Open Competition 3 - Electronics and Photonics
Ultraminiature Transformer and Inductor Design and Manufacture
Develop technology for low-cost mass-manufacture of high-frequency electronic transformers and inductors, enabling U.S. production of these commodity components, most of which are now hand manufactured and imported.
Sponsor: BH Electronics, Inc.12219 Wood Lake Drive
Burnsville, MN 55337
BH Electronics, Inc. (BHE) proposes to undertake a high-risk research project aimed at reclaiming U.S. manufacturing leadership for a category of electronic devices known as high-frequency transformers and inductors. While the United States leads with automated manufacturing technology for a vast array of electronic devices, wire-wound inductor and transformer components have so-far resisted mass manufacturing techniques. Present production methods involve tedious and slow hand winding of tiny magnetic cores, a process not cost-effective for large-scale U.S. production. In this two-year ATP project, BH Electronics will develop manufacturing techniques for high-frequency transformers and inductors that are similar to those techniques used in semiconductor manufacturing. The processing techniques include photolithography, metal deposition by e-beam or sputtering, electroplating, and etching on a micro scale. Using semiconductor fabrication techniques for transformers and inductors is complicated by the need to have a magnetic core. Overcoming this high technical risk will require great improvements to magnetic core materials leading to high-permeability materials operating over broad temperature and frequency ranges. A second high technical risk and project focus will be to develop reliable low-resistance vias (connecting pathways) for the transformer/inductor windings. Additionally, new mathematical models developed as part of the project may revolutionize the industry and drive major changes in manufacturing methods for multilayer microchips and micromotors. The new manufacturing approach will automate the entire production sequence. Automated manufacture of these components will lead to a number of significant benefits for U.S. industry. These benefits include 1) less space on the circuit board (up to 50 percent smaller components), 2) lower manufacturing cost and lower selling prices, 3) improved quality due to highly precise and automated manufacturing, and 4) U.S.-based production for faster delivery and quicker response to customer requests. All of these factors will combine to benefit manufacturers and consumers of the billions of electronic devices produced annually. BHE will work in the clean rooms and plating areas of the University of Minnesota MicroTechnology Laboratory. ATP funding is essential for BHE to undertake this high-risk project. Internal funding of related research and development stopped last September, and the company cannot resume research without ATP funding. The current annual market of $400 million for these mostly-imported devices is expected to grow to $725 million by 2009. If successful, the project will allow the United States to re-establish competitive domestic manufacturing capacity in miniaturized transformers/inductors with a number of high-quality jobs.