off for it.

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Active Components Electronic Components Future Semiconductor Technology

The importance of batteries to the future of electronics

A brief history

Batteries were first invented long before electricity was even discovered in the 1700s. Around the 1900s the first iterations of what would become modern batteries began to appear. Since then, the tech going into these batteries has improved dramatically, and other battery types are also in development.

Commonly used battery types

Lithium batteries are currently the most widely used types of battery. These are the most common for consumers to purchase, and come in AA, AAA, or 9V sizes. The cheaper alternative in commercial sizes is alkaline batteries. Both types are disposable, but lithium batteries last much longer.

Silver oxide batteries usually come in button form, the kind of batteries that are used for watches and smaller devices. Silver is an expensive material to use, hence why it’s only used for these smaller-size batteries. For hearing aids, the battery of choice is zinc air. These batteries react with the air, so require a small tab to be removed for them to function.

Nickel-cadmium (NiCd) and Nickel-metal hydride are just a couple of the other battery types available on the market. Another ubiquitous kind of battery is the Lithium-ion (Li-ion). These batteries are in most of your gadgets: phones, laptops, and other portable electronic devices.

Thanks to its low maintenance and high energy density it is usually chosen over other types of batteries like nickel-cadmium.

The rise of EVs and batteries

Li-ion batteries are commonly used in Electronic Vehicles (EVs) too. As the market for EVs increases at an exponential rate, the low maintenance li-ion batteries are a favourite among manufacturers. Companies predict li-ions will be the dominant technology for the foreseeable future, and the price was falling until last year.

NCM batteries, made up of Lithium, nickel, cobalt and manganese, and NCA batteries (nickel, cobalt and aluminium) are two current alternatives for Li-ion batteries.

But now, Lithium prices are increasing, and so are the prices of cobalt. Since Li-ion batteries and their alternatives have both elements included, the search is on for a cost-friendly environmentally conscious replacement.

One alternative that seems to be rising to the surface is the sodium-ion battery (Na-ion). As one of the most abundant elements on earth it is significantly cheaper and is easy to extract. Na-ion batteries can also be fully discharged, so there is no risk associated with transporting them.

Return of LFP

But Na-ion is not the only tech on the rise. Some EV companies have started using cobalt-free iron-phosphate (LFP) batteries, and are planning on increasing this amount going forward. The reason behind the usage could be to avoid the use of nickel and cobalt while there are supply issues.

LFP batteries first came about in the mid-90s, however early iterations were difficult to charge and had heat issues. Disposal was also an issue, which meant in the early years these batteries weren’t frequently used.

Efficiency is a sticking point when compared to li-ion, but they have improved enough for use in shorter-range vehicles.

Battery tech for the future

There are many different types of battery tech currently in development. This may end up being essential thanks to the finite nature of some materials currently used.

Some types also require lithium, like the new generation li-ion and lithium-sulfur batteries. Others, however, do not require lithium. Other varieties like zinc-manganese oxide, organosilicon electrolyte, gold nanowire gel and TankTwo String Cell batteries are also potential future technologies.

The need for high power density and longevity will only increase in the future as EVs become more widespread. Eventually irreplaceable materials could also become scarce. It is predicted that by the end of the decade many more battery plants will open to accommodate this.

Shipping costs are also an issue, so reducing the need for exports, and avoiding reliance on other countries, is imperative.

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Electronic Components Future Semiconductor Supply Chain Technology

What is fabless production?

A fab is short for ‘fabrication’, which is a facility that produces electronic components. When it comes to fabless production, it refers to when companies outsource their manufacturing. The development of fabless production is a pretty recent development, but one that has flourished since its conception.

How did it come about?

Fabless production didn’t exist until the 80s, when surplus stock led to IDMs offering outsourced services to smaller firms. In the same decade the first dedicated semiconductor foundry, TSMC, was founded. It is still one of the biggest foundries in operation to this day.

In the following years many smaller companies could enter into the market as they outsourced manufacturing. More manufacturers, each with different specialities, also came to the fore.

Advantages

One of the original reasons it became so popular was due to the cost reduction it provided businesses. With the actual semiconductors being manufactured elsewhere, companies saved money on labour and space.

With production outsourced, companies also had the ability to focus more on research and development. No doubt this gave way to many advancements in semiconductor technology that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Having a choice of which manufacturers to work with is beneficial too. Depending on your requirements you can choose someone who best suit your needs.

Disadvantages

When you outsource production, you are putting part of your business under someone else’s control, which can be risky. There could be a higher chance of defects if manufacture isn’t being directly overseen.

It also means that, in terms of quantity of product and price of production, you don’t have total control. If a manufacturer decides to change the quantity they produce or the price, customers are limited to their options. They either have to accept the changes, or search for an alternative which, in a fast-paced market, would be risky.

Conclusion/Disclaimer

The fabless business model, as it is known, will probably continue long into the future. TSMC’s continued profit, among other companies, is a key indicator of its success. And with big names like Apple, Qualcomm and Nvidia working fabless, it would be safe to say it’s popular.

That’s not to say that an integrated business model, with every stage of production occurring in-house, is a bad choice either. There are many just as successful IDMs like Samsung and Texas Instruments.

For a ‘fab-ulous’ stock of both foundry and IDM components, check out Cyclops Electronics. We specialise in obsolete, day to day and hard to find electronic components. Send us your enquiry at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.

This blog post is not an endorsement of any particular business model, and is purely for informational purposes.

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Active Components Electronic Components Semiconductor Technology

Thermal management of semiconductors

Too hot to handle

Every electronic device or circuit will create heat when in use, and it’s important to manage this. If the thermal output isn’t carefully controlled it can end up damaging, or even destroying the circuit.

This is especially an issue in the area of power electronics, where circuits reaching high temperatures are inevitable.

Passive thermal dissipation can only do so much. Devices called heat sinks can be used in circuits to safely and efficiently dissipate the heat created. Fans or air and water-cooling devices can be used also.

Feelin’ hot, hot, hot!

Using thermistors can help reliably track the temperature limits of components. When used correctly, they can also trigger a cooling device at a designated temperature.

When it comes to choosing a thermistor, there is the choice between negative temperature coefficient (NTC) thermistors, and positive temperature coefficient (PTC) thermistors. PTCs are the most suitable, as their resistance will increase as the temperature does.

Thermistors can be connected in a series and can monitor several potential hotspots simultaneously. If a specified temperature is reached or exceeded, the circuit will switch into a high ohmic state.

I got the power!

Power electronics can suffer from mechanical damage and different components can have different coefficients of thermal expansion (CTE). If components like these are stacked and expand at different rates, the solder joints can get damaged.

After enough temperature changes, caused by thermal cycling, degradation will start to be visible.

If there are only short bursts of power applied, there will be more thermal damage in the wiring. The wire will expand and contract with the temperature, and since both ends of the wire are fixed in place this will eventually cause them to detach.

The heat is on

So we’ve established that temperature changes can cause some pretty severe damage, but how do we stop them? Well, you can’t really, but you can use components like heat sinks to dissipate the heat more efficiently.

Heat sinks work by effectively taking the heat away from critical components and spreading it across a larger surface area. They usually contain lots of strips of metal, called fins, which help to distribute heat. Some even utilise a fan or cooling fluid to cool the components at a quicker speed.

The disadvantage to using heat sinks is the amount of space they need. If you are trying to keep a circuit small, adding a heat sink will compromise this. To reduce the risk of this as much as possible,  identify the temperature limits of devices and choose the size of heat sink accordingly.

Most designers should provide the temperature limits of devices, so hopefully matching them to a heat sink will be easy.

Hot ‘n’ cold

When putting together a circuit or device, the temperature limits should be identified, and measures put in place to avoid unnecessary damage.

Heat sinks may not be the best choice for everyone, so make sure to examine your options carefully. There are also options like fan or liquid-based cooling systems.

Cyclops Electronics can supply both electronic components and the heat sinks to protect them. If you’re looking for everyday or obsolete components, contact Cyclops today and see what we can do for you.

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Active Components Electronic Components Passive Components Semiconductor

Superconductivity

Superconductivity is the absence of any electrical resistance of some materials at specific low temperatures. As a starting point this is pretty vague, so let’s define it a bit more clearly.

The benefits of a superconductor is that it can sustain a current indefinitely, without the drawback of resistance. This means it won’t lose any energy over time, as long as the material stays in a superconducting state.

Uses

Superconductors are used in some magnetic devices, like medical imaging devices and energy-storage systems. They can also be used in motors, generators and transformers, or devices for measuring magnetic fields, voltages, or currents.

The low power dissipation, high-speed operation and high sensitivity make superconductors an attractive prospect. However, due to the cool temperatures required to keep the material in a superconducting state, it’s not widely utilised.

Effect of temperature

The most common temperature that triggers the superconductor effect is -253⁰C (20 Kelvin). High-temperature superconductors also exist and have a transition temperature of around -193⁰C (80K).

This so-called transition temperature is not easily achieved under normal circumstances, hence why you don’t hear about superconductors that often. Currently superconductors are mostly used in industrial applications so they can be kept at low temperatures more efficiently.

Type I and Type II

You can sort superconductors into two types depending on their magnetic behaviour. Type I materials are only in their superconducting state until a threshold is reached, at which point they will no longer be superconducting.

Type II superconducting materials have two critical magnetic fields. After the first critical magnetic field the superconductor moves into a ‘mixed state’. In this state some of the superconductor reverts to normal conducting behaviour, which takes pressure off another part of the material and allows it to continue as a superconductor. At some point the material will hit its second critical magnetic field, and the entire material will revert to regular conducting behaviour.

This mixed state of type II superconductors has made it possible to develop magnets for use in high magnetic fields, like in particle accelerators.

The materials

There are 27 metal-based elements that are superconductors in their usual crystallographic forms at low temperatures and low atmospheric pressure. These include well-known materials such as aluminium, tin and lead.

Another 11 elements that are metals, semimetals or semiconductors can also be superconductors at low temperatures but high atmospheric pressure. There are also elements that are not usually superconducting, but can be made to be if prepared in a highly disordered form.

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Component Testing Electronic Components Semiconductor Technology

RoHS, REACH, and dangerous substance legislation

RoHS and REACH are two pieces of legislation referring to the control of dangerous substances and chemicals. Companies manufacturing and distributing electronic equipment in Europe must comply to be able to trade.

RoHS

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive came into force in 2004. With an aim to mitigate the effect of dangerous substances on customers, the Directive restricts the concentration of 10 substances used in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE).

Acceptable levels of restricted substances in a single material are generally less than 0.1% or 1000 parts per million (ppm). For the chemical Cadmium, however, levels must be no more than 0.01% or 100ppm.

Companies must provide proof that they comply with the regulations by way of documentation. This includes a Declaration of Conformity, a record of the assessment procedure for conformity, and any other control documentation.

Since its release in ’04, there have been 3 iterations, with the latest being introduced in July of 2019. RoHS 3.0 introduces 11 new category products and four new substances.

The materials listed include products that could be harmful to not only human health, but the environment too. As such, non-compliance carries with it the potential for a heavy fine.

RoHS certification takes place in several steps:

  1. Extraction testing of the components takes place to determine the value of the RoHS substances contained.
  2. On-site manufacturing processes are inspected to ensure RoHS compliance at the facility.
  3. Review all relevant documentation, including the BOM (Bill of Materials), assembly drawings, and test reports from suppliers.
  4. Following this, if all is in order a RoHS Certificate of Compliance is issued.

REACH

REACH stands for the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. It was introduced a few years on from RoHS, in 2006.

The scope of REACH is more inclusive than RoHS. It encompasses almost all products manufactured, imported, or sold in the EU or UK.

REACH revolves more around Substances of Very High Concern (SVCH), which includes those considered carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction.

Manufacturers and importers need to register the quantities of substances produced every year. Companies need to safely manage and publicise the risks associated with the substances. They’re also responsible for tracking and managing which substances are being used, and produce safety guidelines for each.

Recent changes

Due to events like Brexit in the UK, RoHS and REACH regulations became transplanted into UK law. Since many substances are imported between mainland Europe and the UK, the legislation in both remained very similar.

As part of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, REACH was copied into UK legislation, becoming UK REACH in 2021. Although the difference is seemingly in name alone, the two REACHs operate separately, and manufacturers need to comply with both.

REACH for the stars!

Cyclops can supply products that are RoHS and REACH compliant and can provide this information to our customers. This means Cyclops customers can guarantee if they want RoHS compliant parts, they will receive them. So contact Cyclops Electronics today!

This blog post is designed to be informative and is in no way offering advice or guidance on how to interpret legislation.

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Component Testing Electronic Components Semiconductor Technology

Resins and coatings for electronic components

Coating components

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are the core of many electronic devices and contain electronic components like capacitors, transistors and fuses. As such, keeping them safe and protecting them from damage is key to the continued working of electronic devices. Resins and conformal coatings can be used for this purpose.

Resins

Resins are the more sturdy, heavier option in terms of coatings. This is a great choice when protecting a PCB from adverse conditions and insulating it from potential physical damage.

Within the range of resins used, there are three main types that are used, with each suited to certain PCBs.

Epoxy resins

This compound is well-suited for potting electronics, and protects components against moisture and mechanical damage coming from vibrations or shocks.

Depending on if there are amines (curing agent) mixed with the resin the curing time of the PCB can differ. Something to watch out for is the exothermic reaction cause by the curing. Although this can be mitigated, there is a risk of damaging the component.

Polyurethane resins

The pricier cousin of epoxy resin, polyurethane can also protect PCBs against moisture, as well as high temperatures and UV. Most resins have a maximum temperature tolerance of 130⁰C.  However, polyurethane can cope with temperatures of up to 150⁰C if formulated well.

This maximum temperature is in part thanks to the resin having a lower exothermic rate compared to epoxy. Polyurethane is also more flexible, so is favoured when it comes to potting delicate components.

Silicon resins

Silicon also protects against UV light, and so is often used in LED applications where the change in the colour of the LED needs to be minimised.

Silicon is the most expensive of the three but is not as popular as its counterparts. The material thrives when it comes to high operating temperatures and heat-sensitive components, thanks to its low exothermic temperature.

Conformal coatings

While resins are thick, durable and designed for high levels of stress, conformal coatings are thinner, lighter and are transparent.

Thanks to the tiny layer of coating, usually applied with a paint brush or spray, this kind of coating is a lower-risk alternative than a heavy resin for fragile components.

The coating can be altered or removed more easily than the resin too, and the curing time is massively reduced. However, alongside this the component is more exposed and has a lower level of protection. This makes these coatings more useful for PCBs that will face shorter exposures.

Do your own research

Any coating of a PCB should be carefully considered depending on the purpose of the circuit board, the conditions and stresses it will face, and whether it already has a coating on it. If this is the case, chances are this original coating was meant as the PCB’s primary layer of protection.

Speaking of protection, Cyclops quality checks all of the electronic components it supplies. This protects its customers from damaged parts and counterfeits. For an extra layer of protection in your electronic component supply chain, contact Cyclops today.

This blog post is designed to be informative and is in no way offering advice or guidance on how to coat electronic components.

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