Showing posts for May 2022
26 May 2022
Could conductive ink replace conventional circuitry?
It seems like the stuff of dreams, having a pen or a paintbrush that could conduct electricity. Well, those dreams are very real, readily available to buy online, and at a relatively cheap rate, too.
Conductive ink pens and conductive paint that can be used with a pen, paintbrush, or a printer is a reality, and is already being put to work.
What is it?
Conductive ink and conductive paint are liquid materials mixed with nanoparticles of a conducting material like silver or graphite. The paint and ink are technically slightly different, in that the paint sits on the surface of a substrate, while the ink would sink into a substrate it was applied to, like regular ink on paper.
Although the metals are usually in a solid state at room temperature, if it’s in a nanoparticle form it can be mixed with a liquid. When the liquid is spread and begins to dry, the nanoparticles and electrons within them begin to form conductive chains that the current is then able to travel through.
One notable way silver-infused ink is currently used is to print Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags in tickets.
Another common place to find conductive paint or ink is in the rear windscreen of cars. The resistive traces applied to windscreens to help defrost them contain conductive paint. Traces printed on the window can also serve as a radio antenna in more recently manufactured cars.
Conductive inks and paints were originally intended to be used for e-textiles and wearables. The potential for clothes that could detect temperature and heart rate, among other features, is an area receiving considerable investment.
When compared to conventional circuity and conductors, conductive inks and paints will never be able to emulate the strength of conductivity. In a way, it would be unfair to pit the two against each other, like putting boxers from vastly different weight classes in a ring together.
The reliability and connectivity of traditional conductors is much higher so is preferred for regularly used products, however conductive inks and paints would be utilised in areas that traditional means could not. So, as much as these factors are disadvantages they would be irrelevant when it comes to the product.
Layers of the ink or paint may not always be thick enough to have any conductive strength at all, and it could take several layers of it to properly form a current-conducting pathway. Additionally, the user is relying on the nanoparticles in the liquid to align correctly for conduction. The material would work only for smaller direct voltages too, probably up to around 12V.
Silver is a material that has a higher cost than other conductors like graphite, and could make the price of some paints unreasonable for some customers. The low cost alternative is graphite, but this also has a higher resistivity than metals like silver.
As far as development goes, nanoparticle paint is still in its infancy. Its uses are limited and occasionally unreliable, so although it has cornered a niche conductive market it’s unlikely we’ll see it permeating the sector for a while.
If you are looking for trustworthy day-to-day or obsolete electronic components, Cyclops are here for you. Don’t paint yourself into a corner, contact Cyclops today to find what you’re looking for, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
25 May 2022
Chip shortage impact on electric car sales
Many renowned car companies have, by this point, tested the waters of the electric vehicle (EV) market. However, thanks to the roaring success of electric car sales last year, and governmental and environmental incentives, the EV market is about to shift up a gear.
The vehicle market was not able to avoid the semiconductor shortage that has been prolific for the past few years. Safety features, connectivity and a car’s onboard touchscreen all require chips to function.
This, combined with the work-from-home evolution kick-started by the pandemic, meant that car sales decreased, and manufacturers slowed down production. New car sales were down 15% year-on-year in 2020, and the chips freed up by this ended up being redirected to other profiting sectors.
Even without the demand from the automotive industry, it has not been plain sailing for chipmakers, who not only had to contend with factory closures due to COVID-19, but also several natural disasters and factory fires, and a heightened demand from other sectors. Needless to say, the industry is still catching up two years later.
The automaker market
Despite new car sales having an overall decline in 2020, EV sales had about 40% growth, and in 2021 there were 6.6 million electric cars sold. This was more than triple of their market share from two years previously, going from 2.5% of all car sales in 2019 to 9% last year.
Part of the reason why EV sales were able to continue was due to the use of power electronics in the vehicles. While there is a dramatic shortage of semiconductors and microelectronics (MCUs), the shortage has not affected the power electronics market to the same extent. That is not to say that an EV doesn’t need chips. On the contrary, a single car needs around 2,000 of them.
It begs the question, how many EVs could have been sold if there weren’t any manufacturing constraints. Larger companies with more buying power would have been able to continue business, albeit at an elevated cost, while smaller companies may have been unable to sustain production.
The growth of the EV business in China is far ahead of any other region, with more EVs being sold there in 2021 than in the entire world in 2020. The US also had a huge increase in sales in 2021, doubling their market share to 4.5% and selling more than 500,000 EVs.
In Europe last year 17% of car sales in 2021 were electric with Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany being the top customers. Between them, China, the US and Europe account for 90% of EV sales
Predictions and incentives
Several governments have set targets to incentivise the purchase of electric cars, and to cut down on CO² emissions caused by traditional combustion engines. Many of these authorities have given themselves ambitiously little time to achieve this, too.
Biden announced last year that the US would be aiming for half of all car sales to be electric by 2030, and half a million new EV charging points would be installed alongside this. The EU commission was similarly bold, proposing that the CO² emission standard for new cars should be zero by 2035, a 55% drop from the levels in 2021.
Companies are also setting EV targets and investing in new electronic models. Some manufacturers are setting targets as high as 50% of their production being electric within the next decade, while others have allotted $35 billion in investment in their pursuit of EV sales.
Aside from the obvious issues there have been with semiconductor production and sourcing, there are also other factors that may make the future of EVs uncertain. One of the essential components of an electric car is its battery, and the materials that are used are increasing in price.
Lithium, used in the production of lithium-ion EV batteries, appears to be in short supply, while nickel, graphite and cobalt prices are also creeping up. However, research is underway for potential replacements for these, which may help for both supply times and the associated costs.
The shortages are affecting everyone, but thankfully Cyclops is here to take some pressure off. No matter what electronic components you are looking for, the team at Cyclops are ready to help. Contact us today at email@example.com. Alternatively, you can use the rapid enquiry form on our website.
18 May 2022
The Angstrom Era of Electronics
Angstrom is a unit of measurement that is most commonly used for extremely small particles or atoms in the fields of physics and chemistry.
However, nanometres are almost too big for new electronic components, and in the not-so-distant future angstrom may be used to measure the size of semiconductors.
It could happen soon
Some large firms have already announced their future plans to move to angstrom within the next decade, which is a huge step in terms of technological advancement.
The most advanced components at the moment are already below 10nm in size, with an average chip being around 14nm. Seeing as 1nm is equal to 10Å it is the logical next step to move to the angstrom.
The size of an atom
The unit (Å) is used to measure atoms, and ionic radius. 1Å is roughly equal to the diameter of one atom. There are certain elements, namely chlorine, sulfur and phosphorus, that have a covalent radius of 1Å, and hydrogen’s size is approximately 0.5Å.
As such, angstrom is mostly used in solid-state physics, chemistry and crystallography.
The origin of the Angstrom
The name of the unit came courtesy of Anders Jonas Ångström, who used the measurement in 1868 to chart the wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation in sunlight.
Using this new unit meant that the wavelengths of light could be measured without the decimals or fractions, and the chart was used by people in the fields of solar physics and atomic spectroscopy after its creation.
Will silicon survive?
It’s been quite a while since Moore’s Law was accurate. The methodology worked on the theory that every two years the number of transistors in an integrated circuit (IC) would double, and the manufacturing and consumer cost would decrease. Despite this principle being relatively accurate in 1965, it does not take into account the shrinking size of electronic components.
Silicon, the material used for most semiconductors, has an atomic size of approximately 2nm (20Å) and current transistors are around 14nm. Even as some firms promise to increase the capabilities of silicon semiconductors, you have to wonder if the material will soon need a successor.
Graphene, silicon carbide and gallium nitride have all been thrown into the ring as potential replacements for silicon, but none are developed enough at this stage for production to be widespread. That said, all three of these and several others have received research and development funding in recent years.
How it all measures up
The conversion of nanometres to angstrom may not seem noteworthy in itself, but the change and advancement it signals is phenomenal. It’s exciting to think about what kind of technology could be developed with electronics this size. So, let’s size up the angstrom era and see what the future holds.
11 May 2022
What are GaN and SiC?
Silicon will eventually go out of fashion, and companies are currently heavily investing in finding its protégé. Gallium Nitride (GaN) and Silicon Carbide (SiC) are two semiconductors that are marked as being possible replacements.
Both materials contain more than one element, so they are given the name compound semiconductors. They are also both wide bandgap semiconductors, which means they are more durable and capable of higher performance than their predecessor Silicon (Si).
Could they replace Silicon?
SiC and GaN both have some properties that are superior to Si, and they’re more durable when it comes to higher voltages.
The bandgap of GaN is 3.2eV and SiC has a bandgap of 3.4eV, compared to Si which has a bandgap of only 1.1eV. This gives the two compounds an advantage but would be a downside when it comes to lower voltages.
Again, both GaN and SiC have a greater breakdown field strength than the current semiconductor staple, ten times better than Si. Electron mobility of the two materials, however, is drastically different from each other and from Silicon.
Main advantages of GaN
GaN can be grown by spraying a gaseous raw material onto a substrate, and one such substrate is silicon. This bypasses the need for any specialist manufacturing equipment being produced as the technology is already in place to produce Si.
The electron mobility of GaN is higher than both SiC and Si and can be manufactured at a lower cost than Si, and so produces transistors and integrated circuits with a faster switching speed and lower resistance.
There is always a downside, though, and GaN’s is the low thermal conductivity. GaN can only reach around 60% of SiC’s thermal conductivity which, although still excellent, could end up being a problem for designers.
Is SiC better?
As we’ve just mentioned, SiC has a higher thermal conductivity than its counterpart, which means it would outlast GaN at a higher heat.
SiC also has more versatility than GaN in what type of semiconductor it can become. The doping of SiC can be performed with phosphorous or nitrogen for an N-type semiconductor, or aluminium for a P-type semiconductor.
SiC is considered to be superior in terms of material quality progress, and the wafers have been produced to a bigger size than that of GaN. SiC on SiC wafers beat GaN on SiC wafers in terms of cost too.
SiC is mainly used for Schottky diodes and FET or MOSFET transistors to make converters, inverters, power supplies, battery chargers and motor control systems.
04 May 2022
semiconductors in space
A post about semiconductors being used in space travel would be the perfect place to make dozens of space-themed puns, but let’s stay down to earth on this one.
There are around 2,000 chips used in the manufacture of a single electric vehicle. Imagine, then, how many chips might be used in the International Space Station or a rocket.
Despite the recent decline in the space semiconductor market, it’s looking likely that in the next period there will be a significant increase in profit.
What effect did the pandemic have?
The industry was not exempt from the impact of the shortage and supply chain issues caused by covid. Sales decreased and demand fell by 14.5% in 2020, compared to the year-on-year growth in the years previous.
Due to the shortages, many companies within the industry delayed launches and there was markedly less investment and progress in research and development. However, two years on, the scheduled dates for those postponed launches are fast approaching.
The decline in investment and profit is consequently expected to increase in the next five years. The market is estimated to jump from $2.10 billion in 2021 all the way up to $3.34 billion in 2028. This is a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.89%.
What is being tested for the future
In the hopes of ever improving the circuitry of spaceships there are several different newer technologies currently being tested for use in space travel.
Some component options are actually already being tested onboard spacecrafts, both to emulate conditions and to take advantage of the huge vacuum that is outer space. The low-pressure conditions can emulate a clean room, with less risk of particles contaminating the components being manufactured.
Graphene is one of the materials being considered for future space semiconductors. The one-atom-thick semiconductor is being tested by a team of students and companies to see how it reacts to the effects of space. The experiments are taking place with a view to the material possibly being used to improve the accuracy of sensors in the future.
Two teams from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are currently looking at the use of Gallium Nitride (GaN) in space too. This, and other wide bandgap semiconductors show promise due to their performance in high temperatures and at high levels of radiation. They also have the potential to be smaller and more lightweight than their silicon predecessors.
GaN on Silicon Carbide (GaN on SiC) is also being researched as a technology for amplifiers that allows satellites to transmit at high radio frequency from Earth. Funnily enough, it’s actually easier to make this material in space, since the ‘clean room’ vacuum effect makes the process of epitaxy – depositing a crystal substrate on top of another substrate – much more straightforward.
To infinity and beyond!
With the global market looking up for the next five years, there will be a high chance of progress in the development of space-specialised electronic components. With so many possible advancements in the industry, it’s highly likely it won’t be long before we see pioneering tech in space.
To bring us back down to Earth, if you’re looking for electronic components contact Cyclops today to see what they can do for you. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or use the rapid enquiry form on our website.
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