Last Updated on October 23, 2023 by Kevin Chen
We tend to associate semiconductor components with integrated circuits. They tend to deliver perfect results when they are in integrated circuits and work with other components. However, there are semiconductor components that are capable of delivering the desired results independently. This is where the term ’discrete’ comes in. A discrete semiconductor is a type of semiconductor component that is used for performing a specific function in an electric circuit.
This component exists as a single unit and hence cannot be divided any further or its roles be broken down into different smaller units. These components include diodes, transistors, thyristors, and rectifiers, among others that we are going to discuss.
In this guide, you are going to learn the basics of discrete semiconductor components. In case you are working on an electronic project, you will be in proper position to know which component to use and why you should use it. The guide will also give you tips on how to choose the best discrete semiconductor components.
What is a discrete semiconductor component?
As we have already defined, this is an electronic component that is made of semiconductor material and is designed to perform a specific function in an electric circuit. For years, discrete semiconductor components have been at the center of all inventions in the field of electric and electronics.
On the other hand, semiconductor materials are the materials that sit between the conductors and insulators. This means that they do not conduct electric charges easily as the conductors nor do they strongly resist the flow of electric charges as insulators. However, they can conduct the electrons when specific conditions are met.
The electrical conductivity property of semiconductor materials is one of the main reasons why they are widely used in modern electronic applications. It is also possible to control and regulate the conductivity characteristics of these materials. This is usually done through a process known as doping, which involves introducing different types of impurities into the material.
There are two main classes of semiconductor materials: n-type semiconductor and p-type semiconductor material. The n-type semiconductor is created by doping an intrinsic semiconductor material with elements that have five valence electrons such as phosphorus. On the other hand, the p-type semiconductor is created by doping a semiconductor material with acceptor impurities such as aluminum, gallium, and boron.
Examples of semiconductor materials include silicon, Germanium, Selenium, GaAs among others. Each of these materials has unique electric conductivity properties. Manufacturers of discrete semiconductor components have to pay attention to the properties of each of these materials as it will determine their performance on the final electronic product.
Characteristics of discrete semiconductor components
There are certain features that distinguish discrete semiconductor components from other types of electronic components. These features include the following.
- Perform single function: The fact that they are discrete components means that they are designed to execute one task in an electric circuit. Let’s take an example of a transistor. Its task may be to amplify the current.
- Made of semiconductor materials: These components are made from different types of semiconductor materials. The choice of the material will always depend on the application area and as well as the desired results of the component.
- Power handling capacity: Discrete components are capable of handling both high and low voltage. The same applies to their capacity to handle electric current. However, they come with defined power handling specifications which should not be exceeded.
- High flexibility: The fact that exist as single components makes them easy to handle. You can add and remove discrete semiconductor components from circuits with ease. Flexibility is also viewed from the fact that they can be easily customized to meet specific application needs.
- High levels of accuracy: Another advantage of singularity is precision. Since the components are focused on one function, there is minimal chance of making any errors. This in turn improves the accuracy and precision levels of discrete semiconductor components when they are finally deployed on circuits.
- Independence: Each discrete semiconductor component is packed with an array of unique features that separate it from other components. This means that it can function independently and as well as in isolation as long as it is connected to an electric circuit.
- Wide range of applications: Discrete semiconductor components have a wide range of applications in the world of modern electronics. You will find them in every electronic component and they are used for performing different functions.
- Different performance properties: Discrete semiconductor components come in different electrical properties, a factor that will ensure they deliver different levels of performance.
Difference between discrete semiconductor components vs other electronic components
From the above properties, are you able to differentiate discrete semiconductor components from other types of electronic components?
First, discrete components can be purchased as single units. This is unlike other components that are bought when they are already embedded in integrated circuits.
Examples of discrete semiconductor components
Now, let’s have a brief look at some of the most common types of discrete semiconductor components in the world of electronics.
These are types of transistors that are characterized by two terminals connected through a junction. The name of these transistors is due to the fact that they use both holes and electrons in the transmission of the charges. They are also known as bipolar junction transistors (BJTs). They are commonly used in analog circuits where they serve as switches thanks to their fast-switching speeds.
Although bipolar transistors are used in integrated circuits, they are still classified as discrete semiconductor components because they can operate as independent units.
A thyristor is a four-layered semiconductor electronic component that regulates the flow of electrons between two electrodes. These layers have both then-type and p-type semiconductor materials and they allow the thyristor to operate in two defined or stable states.
The operational states of a thyristor can be altered by changing the flow of electric current or electric signals. This operational mechanism makes thyristors suitable to function as automatic switches in electric circuits.
These are semiconductor components that are used for controlling the flow of current in circuits. They are used for different purposes including amplification and switching. There are different types of transistors with each serving a specific purpose.
A diode is a discrete semiconductor component that is designed to allow the flow of current in one direction. It blocks the current from flowing in the opposite direction. This property makes them relevant in offering protection and as well as regulation of the current flow. Like transistors, there are different types of diodes including Zener diodes, bridge rectifiers. Light emitting diodes, photodiodes, and Schottky diodes among others. Each type of diode is specially designed to be used in its application area.
What should I look for when buying discrete semiconductor components?
When it comes to buying discrete semiconductor components you wouldn’t want to make any mistake. You need to put all the key factors into consideration before you buy any component.
First, you should define the role of the component. What specific role will the component play in the circuit or application? Once you have defined the function of the semiconductor component, it will be easy to tell whether you will need it or not. The answer to this question will be on the circuit design or its prototype.
Once you are sure about the function of the discrete semiconductor components, you can now turn your attention to its specifications and performance. How much power will the component, dissipate? What are its rated current and voltage? What kind of packaging does the component require? The specifications will determine the suitability and compatibility of the semiconductor components in your application.
How to identify discrete semiconductor components
We have just discussed different types of discrete semiconductor components and the roles that they play in electric circuits. When it comes to the process of implementing these components in actual projects, you will have to know and identify them. Proper identification is also important when you are buying the components.
The most basic way of identifying the components is based on their physical appearance. Transistors, diodes, thyristors, and other discrete semiconductor components have different physical appearance. They come in different designs, shapes, sizes, and structures. You can always look for photos online and then compare them with the actual component.
Most discrete semiconductor components are well-labeled or have different markings on their bodies for easy identification. The component manufacturer may even go ahead to indicate the type of component. So, just check on the surface of the component and you will be able to identify it.
Beyond the markings, you can use the color bands to get more details of the discrete semiconductor components. The bands will give you information about some vital values of the components such as the capacitance.
Confirming the information on the datasheet is another easy technique of component identification. Each discrete semiconductor component that you buy is packaged with a datasheet. It contains all the relevant information that you should know about the component.
What about consulting industry experts? Perhaps this is the easiest way of identifying discrete semiconductor components. It is a perfect method especially if you are new in the world of electronics. You only need to find an experienced person in this field and ask them a few questions about different components. Not only will they help you with the right identification but also will give you additional information.
Are you buying discrete semiconductor components and you are not sure of how to identify them? You can use the services of sourcing agents for an easy job. The fact that they have been in this industry for long means that they will use their knowledge and experience to identify the right component for your application.
What defines a reliable discrete semiconductor component?
One of the key factors that you should look at when buying discrete semiconductor components is reliability. This is the measurement of an electric component to consistently perform well after being included in an electric circuit.
Take an example of a transistor that is designed to work as an amplifier. The results from the transistor should be able to deliver the desired amplification consistently.
The reliability of any discrete semiconductor component will always depend on how it has been designed and manufactured. This is why it is important to pay attention to where to buy discrete semiconductor components. Some manufacturers have a reputation for building premium quality components while others don’t deliver such. With a reputable sourcing agent, you will definitely end up with super reliable discrete semiconductor components for your application.
Where to buy the best discrete semiconductor components
Once you have confirmed all the physical and technical data about discrete semiconductor components, the next step is to make the purchase. It is always advisable to buy from reputable manufacturers and suppliers.
You can start by compiling a list of the best discrete semiconductor component manufacturers in the world. From there, you will be able to narrow down to the best manufacturers and suppliers.
Since doing all the searches and contacting each manufacturer may be a hectic task, you can choose the easiest option: using sourcing agents that specialize in electronic components. They will do everything that is required until you finally get semiconductor components that meet the required standards. These rules apply even when buying discrete semiconductor components in bulk.
Now that you know the basics of discrete semiconductor components, what next? You can now proceed to implement your electronic project. The first step will be to outline the requirements for your project, whereby you will list all the discrete semiconductor components that will be needed.
Whichever type of discrete semiconductor components that you will need, it will be advisable to verify their quality and standards. This is where the importance of discrete semiconductor components sourcing agents comes in. We will verify all the details for you and at the end of the process you will get quality components for your application.
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