An introduction to ICs
ICs have been the essential component of consumer electronics for decades. So, what exactly are they and how do they work? Dr Richard Price, CTO at Pragmatic, provides an overview of the advances in intelligent electronics and explains why Pragmatic stands apart from silicon, taking a different approach.
ICs are integrated circuits: a network of electronic devices, such as logic gates, connected together based on a particular design. They consist of basic electronic devices like transistors, resistors, capacitors and diodes. Transistors rely on the properties of semiconductor materials that can switch from electrically insulating to conducting. This allows logic gates to be created and these are used to make decisions.
For over 50 years, progress in the electronics industry has been guided by Moore’s law: the idea that the number of transistors in a silicon-based integrated circuit will double around every 18 months. However, below a certain size silicon ICs are fragile and difficult to handle effectively. For computers with highly complex circuitry and millions of transistors in a single IC, this limit on handling size may not be a concern, but low cost everyday items do not require complex circuits. For these products the handling size constraint and high costs are a big issue.
A different approach
There are several other considerations. As silicon ICs are typically packaged in plastic for protection this adds thickness and bulk to the electronics which can change the aesthetic look-and-feel of final products. There is a different approach. Pragmatic FlexICs are fabricated on flexible substrates and are in effect self-packaged, so they do not need this protection. At only 10um they add very little extra thickness to a label or package. There are no rigid bumps in rolls of labels, avoiding potential damage to labels or handling issues within the packaging or labelling lines. FlexICs can also simplify assembly since it is cost-effective to intentionally increase their physical size, whereas silicon ICs are typically shrunk to the smallest possible footprint. For NFC tags this results in an extra layer of metal added to the antenna. In contrast FlexICs can bridge across a single layer antenna, which significantly reduces the IC and tag costs.