On the Drawing Board: Cutting Costs, and Circuit Boards, Down to Size

by Tom Ventsias

University Media Relations

New software developed by associate professor of mechanical engineering Peter Sandborn can help electronics manufacturers redesign printed circuit boards to improve performance, save space, and decrease overall weight.

The software tool offers a detailed cost-analysis of embedded passives, an emerging technology that integrates passive components like resistors and capacitors into the interior layers of a printed circuit board, as opposed to the traditional method of soldering them to the board's exterior.

"Embedded passives are on the threshold of becoming mainstream in the electronics industry," says Sandborn, and that most handheld telecommunications applications and other devices that have size and weight considerations "will undoubtedly go to embedded passives in the next few years."

The cost-analysis tool allows R&D specialists to digitally describe a traditional electronics system using discrete passives — the term used for resistors and capacitors soldered onto a circuit board — and then redesign the system by converting some or all of the discreet passives to embedded passives. The software provides detailed cost estimations that include both current and projected costs of electronic components, Sandborn says, and also gives size and weight projections to help design engineers maximize space considerations.

The software was developed in partnership with the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences' Advanced Embedded Passives Consortium, a collaborative R&D effort co-funded by industry and that National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST. The consortium includes major telecommunications and electronics manufacturers such as DuPont, Nortel, and Merix, with industry and the NIST Advanced Technology Program providing funding for developing the software.

Part of making the software functional and user-friendly, Sandborn says, was working with the embedded passives consortium. "The biggest challenge was in getting realistic [cost] numbers," he says. "By partnering with research and development experts from companies such as DuPont and Nortel, I was able to get very accurate input on what is being used in industry right now, and what the needs for the future are."

Published November 15, 2002