Trending Toward Miniaturization

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The electronics industry has always tried to reduce the size, weight and cost of its equipment, though the need for small, lightweight devices took priority over cost-cutting, particularly with the military.

Military electronics have led the way toward miniaturization and "ruggedization." This is especially true in space and missile programs where the size of equipment and power supply are critical. In most cases, miniaturization means not only higher reliability but also longer life, since the tiny components generally have fewer parts and generate less heat.

As a rule, miniaturized components are more expensive than their larger counterparts. For instance, a standard-size potentiometer may cost as little as 59 cents whereas a miniature may come to $6.50 because of special tooling and testing.

In this ever-accelerating miniaturization drive, electron tubes have shrunk from the diameter of a thumb to that of a lead pencil. Resistors, capacitors and other components have become much smaller, too. For instance, research-minded Aerovox Corporation has come up with its Cerafil ceramic capacitor, one of the smallest capacitors ever designed. A new company, Vitramon, produces a solid-state porcelain capacitor which is the only capacitor of truly monolithic structure available commercially.

The end of the miniaturization drive is still far from view. The latest emphasis appears to be shifting from component miniaturization to functional miniaturization; that is, from mere miniaturization of components to complete elimination of components by use of integrated circuit functions.

Among the leaders in the miniaturization drive are Westing-house Electric, Texas Instrument: and Motorola. A small company called Varo Manufacturing also has a sizeable stake in the integrated solid-state circuitry.

Varo's method of making integrated circuits through an evaporative deposit of a thin film of one material on the substrate of another is considered less "progressive" than Westinghouse's growth of entire pea-size circuits in one piece. However, the former appears to have the advantage of production economy.

In order to explain the meaning and vast implications of the integrated solid-state circuitry, Robert Galvin, Motorola president, showed the New York Society of Security Analysts, in August 1960, tubes made during; World War II, compact for their day. Then he showed the same circuit in printed wiring and transistors as it would be done today—about one two hundredth the size of the tube circuit.

Next, he showed the same circuit, made in integrated solid-state thin film in Motorola laboratories. It looked like a printed black dot on a sheet of paper. Yet in this dot, Galvin said, were the equivalent of two transistors, four capacitors and six resistors.

New advances in physics have raised the possibility of other electronics applications. According to Dr. Guy Suits, vice president of General Electric, his company's research has linked two rather exotic fields of physics research one concerned with superconductivity and the other with the electronic process called tunneling.

Research by Ivar Glaever, physicist at General Electric Research Laboratory, has put these two fields together with important results. Though a superconductor is a perfect conductor of electrons there is a group of specific electron energies "forbidden" to any given superconductor. To electrons in this range, called the "energy gap," the superconductor acts as a reflector or insulator. The energy gap is revealed when electrons are allowed to tunnel through a thin insulating layer into a superconductor.

These advances constitute an important scientific discovery that had "raised the clear possibility of a whole new family of electronic devices."

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