Material Gains

Alun Morgan

A call for performance-centric materials specifications.

The combination of rising performance expectations and intense commercial pressures means choosing the right substrate materials for new-product designs is more important than ever. A wider selection of materials, with more finely nuanced properties, increasingly complicates making the “right” choice. Help is available from suppliers and industry bodies. But designers can also help themselves by being more willing to share information with their suppliers.

As PCB industry veterans, we know well the board is typically the last part of the project specified when a new product is designed. On the other hand, it’s the first item needed when serious development begins. Designing the circuitry to go on the PCB obviously gets most of the attention, but the substrate itself is usually the lowest priority in engineers’ minds. When the time finally comes to consider it, teams will often simply default to the same materials used previously. As performance demands imposed on successive product generations continue to intensify, and factors such as conductive anodic filament (CAF) formation that seriously affect reliability become more critical, this approach is increasingly unsatisfactory.

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Alun Morgan

As we wait out Covid-19 at home, energy use and thermal management issues remain.

Many of us have been spending a lot more time with our computers than usual, working from home, shopping online, connecting with friends remotely, and consuming more streaming services. In the past, traditionalists have criticized such “virtual living,” but in the current situation we are fortunate to have these services that help us connect and carry on without physical contact.

On the other hand, it seems the earth is enjoying the break, particularly areas of China and the US usually suffering from traffic smog, and in Venice’s now clearer canals. The environmental effects of this unprecedented worldwide shutdown of human activity could provide interesting data to mull over as we seek solutions to our ongoing climate challenges.

It’s less clear whether there will be any significant effect on global temperatures. Our online services are a lifeline, but running the internet consumes a huge amount of energy. It’s reckoned that the six billion cumulative streams of the most popular music video in history – Despacito – have consumed as much energy as 40,000 US households in one year, generating carbon emissions equivalent to the annual output of 100,000 taxis.

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Alun Morgan

Changes in standards and supply chain are making high-performance materials more accessible.

5G is expected to revolutionize many aspects of work and life, as a critical enabler for connected cars and self-driving vehicles, autonomous factories, remote medical surgery and the diffusion of smart “things” throughout cities, infrastructures and our homes.

Within the automotive sector alone, its influence will be huge thanks to attributes like ultra-low latency that will enable time-critical use cases such as V2X. The 5G Automotive Association (5GAA) is excited about the prospects for cellular V2X (C-V2X) to consolidate vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-pedestrian, and vehicle-to-network modes, combining direct communication, communication with cell towers, and links to cloud services.

For a country to delay 5G rollout risks compromising standards of living and economic competitiveness. On the other hand, US concerns about foreign involvement in such a pervasive infrastructure are widely reported. While the UK has decided to grant Huawei access to noncritical parts of the network – against the counsel of the Trump administration – it has been proposed the US consider the outright purchase of equipment companies such as Nokia as a way of keeping pace while also staying in control.

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Alun Morgan

If you want to know where tech is going, watch the kids.

Video game sales were valued at $79 billion in 2017, larger than the global PCB market and growing at about 14% per annum. As far as gaming hardware is concerned, combined sales of pure game consoles and high-performing PC graphics cards for gaming generate about $50 billion each year.

Short product lifetimes mean gaming hardware is a constant revenue driver. In addition, gamers’ demands for more lifelike experiences have driven rapid technological change, including the development of dedicated high-performance graphics processing units (GPUs), which first emerged in the late 1990s.

The GPU was initially conceived to boost 3-D graphics performance, taking on specific workloads such as triangle calculation. As GPU capabilities have increased, game designers have increased the complexity of their scenes to ensure ever-greater realism. Ultimately, of course, the benefits of this “arms race” have transcended the gaming community: GPUs are now found to be remarkably adept at taking on performance-hungry workloads such as AI acceleration and blockchain mining, tasks that much of today’s world depends on but that could barely have been on researchers’ radars when the first GPU chips hit the market.

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