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Why inductor cannot be fabricated on IC ?

Fabricating inductors on integrated circuits (ICs) presents several challenges and limitations due to the nature of inductors and the materials used in semiconductor processes. While resistors, capacitors, and transistors can be integrated seamlessly on ICs, the integration of inductors is not straightforward. Here are some detailed reasons explaining why inductors are not easily fabricated on ICs:

1. Size and Area Constraints:

  • Inductors typically require a larger physical area compared to other passive components like resistors and capacitors. The compact nature of ICs, where millions or even billions of components are integrated onto a small chip, makes it challenging to allocate sufficient space for inductors without compromising the overall circuit density.

2. Substrate Material:

  • The semiconductor substrate material, usually silicon, is not ideal for magnetic materials required in inductors. Silicon has low magnetic permeability, which is a critical property for the effective operation of inductors. The lack of suitable magnetic properties in silicon hinders the creation of efficient inductors on the IC substrate.

3. Eddy Currents:

  • Eddy currents induced in the silicon substrate can cause significant losses in the inductor. These currents circulate within the conductive material, leading to energy dissipation and reduced inductor performance. Eddy current losses are particularly problematic in silicon-based ICs.

4. Parasitic Capacitance:

  • The integration of inductors on ICs introduces parasitic capacitance due to the close proximity of conductive traces and layers. This capacitance can adversely affect the inductor’s performance, especially at higher frequencies, and may lead to decreased inductance values.

5. Magnetic Coupling:

  • Magnetic coupling between inductors becomes challenging to achieve on a small IC. Magnetic fields from neighboring components and conductive traces can interfere with each other, affecting the desired inductive behavior.

6. Process Compatibility:

  • The fabrication processes used in semiconductor manufacturing are optimized for the integration of components like transistors, resistors, and capacitors. Adding inductors to the manufacturing process would require significant changes to the existing processes, potentially increasing the complexity and cost of production.

7. Material Mismatch:

  • The materials commonly used for ICs, such as silicon, have properties that do not align with the ideal characteristics of materials needed for inductors. For example, silicon has low resistivity, which is not suitable for creating coils with high inductance values.

8. Economic Considerations:

  • The additional manufacturing steps and materials required for inductor fabrication on ICs can increase production costs. As a result, manufacturers often choose to integrate inductors externally in the form of discrete components rather than incorporating them into the IC.

9. Alternative Solutions:

  • Engineers often resort to alternative solutions to overcome the limitations of on-chip inductors. This may involve using off-chip inductors or exploring integrated circuit architectures that rely on different components or technologies for achieving similar functionalities.

10. Differential Technologies: – There are specialized IC technologies, such as silicon carbide (SiC) or gallium nitride (GaN), that are better suited for power applications and may include on-chip inductors. However, these technologies are not as prevalent as standard silicon processes and are often used in specific high-power or high-frequency applications.

In summary, while inductors are crucial components in electronic circuits, the challenges associated with their integration into ICs, such as size constraints, material limitations, and compatibility issues, make it more practical to implement them as discrete components in many cases. Engineers must carefully consider the trade-offs and select the most suitable approach based on the specific requirements of their applications.

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