Industrial, medical, and military demand for high-quality, high-voltage multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCCs) has been hit hard by a shift in production by the world’s largest MLCC manufacturers who are focusing on a seemingly insatiable demand for smaller, lower voltages and – and somehow – lower-performance MLCCs. This demand has been driven by the global growth of 5G networks and the continued advancement of smartphones and mobile devices consuming significantly more MLCCs per device. As major manufacturers move away from the high-voltage, high-voltage (high-quality) MLCCs used by industry and the military, OEMs face significant delays with MLCCs of up to six months. The extent of the supply shortfall threatens product release schedules, industrial market share, and perhaps even military readiness. “It’s a pretty huge carrot that hangs in front of the major manufacturers of MLCC,” said Scott Horton, vice president of Johansson Technology, a 40-year provider of high-voltage multilayer ceramic capacitors based in Camarillo, California. “When you consider that today’s high-end smartphone could require more MLCCs in a single device than a similar phone just a few years ago, the current demand for smaller, less power-packed MLCCs is unlike anything the market has seen before.” As a result of the slowdown in consumer demand On capacitors in 2019, many OEMs and distributors were left with surplus inventory. As a result, these same OEMs and distributors were reluctant to order additional stock in 2020. Now, with the market increasing, the demand for MLCCs is increasing despite the very low stock of condensate. This exacerbates the shortage of larger high voltage, high Q MLCCs, as some manufacturers have focused production on lower/smaller voltage MLCCs during this time. Now both ends of the market are scrambling to restock, including the major electronics distributors. MLCC’s Asian manufacturing also supports telecommunications and mobile operations that are also located in Asia, making meeting MLCC’s industrial supply needs in Western markets even more acute. “There is a ripple effect on the industrial and military market segment that is not fully understood,” Horton said. “Although shortages of electronic products used in the manufacture of consumer products such as smartphones and automobiles will be national news, shortages in supply from the larger, higher voltage MLCC for industrial and military applications typically go unreported. Nonetheless, pressure will continue to be placed on commercial customers and users. Finalists at the end until it is resolved.” Multilayer Ceramic Components (MLCCs) consist of laminated layers of specially designed dielectric ceramic materials interspersed with a metallic electrode system. The stratified formation is then fired at high temperature to produce a sintered capacitive device with volumetric efficiency. A conductive conduction barrier system is incorporated on the exposed ends of the wafer to complete the connection. The capacitance is mainly determined by three factors: k of the ceramic material, the thickness of the insulating layers, the overlap area and the number of electrodes. A capacitor with a given dielectric constant can have more layers and wider distances between electrodes or fewer layers and closer distances to achieve the same capacitance. Industrial, consumer, and military MLCCs rely on high voltage and high Q capacitors for power supplies, amplifiers, MRI coils, plasma generators, lasers, and many other specialty applications. In circuits with high currents, high Q MLCCs are preferred to reduce self-heating. The Q factor represents the efficiency of the power loss rate of the capacitor. High Q capacitors lose less power reducing the need for heat dissipation or cooling which protects the board from damage and performance loss in critical and responsible applications. Not all MLCCs are created equal, even among high-performance MLCCs, yet ensuring a consistent level of performance is critical for the high reliability applications demanded by industrial and military end users. “If the MLCC manufacturer does not tightly control the number of layers, they may provide 10-layer assemblies in one batch and later deliver portions of 17 layers in a later batch,” explains Horton. “These two parts will not perform the same at higher frequencies.” Intensifying Domestic Supplies Domestic sources from shrinking countries required in industrial and military applications have increased their capacity. MLCC’s increased domestic supply means that an industrial or military customer will not need to delay building and shipping their products due to capacitor delays. Relying on its focus on high-quality, high-voltage MLCCs, Johanson, for example, has expanded its capacity to fill some of the supply void created by the shift in market focus to smaller capacitors. “We have invested in expanding our capacity for several years now by modernizing our production facility and opening a second production line that will essentially double our production of MLCC,” says Horton. “We can take that to a higher level with more production shifts.” At the time of preparing this article, Johansson quotes high-volume MLCC order execution times at 10 weeks. Ceramic is the material of choice MLCC’s increased domestic high-voltage supply also means that customers need to look no further than ceramic capacitors to meet their demands. As a result of the long lead time, the MLCC may be considered for replacement with a polymer or tantalum capacitor; However, trade-offs in performance and optimal operating conditions must be carefully considered. Polymers in capacitors can degrade by the effects of heat which is a consideration for some applications. The thinness of the dielectric layer in polymer capacitors means that the maximum voltage is lower than in ceramic capacitors, making them unsuitable for higher voltage products. Polymers are also not available in the lower capacitance values offered by ceramics. A pellet of tantalum electrolytic capacitor consists of a porous tantalum metal as an anode covered with a dielectric oxide layer forming a dielectric surrounded by a liquid or solid electrolyte solution as the cathode. Although considered a reliable and convenient alternative to MLCCs, tantalum capacitors are generally polarized which means they may only be connected to a DC source. Unfavorable failure mode may result in thermal escape and fires. Tantalum capacitors are also currently facing long lead times for sourcing. “There’s no reason to shy away from ceramics for your high-voltage, high-quality applications,” said Johansson’s Horton. “There is now an increased domestic supply of MLCC available to meet our local needs.” Shifts in supply and demand within the overall MLCC market, which is estimated to grow to a $12 billion market by 2025, have caused severe supply shortages for industrial, medical, and military customers who require a higher quality, multilayer ceramic capacitor in a larger format. As the largest MLCC manufacturers continue to compete for demand from MLCCs used by sectors such as telecommunications, smartphones and mobile devices, new local sources of supply are stepping in to meet the need for a reliable and timely supply of high-performance MLCCs. Written by Stephen Armstrong is a freelance writer in Tustin, California. He has researched and written on industrial technologies, healthcare, automobiles, and international trade for the past 15 years. .