Ruggedness and precision are critical factors in miniaturizing components for camera modules, said John Toor, vice president of engineering with the camera-modules group of Flextronics International Ltd.
Designers try to anticipate serious physical shocks to the modules, but it is ``a huge challenge for moving mechanical parts,'' said Toor, who is based in San Jose. Engineering plastics have enhanced some robust designs.
Flextronics designs camera modules at facilities in San Jose, Boston and Shah Alam, Malaysia.
Manufacturers have used glass-filled polycarbonate for most camera-module parts, but that may be shifting. The transition temperature of glass-filled PC ``may not be high enough as we try to solder directly onto boards,'' Toor said.
Polyester, acetal and polyetheretherketone are finding some uses and are being tested for upcoming applications.
Designers are being challenged to use thinner walls. Minimizing particle counts is becoming critical. As pixels get smaller, the differential from a glass-filled polymer decreases. Glass-filled resin can be tough to deal with, Toor said, as abraded material can result in rejected cameras. Inspections are based on the ability to keep particles off sensors.
The camera-module market has been growing rapidly since 2001, thanks in part to sensor companies' rising need for higher image resolution. In February, Flextronics completed its acquisition of Agilent Technologies Inc.'s camera-module business.
In 2004, Flextronics' 11 percent market share in camera modules ranked second, a percentage point behind that of Toshiba, according to Techno Systems Research Co. Ltd. of Tokyo. Consumers' adoption of camera phones has grown from 5 percent in 2002, involving 23 million units, to a projected 55 percent, or 336 million units, in 2005, according to InfoTrends/Cap Ventures of Weymouth, Mass.