In terms of capacitor research another promising area is the use of carbon nanotubes, Lessner said. "We have also developed a novel magnetic material we call nanomet. This is a nanocrystaline material that has the advantage over metal-flake composite materials of a higher saturation current." Lessner said KEMET is developing a series of inductors with enhanced specifications around this material.
Lessner said that while there is scope to improve passive performance, many components are already so small as to be at the limit of pick-and-place assembly operations, which limits the scope for miniaturization and cost savings. Hence, there is a demand to incorporate passives into the printed circuit boards that connect and physically support complex active components. "We're working with a major PCB manufacturer on embedded magnetics and inductor and capacitor materials. We've developed a dc/dc converter module where the capacitors and magnetics are embedded in the board."
Lessner confirmed the PCB manufacturer is Austria Technologie & Systemtechnik AG (Leoben, Austria), one of Europe's leading producers of high-end PCBs.
One thing that is changing is that passive makers, like IC makers before them, are having to cooperate further up the supply chain and gain application knowledge, said Lessner. "Through most of our history we were a seller of generic building blocks. We now need to work closely with the OEMs and the board manufacturers. That can mean working on automotive inverters for different tier-one suppliers and each one ends up being a unique design. There's definitely been an application-specific trend over the last 15years," he said.
Lessner characterized KEMET's sales by sector as being roughly: 15 percent automotive; 10 percent aerospace, defense and medical; 20 percent computer; 35 percent industrial including solar and wind; with the balancing 20 percent covering all other sectors including consumer and telecommunication. Similarly, the company is balanced in terms of geography, he said, with thirds of the revenue coming from the Americas, from Europe and from Asia.