Tuesday, October 6, 2009

25 Years of SMT, and 25 More

At the SMTA’s 25th anniversary dinner, held during SMTA International in San Diego, Ken Gilleo, Ph.D., ET-Trends LLC, demonstrated the reliability of a decades-old flex circuit by throwing the assembly against a wall. He turned it on, and it worked. This symbolized much of the resiliency of our industry, where, as Gilleo put it, technologies and processes have been evolving since IBM made the first SMD in 1963.

Much of what we have achieved was derived from mistakes, such as dropping assemblies, ruining prototypes in countless ways, reflowing a moisture-absorptive material without drying, etc. As Gilleo put it, the industry has seen “a lot of embarrassment along the way.” Of course, we’ve gained knowledge at every step, and the SMTA gathered at SMTAI to celebrate this acquisition and dissemination of knowledge that has propelled the SMT industry to where it is today.

Although lead-free, laser soldering, nanosilver, flip chips, and other aspects of “modern” SMT have been used and refined over tens of years, technology is not the sole focus of the SMTA. As SMT Editorial Advisory Board member Jennie Hwang pointed out, the SMTA realized early that China would become the world-leading region for electronics assembly, and pushed to establish an SMTA program abroad. SMTA’s work continues to focus on developing chapters in other countries, with the most recent being Penang, Malaysia. The SMTA’s range of knowledge to propagate is a confluence of technological advancement and the business of manufacturing.

What is the result of this technological and international endeavor? Ron C. Lasky, Ph.D. PE, senior technologist, Indium Corporation, in his presentation, “SMT: The Next 25 Years,” provided a glimpse into the electronics products enabled by our work. In the 1950’s, televisions and radios were the personal electronics known to many Americans. In the 1980’s, personal music players, laptops, mobile phones, digital cameras, and other familiar devices were in their infancy. Lasky pointed out that many of these products, in today’s form, are reaching their size limits for human use. Could we make a computer small enough for a wolf spider to use? Probably. But do we really want those guys using the Internet? Lasky dangled the possibilities of virtual electronics, wherein the computer is miniscule, but the screen and keyboard are virtual reality projections for ease of use. The portability and features limits in electronics are yet to be reached.

Lasky also pointed out the synthesis of electronics manufacturing and biology, with bioelectronics meeting defined needs (vision, prosthetics, advanced surgical processes) for betterment of human conditions. No matter how much we adapt our lives to the ubiquitous electronics in them, Lasky notes that humans are unique, and will continue to be so for the next 25, and more, years.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

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