How far will component miniaturization continue before reaching a wall?
A closer look at some of the driving forces behind component miniaturization and surface-mount assembly
The miniaturization of electronics is a seemingly endless march, destined for smaller and smaller components in a never ending cycle. From the vacuum tube of yore, to the modern-day transistor, components are seemingly on route toward disappearing from the naked eye; we’ve already packed ICs with billions of transistors less than a nanometer in size. Miniaturization will continue for as long as consumers demand product innovation, and for as long as the laws of physics governing Moore’s law can sustain the process.
In a broad sense, the demand for increasingly complex devices requires that OEMs condense higher levels of components into the printed circuit board assembly process. As a result, surface-mount components are more prevalent than through-hole components.
Product specifications are constantly changing to meet consumer demand for new products. One way to maintain the momentum of steady advancement is to miniaturize components.
Increased demand for electronic consumer products and embedded sensors in everything from tires to vacuum cleaners is fueling the use of micro components, like 0201 and 01005-sized resistors and capacitors.
A size comparison of 0805, 0603, 0402, 0201, and 01005 components
“I remember when 0402 chip devices were introduced. I heard phrases like ‘impossible,’ etc. Then came 0201 and the claims were repeated, and again with 01005. Are such small components actually practical? Where will it all stop,” writes Assembleon’s Eric Klaver. Klaver asks the question inevitably on everyone’s mind in the electronics industry: when will miniaturization cease?
To find an answer, we apply Moore’s Law, which is more of an observation than a law. Consider that the number of transistors in a dense, integrated circuit will double approximately every 18-24 months.. For example, Intel’s latest Haswell family of CPU’s use transistors measure 22nm, whereas its prior Sandy Bridge family featured transistors that measure 32nm in size.
Theoretically, transistors will continue miniaturizing until they reach the size of a single nanometer, equivalent to a thickness of 10 back-to-back atoms. At this point, the transistors lose their properties and cannot function as electron gates because the electrons are essentially teleporting from one side of the material to the other (transistors cannot function with leaky gates).
Manufacturing processes will continue to improve for as long as it is necessitated by the market.