Showing posts for 2022
21 September 2022
The future of memory
Memory is an essential electronic component. Not only can it store data, but it can also process vast amounts of code. As it is so vital, manufacturers are upgrading it and adding improvements constantly. This could improve the way our computers and gadgets run but could also help people’s memories in the future.
Next-gen memory announcements
This year Samsung announced new products during the Flash Memory Summit in August. One of the products announced was the new ‘Petabyte Storage’, able to store as much data on a single server. A petabyte of storage (equivalent to 1,024 terabytes) would let manufacturers increase their storage capacity without requiring more space.
The company also announce Memory-Semantic SSD, combining flash and DRAM to to supposedly improve performance twenty-fold. This technology may be perfect going forward, suiting the increasing number of AI and ML operations with faster processing of smaller data sets.
SSD demand is increasing and other companies are vying for a share of the market. Western Digital also announced a new 26TB hard drive 15TB server SSDs earlier this year. Its new SSDs have shingled magnetic recording (SMR), which allows for higher storage densities on the same number of platters.
In 2021 the next-gen memory market was valued at $4.37 billion, and is expected to reach $25.38 billion by 2030. This demand is partly driven by high bandwidth requirements, low power consumption and highly scalable memory devices.
The need for scalable memory comes from the continually rising use of AI and ML. Lower-spec memory devices are causing bottlenecks in the functioning of these devices. Data centres are needed to process more data than ever before, so scalability is key for this market.
One promising product for the future of memory technology is Vanadium Dioxide. VO₂ is usually an insulator, but when it is heated to 68⁰C its structure changes and acts like a metal.
When an electrical current is applied to the circuit the metal would heat to its transition point. When it is cooled it would transition back.
Upon further study it was discovered that, when heated multiple times, the material appeared to remember the previous transitions and could change state faster. In a way, the VO₂ had a memory of what had happened previously.
The exciting discovery could mean the future of memory is brighter than ever. VO₂ could be used in combination with silicon in computer memory and processing. Especially for fast operation and downscaling, this material is an interesting prospect.
Today our regular blog post coincides with world Alzheimer’s day. Dementia is a collection of symptoms caused by different diseases, that can result in memory loss, confusion, and changes in behaviour. If you would like to learn more about dementia or Alzheimer’s, visit Dementia (who.int)
16 September 2022
India increasing chip manufacture
In recent years India has been increasing its share in the electronics industry, planning to become a hub in the future.
Currently India has a lot of dependence on imported chips, heavily relying on the Chinese supply chain. One of its goals is to be, in part, autonomous in its chip production. The supply chain issues brought about by covid and other global factors really highlighted this.
But it is not easy to just move production of something so complicated to another country. It would require massive amounts of funding to reshore production.
Make in India
In 2021 the Indian government announced funding equal to $10 billion to improve domestic production over the next 5 years. Several companies have put in bids for the funding, including Vedanta, IGSS Ventures, and India Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.
The funding is part of the Government of India’s ‘Make in India’ plan, encouraging investment and innovation in the country. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi announced the initiative in 2014, focusing on 25 sectors including semiconductors and automobiles.
One of India’s goals is to move away from reliance on imports, on which they currently spend $25 billion annually. Only 9% of India’s semiconductor needs are met domestically. If production is reshored in part, this would increase local jobs and income for the country.
As it stands, India currently has more of a focus on R&D but don’t have fabs for assembly and testing. The nearby Singapore and manufacturing powerhouse Taiwan provide most of its current stock.
A change in the air, and in shares?
The recent approval of the Chips Act in the US means there may be a shift in industry shares. At the moment America has a 12% share, but if production is re-shored this may impact the Asian market.
However, India and the US, alongside the UAE and Israel plan to form an alliance. With financial aid from the bigger players, the alliance plans to focus on infrastructure and technology.
India was the US’s 9th largest goods trading partner in 2021, with $92 billion in goods trade in 2019. India is also the EU’s 10th largest trading partner, but with domestic semiconductor industry growth this might change.
India’s end equipment market revenue was $119 billion at the end of 2021. Its annual growth rate is predicted to be 19% in the next 5 years.
India is aware of the importance of the semiconductor industry, and set up an India Semiconductor Mission (ISM) in 2021. Its goal is to create a reliable semiconductor supply chain, and to become a competitor against giants like the US.
Relish the competition
India’s potential in the semiconductor industry is increasing, and there is likely to be more investment in the future. It is difficult to tell how much further down the line it would be before India becomes a competitor, but the coming years are sure to be interesting.
07 September 2022
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.
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.
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 email@example.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website to get results fast.
25 August 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
24 August 2022
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us on (+44) 01904 415 415.
17 August 2022
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.
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.
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 email@example.com, or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.
09 August 2022
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.
03 August 2022
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.
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.
27 July 2022
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.
20 July 2022
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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