Size matters: why small is the new big in electronic components

25th March 2019
Anna Flockett

First the industry talked about miniature electronics, now it’s ultra-miniature and nano (effectively nearly invisible). Soon the buzz will be around molecular electronics, where the device components exist as individual molecules with the potential to form their own systems! The aim for improved technology is driven by speed and size: the smaller it is, the quicker the signal passes from one point to another, and the more applications of technology we see.

As electronic products shrink, so do their circuits and inevitably the components within those circuits. We've cut silicon thinner, PCBs smaller, shrunk connectors, and on the way we’ve miniaturised all the components.

Capacitors and resistors (passives), for instance, have been shrinking fast. The main product size for passives has shifted from 1005m (1.0x0.5mm) (roughly a grain of sand) to 0603m (0.6x0.3mm) (1/3rd of a grain of sand) in the last few years, while demand for even smaller 0201m (0.25x0.125mm) (1/16th of a grain of sand) passives increases.

Since the market demand for smaller, higher density components is expected to grow, manufacturers will continue to miniaturise their products and eventually lay off the older, larger components. There is in fact already talk in the industry that some manufacturers are planning to phase-out the production of capacitors bigger than 0603 by 2020.   

So, what are the market implications of this?
Sourcing components for existing and legacy systems will become more difficult. Companies that are producing long-life high-cost industrial products are especially vulnerable to component discontinuation. These companies (or the EMS company acting on their behalf) will need to engage in more long-term stock holding; larger Last Time Buys (LTBs) just to allow for a ‘normal’ product lifecycle; more long-term component storage requirements. Shortages in multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs) and SMD resistors are beginning to emerge, with semiconductor lines also affected, so the associated bulk purchasing and storage will add further pressure on supply chains to establish sustainable and effective strategies.

The ‘mismatch’ between component life-cycles will also have an effect on electronics product design. Separate components within products are increasingly having different lifecycles which leads to additional risks and costs relating to a product’s End of Life (EoL) management of obsolescent components.

As these issues and others continue to arise and develop throughout the industry, it’s more important than ever that EMS providers combine technical know-how with supply chain excellence to ensure that these challenges are anticipated and overcome without lasting delays or damage to the production line.

Guest article written by John Johnston, NPI Director, Chemigraphic.

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