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Wednesday, 15 May 2019


Have-Not has an article on the global MLCC shortage.

Polymer mini-can caps can take up too much space on some boards, and yet they're much less awful than bigger electrolytics.

We still use low ESR electrolytic can caps, but the only supplier we bother with for those is Nichicon.

They were one of a small number of firms not affected by the "capacitor plague", and we've had solid (or is it liquid?) results with them.

I joke with Snarkolepsy about Shenzhen a bit, but seriously ...

Getting on a plane to Shenzhen to hit up the big Huaqiangbei trading hall for a bunch of reels of MLCCs if you're feeling really pinched would also work, and the added cost on a price per unit basis might not be too horrible to contemplate. You also get the benefit of having product in your hands right then and there without worrying about whether Tesla and every mobile phone manufacturer will beat you to the stock.

You can always bring more of your people with you if you need extra suitcases. :-)

And I almost forgot ...

There's also a silent coltan shortage, which is something I've also poked Snarkolepsy about.

This is why switching to tantalum caps for some of the MLCCs isn't going to be a guaranteed thing.

Oh, I almost forgot this too ...

PANIC NOW (and stockpile some supplies) AND AVOID THE RUSH :-)

Tantalum caps have been off the menu for several years, partly due to cost but mainly because ToasterCo doesn't like them for high-rel applications (I'm not privy to the details, but one of the goals in the first design I did for them was to eliminate the tantalum caps used in their earlier control boards).
My projected strategy for bulk capacitance (I have some designs coming up that call for hundreds of μF at 24V or so) involves an automotive-spec cap from a specified vendor, rated for around twice the expected voltage, in parallel with an MLCC with some careful layout to keep much of the ripple current off the electrolytic. This is just idle speculation so far; obviously, I'll want to do the math before committing to a design.
Oh, and thanks for the link! That's useful info, and I can pass it along to my clients.
The plane-to-Shenzhen approach wouldn't work for ToasterCo, as they need traceability. The other active client is having the product assembled in China anyway, so... well, we had an issue a while back with the assembly house not noticing that some of the resistors were spec'ed for 0.1% tolerance, so I think they're already using creative sourcing.

This one has charts and graphs to back up some of the statements.

There is no Slack(tm) in the supply chain for niobium or tantalum -- the implosion of Sons of Gwalia is still being felt, and if those mines could produce even at 25% of their original capacity, this situation would go away sooner instead of later.

But the Aussies are interested in coltan primarily because it's an after-product of their lithium mining.

Canada could be a regional swing producer for US industrial consumption, but right now the production numbers aren't there.

The "other sources" are essentially conflict mineral traders, and that's probably why your amusingly named ToasterCo doesn't want to source random reels of MLCCs from a plane ride to Shenzhen, even if a bunch of those reels are going to be branded with South Korean corporate logos.

This is almost as bad a wreck in the making as the US position on helium.

And because of scarcity, price swings, and price increases, commodity traders now look at verifiably sourced industrial metals as a part of their metals investment activity, in some cases right behind the big international majors.

If you have the funding sources lined up, it's actually a pretty good time to have an IBC for that kind of trading.

Yeah, that ain't workin', that's the way ya do it ... money for nothin' and the chips for free! :-)

ToasterCo isn't concerned with the morals of upstream vendors so much as with traceability at the component level; the "toasters" are supposed to be highly reliable over a wide range of operating conditions, and some of the customers are very finicky about knowing that everything came from qualified vendors.
I don't know for sure what their issue with tantalum caps was, but assume it was something to do with reliability. (Hmmm... there's a 2005 paper from NASA relating to surge-current damage to tantalum caps.) Or maybe they got bitten by one of the earlier availability crunches.

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