By Larissa Miles (originally published on ECN.com)

Like any evolving technology, in recent years the electronic components industry has seen a shift toward passive components that are smaller, more reliable and more powerful. Distributors and manufacturers alike are investing heavily in the development of these features, and we will see three distinct trends in passives continue to play out in 2015 as a result. Higher density resistors, higher current magnetics and polymer and hybrid capacitors will all take center stage in the year ahead as leading passives manufacturers like Vishay, Panasonic, Ohmite, Fair-Rite andBournsleverage new techniques and technologies that change the way passive components fulfill the design needs of engineers.

Polymer and hybrid capacitors
These two passives products offer distinct benefits that make them ideal for environmental conditions, voltages, frequency characteristics and other specific applications in which they outperform traditional ceramic and electrolytic capacitors. As a result, polymer and hybrid capacitors have made their way into numerous industries ranging from IT to automotive for the reasons outlined above and more: they are compact, they offer higher ripple currents, they operate at lower ESRs and they last longer. Moreover, polymer capacitors offer an additional competitive edge in regards to stability, safety and overall lifecycle cost.

 

Needless to say the design implications of polymer and hybrid capacitors are countless. For example, polymer capacitors have great frequency characteristics. With a lower ESR polymer capacitors also have lower impedances at their resonance point. This in turn reduces AC ripples in power circuits and in many cases reduces peak-to-peak voltage changes by up to five times when compared to tantalum capacitors.

Additionally, hybrid capacitors can offer greater stability. In their most common operating environments, conditions in which frequencies are high and temperatures are low, hybrid capacitors can keep a stable capacity against the more conventional liquid electrolytic capacitors that will experience a drop in performance. Relatedly, the capacity of polymer capacitors does not drift in response to temperature changes. This is a major advantage over ceramic capacitors, which are known to experience instability. For industrial and automotive industry applications in particular, where operating temperature are much more likely to fluctuate, this feature is critical.

Finally and perhaps most importantly, polymer and hybrid capacitors offer engineers enhanced safety. Take conventional tantalum capacitors, which normally de-rate in use by 30 to 50 percent from their labeled voltage in order to ensure safer operations. This results in upsized capacitors and increased costs. Hybrid and polymer capacitors offer significantly better endurance against and resistance to higher temperatures, in addition to a higher tolerance for large ripple and inrush currents. On average, this leads to a 20 percent reduction in cost by boosting the overall life cycle of the capacitor, and compared to aluminum capacitors the cost is 50 percent lower.

High-density resistors
The downsizing of mainboard chips in devices like cell phones and smartphones have led to the need for higher performing, higher density resistors. These components can better operate in the increasingly restricted space that is the reality of electronics design today. Device Embedded Substrate (DES) technology makes high density mounting possible by laying out components in three dimensions, embedding electronic devices into a substrate or leveraging printing technology.

The demand for higher density mounting has also led to the demand for higher power at traditional product sizes. This, in addition to the power rating of resistor and the pattern layout, are all examples of the factors manufacturers must measure and consider when creating new resistors or improving upon existing ones. Higher density designs in particular will remain prevalent in the year ahead.

Higher-current magnetics

The trend of higher current inductors seems contradictory to that of the trend in smaller inductors, a notion which has already taken hold of the components industry. However, changes in cell phones, cameras, disk drives and many other devices have influenced the engineer’s need for high performing, smaller-sized inductors. While high-current designs do more generally lean toward solutions and packages with larger footprints, there are emerging applications that manage the best of both worlds which we will continue to see take shape in 2015.

 

For example, chip SMD inductors are designed specifically for power management applications and – given their smaller size – are ideal for low power needs. Additionally, downsizing, though it does limit the maximum current level, is also ideally suited for the low profile and miniaturization applications within the magnetics market. At a basic level, choosing the right supplementary design materials can also help to manage larger footprints without compromising higher currents.

There are many other developments to the passive market that will take hold of the year ahead. These three trends in particular – smaller components, higher capacities and polymer and hybrid capacitors – will ring especially true in the tantalum, aluminum, and polymer verticals. As the demand for smaller, better, faster and stronger design solutions across a wide range of industries surges, so will the need for passives that can keep up. The burden will be on manufacturers and distributors to invest in technologies that can meet those demands.

About the author

Larisa Miles is the Global Product Marketing Manager at Newark element14, a global electronics distributor and online community of more than 300,000 engineers. Learn more by visiting www.newark.com.