Material Gains

Alun Morgan

Cutting-edge technology demands more care to ensure reliability and resilience.

Human nature is to invent, to create technological solutions to the challenges and problems we see. We are increasingly dependent on high-technology solutions as we address more complex issues. Some of these issues are of our own making. Others arise from our increasing expectations: what we want to do, where we want to go, how safe we want to feel.

All this keeps the electronics industry extremely busy. And the equipment we create – remote smart sensors, street-level broadband infrastructure, full-color digital signage, supercomputers on wheels (or wings) – is more and more likely to be required to operate faultlessly in extreme environmental conditions. Gone is the era when advanced electronics assemblies were mostly destined to spend their lives in air-conditioned telecom offices or otherwise benign environments. Now, they are out in the cold. And the heat. And the humidity. And this presents a major reliability challenge that needs to be addressed at every level from the installation and the enclosure down to the substrate.

Read more: Reliability Needs to be Designed-In from the Lowest Level

Alun Morgan

And matching materials to the equipment that will advance our world.

Whatever we may learn about the origins of Covid-19, and however inconclusive the information may be, we can be almost certain it had nothing to do with radio waves. I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling disappointed about the attacks made on mobile phone masts during this crisis, carried out in the misguided belief that this kind of vandalism can halt the virus.

Fortunately, instances of such extreme technophobia have been few. It seems every new technology wins vocal detractors, however beneficial its effect on peoples’ lives. In recent years, our industry has had to deal with claims about grisly health risks associated with mobile phones, the effects of “wind turbine syndrome,” and the evil propagated by 5G.

Advanced technologies will hold the key to our defense against Covid-19. We will need the knowhow of pharmaceutical labs to create an effective and practicable vaccine, and engineering skills to develop new respirator designs better adapted to the needs of coronavirus patients than are conventional ventilators or CPAP devices. Moreover, effective virucides will be needed to enhance cleaning in places such as hospitals, waiting rooms, factories, warehouses, public transport vehicles, and aircraft. Irradiating at-risk areas using germicidal UV-C lamps could be an option and could easily be automated using mobile robots.

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Read more: Coping with the March of Technology

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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