While the need for circuit protection dates back to the origin of electronic devices, circuit protection devices have evolved to meet new technology demands. Circuit protection provides reliability and remains mission-critical in the product lifecycle. If a device experiences damaging surges of voltage or current caused by lightning strikes, electrostatic discharge (ESD) or inductive load switching, it can lead to end-of-life for the device. Circuit protection also helps guarantee safety as it protects from catastrophic events that could cause fires.
The need for circuit protection has always been there, but the applications in which the components are used have evolved. The transportation industry is an excellent example. The electronic content in vehicles is growing six percent per year, and electronics currently make up 35 percent of the production cost of a vehicle. Electronic circuits power things like vehicle infotainment, seat motors, on-board computers, electronic windows and more - that is a lot of electronic collateral to protect from surges.
Industrial lighting is another industry that has increased demand for circuit protection. Back in the day, incandescent bulbs were the norm and didn’t require substantial protection. Now everything from streetlights to stadium lighting and advertising signs use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and sensitive integrated circuits (ICs) to drive or power those LEDs. Both the LEDs and the drivers are much more susceptible to damaging overvoltage and overcurrent surges.
Another trend influencing new circuit protection product development is miniaturization. We see this in every industry from healthcare to industrial power supplies to transportation – everything is getting smaller and lighter, with more features packed in. As manufacturers continue to miniaturize ICs that cater to this tiny electronic trend, the downside is that the ICs have become more susceptible to transient surges. Where circuit protection was once thought of as a secondary or even tertiary consideration, it is now often a critical component.
Manufacturers of circuit protection components are always looking for ways to add value to their products. To meet that objective, several circuit protection manufacturers are creating hybrid parts, wherein they pre-assemble an overvoltage part with an overcurrent component – a fuse and varistor for example. This pre-packaging simplifies design and purchasing for the OEM.
The appropriate selection of circuit protection components is a critical task because of the varied nature of potential surges. The selection process must involve both technical and economic decisions based on several different regulatory requirements. TTI helps OEMs navigate the variables to ensure the right circuit protection components are specified and their demand for the components can be met according to their production requirements. A few of the areas TTI tracks for its customers include:
- Price: Legacy components tend to have the most stable pricing. Newer technologies will command a higher pricing. In addition, miniaturization of component parts is one factor that tends to drive price increases
- Lead Times: Since many circuit protection component manufacturers have adopted an offshore manufacturing strategy, lead times could be affected. However, distributors such as TTI eliminate this consideration by strategically stocking component parts and working with OEMs to ensure their supply chain needs are met.
- Obsolescence: Because the technology for circuit protection is fairly established, components do not tend to become obsolete very often. Some early first generation transient voltage suppression (TVS) diodes have been replaced by current generation components. The other factor driving obsolescence is manufacturing location changes. TTI helps our customers manage any changes on the manufacturing side to ensure a steady supply of parts and customer demands are met.
- Total Cost of Fulfillment: Reducing the “total cost of fulfillment” is a critical requirement for distributors. Component buyers are seeking partners who can help them keep their supply chain lean while providing expertise and responsiveness to changing demands. As the specialist in IP&E and discrete semiconductor products, TTI serves a vital role in navigating changes in the market and helping buyers reduce risk.
A version of this article appeared in Electronics Sourcing North America, June 2016, www.electronics-sourcing.com/north-america.