Categories
Electronic Components Technology

Optoelectronics

Intro

Optoelectronic devices are products relating to the detection or creation of light. Chances are you deal with optoelectronics quite often, whether it’s in the form of LEDs in remote controls, solar panels, or fibre optic broadband.

Optoelectronic devices

A lot of markets utilise optoelectronics, namely military, consumer and industrial.

Laser radars, optical sonar systems, night vision equipment that uses infrared are all integral applications of optoelectronics for the military. There is also optoelectronics tech utilised for communication systems, both in military and consumer products.

Optoelectronics all work on the principle of the photovoltaic effect. This is when electrons are ejected from the material, creating electrical signals. This can also work the opposite way when components can use electricity to generate light.

It can only detect or emit certain waves of electromagnetic radiation, usually either visible light or near-infrared (NIR).

Advantages

The utilisation of optoelectronic components in the satellite industry has meant advancement in design. Satellite-to-satellite communication could one day happen with lasers. Solar cells also convert solar energy into electrical power, which could be the power source for large satellites one day.

Optoelectronics is already integral to the communications industry. Optical fibre communication systems is sometimes called one of the “greatest engineering achievements of the past century”. Need I say more? Well, I will. Optoelectronics was at the root of both high-quality voice communication and the internet. If that doesn’t prove how advantageous it is I, don’t know what will.

Disadvantages

Optoelectronics are temperature sensitive. As a result, at extreme temperatures components and circuits are at risk of damage. For applications including CMOS sensors, digital light processors and optical transceivers, a thermoelectric cooler has to be implemented.

Precise alignment is needed for coupling, too, as well as the difficulties that come with integrating optoelectronic devices on a substrate. All of these are potential deterrents from using the devices.

Market predictions

In 2020 the market was valued at $5.14 billion, increasing to $9.83 billion by 2026 at a 10.25% CAGR.

The surge is, in part, predicted due to the increase in electric vehicles (EVs) in production, which is forecast to continue. LED displays are now more common than ever, with even wearable tech featuring high-definition screens.

According to Market Insight Reports optoelectronics market expected to grow at a CAGR of 10.25% over the forecast period of 2019 to 2024.

As with many areas of electronics, the possibilities for advancement are endless. Especially in relation to satellites, the future may hold great things.

Cyclops has a vast stock of optoelectronic components, and can source any other components you need too! Too hear how Cyclops could help you, contact us on sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or call us on (+44) 01904 415 415.

Categories
Electronic Components Future 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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Component Shortage Electronic Components Future Supply Chain Technology

Latest electronic component factory openings

We’ve all heard about the shortages in standard components like semiconductors and chips. Cars, phones and computers, items we use every day, are no longer being produced at the speedy rate we’ve come to expect. The cause of this shortage is, in part, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is especially noticeable in Europe and America, where production has often been outsourced to Asia in the past.

So who are the latest companies expanding operations, and how much are they spending? Check out our quick run-down of factories and when they should open:

Company: Intel

Location: Ohio, USA

Product: Chips

Completion date: 2025

Cost: $20 billion (£14.7 billion)

The latest, and possibly greatest, announcement on our list comes from Intel. The corporation revealed in January that they would be committing to building two chip manufacturing plants in New Albany, Ohio. The move is said to be due to supply chain issues with Intel’s manufacturers in Asia, and should boost the American industry with the creation of at least 3,000 jobs. Construction should begin this year.

Company: Samsung Electronics

Location: Texas, USA

Product: Semiconductors

Completion date: 2024

Cost: $17billion (£12.5billion)

The household name announced late last year that they would begin work on a new semiconductor-manufacturing plant in Taylor, Texas. The Korean company stated the project was Samsung’s largest single investment in America, and is due to be operational by the middle of 2024.

Company: Infineon

Location: Villach, Austria

Product: Chips

Completion date: 2021

Cost: 1.6 billion (£1.3 billion)

After being in construction since 2018, Infineon’s Austrian plant became operational in September last year. The chip factory for power electronics, also called energy-saving chips, on 300-millimeter tin wafers began shipping three months ahead of schedule in 2021, and its main customer base will be in the automotive industry.

Company: Northvolt

Location: Gdańsk, Poland

Product: Batteries

Completion date: 2022

Cost: $200 million (£148 million)

The Swedish battery manufacturer is expanding its operations with a new factory in Poland. While initial operations are supposed to begin this year producing 5 GWh of batteries, it hopes to further develop to produce 12 GWh in future. Northvolt has also just begun operations at its new battery factory in Skellefteå in Sweden.

Company: Vingroup

Location: Hà Tĩnh, Vietnam

Product: Batteries

Completion date: 2022

Cost: $174 million (£128 million)

The Vietnamese electric vehicle manufacturer is due to start production at its new factory later this year, where it will produce lithium batteries for its electric cars and buses. The factory will be designed to produce 10,000 battery packs per year initially, but in a second phase the manufacturer said it will upgrade to 1 million battery packs annually. VinFast, a member of Vingroup, is also planning on expanding operations to America and Germany.

Company: EMD Electronics

Location: Arizona, USA

Product: Gas and chemical delivery systems

Completion date: 2022

Cost: $28 million (£20.7 million)

The member of the multinational Merck Group is expanding operations with the construction of a new factory in Phoenix, Arizona, to manufacture equipment for its Delivery Systems & Services business. The factory is due to be operational by the end of the year, and will produce GASGUARD and CHEMGUARD systems for the company.

A bright future

These electronic component factory openings signal a great increase in business, and will aide in the easing of the component crisis. But it will take a while for these fabs to be operational.

Can’t wait? Cyclops is there for all your electronic component needs. We have 30 years of expertise, and can help you where other suppliers cannot. Whether it’s day-to-day or obsolete electronic components, contact us today at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.

Categories
Component Shortage Electronic Components Technology

What is causing the surge in semiconductor and passive components?

As the world becomes smarter and more connected, the components used in electronic circuits are seeing a surge in demand.

Semiconductors and passive components (resistors, capacitors, inductors, transforms) are seeing a surge in demand as chip-heavy vehicles, consumer electronics and smart, Internet of Things devices are produced in larger quantities.

This demand is creating a shortage of semiconductors, integrated circuits and passive components. The situation today is that the factories that make certain components can’t make enough of them. This squeezes supply chains and ramps up the price, creating a high level of inflation passed down the supply chain.

The surge in semiconductor and passive component demand has reached an inflexion point. Demand has outstripped supply for many components, leading to car manufacturing lines shutting down and companies delaying product launches.

Tailwinds fuelling demand  

  • Smart vehicles
  • Consumer electronics
  • Military technology
  • Internet of Things
  • Data centres
  • 5G
  • Satellites
  • Artificial intelligence and robotics

At no other point in history has there been so many exciting technologies developing at the same time. However, while exciting, these technologies are putting strain on the electronic components supply chain.

Passives surge 

Passive components include resistors, capacitors, inductors, and transforms in various specifications. There are thousands of makes and unit models. They are essential to making electronic circuits. Without passives, there are no circuits!

Cars, electronics, satellites, 5G, data centres, Internet of Things, displays, and everything else powered by electricity, depends on passives. As devices get smarter, more components are needed, creating a cycle that will only go up.

Passives shortage 

Certain diodes, transistors and resistors are in shorter supply than in 2020. This is partly because of the coronavirus pandemic, which impacted manufacturing lines. Still, many manufacturers also shifted manufacturing investment to active components with a higher margin, creating a supply imbalance.

Even without these significant bottlenecks, the supply of passive components is downward while demand goes up. For example, a typical smartphone requires over 1,000 capacitors and cars require around 22,000 MLCCs alone. We’re talking billions of passive components in just two sectors.

Semiconductor surge 

Semiconductors (chips, in this case, not the materials) are integrated circuits produced on a piece of silicon. On the chip, transistors act as electrical switches that can turn a current on or off. So, semiconductors and passives are linked.

Chips are effectively the brains of every computing device. Demand for chips is increasing as circuits become more complex. While chips are getting smaller, manufacturing output is only slowly increasing, creating a supply shortage.

Semiconductor shortage 

The semiconductor shortage was years in the making, but things came to a head when the coronavirus pandemic hit.

At the start of the pandemic, vehicles sales dived. In response, manufacturers cancelled orders for semiconductors and other parts. Meanwhile, electronics sales exploded, filling the semiconductor order book left by the automotive sector. When vehicle manufacturing ramped up again, there weren’t enough chips to go around.

Manufacturing limitations are confounding the problem. It takes 3-4 years to open a semiconductor foundry or fabless plant, but investment in new plants in 2018 and 2019 was low. So, new plants are few and far between.

Categories
Component Shortage Electronic Components Future Supply Chain Technology

A raw materials shortage is set to hit the EV battery supply chain in 2022

The automotive sector is on red alert amid speculation that raw material shortages will impact the EV battery supply chain in 2022.

The lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles use a combination of rare earth metals like neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium, and common and uncommon minerals like cobalt and lithium in great quantities.

Bloomberg blew the whistle in July, predicting that raw material shortages for batteries will be the next big test after the semiconductor crisis.

Recent reports back this, with the global lithium shortage giving EV manufacturers pause for concern. Sky News reports the world needs four new lithium mines per year to make supply meet demand, but the pipeline doesn’t come close to meeting this requirement.

Some EV manufacturers are hoarding raw materials, and the world’s biggest electric car maker, Tesla, is moving away from cobalt to LFP chemistry because they consider cobalt to be the biggest supply chain risk for EV batteries.

The EV industry has a battery problem 

Most electric vehicles have a lithium-ion battery pack because Li-ion has a high energy density for its weight and can charge and discharge at any state of charge. The technology is proven, and manufacturing Li-ion batteries is easy.

However, the growing demand for electric vehicles is fuelling demand for EV battery raw materials like lithium, cobalt, nickel, manganese and rare earth metals.

The mines in operation today are not sufficient to make supply meet demand one year from now, which is a cause of great concern in the automotive sector.

Additional factors could confound the problem:

  • Price volatility in raw materials (the price of rare earth metals has exploded, moving nearly 50% higher on average since March)
  • Battery composition changes (while lithium-ion is the top dog today, solid-state batteries use a lot more nickel and cobalt)
  • Trade tensions between countries (China controls 55% of global production and 85% refining output of rare earth metals).

Making supply meet demand

Accurate forecasting is crucial to making supply meet demand. Manufacturers must anticipate fluctuations in the supply chain and make allowances for events.

For instance, no one can predict the next coronavirus pandemic, but a 25% drop in raw material mining output can be incorporated into forecasts.

Manufacturers might also like to look into alternative battery chemistries. As we mentioned before, Tesla is switching the chemistry of its long-range batteries to reduce dependency on cobalt. Other battery manufacturers can do the same to fortify their supply chains.

The downside to switching chemistries is it is only possible following extensive (and expensive) research and development. The world’s leading EV battery manufacturers won’t invest in this area without proof it will turn a profit.

EV battery recycling is another important future step. Swedish company Nothvolt made the world’s first fully recycled EV battery in November. Today, however, Li-ion battery recycling is not economical on an industrial scale.

Another option is limiting EV battery production, either in total volume or in cell volume (installing smaller batteries). With EV batteries becoming more efficient, smaller capacities might not be detrimental to range in the future.

Categories
Electronic Components Future

Keeping pace with high power terminal block demand

High power terminal block demand is soaring with the buildout of EV charging infrastructure. The reason is simple – high current requires high power terminal blocks, making these components essential for EV charging stations.

The rapid growth in the adoption of electric vehicles is fuelling demand for high power terminal blocks beyond what most people expected.

The UK Government’s decision to ban petrol and diesel cars from 2030 has accelerated the buildout of EV chargers, leading to significant new investment by leading companies like Tesla and BP Chargemaster. There are now more than 35,000 charge points across the UK, a figure that is expected to increase by 10,000 in 2021.

The big barrier to purchase with electric vehicles is a lack of charging infrastructure and slow charge times. Building more charging stations is the simple solution to this problem, but bigger, better high power terminal blocks are also needed for the next generation of rapid chargers that will provide power up to 350 kW.

What is ‘high power’?

Anything above 40 amps is classed as high power. All public electric charging stations significantly exceed this amount. High power terminal blocks are typically available up to 125 amps and higher for custom applications.

We need terminal blocks capable of handling higher currents when the charging speed demand increases for the station. EV chargers are classified in three categories: Level 1, Level 2 and direct current. Whether a charger is AC or DC, the higher the current, the higher the power draw, so the more robust the terminal needs to be.

Terminal block specifications

Terminal blocks serve as a routing tool for wiring. They are simple components, used to connect circuits together and provide an electrical ground for the circuit.

Screw terminal, push button and push-in terminal block styles are available. These accommodate different types of circuit design. The module type can be interlocking or single-piece with a plug or receptacle housing.

Terminal blocks for EV charging stations are optimised for this specific purpose and they are normally rated for at least 150% of the max current.

Meeting the soaring demand for high power terminal blocks

Unlike semiconductors, there is no immediate shortage of high power terminal blocks. They are available in the tens of thousands per order.

There is competition between the EV and renewable energy industry for high power terminal blocks though. Both industries are significant consumers of these components and demand is increasing with new electrical installations.

Other in-demand components for electric vehicle charging infrastructure include battery connectors and high voltage connectors designed to handle the heat of EV charging. These connections need to be small but also thermally efficient.

Do you need help sourcing terminal blocks?

Cyclops is a leading supplier of high power terminal blocks and connectors to the electric vehicle and renewable energy markets. We are a global distributor with access to the widest range of electronic components for all applications.

You can find out more about what we do here. Email us if you have any questions or call us on 01904 415 415 for a chat with our team.