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Updates in silicon and electronics technology.

Ed.: This is a special feature courtesy of Binghamton University.

IMEC and Intel researchers develop spintronic logic device. Spintronics is a budding path in the quest for a future beyond CMOS. Devices use much less power than their CMOS counterparts and keep their data unpowered. IMEC and Intel researchers have created a spintronic logic device that can be fully controlled with electric current rather than magnetic fields. An electron’s spin generates a magnetic moment, and when many electrons with identical spins are close together, their magnetic moments can align and join forces to form a larger magnetic field. Such a region is called a magnetic domain, and the boundaries between domains are called domain walls. A material can consist of many such domains and domain walls, assembled like a magnetized mosaic. (IEEC file #12091, Semiconductor Digest, 1/21/21)

Plasmonics: A new way to link processors with light. Plasmonic transceivers transfer large amounts of data between processors. Fiberoptic links are the main method of slinging data between computers in data centers. Silicon photonics components are large in comparison to their electronic counterparts because optical wavelengths are much larger than transistors and copper interconnects. University of Toronto and Arm researchers have developed new silicon transceiver components that rely on plasmonics instead of photonics. The results have transceivers capable of at least double the bandwidth, while consuming 33% of the energy and 20% of the area, and could be built atop the processor. (IEEC file #12097, IEEE Spectrum, 1/21/21)

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A lower cost, highly accurate way to integrate passive devices.

Photosensitive glass was invented in November 1937 by Dr. Donald Stookey of the Corning Glass Works. It was made public 10 years later, on June 1, 1947, and patented in 1950. Most will know glass ceramics from their glass stove top or the iPhone 12 Corning Ceramic Shield screen.

Glass is amorphous, meaning it has no crystalline structure. It’s just a random assortment of molecules in a solid matrix. Ceramics, on the other hand, are crystalline structures of various types and compositions. Glass ceramics can exist in both the amorphous glassy phase and the crystalline ceramic phase. Glass ceramics are used in either one of those two states: 100% glass or 100% ceramic. For example, a Brown stove top is 100% ceramic, and the Samsung Gorilla Glass screen is 100% glass.

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As lead times recall the Y2K fiasco, EMS firms and OEMs must share the risks

The ongoing IC lead-time crisis is pushing the margins of EMS companies and leaving their OEM customers scrambling. As of this writing, production scheduling under the conditions of withering lead times calls for unprecedented measures riddled with hunches and diminishing hope for acceptable recoveries. For now, production planning is all over the map, with EMS companies working closely with their customers to get through this period without major damage to OEMs’ brands and customer loyalty.

Today, lead times for ICs are snowballing up to 25 weeks on average, with some of the harder-to-source components such as tantalum capacitors hitting the 40-week mark (FIGURE 1). TSMC, one of the largest IC manufacturers in the industry, forecasts the global shortages of semiconductors could linger into next year.1 The ringing note stamped on all lead-time quotes is “subject to change,” and in many cases lead times are downgraded to “TBD,” leaving manufacturers spinning for short-term solutions.

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Machine and operational costs have shrunk over the past decade.

For years, the word in the electronics industry has been laser depaneling is expensive. This may have been true for investments in laser machines a decade or more ago, but the situation looks different once operating expenses are accounted for, especially with newer systems. In fact, according to our data, depaneling with laser systems is the most efficient method for a range of applications, and the cutting results are excellent, which means quality standards are also met.

The trend in the price-to-performance ratio for current laser systems, especially with respect to production of rigid PCBs, is obvious: The cost of depaneling based on the effective cutting speed has fallen to approximately one-tenth of what it was a decade ago (FIGURE 1). This dramatic shift is based on three major factors, all based on the rapid advances in laser technology. First, capex cost for laser depaneling systems has decreased to almost 30% of what it used to be a decade ago. Second, overall throughput has improved more than seven times. Finally, the operational costs for energy and maintenance have noticeably decreased.

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What PCB designers need to know to bring AI hardware to the device level.

A few buzzwords dominated headlines in 2020, many centered around Covid-19 and politics. Those who follow trends in technology probably noticed one area saw an explosion of growth: artificial intelligence. Unfortunately for the hardware developer, the tech world’s interest always seems to be drawn to the software side of AI.

The software industry has quickly embraced AI to the point where many software-driven services incorporate some element of AI to provide a meaningful user experience. As of the first quarter of 2021, it’s getting difficult to find a SaaS platform that doesn’t use AI for some specialized task. SaaS-ification is fine, and it’s creating a wealth of productivity tools that businesses can mix and match to make their processes more intelligent. And there are the big players like Facebook, whose AI models run quietly in the background, determining which advertisements and inflammatory memes you’re most likely to click.

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Updates in silicon and electronics technology.

Ed.: This is a special feature courtesy of Binghamton University.

Breakthrough quantum-dot transistors create a flexible alternative to conventional electronics. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have created fundamental electronic building blocks out of tiny structures known as quantum dots and used them to assemble functional logic circuits. This development provides a low-cost and manufacturing-friendly approach to complex electronic devices. The building blocks can be fabricated in a laboratory with simple, solution-based techniques, and provide these components for a host of innovative devices. Potential applications of the new approach to electronic devices based on non-toxic quantum dots include printable circuits, flexible displays, lab-on-a-chip, wearable devices, medical testing, smart implants, and biometrics. (IEEC file #11971, Science Daily, 10/29/20)

This flexible and rechargeable battery is 10 times more powerful than state-of-the-art. University of California researchers working with ZPower have developed a flexible, rechargeable silver oxide-zinc battery that provides five to 10 times greater energy density than current state-of-the-art. The battery also is easier to manufacture, as it can be screen-printed in normal lab conditions. The areal capacity for this innovative battery is 50ma/cm2 at room temperature, which is 10 to 20 times greater than the areal capacity of a typical lithium-ion battery. The device can be used in flexible, stretchable electronics for wearables as well as soft robotics. (IEEC file #12027, Science Daily, 12/7/20)

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