Capacitors are Simple, Right?

It is easy to dismiss passive components like resistors and capacitors as a boring subject. [James Lewis] of KEMET Capacitors would disagree. He gave a talk about capacitor tech that is both approachable and in-depth.

Like every other component we use, we always think of them as perfect. But just like wires have resistance and inductance that we often ignore, capacitors have different imperfect characteristics that you need to be aware of.

Ceramic capacitors, for example, lose capacitance over time. Different ceramic material have different temperature sensitivity. Aluminum capacitors don’t last forever. Voltage applied to a capacitor can change its value as much as 50%.

[James] also talks about polymer electrolytics and super capacitors. His burning question: Is there any truth to the old guideline that you should derate capacitors by 50%? Want to know what he thinks? Watch the video below. Speaking of burning, he tackles the touchy subject of tantalum capacitors. The image at the top is a test Kemet ran on their own parts at reverse polarity well beyond spec. All of them are blown but only some look burnt. That’s a mystery well worth watching the talk.

Continue reading “Capacitors are Simple, Right?”

Safety warning: Arduino GSM shield may cause fires

Be careful with those Arduino GSM cards. As [James] reports, they may turn into fire starters. One person has reported a small explosion and fire already on the Arduino forums.
Now before we go any further – You may be asking yourself who the heck [James] is, and what gives him the ability to second guess the Arduino team. Well, here is [James’] blog disclaimer:  “James is a Senior Technical Expert for Technology and Applications at KEMET Electronics, a capacitor manufacturer. The content of this post are his and in no way reflects opinions of his employer.”

Senior Technical Expert?  That’s a good enough reason for us to believe him.

[James] states the problem is a tantalum capacitor used to decouple the GSM radio power supply from the main Arduino supply.
Tantalum capacitors are great for their low ESR properties. However, they have a well known downside of getting very hot, or even exploding when stressed. It’s not the Tantalum Anode that is burning. The Manganese Dioxide used as a cathode in some Tantalum capacitors is the culprit. Continue reading “Safety warning: Arduino GSM shield may cause fires”