We have always talked about how process nodes and newer semiconductors are helping with miniaturisation, but that is not the full story. This interview takes a look at the other side of miniaturisation, of the materials that allow you to build such small-scale objects in the first place. Sridhar N.B., director, sales and marketing (industrial), DSM India Pvt Ltd, speaks with Dilin Anand of EFY
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Q. How are materials helping with increased miniaturisation of electronics?
A. Miniaturisation and, linked to that, thinnovation, is the design challenge in mobile. Newer materials that have the strength to be used in thinner structures while maintaining strength results in reduced size of components, while putting more features into these. For example, newer connectors have to deliver more power and signals in a small form factor.
One of the best ways to achieve this is through next-generation thermoplastics that can not only deliver on specifications but also open the door to completely new designs and concepts as we have seen in some recent consumer devices.
Q. Could you give us an example of thinnovation making an impact in electronics?
A. When we talk about thinnovation, over the past few years, thickness of smartphones has reduced by 12 per cent per year, on average. One of the latest developments to enable this trend is the new-generation universal serial bus (USB) Type-C connectors.
These connectors need to carry more power than previous-generation connectors in a much smaller form factor. So performance properties of the materials used for holding all conductive elements together are especially critical.
Reliability is a key requirement, so the industry is looking for plastics that are tough, reliable and rigid, with high flow.
Stanyl and Stanyl ForTii are examples of plastics that have been approved by global electronic manufacturers for the USB Type-C line of connectors.
Q. How are the materials used in USB Type-C connectors different from those used in previous-generation ones?
A. Due to thinner walls and a smaller pitch, the thermal plastic material for USB Type-C needs to have better mechanical strength and balance between stiffness and toughness. Due to higher power for charging (USB power delivery), higher comparative tracking index (CTI) is necessary to provide higher safety and minimise risk of fire.
Liquid crystal polymer, or LCP, is the major material used in the previous generation, but this does not work in USB Type-C due to lower CTI.
Q. How do alternative materials compare to the above?
A. Many component producers have begun developments in new USB-C connector designs using LCPs. Traditionally, LCPs were often favoured in thin-wall electronics because of their excellent flow properties. But in many cases, USB Type-C connectors are likely to fail stringent tests with respect to their electrical properties, especially resistance to surface tracking, expressed as CTI, and also mechanical properties. High-performance polyamides 46 and 4T offer the best balance of mechanical and electrical properties and precision moulding.