Electronics speed-up offers boost for Britain

A resurgence in the need for analogue design skills in the electronics industry could renew competitive edge over South East Asia. Increases in processor speeds in electrical equipment mean radio frequency techniques will be needed across the whole field of electronic equipment, said Professor David Williams of Loughborough University’s department of manufacturing engineering. Speaking at […]

A resurgence in the need for analogue design skills in the electronics industry could renew competitive edge over South East Asia.

Increases in processor speeds in electrical equipment mean radio frequency techniques will be needed across the whole field of electronic equipment, said Professor David Williams of Loughborough University’s department of manufacturing engineering.

Speaking at last week’s Nottingham University conference on responsive manufacturing, he said the speeds at which processors could deal with data had reached 533MHz and would reach 1GHz by the turn of the century. Components which had to ‘talk’ to the processor would also have to get faster.

At these higher data rates, the string of electronic pulses representing the digits one and zero which make up the data stream starts to behave like a radio wave. Components have to be more carefully designed to avoid the signal being attenuated and the data corrupted.

‘At radio frequencies, details such as the geometry of the component substrate and the shape of the interconnect become important,’ said Williams. ‘People are getting worried about radio frequency phenomena now.’

There would be a renewed need for traditional analogue radio design skills. The South East Asian economies’ skills are in digital design, which is more straightforward, Williams said. ‘Whereas digital design is a science, radio frequency design is more of a craft. The UK has a lot of traditional radio frequency expertise,’ he said.

Precision manufacturing would be even more important to produce radio frequency components. ‘Making the substrates at low cost is perhaps the key manufacturing technology issue,’ said Williams.

It would also be more difficult to fit the same number of components on an integrated circuit of a given size, but he expected this would be overcome.

IBM this week announced a breakthrough in using copper instead of aluminium for semiconductor circuitry allowing further advances in miniaturisation.