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Articles from 2004 In May


Semi Makers’ Big Jump

Semi Makers’ Big Jump

After a rough start for the decade, the market for semiconductor manufacturing equipment is roaring back, paced largely by back-end processes including automated testing. As the economy recovers, growth is fueled in large part by the challenges of dealing with faster ICs.

Gartner Inc. of Stamford, CN, predicts that the worldwide semiconductor equipment market will grow by 40 % this year. That's on top of a 10.3 % rise during 2003 Last year's total sales were $22.8 billion, according to Gartner. (http://www.tmcnet.com/usubmit/2004/Apr/1029832.htm)

The rise is driven primarily by back-end operations. Automated test equipment grew at a blistering 39.4 % last year, well above the 30.5 % for packaging and assembly equipment. In contrast, front-end segments were led by wafer fab equipment, where growth was only 3.6 %.
Kulicke & Soffa Industries Inc. of Willow Grove, PA, is attacking the market with a new test socket technique that increases speed and reduces the chances of damaging chips without increasing pricing. (http://www.kns.com/press/showpr.asp?IID=1698) The Quatrix test package uses photolithographic techniques to create the contacts that let a tester examine a chip. These circuits replace spring-loaded pins, which "are running out of performance," says Andrei Berar, vice president of the Package Test Business Unit.

Less pressure is needed to make contact with the planar interconnects, reducing the potential for damage, yet speed remains at the same levels. Accuracy is far more precise with lithographic socket connections than with electro-mechanical pins. Since the technique uses IC processing technologies, it will be easier to keep up with advances in IC technology, Berar says. Shipments will begin in the fourth quarter.

In another aspect of IC testing, Agilent Technologies Inc. of Palo Alto, CA, unveiled an upgrade that enables signal integrity testing of high-speed serial links up to 6.4 Gbits per second using a built-in self-test approach. BIST-Assist 6.4 is designed for PCI Express, RapidIO and other high speed serial interface chips. http://we.home.agilent.com/cgi-bin/bvpub/agilent/Product/cp_Product.jsp?NAV_ID=-536886938.536894305.00&LANGUAGE_CODE=eng&COUNTRY_CODE=US&JPID=/see/bistassist The upgrade, set to ship in June, can be plugged into Agilent's 93000 testers.


Kulicke & Soffa's Quatrix test socket technology sets the stage for the future, shifting to lithographic processing instead of conventional electro-mechanical pin probes.

Microwave Ovens Could Heat-Treat Metals

Microwave Ovens Could Heat-Treat Metals

Industrial-size furnaces may have to move over andd make room for microwave ovens for heat treating metal.

Engineers at Dana Corp. have developed a way to use microwave ovens to braze, harden, and carburize metals, replacing the out-sized industrial furnaces that have been used for years.

Dana's technology heats the metal indirectly, avoiding the electrical arcing and magnetron destruction you would expect heating metal in a microwave oven. The system encloses the metal component within a ceramic insulating cavity containing microwave-absorbing plasma created from inert gas. The plasma heats the metal.

The technology works quickly, Dana engineers say, because of the low thermal mass of the plasma and the efficiency of the microwave system. How fast? Dana says it can reduce cycle time by two-thirds compared to the conventional heating process.

Besides heat treating, the Dana system reportedly can deposit a variety of hard coatings normally applied under pressure with chemical vapor deposition.

Among successes Dana reports with the process are the following, all involving parts weighing hundreds of grams:

* Carburization of 8620H steel alloy gears (60-80 minutes at 1,000C).
* Sintering of a powdered-steel gear (20-40 minutes at 1,200C).
* And brazing of low-carbon steel (90 seconds at 1,100C).

Though the company has set no date when commercial systems would be available, it predicts that it could be as soon as early 2005. For now, the company will use the technology for its own internal needs.


Fast Acting: Plasma temperatures climb rapidly and is about 95% efficient in transferring heat.

Motor Gets Kids Moving

Motor Gets Kids Moving

Medical professionals at University College in London, England, have found a unique use for motor technology: They are using a small magnetic rotor in a patient's leg to extend a prosthesis to keep up with the patient's growth.

The patients, all children, have lost part of their leg bones after suffering from bone cancer. The prostheses support the remaining bone. But as the children grow, the implants have to extend with to accommodate their growth. That usually involves three or four operations a year over a five-year period.

Using the magnetic rotor is non-invasive. The rotor links to the implant through a gearbox. A separate stator turns the rotor. Medical professionals place the patient's leg inside the stator core. The stator turns the rotor at 3,000 rpm, driving the gearbox and extending the prostheses by one millimeter every four minutes.

The original design included six air-cored coils configured as a two-pole, three-phase winding. That design required oil cooling.

Five patients have received the treatment, which can be administered on an outpatient basis. EMR Silverthorne, a UK partner of ABB Motor Service, supplied the stator cores. It's based on ABB's standard 180-frame-size motor in a two-pole stack. The stator is series-wound with 552 turns of 1.06 mm wire.


Growing Gains: The stator drives the rotor to extend the prosthesis one millimeter every four minutes. It's a painless and non-invasive way to make sure prostheses keep up with the growing skeletel frames of children.

What's Your Frequency?

Raw data from a pressure or temperature sensor may let engineers quickly spot trends. Such time-domain data often allows for an intuitive understanding of how equipment responds to testing or to everyday use. But often, analysis requires crossing into the frequency domain to unlock useful information from data acquired while testing rotating machinery, vehicles, communication systems, and other dynamic systems.

Mention "frequency domain" to an engineer and Fourier analysis immediately comes to mind, as does the fast Fourier transform (FFT). Many spreadsheets and data analysis packages provide FFT routines that can extract frequency information from large files of test data.

The spectrum of FFT tools also includes a "zoom FFT" that can focus on a band of frequencies. This technique performs only the FFT calculations needed to obtain data about frequencies in a narrow range of interest. Many digital communications methods produce such narrow band signals. The zoom FFT also finds use in Doppler radar, mechanical stress analysis, and medical ultrasonic imaging.

But an FFT works best on signals that maintain a constant frequency "composition" during the sample period. If frequencies in a signal vary during sampling, an FFT may produce erroneous results. And, an FFT cannot provide time information—that is, what happens to a signal at a specific time.

When analysis involves signals with varying frequencies, engineers can apply joint time-frequency analysis (JTFA) tools to extract information. These tools rely on a short-time Fourier transform (STFT) and a Gabor expansion, the inverse of an STFT. The STFT performs an FFT sequentially on small sections of data to produce spectral information as it existed in a signal at a specific "instant." For an STFT to yield useful results, only small frequency changes can occur during the short sampled period. JTFA tools have an added benefit—they generally reduce the influence of noise on signals.

Additional tools that provide frequency-domain information include wavelet analysis, which uses software filters to separate a signal into frequency bands. Unlike an FFT, wavelet analyses preserve timing information that shows how frequency content changes with time. In addition, a wavelet transform simultaneously extracts both low-frequency and high-frequency signals, but with different frequency resolutions—an advantage over the FFT. An inverse wavelet transform will reconstruct the original signal.

Wavelet analysis also provides for signal matching. If you expect to find a signal with known characteristics in your data, you can insert that signal's wavelet into the transform and confirm the presence or absence of the known signal.

Engineers also may apply order analysis to help them relate frequency-domain information to physical test systems. When you test a mechanical system, for example, each component has its own resonant frequency. So, while testing an 8-cylinder internal-combustion engine, a frequency eight times that of another may provide useful information about cylinder firing. "Order" simply means integer multiples, also called harmonics or overtones, of lower frequencies.

More Tools

Commercial signal-processing software includes many other frequency-analysis tools such as octave analysis, modal analysis, power spectrum, adjacent-channel power, harmonic distortion, and so on. But which tools apply to a specific test?

Before engineers attach transducers and sensors to equipment, they should know what information they need to analyze. It may seem obvious, but without understanding measurement needs, there's no way to know what sensors to apply or where to put them.

Test engineers unfamiliar with equipment must ask, "What does this device do, and what do we want to know about it?" They don't need to understand all the low-level details, but they must know what information their colleagues expect a test to yield so they can determine the types of analysis tools to use.

Adept Use

Do not apply data-analysis tools blindly. Excessive filtering, for example, may remove the specific signal you want to observe. On the other hand, lack of some sort of noise reduction may ruin your final information.

Thankfully, engineers often save data and then investigate it later so they have the opportunity to try different processing tools and see their effects. These trials provide practical training in what the tools do and don't do, and when to apply them.

Say you apply a window function prior to running an FFT and the results still lack sharp frequency bands. A bit of experience will suggest that signal frequencies changed during sampling. So next you try a joint time-frequency analysis to see if the results improve. Experimenting with known data will help you learn how to move from the time to the frequency domain and still get useful results.


Web Resource
To read "Wavelets Extract High and Low Frequencies" from Test & Measurement World magazine, go to http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-531

Electronics

Electronics

Isolated base power modules

Competitive characteristics

Available in six configurations (including dual diode, dual thyristor, and diode thyristor combinations), the company's new class of isolated-power-base power modules are suited to all applications requiring isolated base, phase control, and rectifier products. They are reportedly ideal for use in transportation and induction heating, as well as industrial installations. Four voltage ratings are available in each configuration: 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, and 1.8 kV. Westcode Semiconductorshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-614

Pressure transducer

Gauge and compound pressure

The Model 516 CVD type industrial OEM pressure transducer is designed to offer 0.5 percent accuracy, a gauge or compound pressure range from -14.7 to 6,000 psi, and a compensated temperature range of -5 to 180F. Featuring a proof pressure specification of 4X full scale with less than 1 percent zero shift, the transducer comes with a choice of voltage or current outputs over nearly any pressure range. Applications include pumps and compressors, hydraulic systems, industrial equipment, industrial engines, process applications, and off-highway vehicles. Setra Systems Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-615

Timing control devices

Produces low jitter

Offered in both XO (CCPD-033-034) and VCXO (CVPD-034) configurations, the LVPECL product line of timing control device is designed to meet today's requirements for +3.3V differential LVPECL applications. The clocks and VCXOs reportedly use HFF Mesa crystals to produce low jitter and low phase noise with no PLL multiplication. They are provided in standard 5- x 7-mm SMD packages and are available on 16-mm tape-and-reel in quantities of 100, 500, and 1,000 pcs. Crystek Crystals Corp.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-616

Real-time extensions

For Windows and application software development tool suite

Version 6.0 of RTX includes new features and functionality that reportedly have capabilities to enhance development of embedded systems. It features APIC HAL support for uniprocessor and multiprocessor platforms, RTX USB 1.1/2.0 support, and deterministic memory allocation. APIC interrupt controller mode enables better overall system configuration management and more reliable performance, according to the company. VenturComhttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-617

Surface mount inductors

Low profile

The DR331-7-8-9 series surface mount inductors reportedly provide reliable protection against challenging EMI problems in high-frequency filtering applications. Available in a wide range of inductance values, the products offer a compact and economical open-frame design with a seated profile as low as 0.115 inches. They are suited for high-density circuit board designs. Datatronic Distribution Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-618

Anamorphic prism pairs

Improves collimation

The company's anamorphic prism pairs reportedly expand a beam in only one dimension, circularizing the elliptical output from a diode. This is designed to improve collimation in both the X and Y planes, allowing diffraction-limited focusing. The prism pair provides 4.22X magnification in a design of 30-mm diameter. The mounted pair reportedly works optimally with the output from the company's structured light laser diode modules. Edmund Industrial Opticshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-619

Power supply

Wide input voltage range

Created as a complete power converter solution for 2-5 inch TFT LCD panels, the LTC3450 operates from an input voltage range of 1.5 to 4.6V. This is designed to enable the product to accommodate multicell alkaline/NiMH batteries, as well as single-cell Li-Ion. The device is comprised of a synchronous boost converter and three charge pumps that allow the product to operate at input voltages as low as 1.5V, according to the company. Linear Technologyhttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-620

Optocouplers

Use in variety of systems

Reportedly the first optocouplers in standard plastic packaging that can achieve an operating temperature range of -55 to +110C, the devices are engineered to offer safe, optical connections between circuits in a variety of systems. Ideal applications include connections between ac adapters, power supplies, programmable logic controllers, and industrial automation to game consoles and PCs. The devices have been certified by several international safety regulatory agencies, including VDE, UL, and CSA. Vishay Intertechnology Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-621

Ultracapacitor

Reliable, lower cost

Created as the first ultracapacitor based on an industry standard form factor, the BCAP0350 D Cell BOOSTCAP(R) is designed to provide users with a lower-cost, reliable, and standard-sized energy source and power delivery component for seamless and rapid integration. By standardizing its ultracapacitors, the company is reducing its manufacturing costs, hence lower cost to OEMs. The product reportedly offers more power and reliability to customers without significant investments and design time. There is also a 3:1 improvement in energy and power density when compared to the company's current BCAP0013, a 450-farad cell, according to the company. Maxwell Technologieshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-622

Electrical conduit

Halogen-free

The company's line of halogen-free, high/low temperature electrical conduit is engineered to offer resistance to abrasion, sunlight, temperature extremes, and various chemicals. Working temperatures range from -60 to +150C. The jacketed conduits provide the advantages of a flexible sealed raceway coupled with the strength of a metal core. Electri-Flex Co.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-623

Connectors

New module design

Introduced as an addition to the company's range of D-sub connectors, the new modular design features a variety of changes to improve functionality and processing technology. The modular design reportedly makes it possible to generate virtually any number of variants at minimum expense. They are available in the standard mounting heights in accordance with DIN 41652 and CECC 75301-802. The nominal current is specified at 25A for the high-current contacts and 5A for the signal contacts. ERNI Electronicshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-624

I/O boards

Low-cost versions

The company has introduced two low-cost versions of the ZXE-UFE/104P I/O board. The ZXE-USB2.0/104P is a PC/104+ compatible interface board that offers four high-speed USB 2.0 ports for a 480 Mbit/sec data transfer rate. The ZXE-FWSB/104P is designed to provide two high-speed 400 Mbit/sec FireWire ports that also interface with the standard PCI bus. They are suited for applications with numerous optional peripheral devices and for OEM systems that will be field-upgraded with peripherals. Zendexhttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-625

Sensors

No offset imbalance necessary

The CSNX series magnetoresistive current sensor uses an ASIC and the company's magnetoresistive magnetic sensor to reportedly provide extremely low offset drift of 3.2 ppm/C over temperatures from -40 to +85C. The desired result is a reportedly stable, repeatable, and accurate current measurement. The sensor is designed to work from a 5V dc supply, and can operate from either an internal or external voltage reference. This enables several sensors to be used without offset imbalance, according to the company. Honeywellhttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-626

DC-DC converters

Delivers low 1.9V output

The 1.9V output dc-dc converter of the DVHF series is ideal for military and aerospace applications. It is reportedly the first converter to provide a 1.9V output while maintaining the full temperature range capability that is essential for use on newer aircraft, weapon, and other military and aerospace applications. Features include up to 8W of output power, very low output noise, fault tolerant magnetic feedback circuit, and high power density. Custom and radiation hardened versions are available. VPT Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-627

High voltage connector

With push-pull locking

The six-position, high-voltage, push-pull connector is designed for instrumentation and medical OEM electronics. It is designed for harsh environments, and is now available with six high voltage contacts, each having 3.5-kV operating voltage. Termination is soldercup on the plug side and PCB or soldercup on the receptacle side. The receptacle is potted for IP68 performance in unmated condition; the plug is rated IP68 when mated with the receptacle. ODU-USA Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-628

Spring pin connectors

Compact, highly durable

The company's line of spring pin connectors is engineered to allow users to reduce the size and weight of their designs while improving overall performance. Features include a long working stroke, multiple contact points, stable contact pressure, and excellent durability cycles. The connector features gold plating and all materials meet lead-free requirements. Yokowo America Corp.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-630

Amplifiers

For precision signal conditioning

Designed for high-precision, power-sensitive applications requiring stability over time and temperature, the series of 12V, zero-drift operational amplifiers can be used in such applications as temperature measurement, medical instrumentation, precision strain gauges, and automotive systems, among others. The OPA734 and 735 families reportedly feature the industry's lowest supply current in the higher voltage power supply range. Texas Instrumentshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-629

Sensor

Quick calibration routine

The ATS643LSH is a two-wire sensor that is reportedly optimized to address the difficulties of transmission speed sensing, including withstanding dynamic changes in air gap while maintaining good duty cycle. The packaging concept is designed to integrate the magnet and a monolithic silicon IC, which are designed to provide peak performance. The product's quick calibration routine and signal processing also reportedly make speed sensing easier and more reliable. Allegro Microsystems Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-631

Product bulletin

Wide selection

The company's latest Product Bulletin details a variety of plastic battery holders, color-coded wire lead connection and PC mount screws and screw terminals, heavy duty and 30A terminals, and an assortment of machine screws. The multi-color brochure runs four pages and is reportedly complete with engineering drawings, product specifications, photos, and mounting details. The brochure is free and can be found at an authorized dealer or by writing to the company. Keystone Electronics Corp.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-632

Dc/dc converters

Small size, low mass

Designed for low earth orbit satellites and launch vehicles, the AMA series (12W) and AMR series (30W) radiation-tolerant, high-reliability dc/dc converters are designed for extended operation in moderate radiation environments. They are standard, off-the-shelf, and proven units that reportedly solve the space industry's problems of lengthy design cycles and extensive design analysis requirements for custom units. The small size and low mass make them ideal for point-of-load regulators. International Rectifierhttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-633

Flash disk standard

For embedded SBCs

The USB 2.0-based flash disk standard is designed for embedded single board computers and is built to enable board manufactures to design an optimal provision for internal USB flash disks. The new standard is viewed as a large step towards the adoption of USB in the SBC market. The product reportedly reduces the design cost and minimizes the risk by securing second sources for current and future products. M-Systems Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-634

I/O System

Easy to use USB interface

Featuring eight isolated 5-30V ac/dc digital input channels and eight form C SPDT relays, the USB-based digital I/O system has a 6A at 120V ac/28V dc relay contact rating. It includes a software library that is reportedly easy to use and has an example program that demonstrates how to use the interface library. The product also features integral screw terminals with strain relief. It is completely plug-and-play. Measurement Computinghttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-635

Coaxial cables

For wireless applications

As part of the company's line of Radio Frequency (RF) coaxial cables, the RF500 and RF600 cables are designed as large, low-loss, 50-O cables for superior transmission quality and reliability. They reportedly meet industry size standards with diameters of 0.5 inches (RF500) and 0.59 inches (RF600). They are meant to be rugged, yet lightweight, and ideal for the demanding requirements of wireless protocols. Belden Electronics Div.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-636

Flat panel display interface

Enables superior image quality

Reportedly the industry's first fully integrated analog interface to operate over the industrial temperature range of -40 to +85C, the AD9883A is designed to provide superior image quality in rugged environments that require wider temperature ranges and robust design features. Applications include automotive and aerospace, where displays are forced to operate in taxing environments. It is optimized for XGA and SXGA LCD displays, HDTV, and Advanced TV applications. Analog Deviceshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-637

Terminal block

SMT-compatible

The MKDS family of one-piece, high temperature, SMT-compatible PCB terminal blocks can reportedly be integrated into SMT manufacturing processes for improved cost savings. The series is available with pin spacings of 3.5, 3.81, 5.0, and 5.08 mm, and with wires from #30 - #12 AWG. The products reportedly allow parts to be easily integrated into surface mount production processes, eliminating hand soldering. Phoenix Contacthttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-638

Optical sensor pair

With dc drive current

The OPB100 is a standard optical emitter/phototransistor pair with dc drive current and variable distance sensing up to 1m. It was engineered to allow circuit designers to specify an emitter/phototransistor sensor with the capability to operate at a custom distance for the cost of a standard sensor. It is ideal for applications requiring a special slotted switch where standard spacing can't be used, or for long distance sensing. The product reportedly exhibits excellent electrical characteristics with no vibration issues. Optek Technology Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-639

Radio solution

Digital and analog interfaces to cellular broadband

POLARIS(R) TOTAL RADIO(TM) transceiver solution is designed to provide handset manufacturers an integrated radio solution in a small form factor that helps reduce component count and total cost while providing superior radio performance. It reportedly achieves better than -109 dBm receive sensitivity in the low bands, and better than -108 dBm in the high bands. It features a unique fractional N-based modulation architecture, which reduces transmit power consumption by approximately 30-50 percent, according to the company. RF Micro Deviceshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-640

Data acquisition modules

Low cost, fast scan rate

Reportedly able to provide eight channels of single-ended analog input with plus or minus 10V range and 10-bit resolution, the DI-148 series of data acquisition modules also provide six channels of digital I/O. The series consists of two units-Serial port (RS-232) and USB-and both feature a built-in channel scan list and what's reported as the fastest scan rate in their class. They are housed in a plastic enclosure that measures 66 x 66 x 28 mm. Dataq Instrumentshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-641

Tutorial CD

Free tutorial on measurement methods

The company has released a tutorial CD that contains a collection of its online seminars on measurement methods. Free of charge, it is designed to offer useful and practical techniques for obtaining the most accurate and precise measurements possible. Seminars on the CD include 4 Steps to Precision Measurement, How to Get the Most from Your Low Current Measurement Instruments, and How to Make Sensitive DC Measurements. The seminars are the archived versions of the original broadcasts. Keithley Instrumentshttp://rbi.ims.ca/3849-642

Electrical contact

With low contact resistance

The dual inline springwire contact features two coaxial springwire contact areas that are in parallel with each other, resulting in extremely low total contact resistance values. Typical contact resistance is in the single-digit micro ohms, according to the company; it reportedly offers several 100,000 mating cycles. Applications include industrial power distribution systems, electric propulsion, battery backup, and industrial electric drives. ODU-USA Inc.http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-643

Metal Zapper

Metal Zapper

Most people have been warned about the dangers of putting metal in microwave ovens. Devendra and Satyendra Kumar didn't listen, and it's a good thing they didn't. These two brothers, both research and development managers for Dana Corporation, have invented a system that heat treats metals in microwave ovens no more powerful than those used to pop corn and heat up leftovers. "We've basically been able to get microwave energy from low power sources to do some things that haven't been done before," says Devendra Kumar.

That list of things includes such important metal treatments as brazing, hardening, carburizing, and sintering of powdered metal. When performed on a commercial scale, these processes normally take place in big furnaces that are costly to run and tough to control. Dana's Microwave Atmospheric Pressure technology promises to replace some of these furnaces with cheaper, faster microwaves ovens that inherently offer better thermal control. And the technology does more than heat-treat. Working at atmospheric pressures, the same system can deposit a variety of hard coatings normally applied under vacuum in chemical vapor deposition processes.

How It Works

Sure, metals and microwave ovens don't usually mix. But Dana's microwave technology avoids all the usual consequences of nuked metals, such as electrical arcing and magnetron destruction, by heating metals indirectly. This developmental system encloses the metal component within a ceramic insulating cavity containing microwave-absorbing plasma created from one or more inert gases. As microwaves pass through the cavity walls, they heat the plasma, which in turn heats the metal component.

And heats it quickly. Plasma temperatures can climb to more than 1,300C in a matter of seconds, reports Satyendra Kumar. This fast heating largely boils down to the plasma's efficiency as a heating medium. "It absorbs 95 percent of the microwave energy," he says, adding that it also has very low thermal mass. And because the plasma completely envelops the components, it promotes uniform heating, avoiding the hot spots that can occur in furnaces.

When used for coatings, the technology works similarly, except that microwave energy targets the plasma surrounding the part rather than the part itself. And the kind of gases used to create the plasma would also differ. In straightforward heat-treating applications, Dana creates the plasma from an inert gas such as argon. Coating jobs, by contrast, would typically start with a mixture of gases that contain the coating reactants. As with chemical vapor deposition, these reactants disassociate from the plasma when zapped with the microwave energy and reconstitute on the substrate surface, explains Devendra Kumar. "We can add a variety of things to the plasma and deposit them on the surface of the part," he sums up. This coatings line-up is still developing but currently includes silicon nitride, aluminum oxide, titanium nitride, and tungsten carbide. On-going research suggests that the system can also perform other types of surface modifications such as de-crystallization to impart anti-corrosion benefits.

The Kumars report that microwave technology can apply coatings to parts with geometries that spell trouble for chemical vapor deposition processes-including concave surfaces and the inside diameters of tubes. The technology has also been able to combine coatings with formerly separate process steps. For example, it can consolidate sintering, carburizing, and coating. "Three processes in situ," is how Satyendra Kumar describes it.

Distinguishing Features

Microwave atmospheric pressure technology, for which Dana has so far applied for 23 patents, has a couple of key elements that distinguish it from existing industrial microwave and coating technologies. One involves the plasma itself. As its name suggests, this system sustains the plasma at atmospheric pressures rather than the vacuum pressures required by most chemical vapor deposition processes. "Gases are much easier to ionize at the lower pressures," Satyendra notes. He won't divulge exactly how the system keeps the plasma going without lowering pressures other than to say it involves a "simple, inexpensive trick."

The technology's other distinguishing feature has to do with its microwave energy source. Rather than using powerful high-power magnetrons, the Kumars instead chose to work with inexpensive, low-power magnetrons like those found in consumer appliances. These mass-produced magnetrons would typically have output power between 1.3 to 2.3 kW, though many applications require just a half a kilowatt or so. The magnetrons in industrial microwaves, by contrast, can put out tens or even hundreds of kilowatts. Likewise, the frequencies used by magnetrons, usually around 2,450 MHz, also approximate those of a home oven and differ substantially from the 13.56-MHz energy sources typically used in comparable chemical vapor deposition processes. Satyendra Kumar acknowledges that this high frequency contributes to the ability to sustain the plasma at atmospheric pressures. "Our trick wouldn't be as effective at lower frequencies," he says.

To make up for the relatively low power of its individual magnetrons, Dana's technology includes provisions for ganging them together. A commercial scale system would likely consist of several magnetrons. Multiple microwave sources will ultimately help Dana build sealed-up systems that handle larger parts or increase throughput by heating several insulating cavities at once. The Kumars report that they have already used their two prototype systems to treat large parts weighing as much as several hundred grams and having a variety of shapes-including a 2-ft long, 3-inch diameter tube. They've also managed to anneal a 3-ft long piece of structural aluminum. "So far we think we can apply the technology to virtually any shape," Satyendra Kumar says.

Cost and Quality

With its reliance on low-cost microwave sources and its lightening-fast heating, the technology promises to impart some significant cost reductions to heat-treating operations. David Brosky, Dana's business development manager for microwave technology, estimates that commercial microwave systems will cost about 30 percent less to operate than conventional heat treating furnaces. He should know. "Dana is one of the biggest heat treaters in the world," he notes.

Part of that cost savings comes from a cycle time advantage (see sidebar). Brosky also expects commercial-sized microwave systems to cost less to build than large furnaces do. And they may cost less to run too. Brosky predicts the efficiency of the microwave systems will translate into roughly a one-third reduction in energy costs.


Indirect Heating: To avoid magnetron damage, Microwave Atmospheric Pressure technology places metal components within an insulating cavity containing a microwave absorbing plasma. During heat treat operations, microwave energy heats up the plasma, which in turn heats up the metal.

Microwave systems also seem likely to offer a quality edge too because of their fast consistent heating. Although the system can hit highs over 2,000C and perform high-temperature operations, its low-power nature also allows it to work at much lower temperatures. For example, many hard coatings go on at 200C or less, according to Devendra Kumar. Lower, consistent temperatures eliminate the thermal stresses that can "distort parts and change microstructures" in traditional heat-treating processes, he says.

Also helping out on the quality score is the inherently tight control of the system. Microwave all but eliminates the overshoot and guesswork that can plague industrial heating applications. Why? When the magnetron switches off, heating simply stops because the plasma has little thermal mass. "The possibility of overshoot is almost non-existent," Devendra Kumar says.

For all the potential of the microwave technology, prospective users may have to wait a bit to get their hands on one. Right now, Dana has just the two prototype systems and by year's end will launch a pilot-sized line in its own plant. It will initially use the system for its internal needs, but Brosky says the company also plans to license the technology. Dana is currently seeking development partners to build equipment and work on various coatings. Brosky predicts that some of these commercial systems could be available as early as next year.

Senior Editor Joseph Ogando can be reached at[email protected].

Will This Recession Ever End?

Will This Recession Ever End?

Chris Parkes has been something of a trendsetter for design engineers. In 2000, he had four job offers, but in the fall of 2001, he lost his job as a circuit designer. Late in 2002, he started taking courses in nursing. "I don't believe anyone starts over in a completely different profession, unless they feel there's nothing else they can do about it," the 46-year-old says. He struggled through the next couple of years without income, burning through his 401K money. "I was scared to death how hard it was," he says. Parkes finally found work for the state of California as an inspector, a job that paid less than his former wage.

Today, many fellow engineers have reason to hope he's still setting the trend. His Christ-mas holiday was brightened when a company he'd done some consulting for called. Now, he's back designing circuits, making about the same pay as he did back in 2000. "I feel very fortunate," he says.

It's uncertain other unemployed and underemployed engineers will be fortunate. No one's suggesting that the jobless recession (or is it a recovery now?) is coming to an end, though there may be more reason for optimism than in recent years.

Creative thinking

Factors such as the shift to a global job market are altering the playing field for job hunters, prompting many to say that traditional approaches won't work during this time of disruption. Parkes landed his new job by using fairly conventional techniques, contacting people he knew. Other engineers may have to be more ingenious in their job search.

"Creative engineers will find jobs. But for the person who waits for large-corporation hiring by the dozen-those days are over," says Win Phillips, chairman of the American Association of Engineering Societies.

Though off-shore outsourcing has made what could be a permanent dent in the number of openings for skilled workers, just as it did for manufacturing personnel decades ago, there will be a few segments that will continue to hire aggressively in the U.S. "Health care remains strong, and with the money Bush has pumped into nanotechnology, we see it as possibly the biggest field in the future," says Scott Sargis, president of Strategic Search Corp. of Chicago, a firm that specializes in recruiting technical professionals.

Nanotechnology is often cited as a hot industry for EEs and chemists, but it holds promise for MEs as well. "When chemists are manipulating molecules, those smart molecules control something, so there's a need for control engineers," Phillips says. But although nanotechnology is hotter than many fields, no one expects engineers to find scores of openings.

Figuring out which new disciplines are hiring might be a challenge. Some that seem to hold great promise don't take off as expected. "Computer security is an area I thought would pick up more, but that hasn't happened," says Ron Hira, chair of IEEE-USA's Career & Workforce Policy Committee.

Though many give similar advice about urging engineers to be creative in the ways they hunt, some engineers aren't getting much education about the changing job market of today. "The institutions that have supported job-getting are failing miserably. They don't get it. It's all about individual initiative," says Nick Corcodilos, president of asktheheadhunter.com. He suggests that one of that personal initiative is for engineers to tell potential bosses how they can help improve the company's bottom line.

Though more engineers will probably work in non-traditional fields in the future, the bulk of jobs today remain in well-known industries. In these fields, the dreary job market of the past two years is showing only sporadic signs of brightness. "Things don't seem to be getting worse, and in pockets like semiconductors, it's picking up a bit. But there's no sense of robust hiring," Hira says.

Observers agree that the trend to offshore outsourcing is starting to impact design engineers, but most don't feel it's a severe hit. "We've gotten rid of some jobs that we needed to retain, but it's not a disaster. This happened post World War II and during the information revolution," Phillips says.

Even though the number of temporary H-1B workers has been scaled back dramatically, this importation of temporary workers remains an issue. "For engineering in general, H-1B is a far bigger problem than offshoring," says Norm Matloff, a University of California at Davis computer science professor well known for monitoring the engineering job market. He adds that many companies moving operations outside the U.S. say that H-1B hiring is a key part of their offshore operations.

Some are also concerned that anger over outsourcing and engineering unemployment overall will create interest in engineering unions. "What I fear is that labor unions are going to soon start preying on people's fears, and we're going to see the engineering profession turn into Detroit," Corcodilos says. He adds that organization can sometimes stifle creativity and shift focus away from innovation. The AFL-CIO has already helped organize engineering protests in San Francisco and elsewhere.

Starting salaries for new-hires up, but just barely
Major 2004 (est) 2003 2002 2001 2000
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers
Computer Engineering $52,573 $51,343 $51,135 $53,653 $50,182
Electrical/Electronics Engineering $50,761 $49,794 $50,391 $52,092 $48,613
Industrial/Manufacturing Engineering $48,669 $47,051 $46,755 $48,234 $45,988
Mechanical Engineering $49,056 $48,585 $48,282 $48,588 $45,952

Fresh ink

Fresh ink

Xerox Corp. (http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-537) has developed a new semiconductive ink and other new materials that may make printing complete plastic transistor circuits possible. Xerox says the new ink can be used to print the semiconductor channels of transistors at low temperature and in open air-a feature that's critical for low-cost manufacturing, as the electrical properties of most liquid-processable organic semiconductors degrade when exposed to atmospheric oxygen, making it difficult to build functional transistors.

Sensors expo

Sensors expo

The 2004 Sensors Expo & Conference, June 7-10 in Detroit, will feature keynote speakers Donald Runkle, vice chairman of Delphi Corp. (http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-533), and Kermit Hoffman president, GE Infrastructure Sensing, Americas (http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-534). This year, the event will focus on biosensors, wireless networking, smart solutions and intelligent systems, nanotechnology and MEMs/MST. For more info, visit http://rbi.ims.ca/3849-535

Fly Like an Eagle

Fly Like an Eagle

A movable sunshade on the roof of the Milwaukee Art Museum consists of a pair of wing-like structures, each made up of 36 steel ribs ranging in length from 24 to 105 ft. The ribs are mounted on two rotating steel shafts, in turn connected to the pavilion's spine. To open and close the sunshade, 22 hydraulic cylinders (11 on each side) stroke simultaneously. The cranks swing a 90-degree. arc to open the wings in 3.5 minutes. Engineers equipped the building with two separate ultrasonic wind sensors to monitor velocity and direction. If wind speed exceeds 23 mph for three seconds or longer, the control system automatically closes the wings. Similarly, a lightning sensor is installed to predict imminent lightning strikes. The power unit consists of two identical pump sets. Each 30-hp motor drives a tandem axial-piston pump. One pump of each tandem set powers the north wing, the other powers the south wing. This circuit can move both wings even if one motor/pump group is out of service.

WEB Resources
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