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Baking a pie: a review of a recent embedded passives conference shows the market smells good.

THE PRUDENT ADVICE of Dennis Fritz still resonates. During an AEPT (Advanced Embedded Passives Technology) consortium meeting in 2001, the discussion was heating up between material suppliers, fabricators and equipment vendors over who was going to capture the big share of this emerging market. Amid the arguments, Fritz imparted this perspective: "We have to bake the pie before we can divide it up." Today, in fact, although the project is completed, the group continues growing in spirit and presence. Competition between companies is kept to a professional level while we promote the emerging technology.

Which brings us to June and the IPC International Conference on Embedded Passives. Many of the AEPT members were there, teaching and preaching the merits of EP technology. Day one consisted of three workshops. I conducted a session titled "Bridge the Design Tool Gap and Implement Embedded Resistors and Capacitors in Circuit Boards." There were 42 attendees, primarily from industry. I created this program with a focus on helping PCB designers, and especially helping them design something that shops can manufacture. It reviews commercially available material sets, a decision process and design guidelines.

Later I attended Dr. Richard Ulrich's (University of Arkansas) class on "Integrated Passives Component Technology and Commercialization." His explanation of the effects of dielectrics and fillers used to achieve a high capacitance density was enlightening, as was his view of exciting new material technology still in the lab. Anyone with a fuzzy picture of decoupling should attend this class. And, as Dr. Ulrich emphasizes, the technology drivers are (smaller) size and improved electrical performance; cost is a distant third.

I was not able to sit in on Dr. Swapan Bhattacharya's (Georgia Institute of Technology) class on "Organic Passives: Status and Challenges," but through visiting with him that evening and reviewing his workshop book, I noted an excellent broad presentation on EP materials, one not limited to organics. (Note: the Richards--Snogren and Ulrich--and Swapan are collaborating on an all-day fiber EP course for IPC Expo 2005, if not sooner.)

The keynoter, Dr. Jim Hickman of Quantum Performance Group, presented a provocative and up-to-date global view of the EP market. "Market leaders are designing embedded passives today with their PCB/EMS suppliers," he concluded. This was followed by a panel discussion, which I was on, with John Andresakis (Oak-Mitsui), Rocky Hilburn (Gould) and Chet Palesko (Answer Systems). Discussions were lively, especially around the patent situation for planar or distributed capacitance materials. Joel Peiffer of 3M caught everyone's attention when he spoke to the concept of embedded distributed capacitance dating back as far as the 1920s. (See Peiffer's article on the topic on page 32.) He also stated that use of 3M's embedded capacitor material does not infringe Zycon (Sanmina-SCI) patents, and that 3M is offering indemnification to their customers.

The technical sessions covered EP materials and processes, design, modeling, risks and forthcoming military initiatives. Major materials suppliers include 3M, DuPont, Gould, MacDermid, Nippon Paint, Oak-Mitsui, Ohmega Industries, Rohm and Haas and Sanmina-SCI. (While Sanmina-SCI is not a material manufacturer or supplier, it presented on the merits of its distributed capacitance materials.) The material technologies covered were planar or distributed capacitance, thin-film resistors and discrete ceramic thick-film (CTF) capacitors. Conspicuously absent: representation from the PTF (polymer thick-film) resistor community. Overall, it was an excellent background and status of the material supply base. No slight to the value of any of the presentations intended, but in this writer's opinion, four presentations stood out in offering new data. Hilburn's "A Novel Embedded Resistor Laminate for High Speed Applications" illustrated what a material supplier can do by applying basic material technology to a less conventional substrate. Dr. Diptarka Majumdar's (DuPont) "Ceramic Thick-Film Capacitor for Embedded Passives in Printed Circuit Boards" provided good data on the intricacies and process effects of emerging CTF discrete capacitor materials. Tadashi Hayashi's (Nippon Paint) "Dielectric Composite Film" presented the status of a new high Dk composite film being developed in Japan. Finally, 3M's Peiffer presented a significant amount of reliability data on a 16 pm dielectric distributed capacitance laminate. This type of information is needed for all new EP materials.

Design included several papers ranging from the basics of resistor design; design for trimming; an overview of CAD toolsets; and designing for RF applications of EPs. Michael Fitts presented an educative overview on Mentor Graphics' design tool.

Modeling was presented by Dr. Q.J. Zhang from Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada. Simply stated, I've heard Dr. Zhang discuss his neural net concepts several times and although he is a delightful and energetic speaker, I just plain don't understand it. Perhaps, Q.J. could come up with a "Neural Net for Dummies" at some future date.

Palesko presented on the effects of yield on manufacturing processes and, ultimately, product cost. His message: Designers must understand the process and allow for manufacturing, and users must understand that cost is product-specific and cannot be generalized.

Jason Ferguson closed the event with an excellent description of the work underway and planned at NavSea Warfare Center (Crane, IN) toward the development and implementation of EP technology. This effort will accelerate technology insertion into military applications, ultimately to the advantage of our warfighters. It was a dramatic contrast from Dr. Hickman's opening remarks, a contrast that could be called global competitiveness vs. national defense.

I have attended most of the EP conferences in the last four years. This was by far the best. The pie smells pretty darn good.

RICHARD SNOGREN is a member of the technical staff at Coretec Inc. ( He can be reached at He will speak on embedded passives in October at PCB Design Conference East (
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Title Annotation:Getting Embedded
Author:Snogren, Richard
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Manufacture
Date:Aug 1, 2004
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