Tuesday, May 12, 2009

New Materials for an Evolving Industry

Materials innovations are helping to reshape our industry in the post-RoHS, halogen-free era. Environmental constraints, usability requirements, cleaning issues, and other factors are bearing down on solders, conformal coatings, underfills, and all the other “goo” that helps construct and protect an assembly. Check out this week’s soldering products roundup to see some of these innovative chemistries. At APEX 2009, I sat down with Doug Dixon, global marketing manager, at the electronics group of Henkel, to discuss materials trends in the industry, and how suppliers are shouldering the burden.

Henkel has been busy since last year’s acquisition of Emerson & Cuming and Ablestik. Now that the majority of integration tasks calendared in since last year’s APEX have occurred, this year’s event found the company releasing new materials resulting from these collaborations. Henkel had two products in the show’s Innovative Technology Center: Multicore LF700 lead-free solder paste and the Hysol UF3800 underfill.

Henkel brought in the Emerson & Cuming team while developing UF3800, Dixon noted, and the collaboration proved fruitful. The product won an SMT VISION award this year. UF3800’s benefits include underfilling that flows at room temperature and cures at low temperature, halogen-free, rework-capable, high Tg, lower energy use (due to eliminating pre-heat to flow and cure), and compatibility with many flux formulations. LF700 offers a long abandon time even when printed onto 0.4-mm CSP apertures, reduced voiding in BGA solder joints (due to the flux chemistry), humidity resistance, and high tack force. Its halide- and lead-free ingredients label should also encourage global use regardless of regional environmental restrictions, such as RoHS, China RoHS, and other state-by-state directives.

Both the paste and underfill satisfy externally imposed requirements — lead- and halide-free. They also meet internal manufacturing requirements — reworkability, fine-pitch printing, broad flux compatibility — to ease the manufacturing and reporting burden on electronics makers. Dixon said these “hybrid chemistries” are advancements marked on the company’s product roadmap.

Acquisitions may seem like a dangerous move in a tight economy, but Henkel’s method of adding units that complement existing product groups is sound: Some products may overlap, but the overall trend is expanding in an application area — not stacking similar products on top of one another. “We go through all our projects and combine resources where it will make a positive impact,” Dixon said. Some projects have natural crossover, like the CSP underfill or certain die-attach products. Others, such as conductive inks, are a new area for Henkel since the National Starch acquisition.

Emerson & Cuming has a developed base in the defense sector, so Henkel is working to combine potting/encapsulation and conformal coating IP into new products. The result is a conductive film product called CF3366, which provides RF grounding in PCB-to-housing interconnections. The high-adhesion-strength electrically conductive film is formulated for electrical, thermal and mechanical assembly applications and targets harsh environments with high temperature resistance. It enables thermal release as well as adhesion, tackling two system-level challenges.

Beyond acquisitions, Henkel’s business development group partners with universities and research groups for product development on a longer timeline. Joint ventures are another area of interest. A colleague of mine recently returned from a tradeshow with a clear message: Collaboration is king in the new economy. For project developments occurring now to 5 and 0 years down the road, the balance of collaboration and mergers & acquisitions will bring in investments from interested customers, fueling continued R&D in this cautious economic climate.

Continuing on this theme of materials evolution, SMT just received a copy of the new publication, Materials Enabled Designs: The Materials Engineering Perspective to Product Design and Manufacturing, written by Michael Pfeifer, president of Industrial Metallurgists LLC. The 12-chapter book covers product design, materials selection, materials reliability and performance considerations, costs and market ramp-up strategies, and other aspects of the process, from the materials engineer's perspective. Look for a review of the text in an upcoming blog post.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

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