Polarized Non-Polarized Components: Inductors

We have a number of manufacturing engineers running around here at Screaming Circuits. They’re very good at what they do, as are our operators and technicians. They are not, however, electrical engineers. Our parent company has a big group of electrical engineers, but they’re at a different location.

What that means is, though we endeavor to be experts at building things, we often don’t know what the circuits and components do in your specific application. People tend to send us their difficult projects so we’ve probably seen just about everything possible go through our plant. But, every now and then we see something unfamiliar. It doesn’t happen very often, but it does happen.

Sometimes it’s an exotic new package (like the 0.3mm pitch wafer scale BGAs now
showing up). Other times, it’s something a bit older, but just not clear. Rather than put a job at risk, if we aren’t sure, we’ll always hunt down the designer and ask.

Okay. That was a long-winded intro.

We recently ran across just such an unknown; a “polarized” inductor, without an accompanying “polarity” mark on the PC board. Not only that, but the markings on the inductor were a bit ambiguous. One half is black and the other half is green. The datasheet is in black and white, so there’s more room for interpretation than we’re comfortable with.

SC2At first glance, you might wonder why polarity / direction matters in an inductor. I did. It’s just wire. Right?

Almost: it’s not just wire, it’s coiled wire. In most cases, the direction doesn’t matter, but in cases with multiple inductors, or with super high speeds, it can matter due to the fact that the coil winding direction has an influence on the flux and the actual induction.

I won’t go into all of the theory, but think of walking. In most cases, it doesn’t matter whether you start with your left foot or your right. However, if you’re marching in a coordinated group, you want everyone to start with the same foot.

Look at the two sets of air-core inductors above. When set like this, directionality starts to make a bit of sense. Imagine the electrons being pushed around in theses things and try to picture the resulting lines of flux.

The moral of the story: eliminate ambiguity. If the part is polarized, either mark the board, or make it the direction clear to your manufacturer in build documentation. Do this even if the polarity doesn’t matter to you, ’cause we don’t know that.

After photographing these, I ended up recalling this bit of knowledge. It’s just so rarely needed that it had vanished in to the fog. I put a few more photos after my signature.

Duane Benson
Which way did he go?
Which way did he go?





Component Packages — Let’s Get Small

I’ve been on a bit of a package binge lately. First talking about metric vs. US passive sizes, and then a very tiny ARM Cortex M0 from Freescale.

The Freescale BGA part checks in at 1.6 x 2mm. That’s cool and I’m almost always in favor of making things as small as possible, but, as I wrote in my prior blog on the subject, it’s not always possible. The 0.4mm pitch BGA is problematic unless you can spend a lot of money on the raw PCBs, or will have super high volume.

All is not lost, though. You still can use a tiny ARM Cortex M0 part. Just not quite as tiny. That same part also comes in a 3 x 3mm QFN package. You lose four pins (16 vs. 20) going from the BGA to the QFN, but if you can handle that, it’s a very viable option that doesn’t require any exotic circuit board technologies.

A few years ago QFNs were scary, but not so much any more. I’ve designed a few of them in using Eagle CAD. Just be sure to pay attention to the footprint. A 6 mil trace is more than small enough for a 0.5mm pitch QFN.

Duane Benson
Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle and mutilate


Electronics Shelf Life

Do parts and PCBs have a shelf life? Well, yes and no. I have some 7400 series logic chips in DIP form that I bought back in 1980. Every now and then, I pull one out and put it into a proto board to test some circuit idea I’ve got. They still work thirty years later. I haven’t taken any special care in storage either. Some are stuck into anti-static foam. Some are not. All are sitting in a mini-parts bin without any moisture protection. I guess they do get a little shielding from light, but basically, they’re just hanging out. They’ve been, at various times, in the attic, in the basement, in the garage or in the house.

That may seem like good evidence refuting a shelf like for parts. And today’s parts are even more robustly Bent pins in strip designed to start with. Still though, if I use any of those parts, it’s generally in a proto board or a socket. Sometimes I have to straighten the leads a bit. A lot of things don’t matter so much at low temperatures, low speeds, low volumes and large geometries.

It’s different when you have fine pitch parts being picked up and placed by a robot and then run through a 10-zone reflow oven. Oxidation that doesn’t matter for a socketed prototype can interfere with the solder adhesion. Bent pins or missing BGA balls can prevent the part from fitting. Moisture absorbed over time can make the chip act like a popcorn kernel when in the reflow oven.

That’s not to say that you can’t use old parts for a prototype these days. Just give them a good inspection before sending them off for assembly. And, if they’re moisture sensitive parts or have been stored in high-humidity areas, consider having your assembly house bake them before assembly. The same goes for raw PCBs too. Overly moist PCBs can delaminate during reflow. Some PCB finishes such as immersion sliver and OSP can tarnish or degrade over time too.

Duane Benson
Archaeologists, we are not


Dripping Wet Is Too Much

The headline is obvious. But what’s not so obvious is that some components may look perfectly fine but act like Orville Redenbacher when in the reflow oven.

Well, they won’t actually act like Orville, but rather, like his popcorn.

Sort of. With popcorn, you can tell when it’s popped. With a popped chip, you can’t always tell right away.

Moisture sensitivity is a bigger issue with RoHS-compliant components, but can be an issue in leaded components as well. Even though the parts look like water-tight plastic, they really aren’t. They do absorb 
moisture and after improper storage, moisture-sensitive chips may popcorn or crack subtly underneath. This can create hard to find or intermittent defects. It is often more of an issue with prototypes because components are quite frequently consigned in partial lots. This may result in impaired moisture-sensitive packaging or storage beyond recommended shelf life.

The message here is that if your parts are labeled moisture-sensitive, don’t open the moisture barrier packaging before sending them to your EMS provider. Or, if you have to open the package, please let them know, so they can bake them at the proper temperature.

Easy-Bake Oven: $25.99 from Hasbro
No. You can’t use an Easy-Bake oven for your parts