Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Willingness to Take on Big Challenges

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief
The EU's new chemical regulation — Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) — requires companies producing in or exporting to the EU to register chemicals they place in the EU market in amounts above one metric ton. EU officials will evaluate whether companies registering these chemicals have demonstrated safe production and use of them. Chemicals identified as substances of very high concern (SVHCs) are subject to authorization by the EU.

The first list of SVHCs contained 16 substances; however, in response, European environmental nongovernment organizations (NGOs) have developed a list of 300 chemicals that meet the SVHC criteria, named the SIN List 1.0. SIN stands for "substitute it now," reflecting a concern for finding safe alternatives when possible. The 1.0 denotes that the list is not finished yet, but is just the first public attempt to identify chemicals that qualify as SVHCs falling under the concerns of REACH. This information all is provided by the Environmental Defense Fund.

But how will REACH impact U.S. companies? SIN-listed chemicals are actively in commerce in the U.S. Approximately 80% of the SIN list chemicals also appear on the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) inventory. More than 85 SIN list chemicals are produced annually in amounts of one million or more pounds, 14 exceed one billion pounds each year. More than 173 companies produce or import SIN List chemicals in the U.S. At present, only about a third of the SIN chemicals have been tested under TSCA. And two of these chemicals have been subjected to TSCA regulation under narrow conditions. Approximately one third of the SIN chemicals on the TSCA inventory have been subject to testing or data development programs.

The EU's REACH intends to allow the use of SIN chemicals on a specific case-by-case basis; the U.S. Environmental Production Agency (EPA) has taken limited activity to address these chemicals. For the hundreds of companies in the U.S. that produce or import these chemicals designated as dangerous by the EU, the response to this new chemical regulation may be severe.

Why do we wait for the EU to set up the rules for environmental controls? Because the U.S. produces, imports, and exports these chemicals, shouldn't these same firms or regulating agencies have the most knowledge of and interest in safety, controls, and usage? Most people and firms do not like being bullied into action, but they like being a leader in this area and part of the solution. Did we lose our groove after 9/11, as Thomas Friedman contends in Hot, Flat, and Crowded? Surely those who have the most to lose should be those who with knowledge of control close at hand, even if they do not propose controls directly.

The information on which SIN list chemicals are in commerce in the U.S., who produces them, which chemicals have been tested under TSCA, which have been regulated by the EPA, and the list of SIN List chemicals is available to all. As anyone who visits our public libraries knows, readers are leaders. For more leadership in these areas, read the report "Across the Pond: Assessing REACH's First Big Impact on U.S. Companies and Chemicals," Sept. 2008,

EMS Trends

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Bringing together the A-Line on-the-conference-floor assembly line for producing a sample board at IPC Midwest with IPC, The Morey Corp., and our equipment providers gave me a unique insight into the amount of work that goes into every PCB assembly manufactured. To dig deeper into the EMS industry, I chaired a panel of EMS providers at the show in September. The speakers provided concise advise for keeping EMS lines running efficiently and keeping OEM customers on track and happy, for product development, project launch/new product introduction (NPI), manufacturing, and program management. Concise, efficient, and resourceful. What else would you expect from this industry?

Presenters included Susan Mucha of Powell-Mucha Consulting, Kevin Stone of Kimball Electronics Group, James Scholler of MEC Innovation, and Ross Clark of The Morey Corporation. Major trends in the EMS industry included robust product launch/new product introduction (NPI), communication and awareness with the customer and your supply chain, and resource and risk responsibilities.

Jim Scholler, VP of technology of Milwaukee Electronics Companies (MEC), presented on the development of knowledge that the EMS company needs to gather from many sources, beginning with suppliers, to produce boards smoothly. Though the ideal situation would be to transfer knowledge to EMS providers so that they have 100% of what's needed to do a run on the first day, most likely that won't happen. Product knowledge transition starts with the customer. Traditionally, batches of knowledge are transferred from one stage to the next. Because of the need to reduce time-to-market, several steps need to be shortened; BOM completion, tooling release, supply chain setup, and material completion all need to have knowledge transferred earlier. Scholler developed flexible stage gates with sign-offs at various points. "If we're going to keep things moving, we've got to get out of the batch delivery stages," Scholler explained. He identified freeze gates incorporated on the critical path, an ever growing list of features frozen (not documents) to keep the project flowing. Package design, suppliers, equipment manufactures must all be part of the equation. Kevin Stone, director of business development, public safety, Kimball Electronics Group, presented some other useful tips for NPI, like the concurrent development model. This keeps production from being held up waiting on materials to come in. If an EMS provider is working with lean or Kan Ban, then it might takes a long time to line up everything early because items aren't on line already in back inventory. Responsibility has to be frozen at critical points to assign responsibility to know who will do what when in an EMS environment to build a product successfully on time and at budget.

Sue Mucha, author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services, and president of Powell-Mucha Consulting, discussed outsourcing and good business relationships. Mucha's advice for the EMS/OEM community revolved around resources. What elements of producing an electronic assembly do you have resources for? What could you do better if you had ample support? "The reality is that even small EMS providers should be able to provide full support to their customers," Mucha explained. OEMs can justify the cost of "additional" services like lifecycle support and design for excellence (DfX) by outsourcing them to the more experienced and more efficient EMS provider. EMS providers already have established relationships with each link in the supply chain, making production times faster and sourcing smoother. As Scholler stated, a deliverable is whatever is of value to the customer. A feasibility audit isn't needed, but design for test is, for example. By outsourcing these aspects to the EMS provider, the OEM is "purchasing" resources without having to dedicate personnel or training to that element of their product, added Mucha.

Stone drew from his experience in engineering and high-reliability markets when he discussed the importance of a robust product launch. A new product introduction can be a new product on the market, a new product for that EMS provider, or even a new product for a particular facility of that EMS provider. Stone pointed out that sooner is always better with measures like design for test (DfT) and design for manufacturability (DfM). "Once you're past the PCB fabrication stage, it is almost too late for DfM/DfT," he asserted. Automation always is better than manual tasks when you're looking for DfM success.

Ross Clark, marketing manager, The Morey Corp., was SMT and IPC's main contact point for developing the keychain PCBA that IPC Midwest attendees took away from the A-Line. His role in orchestrating a cohesive line with all new machines from four different equipment suppliers shaped his presentation about role definition. We had to figure out how to talk to each other, between the machines and the operators, he explained. Time was the most important factor in preparing the product and the assembly line itself. Feature-richness and board complexity decisions were dictated by this important parameter, Clark explained, to ensure that we had a board built to specifications in time for the tradeshow. Awareness of your clients' particular needs and processes is crucial, agreed all of our presenters. Scholler talked about the critical components in a design including boundary scan to illustrate the EMS provider's middle-ground role from supply chain to customer. An assembly house doesn't deal with boundary scan because it's already built in. However, the EMS supplier needs to know how to use boundary scan because it can save on board space.

Mucha also explained the crucial nature of risk ownership. Documentation at each step in the manufacturing process can help prove liability for field failures, for instance. OEM investment in product testing can pay off in mitigated failure risk. Risk, waiting periods, and manual assembly tasks all should be eschewed during the design phase, Stone added. Streamlining the product launch early allows you to define production benchmarks and create accurate lead time expectations for customers. However liability is divvyed up, make sure the terms are clear before production begins. If both the OEM customer and the EMS provider are trying to "win" during contract negotiations, aiming for a large short-term profit, neither company is going to be happy with the relationship. Each presenter underscored this point. If open communication and clear terms are not part of the production agreement or contract, the customer relationship will be strained, possibly costly, and possibly will endanger the success of the product being assembled.

In my day-to-day work, I'm not designing and building electronic assemblies, though that is what's constantly on my mind. I jump at the chance to peek over the shoulders of line operators, board designers, project managers, and so on at OEMs and EMS providers. In planning and executing this A-Line and EMS Trends panel, I got the chance to virtually sit down at their desks, thumb through their contracts, listen in on their strategies. What did I learn? You can't build a good board without a good business working around you, and vice versa.

Communication is key in any industry. Being a media outlet for the electronics assembly community, we at SMT understand the vital role communication plays in moving industry forward, increasing productivity and technological capability, and getting your job done. Each EMS provider on our panel serves a different niche of the electronics market, be it prototype development for new products or ruggedized assemblies, etc. Each share a common goal — to develop deep, open, and continuous relationships with their customers so that both are profitable, productive, and expanding. If you're looking for the broadest trend in the EMS industry, there it is in a nutshell.

SMT will be chairing a second EMS panel, next year at APEX in Las Vegas. "Industry Cost Challenges: EMS Solutions," will present case histories and lessons learned to attack common problems, like ensuring component integrity while filling gaps in the supply chain, and downshifting products from high to lower volumes.

An Engineer Thinks Out Loud

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief

How we react to changes is almost instinctive. Basically, it’s fight or flight for everyone, but between industries there are remarkable adaptive strategies. An unexpected conversation with an engineer sitting next to me on a cross-country flight reminded me of the resourceful resilience of those in our field.

I was returning from visiting friends in California when thoughts about survival strategies crept into my mind. One of the most memorable stops of the trip was to the aquarium in Monterey Bay where swarms of sardines swam together to avoid being eaten by the larger fish. Sunlight reflected off the wall of silver they made while turning from one direction to another. Not only could they flash turn, but also cram into a dense ball, then scatter explosively, and then reform into the pattern. According to the aquarium’s explanation, schools of fish are more difficult to hunt because medium-size predators must pick out one fish and visually follow it to make a capture, and balling up prevents singling out just one. In a group that responds to a threat quickly by changing direction or flashing, the individual fades into the silver wall of fish camouflage.

While catching up on industry news during the flight back home, a fellow passenger introduced himself to me, explaining that he just left a small company that produced NOR flash for one that invented new presentation software for high-performance, low-power multimedia applications. “My graduate degree is in chemical engineering, and at 29, I’m flexible about where I work and what I do,” he said. I asked him why he didn’t just stay in electronics and work for another firm with a slightly different emphasis. “My case may be unusual,” he said, “but this firm has a niche that is unique and they compensate me well for what I do.” If faced with a field that isn’t showing progress, many engineers switch to one that offers longer-term promise. “Most of our brightest engineers have turned to solar in order to survive the industry downturn. The U.S. is behind in this area right now and the growth from their efforts will make a big difference in the next couple of years.”

“I see that you’re writing about IMEC,” he continued. I was writing up the information gleaned from an interview with Eric Beyne, Ph.D., scientific director at IMEC. In the interview, which you can watch at, Beyne talked about current research at IMEC including 3D interconnect technology, integrated passives for RF applications, flip chip scaling, stretchable textiles with embedded electronics, and MEMS. This month we are preparing to visit IMEC to get a glimpse into the future of electronics. They are broadening their focus, combining technologies to find innovative solutions for climate change and sustainable energy, efficiency, clean water supply, ubiquitous communication, and mobility challenges. “What I like about the organization is that it does leading research on enabling technologies while bridging the gap between fundamental research at universities and technology development in industry,” he said. “And researchers work in the same place, where they build up a reputation and a skill set that jibes with industry. In the U.S. university approach, professors who prove themselves stay, but graduate students who do the research change every few years. The U.S. misses out on extended research. Who feeds the up-and-coming researchers to encourage them to do their best work and how long can they afford to stay if not encouraged?”

There is no quick answer for supporting research and investing in electronics. Talking to this fellow made the issue of professional survival a lot more personal.

It's What's Inside That Counts: Embedded Components

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief
Recently, PCB fabricator Ibiden Co. Ltd., with more than 12,000 employees and about $4 billion in consolidated annual sales, announced that they would be licensing Finland-based Imbera's embedded packaging technology. Therefore, we knew that this had to be a solid way to embed components into the PCB. When you think about creating a functionally dense system, the directions seem to be building up — a stacked package — or down — into the board material in an embedded active or passive device.

When the opportunity arrived to talk to Risto Tuominen, CTO of Imbera, and Jeff Baloun, CEO, about their technology, I jumped at it. "Right now, telecom seems to be driving more function, higher speed, higher reliability, lower energy consumption, smaller size, and lower cost products," said Baloun.

"Traditionally the PCB structure was designed to form an electrical contact between the surface mounted components," added Tuominen. The PCB acted as a support with functionality limited to electrical interconnection. But PCBs have a high percent of unused space, which can be home for embedded components. Component embedding transforms a board into an intelligent, high-value system that provides the core for future enhancements. The whole PCB is used for component assembly. "Size reduction, increased functionality, improved thermal performance, and better electrical performances are just a few of the advantages," stated Tuominen.

The Imbera Integrated Module Board (IMB) technology starts out with active and passive component attachment. The next step builds up the core board over the components. Next, the core pressing stage takes place and vias are formed. The final step involves PCB processing with plating and patterning stages. Benefits? It is a short and robust manufacturing process for passive and active component integration. It can accommodate novel structure designs such as 3D grounds for EMI shielding or 3D component assembly. There's no wire bonding. Thermal vias on the front and back sides improve heat conductivity. It works with system in package (SiP) modules, single IC packages, or system in board (SIB)motherboards.

Imbera's process is based on a technology developed in 2005, when the third-generation IMB technology prototype products were introduced in low volumes. In some products, four-layer motherboards had two embedded silicon components with 99.97% yields. Imbera's goal, however, is to ramp this technology into high-volume production during 2008 and 2009, and that's what the Ibiden licensing agreement is all about.

I asked about board repair with embedded components. It wouldn't be easy, according to the experts. However, embedding is aimed more for advanced consumer electronics, where replacement is more common than repair. I'm expecting many more products to use this technology in the future.

IPC Midwest Wrap-up

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor
(September 29, 2008) SCHAUMBURG, Ill. — IPC Midwest closed its second annual show last week with higher attendance and an added live assembly line — A-Line — which IPC plans to run again next year.

On the whole, exhibitors expressed a positive vibe and good contacts at IPC Midwest. Not everyone was pleased with the attendee mix or volume, however. Jack Paster of RMD Instruments found that it lacked energy and excitement that he generally finds at IPC shows. Attendees came mainly from the six surrounding U.S. states, noted Michael Cotton, marketing communications manager at Omron Electronics LLC. Other exhibitors gauged the attendance as being extremely local — just the Illinois/Chicago area, while still others saw many national exhibitors. This is a good show, in that about 90% of our quality booth interactions were with new people, asserted John Perrotta, VP at Europlacer North America. Europlacer sold the inneo II placement system that they brought to the show. These systems were independently verified by CeTaQ at 5 sigma placing 01005s.

CyberOptics also discussed the U.S. customer base with us. For them, customer evaluations in the U.S. are a strong point, because the typical U.S. manufacturer has a set of parameters that they need met. Competitive low bidding is less important than machine performance for domestic testing facilities and EMS providers, explained Steve DiMarco, VP and GM, inspection systems business, CyberOptics, in a comparison of the U.S. and Asian AOI markets. CyberOptics showed an AOI system, as well as a solder paste inspection (SPI) machine, which caters to the more sophisticated, zero-defect, and high-reliability products often manufactured in the U.S.

Mike Fornelli, regional sales manager Assembléon, saw good attendance and good interest from a more local audience, summing up the show. Assembléon's pick-and-place systems received attention from some companies making the switch from thru-hole insertion to surface mount component placement, driven either by parts obsolescence or improved product capabilities. Some new-to-assembly OEMs also are attending the show, looking to start manufacturing their own products, Fornelli noted.

A final note on IPC comes from Bob Black, president, Juki. IPC presented Black with a commemoration of 20,000 Juki placement systems sold globally. Denny McGuirk, IPC president and Mary Mac Kinnon, who helped develop the IPC Midwest show, brought Juki the award on the show floor. "I'm honored to receive an award from IPC," Black said, adding that "it means even more coming from an association that does such good work."

For more on the show, visit The show will again take place September 20–24, 2009, in Schaumburg.