Senior leaders at Rogers Corp. regularly blog for employees on topics like technology trends, safety, and leadership. This month we’d like to share our CTO’s trip to CES, the interesting technologies and trends that caught his eye, and how they relate to the value we deliver to our customers.
By Bob Daigle, Sr. VP and Chief Technology Officer, Rogers Corp.
I just attended the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). A record number of people (160,000) were in attendance. As you might imagine, it was very crowded! What I saw there makes me even more enthusiastic about Rogers’ future. The latest technologies that we enable are emerging at a faster pace than expected and we are well-positioned to capitalize on this growth.
It was apparent that the e-Mobility revolution is gaining momentum. Most major automotive producers had a significant presence at the show and were proudly displaying electric vehicles and self-driving car technology.
Several of the major automakers are now committing to introduce self-driving cars within 3-4 years. Audi announced plans to introduce their first self-driving vehicle in 2020. Ford is targeting 2021. Faraday Futures, an electric vehicle start-up, introduced their first production vehicle at the CES show and stated that it will have self-driving capabilities. Cars have become a high end “Consumer Electronic Device.”
Think about what self-driving cars could mean over the next 10 years. Will your car be able to drop the kids off at school and pick them up from soccer practice? Will you fly less because you can sleep in the car while it takes you to a distant city overnight? Will your young kids or grandchildren bother to learn to drive?
The potential benefits of self-driving cars go well beyond convenience. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has stated that over 200 million miles have been driven in self-driving mode (as shown in this Tesla self-driving car video). The safety data suggests that self-driving cars are already twice as safe as human-driven cars. And, you’d expect the technology will get even better as factors causing the collisions that do occur are analyzed and addressed with engineering improvements.
I believe the day will come when the risk of collisions is low enough to allow safety systems like airbags and heavy structural supports designed to protect passengers in collisions to be eliminated. This means cars will be much lighter so electric vehicles will have much longer range and be even more environmentally friendly. It will also mean that the appearance of cars can be highly customized because there won’t be a need to do crash testing for every new design.
One company at CES had full-sized car bodies on display that were 3D printed. Someday, you’ll be able to change the look and feel of the car you’re ordering at a kiosk.
5G and IoT
Another theme from CES was that 5G and other technologies that will support the Internet of Things (IoT) are becoming a reality faster than people might have thought a few years back. Ericsson had a great 5G demonstration streaming live high definition video at the show. Integrated circuit makers like Qualcomm have already developed 5G chipsets, years sooner than expected.
It was also apparent that the industry is gearing up rapidly to provide higher speed solutions like WiGig for the home that will allow seamless streaming of ultrahigh definition video wirelessly between devices like your DVD player and your television.
Powering, Protecting, Connecting
What does this all mean for Rogers? Our focus on providing enabling Connectivity and eMobility solutions positions us very well to capitalize on these rapidly emerging opportunities. For eMobility applications like self-driving cars, our circuit materials are used in the vast majority of radar sensors. For eMobility applications like electric vehicles, our curamik® substrates are used in power modules, our ROLINX® busbars are used for battery and power invertor interconnects, and our PORON® urethanes and BISCO® silicone foams are used to seal and protect battery packs, and reduce noise and vibration. For 5G and WiGig systems critical to the Internet of Things (IoT), Rogers provides market leading circuit material solutions.
Technologies showcased at CES this year will revolutionize how we travel and communicate in ways we can only begin to imagine!
The renewable energy industry is growing thanks to technology developments and economies of scale. According to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the global renewables market expanded more than six times in the past decade. Global investment was $350 billion last year, more than was invested in new fossil fuel plants.
Such growth is supported by a wide range of initiatives, from the Paris Climate accords to local innovation events like the Boston Cleanweb Hackathon. The Hackathon brings together students, programmers, software developers, entrepreneurs, and energy experts to develop user-friendly, web-based applications to help consumers and businesses use energy and natural resources more efficiently. The cost for renewables to produce electricity is now at competitive levels with traditional fuel. A recent Forbes article discusses how far renewable energy has come. Long-term sales contracts between utilities and power producers (PPAs) are in the range of 3-4 cents per kilowatt hour for wind and solar energy; that compares favorably to 5.2 cents for natural gas and 6.5 cents for coal. The cost of LED lights has fallen from $35 four years ago to about 80 cents for a 9 watt LED.
Companies are increasingly committing to power their operations using renewable energy. Google, for instance, said that its global network of 13 large-scale data centers will be powered entirely by renewable energy by the end of 2017. Microsoft says it has been 100 percent carbon neutral since 2014; they hope to have half their electric power supplied from wind, solar, and hydroelectric sources by 2018.
Countries are stepping up their efforts to reduce reliance on fossil fuels. Costa Rica produced almost all of its electricity from renewable sources in 2015.
Clean Energy Technology Developments
Technology innovations are the surest way to continue to make progress on clean energy from high efficiency renewable energy sources to cheaper storage to smarter grids. Solar photovoltaics (PV) lead the rest of the renewable energy pack, with growth in global capacity averaging 42% annually over the past five years. Concentrated solar power (CSP) continues to show strong growth as well, with an average annual growth rate of 35% over the past five years.
MIT researchers have developed a solar thermophotovoltaic device that could push past the theoretical efficiency limits of conventional solar panel photovoltaics. The addition of carbon nanotubes and nanophotonics crystals collect energy from the sun and concentrate it into a narrow band of light. This approach could break the theoretical cap of about 30 percent efficiency on conventional solar cells.
Researchers at Stanford, Los Alamos National Laboratory, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology are making progress on boosting the efficiency and improving the stability of perovskite solar cells. They are cheap, easy to produce, and efficient at absorbing light, but quickly degrade.
Capturing carbon emissions is also an important part of any clean energy program. Recent advances include carbonate fuel cells to capture carbon in power plants and a process for injecting carbon dioxide and water deep underground which mineralizes when it reacts with the volcanic basalt rocks. Another approach is to recycle captured carbon dioxide back into usable fuels. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a catalyst that converts a solution of carbon dioxide into ethanol at a high level of efficiency.
Power Conversion Technology
The high power levels of clean energy technologies require semiconductor power electronics, such as insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), to convert the power being generated — either as a variable frequency AC in windmills, or as DC in solar cells — to a well-regulated 50/60 Hz AC power than can delivered and distributed in the energy grid. This also allows devices to be smaller, faster, more reliable, and more efficient.
Switching losses that occur in inverters are an important issue to be considered to improve the efficiency of the inverter. Within the semiconductor devices, power substrates provide interconnections and cool the components. curamik® ceramic substrates are designed to carry higher currents, provide higher voltage isolation, and operate over a wide temperature range. Rogers’ ROLINX® busbars serve as power distribution “highways.” These laminated busbars provide a customized liaison between the power source and capacitors, resistors, integrated circuits (ICs), integrated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs), or complete modules.
Millimeter-wave frequencies were once few and far-between, in terms of applications and circuits using frequencies above 30 GHz. But that is about to change quickly, with Fifth Generation (5G) wireless networks and automotive radar systems both incorporating millimeter-wave frequency bands. For many circuit designers, these frequencies may represent uncharted territory and may require some thought not only about a suitable printed-circuit-board (PCB) material, but of the optimum transmission-line technology, board layouts, and connector launches. Many circuit designers face new challenges with the inevitable increase of millimeter-wave applications.
Circuit designers familiar with a particular transmission-line technology may ask: Can’t I stick with microstrip at these higher frequencies, if the PCB material delivers the performance I need? Microstrip is widely used in circuits from about 300 MHz to 30 GHz. Above 30 GHz, at millimeter-wave frequencies (30 to 300 GHz), microstrip suffers increased radiation loss and problems with spurious propagation modes. Designers working on circuits with both microwave and millimeter-wave transmission lines will often make a transition from microstrip to grounded coplanar-waveguide (GCPW) transmission lines which, when designed and fabricated properly, have little or no radiation loss and minimal spurious mode propagation.
For circuits with wideband coverage and without transitions between different transmission-line technologies, stripline is often used from lower microwave frequencies to millimeter-wave frequencies. However, forming a signal launch from a coaxial connector to stripline on a PCB has never been easy at microwave frequencies, and can become more challenging at higher, millimeter-wave frequencies with the shrinking dimensions of transmission-line structures. Ideally, the transition from the coaxial domain of a high-frequency connector to the parallel plane of a stripline PCB should be smooth, with little or no signal loss or reflections and no spurious modes. Assuming well-matched signal launches, stripline can be an excellent choice of transmission line for millimeter-wave PCBs, although circuit fabrication is somewhat more involved than when forming microstrip or GCPW transmission lines.
Easier to Build?
Microstrip and GCPW circuits are attractive for their ease of assembly, each with a single dielectric layer with ground plane on bottom and signal conductors and components on top. Since the circuitry is exposed, components can be attached directly to the transmission lines on the signal plane. Stripline, on the other hand, surrounds its signal conductors with dielectric layers which in turn have ground planes on top and bottom. Because stripline’s signal conductors are buried in a multiple-layer circuit assembly, making connections between components and the signal conductors is never routine. Signal connections in microwave stripline PCBs are typically made by means of conductive viaholes: holes drilled through the dielectric layers and plated with conductive metal. Plated viaholes, or plated through holes (PTHs) as they are known, provide short, electrically conductive signal paths through the dielectric layers but also add their own capacitance and inductance values to the circuitry, impacting performance at higher frequencies. They become part of a circuit diagram (which must be modeled) at millimeter-wave frequencies.
Effective use of stripline transmission-line technology for millimeter-wave PCBs depends on finding the optimum plated viahole structure for low-loss, low-reflection transmission of high-frequency signals to the embedded signal plane. The transition provided by well-formed viaholes through stripline circuitry is essential not only for energy from signal-launch connectors but any electrical connections made to and from external components.
Laser technology can be an effective means of forming the small viaholes, or microvias, needed for stripline PCB interconnections at millimeter-wave frequencies. Precisely controlled laser drilling systems are designed to cut micron-sized microvias by burning through the top copper ground plane of a stripline circuit assembly, through the dielectric material beneath it, and to the signal plane lying between the two dielectric layers. Copper plating is applied and, in this way, a conductive path is formed through the hole from the top copper layer to the signal plane beneath. Such microvias can be formed with extremely small diameters and with the short lengths needed for thin dielectric materials typically used at smaller-wavelength, millimeter-wave frequencies.
By using this commercially available laser-based microvia-forming process, excellent performance can be achieved in stripline interconnections at millimeter-wave frequencies. Larger PTHs formed in stripline circuit assemblies can add unwanted capacitances and inductances at millimeter wavelengths, even in the shortest lengths.
Low-loss, low-reflection signal launches in stripline have been commonly realized in circuits for use to about 40 GHz; it can be difficult to achieve the good match and construction between connector interface and viahole for stripline circuits with coaxial launches at frequencies above 40 GHz. However, the choice of PCB material can play a role in the effectiveness of stripline circuits at millimeter-wave frequencies, based on recent experiments with RO3003™ laminates from Rogers Corp. Using these materials with standard stripline transmission-line structures, low-loss coaxial signal launches were measured to as high as 60 GHz. With several minor modifications, it should be possible to achieve practical coaxial-to-stripline signal launches out to 80 GHz using these same circuit materials.
When considering a PCB material that can support microvias for millimeter-wave circuits, stability at those higher frequencies is a key requirement. RO3003 circuit material has shown excellent mechanical and electrical stability above 30 GHz. It is mechanically stable, with the stability typically realized on other glass-reinforced materials as part of a multilayer construction. However, RO3003 laminates do not use glass reinforcement, so microvias can be laser-formed reliably and consistently without the effects from the lasered glass. RO3003 features coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) closely matched to that of copper, so that microvias remain structurally and electrically sound even with thermal cycling. Regardless of the choice of transmission line, RO3003 circuit material, with its consistent dielectric constant (Dk) and dissipation factor (Df) over a wide range of frequencies, is a logical starting place for those higher-frequency circuits.
While there may not be one perfect transmission-line technology for millimeter-wave circuits, the choice of a starting point—the PCB material—can make a difference in the final performance possible at those higher frequencies. Microstrip and GCPW technologies support many millimeter-wave circuit applications with ease of fabrication and testing, but it has been shown that stripline is capable of excellent circuit performance at millimeter-wave frequencies when teamed with the right circuit materials.
Download the ROG Mobile app to access Rogers’ calculators, including the popular Microwave Impedance simulation tool, literature, technical papers, and the ability to order samples of the company’s high performance printed circuit board materials.
Ask an Engineer
Do you have a design or fabrication question? Rogers Corporation’s experts are available to help. Log in to the Rogers Technology Support Hub and “Ask an Engineer” today.
Meet more of our hard-working employees. Bobo Hu has been part of our Power Electronics Solutions group for 10 years.
“I make compact 3D designed busbars that power DC-DC converters and motor drives so your car can go that extra mile.”
Rogers Power Electronics Solutions Division provides advanced materials technologies that significantly increase efficiency, manage heat, and ensure the quality and reliability of power electronics. From insulated bipolar gate transistors (IGBT) and high voltage direct current (HVDC) systems to satellite power management and vehicle propulsion, our power electronics solutions can be found in a variety of high performance packaging, cooling, and power conversion / distribution devices.
About our Employees
Throughout our organization, our cultural behaviors describe how our employees work and are judged by our customers, business partners, investors, and each other.
Live Safely: I actively prevent injuries for everyone, everywhere, every day.
Trust: I respect people and trust them to do the right thing.
Speak Openly: I courageously seek and speak the truth.
Innovate: I create market-driven solutions that lead to customer success.
Just Decide: I make informed decisions rapidly to drive progress.
Simply Improve: I continuously simplify how I do things to achieve excellence.
Deliver Results: I align and achieve my goals to deliver our “Must-Do” results.
Together, we are changing our culture as we help change the world around us. For over 180 years, the employees of Rogers Corporation have focused on our customers, delivering world-class solutions to meet their most demanding materials challenges.
Dr. George J. Kostas believed in the development of human potential and the pursuit of innovation. He was a visionary, a patriot, and benefactor of the George J. Kostas Research Institute for Homeland Security at Northeastern University. In December, Dr. George J. Kostas passed peacefully in his sleep at the age of 97.
Dr. Kostas is special to Rogers as the Kostas Institute is home to the first Rogers’ Innovation Center, a unique academic-industry partnership focused on building closer linkages between academic research, industry know-how, and commercialization of research. The Center’s goal is to develop breakthrough innovations in advanced materials to address global challenges for clean energy, safety and security, and Internet connectivity. Rogers’ expertise closely aligns with Northeastern’s focus on use-inspired research in health, security, and sustainability.
Dr. Kostas is the son of Greek immigrants. He graduated from Northeastern University with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1943. He completed the executive MBA program at Columbia University in 1967 and in 2007, he received an honorary doctorate of science from Northeastern.
Dr. Kostas is a pioneer in synthetic rubber manufacturing. He held positions at the U.S. Synthetic Rubber program during World War II and later served as Director of Research and Development at General Tire and Rubber Corp. He founded Techno-Economic Services Co. in 1972 where his patents lead to the development of a revolutionary process to plate aluminum in an atomic form on metal substrates to render them resistant to motion.
His vision for the Kostas Institute was of fostering collaborative, use-inspired research aimed at expanding the capacity of the nation and its communities, critical systems, and infrastructure to withstand, respond to, and recover from manmade and natural catastrophes.
In speaking for the Rogers Innovation Center team, Shawn Williams, Vice President, R&D, said, “We are honored to carry on Dr. Kostas’ vision of working in a high-trust environment that brings together academia, industry, and government researchers and practitioners.”
To learn more about Dr. Kostas’ rich and interesting life, visit his obituary.