Once upon a time…
From Thales of Miletus (circa 624 - 546 BC), a philosopher, mathematician and astronomer, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, who discovered static electricity by rubbing wool against amber, to the first Motorola mobile phone created by Motorola in 1973 and the first smart phone put on the market by Apple in 2007, there is a long list of innovators whose contributions to modern electronics is critical.
Significant milestones include the battery, invented by Alessandro Volta in 1800; the diode by John Ambrose Fleming in 1904; the printed circuit board by Paul Eisler in 1943; the integrated circuit by Jack Kilby in 1958; the laser by Theodore Harold Maiman in 1960; LEDs by Nick Holonyak Jr. in 1962; and the first INTEL microprocessor in 1970. This list is by no means exhaustive but it shows the weight of past discoveries on today’s technological advances.
As for sensors, indispensable in 21st century technology, they have been around for quite some time. In 1883, the first thermostat – considered to be the first manmade sensor – was on the market. The 1940s saw the emergence of infrared sensors and motion detectors, now widely used in numerous applications.
Nowadays, sensors come in many shapes and forms: vision, flow, fibre optic, gas, motion, image, colour, light, pressure, infrared, photoelectric and so on.
Sensors and sensor systems are a key underpinning technology for a wide range of applications. They can be used to improve quality control and productivity in manufacturing processes by monitoring variables such as temperature, pressure, flow and composition. They help ensure the environment is clean and healthy by monitoring the levels of toxic chemicals and gases emitted in the air, both locally and – via satellites – globally. They monitor area and regional compliance with environmental standards. They enhance health, safety and security in the home and workplace through their use in air-conditioning systems, fire and smoke detection and surveillance equipment. They play a major role in medical devices, transportation, entertainment equipment and everyday consumer products.
Technological innovations have brought a new generation of tiny sensors, such as microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) and nanoelectromechanical systems (NEMS). These are smaller, smarter and can be integrated into fixed and portable devices.
But whatever the size of the sensor, of any electronic component, it has to be accurate and reliable. Whatever it measures, the measurement has to be extremely precise. A defective sensor can have serious consequences, even putting human lives in jeopardy.
Smaller and smaller
Sensors are not the only miniaturized components. The aerospace sector was in need of smaller pieces of equipment, including electronic components, to make rockets lighter as they left our atmosphere.
Semiconductors and the move towards integrated circuits also drove to the miniaturization of electronic components; today thousands of transistors exist in a single micron of space. Because semiconductors were part of printed circuit boards (PCBs), designers and manufacturers soon realized that they had to reduce the size of the passive components they used – resistors, capacitors, inductors, etc., were quite large until then – to make them fit on PCBs.
The medical industry was in need of smaller components as an increasing number of devices, e.g. pacemakers, were intended for placement on or inside the body.
Last but not least, the trend towards consumer portable smart devices such as phones, tablets and wearables was also a major driver that led to the miniaturization of all electronic components.
The ultimate tool
Manufacturers and suppliers of all types of electronic components throughout the world have a powerful tool at their disposal, enabling their products to meet the strictest requirements: IECQ testing and certification. IECQ is the IEC Quality Assessment System for Electronic Components.
As the worldwide approval and certification system covering the supply of electronic components, assemblies and associated materials and processes, IECQ tests and certifies components using quality assessment specifications based on IEC International Standards.
In addition, there are a multitude of related materials and processes that are covered by the IECQ Schemes. IECQ certificates are used worldwide as a tool to monitor and control the manufacturing supply chain, thus helping to reduce costs and time to market, and eliminating the need for multiple re-assessments of suppliers.
IECQ operates industry specific Certification Schemes:
- IECQ AP (Approved Process)
- IECQ AP-CAP (Counterfeit Avoidance Programme)
- IECQ AC (Approved Component)
- IECQ AC-TC (Technology Certification)
- IECQ AC-AQP (Automotive Qualification Programme)
- IECQ Scheme for LED Lighting (LED components, assemblies and systems)
- IECQ Avionics
- IECQ HSPM (Hazardous Substances Process Management)
- IECQ ITL (Independent Testing Laboratory)
For more information on IECQ: www.iecq.org