Technical challenges in the electronic markets

The goal is clear - More function in smaller spaces. But what sounds simple is a continuous challenge to technology and its limits. What is important to overcome these barriers?

Technical challenges

Electronic devices need to deliver an ever-increasing function in a smaller space with each new generation. Development targets are to reduce device weight, size, improve reliability and comply with new legal requirements.

Continuous and holistic optimization of materials, interfaces, processes and techniques is necessary to overcome technical limits to design – and it means working at the edge of the possible. If you push the limits only at specific interfaces, other challenges and bottlenecks will appear!

This requires a different approach compared to the past – more teamwork across the borders of disciplines, across the borders of materials and system integration, across the borders of customer and suppliers.

Electronic devices consist of many materials; substrates, connectors, active and passive components, solders, adhesives, bonding wires, insulation and molding compounds and housings. Each material on its own is easy to handle and to control. However, when coming together in one device it becomes complex.

The interface between materials is most difficult to manage, especially when materials from different suppliers are used. Resolving one issue with one supplier only leads to the next challenge with another material. This often leads to best compromises rather than real optimized solutions. It is more time consuming to manage stepwise compromises with many interfaces between companies than to enjoy a one-stop solution approach.

Perfectly matched materials systems from one preferred supplier are the answer to many technical challenges. Find out more about how it works.

Thermal Management

Thermal Management

More electronic function in smaller spaces results in higher power density. The heat caused by power losses needs to be dissipated. The efficient management of thermal energy is a continuous companion of electronics development, otherwise the service lifetime of a device is severely limited or the chip itself is immediately damaged.

The thermal conductivity of single materials are well known and documented, but thermal resistance at interfaces between the materials needs to be measured in the application. If the materials come from different suppliers, this adds difficulties as to who is responsible for the whole system performance, both initially and in service.

This is where matched materials systems from one supplier offer unique advantages. Firstly, the development team can work with the specification data of the whole system. Furthermore, this system is better performing since the supplier has optimized both the single materials and the materials system. Therefore the customer can concentrate on other development tasks with confidence.

Miniaturization and weight reduction

Miniaturization

Smaller components need less material – this saves costs, especially if precious metals are involved. However, this is only one of many drivers for miniaturization.

Demands on the performance and functionalities of consumer devices are ever increasing in the same available space.

One example of ongoing innovations in terms of increased integration density is Thick Film technology enabling fine conductor line structures on robust ceramic, metal substrates or organic films.

In other cases the change of production methods can be key to provide the same functionality in less space. An example would be moving from wire bonding to flip chip assembly.

There is the question of weight. Naturally smaller devices in most cases are lighter, but weight reduction also creates demands. For example, the copper cables in vehicles contribute significantly to the total weight of the vehicle, and thus to its reduced performance in terms of fuel consumption and emissions. Again, new materials and technologies offer new possibilities to do quantum leaps such as finding possibilities to replace copper by the much lighter, but less electrically conductive aluminum.

It is not easy to answer this continuous demand of innovations. Suppliers can only add a significant contribution if they have sufficiently diversified capabilities for materials, techniques and expertise to develop new winning combinations.

Legal requirements and demand for reliability

Reliability

The operational life span of an electronic component should outlast the operating time of the device it is used in. This can be a very long time – in some industries up to 50 years.

Naturally, it is not easy to simulate such a long time span during development, especially the real operating conditions. Degradation mechanisms must be considered in the design of a component to make it as robust as possible against thermo-mechanical strains and harsh environmental conditions. Key elements of such robust design are the minimization of shear-forces between the different materials of a system and its chemical stability in specific environments.

At the same time, legal requirements are increasing in order to improve environmental protection and sustainability. Strict legislation such as RoHS, ELV, REACH and others have a growing influence on the design of technical solutions.

The motivation to substitute legislation critical materials is high. However, alternatives often do not offer the same absolute performance and a broad spectrum of materials knowledge is required to develop solutions with a similar outcome, good manufacturability and full compliance with the law.

In such a complex field, it is crucial to have access to a team of experts in different areas, who develop single aspects and consolidate them in a perfectly matched packaging solution. It takes deep materials knowledge in combination with systems know-how, testing expertise and manufacturing process experience to solve these technical challenges. Therefore, outsourcing of the materials system design to Heraeus experts creates a double advantage; getting a better, smaller, more reliable, environmentally-friendlier, easy-to-manufacture electronic component and gaining the freedom to concentrate on other development tasks at the same time.

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