Your next processor could be plastic instead of silicone

The British company ARM has just produced a silicone-free, plastic-based processor. An innovation that could facilitate the creation of flexible connected objects.

An essential component in the manufacture of our electronic equipment, silicone may be in the process of being replaced by plastic. In a study published on July 21, 2021 in the journal Nature, the company ARM unveiled its very first microcontroller based on a plastic rather than a silicone support.

Still limited performance

Such an innovation could make it possible to create flexible processors which could be embedded in ” food packaging, clothing […] or medical bandages Explain the study. One way to add ” seamlessly from billions of extremely inexpensive and ultrathin microprocessors to everyday objects Adds the team behind the publication.

This is not the first time that a component based on plastic has seen the light of day. As early as 2011, specialists had created plastic-based microprocessors. For several years, some TVs have used the same thin-film transistor technology. The novelty here is that ARM has managed to produce, without silicone, a simplified version of the Cortex M0, one of these star processors.

The prototype built by ARM // Source: Nature

The M0 is an inexpensive and not very powerful chip, generally reserved for connected objects. These characteristics made it the perfect guinea pig to experiment with this new production method. Plastic-based microprocessors are far, far from being as efficient and efficient as their silicone counterparts.

In the case of ARM, the size of the integrated circuit is 1500x larger than that of the silicone M0. The component points to almost 60 square mm. Its power is also much less at 29 kilohertz (against 50 kHz on the standard model) and the engraving fineness is 800 nanometers where the silicone model reaches 90 nanometers. In short, it is a very little powerful and rather bulky processor.

What advantages does plastic have over silicone?

Despite everything, ARM claims that its processor is already 12x more powerful than other plastic processors available on the market today. Hence the publication of this discovery in a scientific journal.

Plastic-based processors are also much cheaper to produce than their silicone competitor. The development of such technologies, especially on the part of an industrial giant like ARM, could ” enable electronic products to be manufactured in new forms and at costs unattainable with silicon, greatly expanding the range of potential applications Explains the study.

According to ARM, the silicone is not intended to disappear, since the component will probably retain advantages from the point of view of efficiency and energy consumption, but devices with low power consumption could well benefit from such advanced.

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