The hellish conditions of an industrial kiln may at first seem the least likely environment for manufacturing something as intricate and delicate as a smartphone. However, the average smartphone contains around 200 individual ceramic parts, all of which require firing in an industrial furnace. Transition-metal oxide based ceramics fulfil an important role in smartphones and can be found in a number of components. It’s true to say that contemporary smartphones would be radically different without ceramic parts!
Properties of Ceramic Parts
The most fundamental attribute of ceramics is their semi-conductivity, the cornerstone of modern technology. They are, furthermore, superconductors, magnetic, dielectric, pyroelectric, insulators and have piezoelectricity properties.
Consumer demand for smaller electronic devices and the ability to miniaturise ceramic components has increased the importance of ceramics in smartphone technology. The ecological impact of ceramics is modest when compared to materials with similar properties, like tantalum.
These properties result in the presence of ceramics almost everywhere in smartphones through electronic components with single and multiple functions.
Here are some examples:
This device stores and delivers an electrical charge and is one of the most basic yet important parts of a smartphone. The number of capacitors in phones is increasing. Apple’s latest model is said to show an increase of 10% with over 1,000 capacitors. The development of ceramic capacitors resulted in a drastic reduction in size of the typical processor. Sub-micron sized particles are used in modern capacitors to improve charge retention. Innovative techniques allow the creation of dielectric layers thinner than one-tenth of a micrometre, so capacitors are small enough to fit in mobile phones but can handle complex tasks.
In most phones the antenna is ceramic. This component is vital for voice transmission and reception. Ceramic properties make it ideal for not only smartphone antennae but also the antennae in GPS and Bluetooth systems.
These electromagnetic components are integral in GPS and a variety of wireless technology. Ceramic dielectric resonators are used because they have a high relative permittivity and near zero temperature coefficient.
Metal film resistors are placed on a ceramic base making use of the ceramic’s hard insulating properties. Other examples are in the outer covering of sensitive integrated circuit chips and the creation of heat sinks to maintain safe temperature levels in the processor. Ceramic’s hardness, stability and low cost make it ideal.
System on a Chip (SoC)
A SoC is found in all phones and contains the graphics processor, the microcontroller and the RAM. There are potentially millions of components within these components, and it would be impossible without the use of ceramics.
Ceramic components within the battery are crucial in energy management and conservation of energy within smart grid products. This reduces energy cost and increases the performance of the mobile device.
An example of the piezoelectricity property of ceramics is in the use of timers. An electric field will oscillate at a fixed frequency when applied across certain ceramics. This is utilised when inserting timing properties in smartphone computer systems.
Ceramics permeate all phones and are a vital aspect throughout the technology. Without ceramics we simply would not have the modern smartphone as we know it.