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Electronic Components

Understanding Microchips: The Building Blocks of Modern Electronics

Welcome to another exploration of the fascinating world of electronics. Today, we dive into the heart of every modern device — the microchip.

Also known as an integrated circuit (IC), this tiny component plays an essential role in the functioning of everything from smartphones to satellites.

Let’s break down what makes microchips so vital and complex.

What is a Microchip?

The Basics

A microchip, or integrated circuit, is a set of electronic circuits on a small flat wafer of semiconductor material (usually silicon) called a “chip.” This compact unit forms the core of all digital devices, performing operations through electrical signals.

Silicon: The Star Player

At the base of most microchips is silicon, derived from silica sand. This sand is processed, melted, and recast into ingots which are then sliced into thin wafers to serve as the foundation for microchips.

The choice of silicon is due to its semiconductor properties, which can be changed or enhanced by adding materials like boron or phosphorus, allowing for precise control over electrical currents.

The Evolution of Microchip Technology

Shrinking Sizes

Microchips have been on a remarkable journey of miniaturisation. Currently measured in nanometres (a millionth of a millimetre), the features of chips are now so small they are soon expected to be measured in angstroms — a unit of measurement used for atoms and wavelengths of light. This continuous reduction in size allows more components to fit onto a single chip, enabling them to perform increasingly complex functions.

The Cost of Complexity

As microchips have evolved, so too has the technology required to manufacture them. Advanced and costly equipment is now necessary to produce the minute features of modern chips, reflecting a significant investment in pursuit of higher performance and efficiency.

Types of Microchips

Microchips can be categorised based on the type of signal they handle:

  • Digital chips process binary signals (ones and zeroes) and include processors and memory chips.
  • Analog chips use continuous signals, performing tasks in devices that require a range of values, like sound equipment.
  •  Mixed-signal chips combine both digital and analog functionalities, useful in complex applications like communication devices.

Specialised Chips: ASICs and SoCs

ASICs (Application-Specific Integrated Circuits) are designed for specific tasks, such as processing digital signals in mobile phones.

SoCs (System on a Chip) integrate multiple chip functions onto a single microchip, which is crucial for the efficiency and performance of small, portable devices like smartwatches.

The Future of Microchips and Moore's Law

Proposed by Gordon Moore in 1965, Moore’s Law theorises that the number of transistors on a microchip will double approximately every two years.

This prediction has held true for decades, mirroring continued growth in computational power and miniaturisation. However, we are now approaching physical limits where transistors are nearing the size of atoms, suggesting we may soon see an end to this trend.

Microchips and the Tech Boom

This miniaturisation and power boost from microchips has enabled groundbreaking advancements like virtual reality, on-device artificial intelligence (AI), and high-speed data transfer through 5G networks. Microchip technology is also the foundation for complex algorithms used in deep learning, a cornerstone of AI development.

How Cyclops Electronics Can Help

At Cyclops Electronics, we specialise in sourcing hard-to-find electronic components and the reliable supply everyday parts that keep your operations running smoothly. Whether you are tackling a challenging project or looking to maintain steady production with high quality components, our team of dedicated experts is here to assist you.

Discover how we can help you navigate the complexities of electronic sourcing and ensure you have the parts you need when you need them.

We are your partners in procurement, ready to support your projects with our expertise and vast network.

Categories
Future

The Frontlines of Innovation: Electronic Components in Emerging Defence Applications

The global defence industry is experiencing a period of significant transformation. Driven by rising global tensions, a focus on national security, and growing investor confidence, the sector is expecting significant growth in the next few years.

A Surge in Spending

Global defence spend have seen a significant rise, global spending increasing to a record $2.2 trillion last year. This growth is concentrated amongst a number of nations, with the US, China, Russia, India, and Saudi Arabia accounting for 63% of global military spending.

In response to the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, Germany has also committed to a substantial defence budget increase, signalling significant growth prospects for the defence industry in Europe.

Emerging Technologies on the Horizon

Innovation is at the forefront of modern defence strategies. Here are some of the developments poised to impact the defence sector in 2024:

  • Counter-Drone Systems: With the growing abundance of aerial drones, there is a definite need for robust counter-drone solutions. Autonomous counter-drone systems are expected to see operational deployment in 2024, with the market for these systems reaching a projected value of $5.2 billion by 2028.
  • Electrification of Military Vehicles: Concerns about environmental impact and fuel security are driving the development of electric and hybrid military vehicles. This shift means advancements in battery technology are also needed, power management systems, and robust electronic components that can withstand harsh operating environments.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Investment in AI for defence applications is on the rise. AI is being explored for a range of applications, including image recognition for target identification, threat analysis, and autonomous weapon systems.
  • Soldier-Assisting Quadruped Robots: These agile robots offer logistical and combat support to soldiers. Advancements in motor control systems, sensors, and AI are crucial for the successful deployment of these technologies.
  • The Rise of Military IoT: The Internet of Things (IoT) is making its way into the defence sector. From interconnected sensors on the battlefield to networked logistics systems, the use of military IoT devices is on the rise. This necessitates reliable and secure communication protocols, along with miniaturised and low-power electronic components.

Partnering with Excellence in Defence Innovation

As the defence sector continues to evolve and expand, the demand for high-quality electronic components that can endure the rigorous demands of military applications is more crucial than ever. Cyclops Electronics, with its extensive experience as a global distributor specialising in daily requirements, hard-to-find, and obsolete electronic components, is strategically positioned to meet these challenges head-on.

This is underscored by our JOSCAR registration since 2016. This accreditation, a testament to our commitment to quality, reliability and integrity, ensures we meet the stringent standards required by manufacturers in the defence, aerospace, and security industries.

For purchasing professionals, partnering with Cyclops Electronics means having a reliable ally in your supply chain. As the defence industry continues to grow, rely on us to provide the components that power your innovations, keeping your projects on schedule and to specification.

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Future

AMD invests in Ireland R&D

AMD plans to invest up to $135 million in Irish R&D over
the next four years.

Irish Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon
Coveney, announced the investment on June 21st, alongside Senior VP of Marketing, Communications and Human Resources, Ruth Cotter. The announcement was accompanied by a press release by American Advanced Micro Devices.

The investment is meant to fund strategic R&D projects,
add up to 290 highly-skilled engineering and research positions, and additional support roles. It will expand the R&D and engineering in its Dublin and Cork sites. It will be supported by the Irish government through IDA Ireland.

Coveney said he warmly welcomed the plans of
AMD, and said the investment would bolster the technology sector and create career opportunities.

R&D teams in Ireland will use the funding to design high
performance and adaptive computing engines. These will then be used to accelerate data centre, networking, 6G communications and embedded solutions.

Previously Xilinx, which was acquired by AMD in 2022,
partnered with IDA Ireland several times. In 2017 Xilinx announced an investment of $40 million for R&D, and to recruit more than 100 new skilled employees.

IDA (Industrial Development Agency) Ireland is the country’s
Foreign Direct Investment Agency. It has supported AMD and Xilinx for almost three decades.

The first semiconductor fabs were built in Ireland in 1976.
Analog Devices and Intel were some of the first companies to invest in the island. The first Irish AMD Xilinx facility was launched in 1994 and was the company’s first base of operations outside the US.

We not only keep you up-to-date with the latest industry news, we also stock and source any electronic components you need. You can check out our other news stories on our blog, or submit at enquiry on the Cyclops Electronics website now. Get in touch today!

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Future

Origami looking robots

A research team has created folding origami-looking robots that do not rely on semiconductors.

The challenge

In the past this has been a difficult balance to find, as
rigid semiconductors cannot be placed on foldable devices. Similarly, regular computer chips are too heavy to be placed on lightweight devices. Advanced robot capabilities like analysing, sensing and responding to the environment can traditionally only be performed by these computer chips.

The team at the University of California (UCLA) got around some of these issues with innovative technology. Electrically conductive and flexible semiconductor materials embedded into a pre-cut thin polyester film sheet act as a network of transistors. Then, sensors and actuators can be integrated in.

Once the materials were cut, folded and assembled, the sheet became a robot able to sense, analyse and respond to its environment.

Origami MechanoBots

The UCLA Samueli School of Engineering group made three versions of the ‘OrigaMechs’ (Origami MechanoBots):

·        A walking robot that can reverse if its antennae
sense an obstacle.

·        A ‘Venus flytrap-like’ robot that can enclose its
‘prey’ when its jaws detect an object.

·        A two-wheeled robot that can move along pre-designed
paths of geometric patterns, and can be reprogrammed.

The team hopes to make the robots autonomous with an
embedded thin-film lithium battery power source in the future. For the demonstration they were connected to a power source.

Going forward

There are high hopes for the OrigaMechs and their successors in the future, since small lightweight robotics could have a wide range of uses. Its potential uses include situations involving strong magnetic or radiative fields, high electrostatic discharges, or intense radio frequencies.
These environments are usually unsuitable for regular semiconductors. The OrigaMechs can also be specially designed for functions and manufactured quickly.

The team are especially hopeful that the robots could be
used for future space missions. Weight and size are two vital factors in space cargo, so these essentially flat-pack robots could be endlessly useful.

Enter the fold

For those sourcing regular semiconductors, contact Cyclops. We can source day-to-day or hard to find components with ease, and can guarantee our customers the best price. Get in touch via sales@cyclops-electronics.com or call us on +44 (0) 1904 415 415.

Disclaimer: This blog is purely for informational
purposes and is not instructional. 

Categories
Electronic Components

The Life of Gordon Moore

Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and creator of Moore’s
Law, has passed away at the age of 94.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation announced on March 24
that Moore had passed away at his home in Hawaii.

Humble beginnings

As a child, Moore was more interested in chemistry
than electronics. After completing his bachelor’s, Moore achieved a doctorate
in physical chemistry in at the California Institute of Technology in 1954.

After working at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns
Hopkins University in Maryland, Moore wanted more. He was given the opportunity
in 1956 to work at the recently formed Shockley Semiconductor. This company is
thought to be responsible for creating California’s Silicon Valley.

Less than a year later, Moore and a group of scientists and
engineers formed their own company, Fairchild Semiconductor. He rose through
the company to become the director of research and development. During his time
there, Fairchild developed the planar process, the base process needed to
produce an IC. Moore also greatly contributed to the development of the MOSFET
during his time at Fairchild.

Moore’s Law

One of the things Moore is renowned for is the initial
prediction of Moore’s Law. Moore
predicted all the way back in 1965 that the number of transistors fitting on a
given area would double each year. 10 years later he adjusted his hypothesis to
every two years. This prediction still rings mostly true today.

Just a few years after the initial prediction, Moore and
long-time colleague Robert Noyce decided to found a new business. Thus, Intel
Corporation was created. After initially being the executive vice president,
Moore eventually became CEO and chairman of the board.

After Intel

Moore became stepped down as CEO in 1987, and worked as the
chairman and chairman emeritus before stepping down completely in 2006. Following
his retirement and beforehand in the early 2000s, Moore established a
charitable foundation with his wife Betty. Since its founding, The Gordon and
Betty Moore Foundation has donated more than $5.1 billion to charitable causes. 

Categories
Component Shortage

Australia’s semiconductor industry

Australia is not a country known for its chip production, but it felt the shortages as much as the rest of us. Despite the shortages being less severe for the country, however it still mostly relies on imported semiconductors.

The current semiconductor industry is quite small, consisting of local companies and branches of some larger manufacturers.

One report from 2020 gave a blunt prognosis of how the Australian chip landscape looked, and how it could improve:

How it is

According to the report there are ‘pockets’ of talent all over Australia, and the potential for it to grow substantially. However, the report authors said the sector lacked the depth and coordination it needed to grow.

The ever-increasing need for electronic components globally means that every country needs to step up their game. Australia is no different. Although total self-sufficiency would be unattainable, that is the same for even semiconductor superpower countries. They do, however, need to increase their capacity for electronic component development and manufacturing.

Following establishing domestic sources of semiconductor components, Australia needs to tackle market sectors relevant to them domestically. This way, it is dealing with both the strategic and economic aspects of the shortages.

How to do it

The report details several steps to help the Australian semiconductor market grow and prosper. The first piece of advice is to attract established chip manufacturers to start setting up shop domestically. After that, home-grown chip companies need a boost to expand. The final recommendation is to establish new semiconductor companies.

Australia has been looking into all 3 of these methods, and some international companies have shown interest in recent years. But when it comes to the huge funding needed to finance the moves, international partners have been less keen.

Time and money

Because there’s currently such a lack of a domestic market, and other markets are so far removed for Australia, there’s some hesitation. This could change in the future, if Australia can garner more interest and, more importantly, funding.

The 2020 report recommended the Australian government invest $1.5 billion to establish domestic industry.

Australia faces many obstacles including financing, a lot of them time-sensitive. The next few years will be crucial for the country, and the world will be watching.

Choosing certainty

There are few things that are certain in this tumultuous industry, but there is one thing that’s reliable: Cyclops Electronics is there for you. We have a sales team here to solve all your stocking and sourcing needs. Not only that, but we have a broad range of stock ready for you, all you need to do is get in touch. Contact us at sales@cyclops-electronics.com or call us on +44 (0) 1904 415 415.

Categories
Electronic Components Future

The future of semiconductor manufacturing, is it digital twins?

What is a digital twin?

The concept of digital twins has been around since the early 90s. Since then, it has been further developed and become a time and money saver for many manufacturers.

The purpose of a digital twin is to mimic a physical system exactly. It gives those using it the ability to simulate what they want to do, and the twin predicts the outcome.

These twins are not to be confused with a simple simulation or a digital thread. A simulation can only replicate the outcome of one process, while digital twins can run multiple simulations for different processes. A digital thread, although similar, is more a record of everything occurring in a product or system over time.

There are several varieties of digital twins, all with different use cases. The purposes range from basic, with component twins, to more complex process twins which can represent an entire production facility.

The timeline

Semiconductors can take around 3 months to manufacture from a silicon wafer to multilayer semiconductors. Not only that, but semiconductor fabs themselves take years, and millions in funding, to build. Because of this, it is hugely time-consuming to open any new facilities and start production there.

The issue that arises, then, is there would be time between demand increasing and when it can be met. Alongside this, any new facility will need trained staff and assurances any new equipment is working.

Digital twins give manufacturers the ability to test the workings of a facility before production begins. This may not seem like a big deal but it means that any mistakes or issues can be detected much earlier, and won’t affect the real production.

Even in a working fab, a digital twin can conceptualise new processes, without interrupting production. Finding working systems before changing the physical process can save time and money too.

And if you need skilled employees? No problem. By combining digital twins with training software or VR, you can train new staff before they touch the real equipment. Employees can then be qualified to work in a facility with no prior experience and no disruptions to production.

Sustainability

An alternative concept is using digital twins to become more environmentally friendly. Users can test ways to cut emissions and energy use to reach sustainable goals. Any problems or errors can be discovered before implementing them in real time. One study found that 57% of organisations agree digital twins are pivotal to improving sustainability.

Something to be mindful of is that it needs to be up-to-date to mirror the conditions of the physical version. This is especially important with system twins and process twins, where several interlocking systems work together.

Advantages

With the huge amounts of data that can be collected through a digital twin, products can be developed much further. Since digital twins offer so much insight into potential outcomes, it can boost a company’s research and development much faster.

Once a product has been developed, a digital twin can monitor the manufacturing process, overall increasing efficiency. Once a product reaches the end of its life a twin can help decide the best outcome for it too.

A safe prediction

Digital twins can simulate processes and products to help manufacturers make assured choices. For those looking for electronic components, Cyclops Electronics is the best choice. We have an extensive stocklist of day-to-day, obsolete and hard-to-find components, and a dedicated sales team to source every component you need. Contact Cyclops at sales@cyclops-electronics.com or call us on +44 (0) 1904 415 415.

 

Image Source: SumitAwinash

Categories
Electronic Components Future 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.

Categories
Component Shortage Electronic Components Future Supply Chain Technology

Ukraine – Russia conflict may increase global electronics shortage

Ukraine and Russia conflict may increase global electronics shortage

Due to conflict between Russia and Ukraine, both of whom produce essential products for chip fabrication, the electronic component shortage across the globe may worsen.

Ukraine produces approximately half of the global supply of neon gas, which is used in the photolithography process of chip production. Russia is responsible for about 44% of all palladium, which is implemented in the chip plating process.

The two leading Ukrainian suppliers of neon, Ingas and Cryoin, have stopped production in Moscow and said they would be unable to fill orders until the fighting had stopped.

Ingas has customers in Taiwan, Korea, the US and Germany. The headquarters of the company are based in Mariupol, which has been a conflict zone since late February. According to Reuters the marketing officer for Ingas was unable to contact them due to lack of internet or phone connection in the city.

Cryoin said it had been shut since February 24th to keep its staff safe, and would be unable to fulfil March orders. The company said it would only be able to stay afloat for three months if the plant stayed closed, and would be even less likely to survive financially if any equipment or facilities were damaged.

Many manufacturers fear that neon gas, a by-product of Russian steel manufacturing, will see a price spike in the coming months. In 2014 during the annexing of Crimea, the price of neon rose by 600%.

Larger chip fabricators will no doubt see smaller losses due to their stockpiling and buying power, while smaller companies are more likely to suffer as a result of the material shortage.

It is further predicted that shipping costs will rise due to an increase in closed borders and sanctions, and there will be a rise in crude oil and auto fuel prices.

The losses could be mitigated in part by providing alternatives for neon and palladium, some of which can be produced by the UK or the USA. Gases with a chlorine or fluoride base could be used in place of neon, while palladium can be sourced from some countries in the west.

Neon could also be supplied by China, but the shortages mean that the prices are rising quickly and could be inaccessible to many smaller manufacturers.

Neon consumption worldwide for chip production was around 540 metric tons last year, and if companies began neon production now it would take between nine months and two years to reach steady levels.

Categories
Electronic Components Future Supply Chain Technology

Could Graphene be used in semiconductors?

A new discovery

Graphene was first isolated at the University of Manchester in 2004. Professors Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov were experimenting on a Friday night (as you do) and found they could create very thin flakes of graphite using sticky tape. When separating these fragments further, they found they could produce flakes that were one atom thick.

Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their ground-breaking experiments in 2010, and since the two had first identified the material since the 60s it had been a long time coming.

Despite its thinness Graphene is extremely strong, estimated to be 200 times stronger than steel

Is silicon outdated?

Semiconductors are inextricably linked to Moore’s Law, which is the principle that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles every year. But that observation Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made in 1965 is now losing speed.

Silicon chips will very soon reach their limit and will be unable to hold any additional transistors, which means that future innovation will require a replacement material. Graphene, with its single-atom thickness, is a contender.

In 2014 hardware company IBM devoted $3 billion to researching replacements for silicon as it believed the material would become obsolete. The company said as chips and transistors get smaller, as small as the current average of 7 nanometers (nm), the integrity of silicon is more at risk.

IBM revealed its new 2nm tech last year, which can hold 50 billion transistors on a single silicon chip, so the material is not going obsolete just yet.

Disadvantages

Graphene is nowhere close to being a replacement for silicon, it is still in the development stage and the cost of implementing it into supply chain would be extensive. A lot more research and adjustment is required, and it would have to be introduced step by step to avoid prices skyrocketing and supply chains breaking down.

Graphene is not the only contender to be the replacement for silicon either. Carbon nanotubes are fighting for prominence, and other 2D materials like molybdenum disulfide and tungsten disulfide are also vying for the position.

Another disadvantage of Graphene is that there is no bandgap, which means the semiconductor can’t be switched off. The possibly jagged edges of the material could also pierce the cell membranes which may disrupt functions.

Other applications

Thanks to its 2D properties Graphene is also being studied for its potential uses in other areas. In relation to semiconductors there has been research from Korea on the uses of graphene as a filtration device for semiconductor wastewater. The oxide-based nanofiltration membranes could remove ammonium from the wastewater created by semiconductor production so it can then be recycled. As a wider application of this Graphene could be used as a filtration device for water or to remove gas from a gas-liquid mixture.

Graphene is also being researched for its uses in the biomedical field, which include being a platform for drug deliverybone tissue engineering, and ultrasensitive biosensors to detect nucleic acids. Graphene has other sensor-based uses, because the sensors can be made in micrometre-size they could be made to detect events on a molecular level, and could be of use in agriculture and smart farming.

There is a possibility Graphene could be combined with paint to weather-proof or rust-proof vehicles and houses, and to coat sports equipment. It also could have potential within the energy field for extending the lifespan of lithium-ion batteries.

When can we expect change?

Consultation company McKinsey estimated there would be three phases to the implementation of Graphene, none of which have begun just yet. Phase one would be to use Graphene as an ‘enhancer’ of existing technology, and will simply improve other devices by extending the lifespan or improving the conduction. This phase is estimated to last for ten years, after which phase two will begin. In this step graphene will become a replacement for silicon and will be the next step in the improvement of semiconductors and electronics. After 25 years we can expect the next step in graphene applications, things we can only dream of now.

In the meantime, people will still be using silicon-based semiconductors for quite a while. If you’re on the lookout for chips, or any other day-to-day or obsolete electronic components, contact Cyclops today at sales@cyclops-electronics.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.