Manufacturing News

Not all electronics manufacturing is moving to China

Hybrid Electronics has been manufacturing ceramic board circuits, an alternative to printed circuit boards (PCBs), in Australia for over 40 years.

Ceramic board circuits combine semiconductor and ceramic (metal) technologies. They are made using screen printing processes with stainless steel screens. The printed and dried inks are then fired into the surface of the ceramic or dielectric coated metal board.

As with many Australian manufacturers, Hybrid Electronics has had some difficult times lately. The strong dollar, together with a fall in investment in equipment and technology, stemming from the uncertain global economic climate, has made it tough. They’ve also faced more specific challenges, such as the loss of key customers, who’ve abandoned Australian manufacture to the risk of Chinese production.

However Hybrid Electronics’ says its business is now rising. Customers are coming to Hybrid Electronics because they have been “burnt” by manufacturing in China and are realising not everything made in China is cheaper or of equivalent quality.

“One customer came to us after having their first-generation products made in China,” said Dr. Wal Berryman, Managing Director. “When they received their first 500 units, they tested ten. Seven of them passed and three of them failed, so they asked us to find out what was going wrong.

“We analysed the failed units and the list of issues was pretty long. Following that, they said ‘you fix it’. We have, and now we can produce a product at least five times better in terms of battery life, and we’ve removed the variances in it, which is important since it’s a product that could mean millions [of units] a year.”

Hybrid Electronics says it differentiates itself in the market by with its technical excellence and expertise, and for forging close, productive relationships with its customers.

Quality-certified to ISO 9001, the company works very closely with its customers, evaluating their requirements, suggesting solutions, and frequently coming up with a better alternative.

Hybrid circuit advantages

According to Hybrid Electronics, hybrid circuits offer a number of advantages over PCBs. They tend to be much smaller, offering space savings that often exceed 50%. They allow greater precision and accuracy regarding the values of the resistors.

Ceramic circuit boards give better stability of resistors than printed circuit boards. Resistors on ceramic boards are trimmed to any value required and can be trimmed to match other resistors. Active trimming of “live” circuits is also possible. Resistor values can be fractional Ohms to Gigohms without leakage problems or thermal problems causing instability or noise.

Encapsulating them in epoxy means they are more robust and hardwearing, while also providing greater protection of intellectual property (IP) – ripping one open to see what’s inside is almost impossible.

Ceramic boards have 100 times more thermal conductivity than FR4 PCB’s. Hybrid circuits have a wider operating temperature range than PCBs (up to 125 0C).

Hybrid Electronics continue to focus on developing new products and new innovations. They’ve developed a technology for making circuits on titanium, which they’ve patented in Australia and the US – “As far as we know, we’re the only company in the world that can do that,” says Wal.

Titanium boards are best suited for fluid temperature and flow measurement as well as fluid pressure measurement and strain gauge applications.

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