There’s a Shortage of High-Capacitance MLCCs: Here’s Why

What’s going on with high-capacitance MLCCs?

Plainly put, the passive component market is running out of high-cap multilayer ceramic chip capacitors (MLCCs) and resistors. Engineers are trying to find alternate sources to get them — without much luck.

So what can we do about this? What are some good alternatives to high-capacitance MLCCs? And why is there such a shortage in the first place? We’ll cover all these questions in this MLCC blog series.

Allocation of the Passive Component Market

The passive component market is currently facing a shortage of MELF, mini MELF, and micro MELF resistors. The emerging use of e-Mobility and electric vehicles (EV) are only intensifying the issue. Unfortunately, there are practically no suitable alternatives for these resistors.

The market is also facing a shortage of MLCCs, which is causing massive price increases and extremely long lead times (more than 54 weeks for high runner parts!). Plus, annual price binding is no longer given within the market, contributing even more to this crazy situation.

Top 2 Challenges Faced by MLCC Customers

The MLCC market poses two major challenges for customers right now: the shortage of MLCCs and new downsizing requirements.

While the massive issues of MLCC availability in 2018 have calmed down in early 2019 for consumer-grade products, there is still a significant shortage for automotive-grade products.

Engineers have also received end-of-line notices from different MLCC vendors that they have quit sizes ≥0603 and are requiring customers to downsize to PCB. That means customers are confronted with needed changes on the PCB level.

What Caused the Shortage of MLCCs?

Several triggers have contributed to the current shortage of MLCCs, including:

  • A generally very good market situation before the allocation
  • High additional requirements generated by e-Mobility and EV
  • Massive high-cap needs generated by iPhone 8 and iPhone X
  • New factory investments by MLCC manufacturers for further capabilities
  • A too-low margin in recent years

Which Sizes Have a Future?

The shortage of high-cap MLCCs has raised several concerns for customers.

Because of discontinuations at Murata, Samsung, Taiyo Yuden, and TDK for MLCC sizes ≥0603, customers are unsure about which sizes will actually have a future. They are wondering:

  • Will designs 0805, 1206, 1210, and larger be available in the future?
  • How do I ensure the supply for current projects, which are the middle of the product life cycle? Can I let it run, or do I have to redesign my project?
  • Which sizes should be favored for new developments?

Disadvantages of Downsizing

What’s so bad about changing to a smaller size? Here are a few disadvantages of downsizing with MLCCs:

  • Worse electrical stability and performance
  • Rising assembly times
  • Investment in new production equipment required
  • Possible necessity of redesign

Typically, the smaller your size, the greater your DC-bias. So whenever you are changing your MLCC to a smaller size, you have to check the electrical performance, because it will certainly change.

Don’t get us wrong — MLCCs are great products. You just have to keep their physics in mind, since they could cause limitations for your design.

What Needs to Be Considered at MLCC Selection?

There are two primary classes of MLCCs: class 1 ceramics (built with titanium oxide) and class 2 ceramics (built with barium titanate).

When you’re selecting the right MLCC for your design, here’s what you need to consider per class:

Class 1

  • C-tolerance
  • No temperature dependence or linear temperature dependence
  • No further derating

Class 2

  • C-tolerance
  • Nonlinear temperature dependence
  • DC-bias
  • Aging behavior

Why Class 2 MLCCs Have Such a Strong Capacitance Dependency

The primary reason that the capacitance of class 2 MLCCs drifts so strongly is due to the material used.

Class 2 ceramics use barium titanate, a ferroelectric material that is highly dependent on temperature, DC-bias, and aging. In addition, this material structure is prone to piezoelectric effects, which can also result in microphonic effects or noise.

Cracking in MLCCs

Cracking is another hot topic for MLCCs. When you have high capacitance, you have many electrodes inside, which can cause a very fast and short circuit.

Some common causes of MLCC cracking include:

  • Strong bending load or vibration on the PCB level
  • Mechanical forces at plug-in connections or press-fit zones
  • Unequal solder deposit amount > strong mechanical stress at cool-down
  • Inconsistent heating of ceramic body (especially problematic at manual soldering)

Generally, the bigger the size of the MLCC, the more prone it is to cracking!

So What Now?

It’s clear that the MLCC market is suffering. The shortage of high-capacitance MLCCs and resistors is causing engineers to seek alternate solutions. But what alternatives are best?

In our next post, we’ll introduce you to a variety of MLCC alternatives, including our top choice. Stay tuned!

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