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10/7/2019 | By Maker.io Staff

Miniaturizing Your Projects

Since the introduction of electrical circuits more than 150 years ago, electronics and electrical parts have been available in “maker friendly” packages. However, the constant reduction in the size of electronics and the desire for smaller devices now sees the most recent technologies in packages that are difficult to use such as SOIC, QFN, and BGA. But this reduction in size isn’t something to be scared of. In this blog post, we will look at why you should miniaturize your projects, as well as how you can do it!

Smaller Size, Greater Product

Most electronic products used by makers and engineers when prototyping is housed in through-hole packages, meaning that their connects are small leads which stick out long enough to be inserted into breadboards and soldered strip/matrix boards. Such components include resistors, capacitors, transistors, DIP ICs, and some modules.

Breadboards have an advantage because they do not require soldering, and many through-hole electronic components can be reused in multiple projects, saving designers, and makers money because they don’t have to stock as many parts.

Moving to surface mount device (SMD) components can lead to a significant reduction in project size, which can have many benefits, including portability.

When SMD components became commercially available, they presented several problems for makers: their difficulty in both the implementation in breadboard circuits and soldering. This problem was compounded with the lack of cheap PCB prototype houses, as well as the relative cost of SMD components when compared to their DIP counterparts. As a result, SMD components rarely saw use in the maker field - something that was reflected in many semiconductor companies who produce DIP parts.

As time goes on, IC technology and general manufacturing processes are becoming significantly more advanced. PCB fabrication lines, in particular, have seen significant changes with many companies offering prototype PCBs at very competitive prices (as low as $2 for 5 pieces). Giving makers the ability to cheaply produce two-layer PCBs with through-hole plating opens many possibilities for DIY projects, including the use of SMD components.

Why are SMD components important?

The majority of modern technologies (such as 32-bit microcontrollers and programmable logic devices) are now only available in SMD packages. This means that any maker will have to learn how to migrate to SMD-type packages if they want to integrate them into the project. While this does mean that component re-usability is unlikely to happen, there are some serious advantages to making the move to SMD. SMD components have become considerably cheaper (in many cases, cheaper than their DIP counterparts), and the use of SMD components allows makers to integrate modern technologies including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, higher-end microprocessors, and PLDs.

But the most important point of moving to SMD components is the significant reduction in project size. Reducing the size of a project has many benefits, with the first and most obvious one being portability. Smaller circuits are easier to mount in remote and restrictive locations, drones, remote-controlled systems, and wearable electronics. Smaller circuits also enable for more complex and feature-rich circuits as more components can be used per unit area (when compared to through-hole components).

Why Moving to SMD Yields Results

Exactly how you make your next project is up to you, but there is a key factor to consider: getting a converter if you are using a microcontroller such as an STM32 and do not want to permanently solder it to a project. These devices allow you to solder a wide range of SMD ICs such as SOIC, TFQP, and QFN to a PCB, which has breadboard-friendly pin headers. This way, you can prototype SMD components using through-hole, technology-based circuit construction, allowing you to reuse those SMD parts in later projects.

The tool needed to solder SMD components depends on the SMD package. Some SMD parts (such as SOIC) have wide pin spacing of 1.27mm, which is half of that of typical DIP components. In these instances, a regular soldering iron and some copper braid are more than sufficient. However, components such as QFN and BGA require more specialized equipment, like a hot air soldering gun. Components that use BGA have significantly larger pinouts, which can lead to more complex designs, and using QFN and BGA parts will likely require the use of custom PCBs, as opposed to a breadboard. Since prototype PCBs can be purchased at record low prices (as little as $2 for 5), PCBs are now a real option for makers.

Despite their size and difficulty in mounting, SMD components allow makers to realize more complex projects by integrating the latest technologies on circuit boards while still maintaining a small size.

We have many links to help you find key products related to the discussion above. Check out the following areas!! Surface Mount Connectors, Passive Components, SMD ICs, Surface Mount Adapters, Breadboards and Prototyping Boards.