"It is hard for one
to believe that there is room for further reduction in size and weight from
what we are accustomed to today." So wrote Radio & TV News magazine
editor William Stocklin in 1958. It was a decade after invention of the transistor
(1948), and the first integrated circuit had not yet been developed (Robert
Noyce, 1959), but even so it seems fairly short-sighted for a major electronics
magazine editor. While being amazed at the shirt-pocket-size transistorized
radio and hearing aid, he still found hope for the future of miniaturization
of vacuum tubes, such as diodes recently released by General Electric that would
"fit into the shell of a standard type of transistor." Sure, it is easy in hindsight
to pick on someone's contemporaneous view of an emerging industry, but to not
imagine something more compact than a discrete semiconductor and miniaturized
passive components seems a bit lame. Hugo Gernsback, founder and original editor
Radio-Craft magazine, was predicting things beyond the vacuum tube
back in the early part of the century, before any semiconductor elements had
been developed even in the laboratory.
For the Record - How Small Can They Get?
By W. Stocklin, Editor
Everyone in the electronics industry should be familiar with the terms "module"
and "miniaturization." It all started ten years ago with Bell Telephone Laboratories'
announcement of the transistor but it wasn't until 1953 that Raytheon took the
bull by the horns and made the big push with transistors in the hearing aid
industry. The effect was instantaneous. The trend spread rapidly to other portions
of the electronics industry and as a result the size, weight, and power consumption
of equipment was reduced tremendously. Portable radios as we know them today
are down to vest-pocket size without any sacrifice of battery life as compared
to pre-war days. As a matter of fact, battery life has even been substantially
extended with today's transistor sets.
This is the background, but it is far from being good enough today. The words
"micro-module" and "micro-miniaturization" are terms that the industry will
be thinking about in the future. It is hard for one to believe that there is
room for further reduction in size and weight from what we are accustomed to
today. On the other hand, we have just seen a diode vacuum tube manufactured
by G-E that would fit into the shell of a standard type of transistor. Also
they have a triode tube that is no more than 3/8 inch in height and 1/4 inch
in diameter. This is just a very small part of micro-miniaturization.
The entire program is not just a novelty. After many months of theorizing,
experimental design, and manufacturing jointly with American industry, the Army
Signal Corps recently placed the first of several extensive development contracts
with RCA for five million dollars. The day of the single-function component
is passing. The key to the future program is the fabrication of extremely small
devices known as micro-modules. These are sub-assemblies made up of any number
of individual wafers, each wafer measuring 0.3 inch square and 0.01 inch thick.
Each module provides a specific circuit function and in a radio set it could
be an entire stage. Each could, as an example, consist of a diode, coil, transistor,
and a number of resistors and capacitors.
This entire program is, of course, directed to the military and was triggered
by the urgent need for extremely small size, bulk, and weight of equipment for
the Army Signal Corps and certainly for the satellite instrumentation program.
It will not stop there. It will certainly run the gamut of all types of electronic
data processing equipment and communications equipment and there is no limit
in the general field of industrial electronics and aviation. It will be applied
to consumer end products such as radios and television sets only if and when
the price can be brought low enough to compete with present methods. This is
not possible in the immediate future. Actually, there is no specific need for
miniaturization in these cases as the sizes of these units are much more dependent
on speaker and picture tube dimensions, but there is no reason why the picture
tube and speaker could not be separated from the rest of the circuitry.
A whole new concept of manufacture, supply, repair, and maintenance will
develop with the widespread acceptance of micro-modular construction.
There will be a substantial increase in the dependability of electronic equipment
since micro-modules are extremely rugged and not affected by shock and vibration.
The use of micro-modules will mean greatly simplified servicing and maintenance.
An entire module assembly of perhaps 30 to 40 electronic components can be replaced
easily without dissipating time and skilled manpower in separately testing individual
elements of a stage. If trouble develops, an entire module is removed and replaced.
The supply and replacement problem is reduced since one micro-module will
replace many individual components now required to be stocked for replacement
This is the future and it will affect everyone in the electronic industry
from designer, through the distribution channels, and finally to the service
technician who is depended upon to keep the equipment functioning.
To those who are in the radio and television field, it may be premature to
take immediate action but to those who are in any other branch of the electronic
industry, a thought to the future will help present-day planning.
Posted July 21, 2020