Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama on Electronics: So Far, So Good

When a new President takes the oath, you never know quite what to expect. Will he be techno phobic or techno savvy? Will the military side of electronics continue to grow as it did under Bush? Does Obama actually use electronics, like his buzzed-about BlackBerry, much? Does he promote the growth of new areas, such as solar power and other green electronics?

Little by little, favorable responses are emerging. Solar power was touched upon in the inaugural address. On the military side, he has named Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a friend of the defense industry, to continue in that position. He also mentioned that he will increase U.S. ground forces by 65,000 soldiers. It seems to be business as usual in this electronics sector. More soldiers equals more electronics devices, more transport systems, more computers. And local news in that area seems to be positive. On January 19, LaBarge Inc. ( announced that the company had received $2.9 million in contracts from BAE Systems to manufacture electronic assemblies for its A3 Bradley Combat Systems vehicles; BAE will be well stocked in electronics. Bradley Combat Systems played a central role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and they continue to provide outstanding survivability, mobility, and combat capability to U.S. soldiers in close-combat urban situations as well as in open combat. The Bradley fulfills five critical mission roles: infantry fighting vehicle, cavalry fighting vehicle, fire support vehicle, battle command vehicle, and engineer squad vehicle for the Army's Heavy Brigade Combat Teams. Production on these contracts is expected to continue through June 2009 at LaBarge's Huntsville, Ark., facility.

And is Obama techno savvy? We certainly know that he plans to use his BlackBerry while in office. It was touch-and-go at first. “I want to be able to have voice, other than the people immediately working for me, be able to reach out and … send me a message about what’s happening in America,” he said. Before he was sworn in, the U.S. Secret Service tried to force him to give up this device, thinking that a hacker could possibly break in and gain access to confidential informational that would affect national security. Reportedly, Obama’s BlackBerry is the 8830 World Edition with GPS features, and it is true that virtually no one is safe from unscrupulous hackers. One thing that most voters noticed early on was that Obama supporters communicated quite well, using the internet as a fund-raising and organizational tool. Why give it up now?

Typically, the U.S. Secret Service prohibits the President from carrying any sort of cell phone to minimize security risks. By law, all the president's e-mails must be recorded and made available to the public. It appears that the president has won this battle. Press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that officials negotiated a secure way for the president to retain his BlackBerry to communicate with senior staff and personal friends just to keep in touch with folks.

Obama also reinforced the need to have all health records digitized within five years to control costs. Have you noticed how many X-rays are already in digital format, saving the high cost of film? Doctors are also carrying around sturdy computers as well in many hospitals. “This cuts waste, eliminates red tape, and reduces the need to repeat expensive medical tests," he said, inferring that the switch also would save lives by reducing the number of errors in medicine. I wonder if they sterilize the keypads.

Obama certainly seems to be the most electronics-aware president that we have ever had in office. Let’s see how that affects the growth of our industry.

Gail Flower, editor at large, SMT

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Taking Cue from CES, Window-shop Your Work

With Macworld and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) generating a modest amount of excitement in the midst of depressing economic indicators, sorting through the new product releases, news wires, and other media outlets has become a mixture of electronics news and online shopping. Hybrid lawn mowers, color-changing iPod-enabled touch-sensor-laden alarm clocks, flexible wrist-worn communicators, and other devices make good use of LED technology, flex circuits, and advanced electro-mechanical design. By far the most hyped new products in this era of tight-belted dour consumers are the thinnest, most mobile PCs and Macs. And while we're talking about hype, let's take a lot at the new crop of green electronics.

Though much of Macworld's buzz focused on the health of Apple founder Steve Jobs, iPods still were the darling of accessory and upgrade providers. Thin, feature-rich, miniaturized computing devices are driving the consumer electronics business; no surprise there. Macworld hosted the debut of Axiotron's Modbook Pro tablet computer. HP unveiled a new mini laptop, HP Mini 2140 Notebook PC, weighing 2.6 pounds. AMD released a platform for ultrathin notebooks, based on the new AMD Athlon Neo processor and ATI Radeon X1250 integrated graphics. They are targeting "exceedingly thin and light OEM designs with rich entertainment capabilities at an affordable price."

And it isn't just computers. Hitachi's CES showcase included a 50" ultra thin (35 mm) plasma TV prototype and the next-generation 15-mm LCD display prototype with RGB LED back light. Speed and high-quality user experience — meaning rich graphics and interconnectivity — are highly touted on the next generation of mobile devices debuting at the shows. Toshiba, for example, announced support for the ATI Mobility Radeon HD4000 series of graphics processors in its laptops. NEC Electronics America Inc.'s power management IC lineup at CES was tailored to the mobile computing, mobile entertainment device market. Intel highlighted its Centrino 2 processor technology-based systems, as well as a new kind of personal-area network designed to link up cameras, printers, and other Wi-Fi devices around the user.

Toshiba also promoted its Portégé R600 ultraportable laptop PC, with a twist. In addition to portability and capability, the laptop is ranked one of the most eco-conscious laptop computers sold in the U.S., by the federal Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), according to Toshiba. The green electronics trend has indisputably impacted Macworld and CES, with many brands advertising the recyclability and low energy usage of electronic devices. Is this the result of RoHS and similar legislation, or part of the larger green trend sweeping apparel, automotive, flooring, and other industries?

It's important to remember where these products came from — innovative PCB design and prototyping assembly are in evidence across the board — when looking at the finished goods. If you're designing electronic products or manufacturing them for a designer, think like the consumer, or other end user, as often as possible. Will I drop this often? Under what temperature/moisture conditions would this be used? Would I pay this price? More? Less? Most new product introductions (NPIs), if not all, should have a priorities list attached to them: cost, reliability, harsh environment endurance, etc. Thinking like the user rather than the fabricator can help us hone these priorities to more exacting assessments.

While thinking like the consumers of electronic products, you might want to check out the winners in the Crunchies, an Internet-voting-based awards program for compelling new technologies, interfaces, and tech businesses. Thinking like an electronics consumer can be fun, and it also can help your electronics design and manufacturing business in intangible ways.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

The Outreach Spirit

One of the best parts of our industry is the spirit of cooperation, camaraderie, and outreach that seems to embody all that’s best in human nature. Even in rough financial times people seem to find the time to give of their expertise. At every major tradeshow our magazines present a panel discussion to add to the program, for instance, and there are always companies willing to step up and participate in our programs, from the package-to-board assembly one this year at SMTAI, to the A-Line assembly set-up and discussion at IPC Midwest, to the board to package challenges at IPC Midwest, to the future panel on EMS business issues at APEX and many more. As a magazine, we have no commercial reason to participate, but we do so because it spreads the knowledge in another word format, other than written or digital. For the many companies sharing their experts, their equipment, their time, it’s good exposure for them, but at the same time they’re going out of their normal work pattern and contributing.

I recently returned from a cooperative effort with MEPTEC that helped them celebrate their 30th anniversary with a program titled, Packaging Developments and Innovations: From System Design to Integrated Delivery. We recruited the keynote speaker, Glenn Daves, director of packaging technology, Freescale, and many of the other presenters. My session, “Package-to-Board Assembly Trends,” featured Lee Smith, VP of business development at Amkor, who talked about challenging applications driving package innovations; Adrian Murphy, product engineering manager at STATS ChipPAC, who presented on flip chip packaging trends and opportunities; and Gheorghe Pascariu, business development manager at Unovis, who talked about high-speed placement of wafer-level devices using SMT equipment. Approximately 140 people attended this day-long seminar in San Jose with four sessions, tabletop exhibits and a keynote luncheon. Every one of us learned about more than just his or her own segment of the industry, and the common sharing enriched us all. JoAnn Stromberg of the SMTA was in the audience as a goodwill boost to MEPTEC to help celebrate the 30th year of MEPTEC’s existence and to pick up ideas between organizations. At the evening, end of day reception, local visitors came who couldn’t make the many day-long educational sessions. Everyone left with a book, a CD, some business cards, a few new friends, and a little more knowledge.

At times when traveling to conferences in China, Europe, or Japan, landing in impressive airports that are clean, modern, and organized, riding on their state-of-the-art fast trains, I wonder why some of our airports seem to be so broken down, out of date, along with our transportation infrastructure. Perhaps our helping hands and active intelligence should reach inward to fix what’s wrong right here by working on the “grid” energy supply structure. The same spirit of outreach which our industry embodies can also be applied to the problems at hand: renewable energy, transportation infrastructure, healthcare, environment protection, child care and family support and so many other necessary basics. We can do this.

One electronics company claims, “We make things smarter.” But it’s not just knowing what to do, it’s the basic nature of wanting to contribute, wanting to share and apply the knowledge that improves the world around us that matters. If we are ever to recover the dream of democracy and capitalism, we must first apply the knowledge that we have to hard work, education, and the desire to leave behind a better life for those who follow. The next year may be a tough one for the whole world economically, but I have no doubt that we can face it with renewed determination, intelligence, hard work, and still keep the spirit of sharing and caring for one another intact.

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief

Make the Most of Outsourcing Partnerships

Outsource partnerships exist in just about every sector of the global economy, but a substantial portion of the outsourcing industry is electronic and electrical manufacturing. With economic worries stifling growth, outsourcing is a useful way to add resources without increasing staff, training, facility, and other costs. Contractors, outsourcing partners, and design-and-build partners can fill niches across the board. How do you end up with a successful outsourcing partnership for both the IP owner and the contract/outsource affiliate? John Bourneuf and Wayne LeBlanc of Belcan Engineering Group discuss the right ways to outsource, partner with OEMs and designers, and define supplier/manufacturer relationships.

Bourneuf, GM of Belcan's operations in Lynn, Mass.; and LeBlanc, business development manager for the Special Equipment Engineering Division (SEED) in Solon, Ohio, presented the SMTA Boston Chapter with "Successful Partnering With an Advanced Engineering Resource Company — To Complete Advanced Technology Projects On-time and Within Budget." They stress shared governance and buy-in for a project from both the contracted team and the intellectual property (IP) holder. For example, an EMS provider taking on a high-reliability power electronic assembly project with box build must have the knowledge, skills, workforce, and communication infrastructure to interact with the power supply OEM about design, project budget, certification/product test, etc. This reminded me of our EMS Trends panel at IPC Midwest, where we heard advice on the EMS/OEM relationship. Established metrics to track a project are essential for both parties, Bourneuf stressed. Other aspects — IP security, cost analysis, locations — should be discussed before the project starts, not as they potentially disrupt the manufacturing flow.

We've seen some high-profile outsourcing disasters in the EMS market, particularly involving high-reliability/high-security assemblies, such as those for medical or military products. To prevent disaster and to profit, protect IP. "Safeguarding information is the lifeblood of successful outsourcing," Bourneuf noted.

Customers must also be confident in your knowledge and expertise in the niche they are handing over to you. Knowledge gained in one project can apply to another challenge, provided that this isn't spread from one company to their competitor, advised LeBlanc. Another aspect to consider is risk — high-pressure prototyping work, tight cost margins, and lucrative but not guaranteed contracts are just a few examples of the risk inherent in most products. Recently, TFI began promoting a partnership concept called "success sharing" that divvies up risk and profits with a new perspective.

Bourneuf and LeBlanc concluded their talk with several examples of outsourcing partnerships, from complete design-through-build, to manufacturing one aspect of a system, to redesigning and adding onto an existing assembly. If it exists, it potentially can be outsourced. If you're considering outsourcing projects, determine what your core competencies are and partner with strong companies to fill gaps in other areas. If you take on contracts from IP holders, clarify your strengths so your offering is more than just services. You fill a niche to make that company stronger.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Bourneuf and LeBlanc may be contacted at

Inside EFD's Solder and Dispense Equipment Manufacturing Operations

The open house to commemorate EFD Inc.'s new solder paste and dispensing equipment manufacturing facilities and headquarters in East Providence, R.I., fell on an astonishingly beautiful wintery day, right after a vicious ice storm. With power knocked out across the New England region, important trappings such as digital camera, business cards, and my cell phone were trapped in SMT's New Hampshire office, which was locked down with power lines strewn about the roads. After an unsuccessful attempt to break in, I set off for East Providence, to tour the expanded EFD location with senators, the governor of Rhode Island, and other distinguished guests.

Left to Right: EFD president Peter Lambert, U.S. Senator Jack Reed, East Providence Mayor Joseph Larisa Jr, and Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri.

EFD was founded in 1963, and to commemorate this, EFD's employee with the most longevity, Laurie Higgins, cut the ribbon in the open house ceremony. More than 200 employees run EFD in R.I., and president Peter Lambert was frank about their contribution. Relocating to the larger facility was necessary for the growth of the company, he stated, but just as important was keeping the skilled and knowledgeable workforce EFD has built up in the Providence area. Their contribution to the economic and social well-being of the local area was evident. Governor Donald Carcieri, who was a competitor of EFD's when he worked in the metals industry, commended EFD for keeping manufacturing jobs in the state. Other government representatives echoed this sentiment, and Mayor Joseph S. Larisa, Jr., declared December 12th "EFD Day" in the city. While the glowing speeches from state and city officials, economic development directors, and the like were impressive to hear, I was eager to tour the manufacturing areas resultant from EFD's investment in the location. This facility combines four prior operations into one cohesive building.

EFD is a unique company, in that it manufactures solders as well as the dispensing equipment for solder paste, adhesive, and other fluids. In the customer demo lab, I saw everything from manual dispensing cartridges to EFD's automatic, non-contact jetting system. Customers can send EFD their materials and goals, and the engineers in the lab will develop dispensing parameters for them, sending back specifications and video from the demo lab. Other new areas included a display of tips, valves, and syringes outside of that manufacturing area for these products. Standard and custom syringes and other components are fabricated here. Various sizes of one component, such as pistons, are designated by color. The manufacturing equipment targets high-precision, high-quality plastics, with additions like HEPA filters to limit the possibility of scratches or irregular surfaces. EFD also attaches tips to barrels for customers, a service that is growing in popularity. Components can be packaged into dispensing "kits," including the barrel, tip, piston, and end cap. EFD does three kinds of fluid packaging: their own products, custom dispensing applications for customers, and packaging for their solder products.

In the solder manufacturing room, EFD engineers explained that they make a huge range of solder paste formulations, and also will tweak formulae to meet a new requirement brought by a customer. "If we develop a formula for one specification, such as high-reliability, we apply that knowledge to other applications, such as high-end consumer PCB assemblies," elaborated EFD's representatives. Even further, an alloy developed for rapid reflow properties may serve the hand soldering market as well. This kind of solder development and new product engineering takes place next to the raw materials supply, mixing, and quality assurance testing for existing solder formulations, so the opportunity for knowledge sharing and co-development is rich. In fact, across every area of the new facility — accounting, syringe manufacturing, shipping, etc. — employees lauded the ease of communication enabled by the combined and modernized operations. Similar to the customer demo lab in the dispensing area, the solder labs include a reflow oven, screen printer, and other equipment to test out processes and optimize alloys. Customers can call on EFD to tweak a reflow profile, for instance, or to resolve a soldering issue with new parameters, or a new alloy when necessary.

Molding and tip assembly supervisor Steve Costa explains how to identify a high-quality dispensing tip.

Since EFD produces very different product groups in solder pastes and dispensing vehicles, they accordingly use different methods to stock and ship product. Both are designed for efficiency and accuracy, and cater to the needs of the product. For nonperishable dispensing systems — tips, cartridges, etc. — lean manufacturing methodologies of Kanban and heijunka were implemented. Kanban is a color-coded system to keep manufacturing and shipping on the same page, so to speak, about stock levels and customer demand. Heijunka is a leveling system that helps eliminate order surprises. In the perishable solders and fluxes area, customer replenishment is all about measured turns and low inventory, keeping fresh solder at the electronics manufacturing facilities. Shelf-life-related issues are wasteful for the customer, and thus for EFD, they explained. The company also will fill small orders for producers such as military/aerospace electronics manufacturers, which typically do not use a set amount of solder at regular intervals.

Touring EFD's East Providence campus was very much like a two-for-one visit — injection molders for the dispensing cartridges in one room, paddle mixers for the solder alloys in another. It is a testament to organization and employee enthusiasm that the two sides of EFD come together seamlessly in the building, and also collaborate effectively in applicable areas, such as solder paste packaging. The operations are streamlined, efficient, and productive. And there's still room for more, as the investments in equipment for quality testing, product packaging, warehousing, etc., are ongoing. Lean manufacturing practices are evident across the board, and EFD is reaping the benefits of a business mindset that prizes efficiency in-house over outsourcing.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Dross: Waste, Revenue Source, or Just Another Process to Optimize?

Dross, a byproduct of wave soldering, is often thought of as waste, a residue that forms on the surface of a metal from oxidation that looks bubbly and is filled with metal impurities. This mass of solid impurities floating on molten metal in wave solder machines can be removed from the process, and recycled by shipping to the recycling site of an outsourced processor or in-house using specialized equipment. With the use of lead-free alloys, the need to recycle now has a monetary consideration as well. EVS International's Simon Norman gives a concise comparison of in-house or outsourced considerations based on the experience of TT electronics plc.

There are a lot of companies that provide help with dross. EVS solder recovery systems ( are said to be able to recover as much as 75% of solder from dross by weight in a 10-minute cycle. Since a clean wave system is the goal, this is one way to add efficiency and eliminate waste. And there are others as well.

Greeley, Colo.-based FCT Recovery ( works with customers on recovering metals from dross. Customers ship leaded and lead-free dross to FCT and the processor pays them a competitive price for this recyclable scrap.

Los Angeles, Calif.-based P. KAY Metals ( has a material called MS2 that does not mix with solder, but is added to the solder to eliminate dross formation. This is said to substantially lower waste formation.

Other factors affect the amount of dross produced. Denis Barbini, Ph.D., of Vitronics Soltec ( explains that optimizing the wave solder operation so that pot temperature and wave turbulence are in spec creates less dross in the first place. He adds that this should always be the first step in dross control. The less dross produced, the lower the waste recycling need.

Other experts mentioned excessive flux on the PCB, which is carried into the wave, contributing to dross production. A nitrogen blanket over the solder pot also helps control dross creation by lowering oxidation. There are many ways to attack the problems related to dross, so how could I leave out the literary method?

Limerick to Dross
EMS had a problem with dross,
Which caused a considerable loss.
Outsourced or inside,
Where the problem resides,
Must act like a rolling stone that will carry no moss.

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief

See comments on this article from dross expert Ray Chartrand, in his letter to the editor. Click Here

How Can We Benefit from What’s Happening in Solar?

I’m writing to you from Belgium-based IMEC, an independent research center that bridges the gap between fundamental university research and technology development in industry. I came to learn more about solar cells and how PCB manufacturing and assembly knowledge might transfer to other areas, expanding our market in interesting ways.

The recently reported 40% annual growth rate in photovoltaics (PV) is enough to draw attention to that market. I talked to Paul Heremans, department director of nano-engineered component science and technology at IMEC. At IMOMEC, an associated lab located on the Hasselt University campus, IMEC is working on a reproducible process for high-efficiency organic solar cells using Plextronics’ Plexicore materials and inks. According to Heremans, the method to stabilize the nanomorphology of organic solar cells results in a lifetime improvement of at least a factor of 10. By creating stabilized solar cells, this breakthrough paves the way to commercial organic solar cells with an operational lifetime of more than five years and efficiencies of more than 10%, IMEC’s present goal.

However, the efficiency and operation of organic solar cells depends on the nanomorphology of the active layer. A stable mix of organic compounds in the active layer that can trap the light’s energy and transport it to an electric contact is a large boost towards a robust organic-based cell that can be mass manufactured. IMEC/IMOMEC’s latest method and new conjugated polymers for stabilizing the active layer have shown no degradation of efficiency after more than 100 hours. The cells achieved efficiencies near 4%, state-of-the-art for this type of cell. IMEC is driving for organic multi-junction solar cells with an efficiency of 10% by 2012.

“Right now, it’s all about finding better materials and combinations of materials, not to mention industry partners for making the most robust solar product,” adds Heremans.

IMEC started working on solar cells in 1984 with crystalline silicon (Si) as the backbone of its photovoltaic activities. Crystalline Si solar cells still command 90% of the solar market. And although other options also are important, R&D on crystalline Si solar cells forms a fundamental part of IMEC’s photovoltaic research. This type of cell uses techniques that are closer to front-end electronics manufacturing: doping, metallization, wafer thinning, and thin-film processing. Fabs, not EMS manufacturers, have a firm grip on these processes. But the organic materials side of things, using and printing inks, would seem a natural technology transfer for our PCB board-assembly process, once the process stabilizes.

Now, as I ponder this information during the long trip home from Belgium, I can’t help but think of the creative things that EMS providers already do that are just amazing. Many have taken on test and programming previously done by the OEM customer. Others now can go into the stacking of package-on-package (PoP) devices. Many handle final box builds on-site. And the medical side of board build goes way beyond flexible circuits and cleanroom manufacturing. What’s one more challenge to our industry? Just one more mountain to climb.

Gail Flower, editor-in-chief

The Restructuring Supply Chain

The reorganization effort is underway across the supply chain lately, as the home loan collapse snowballed into the credit crunch, which in turn has snowballed into the global financial crisis. Respondents to our 2009 forecast question, "How can PCB assemblers cut costs in 2009?" unanimously pointed to smart management and lean manufacturing. Growth is achievable in a down market, with brain power and strong organization, and sacrifice. Companies from Camtek to Rockwell Collins announced cost-cutting plans of late, proving that no sector or industry will escape the situation rocking the global financial markets. Even Harvard University is troubled, as the school is facing worries related to the "roiling turbulence" of global finance, as university president Drew Faust puts it.

A company's realignment, restructuring, or reorganization can affect their customers, their suppliers, and their market. What are we committed to saving? R&D, surprisingly. Not only will companies retain and increase R&D spending, but some will partner more with third-party research institutes. As European research group IMEC sees it, collaborative research reduces not just the cost of R&D, but the risk associated with it. Especially since not all experiments result in success. However they do it, companies are taking pains to preserve their ability to innovate. Let's take a look at the recent announcements from major companies and what impact they might have.

AOI provider Camtek Ltd. implemented a cost reduction plan, one element of which involves reducing its global work force by about 55 employees. This reduction represents about 12% of the company's total workforce. "We have preserved our R&D capabilities to position ourselves for the future recovery of our markets," said Rafi Amit, Camtek's CEO, adding that "the inspection industry will be driven by technological advanced during the economic slowdown." He pointed out that customers rely on support from their suppliers even more in these times than normal, so targeted product development must coincide with efforts on technical support. Read more about the restructuring at

Cadence Design Systems Inc. began a restructuring program to focus the design software company's strategy, streamline business, and improve operational execution and financial performance, representatives explain. The design software company expects to achieve annual operating expense savings of at least $150 million through a combination of workforce and other expense reductions. They will eliminate at least 625 fulltime positions, representing 12% of its global employee base, plus a substantial number of contractors and consultants. The restructuring plan emphasizes market segments where Cadence foresees tangible rewards, such as mixed-signal design, advanced verification, and low-power design, said Charlie Huang, senior VP, member and chief of staff of the interim office of the chief executive. Cadence decided to focus on core business areas, and says that it will continue to address the needs of semiconductor and electronic systems design customers. See more at

Two major equipment suppliers, Siemens and Assembléon, also face restructuring efforts. Siemens obviously has the larger task, as the company-wide trimming will touch on many divisions within and without the electronics manufacturing supply chain. Read the full story in our November issue News. MSD handling products provider Totech previously announced the restructuring of their Americas organization with the formation of Totech Universal and the appointment of Protean Marketing to manage the new company.

High-reliability electronics OEM Rockwell Collins produced a cost reduction plan to manage the impact of the economic downturn, such as air travel declines, delays and cancellations in several government programs, and the prolonged Boeing strike, according to Rockwell Collins chairman, president, and CEO Clay Jones. Rockwell Collins will reduce discretionary spending, delay merit increases, manage current staffing levels, lay off approximately 300 employees across the company and reduce the number of contract laborers by approximately 100 people. This layoff represents an estimated 1.5% of the current workforce. Operations staff will see the largest percentage of layoffs, Rockwell Collins reports, while contract laborers will be trimmed out primarily in the engineering area. Every department is working on plans to implement the cost-cutting measures, explained Pam Tvrdy, company spokeswoman. Reducing workforce by less than 2% is mild compared to most restructuring plans underway in the industry, so Rockwell Collins will need to pull more money out of related cut backs, like discretionary spending and pay raises, if their plan is going to be significant. While Rockwell Collins has reduced its originally projected 2009 R&D budget, funding levels in this area will still grow modestly compared to 2008. "R&D is absolutely necessary to remain competitive in the current global economy. We take great pride in the fact that on average investment in R&D spendings approximately 20% of our total sales," reports Tvrdy. Learn more at Back on Halloween, United Press International reported that Motorola Inc. would lay off 3,000 workers as part of a plan to save $800 million, citing CEO Greg Brown. About 2,000 layoffs would come from the OEM's mobile phone division, and Motorola may postpone its planned breakup, offering no date for when the company would split into two. The previously announced target date for spinning off the company's cell phone division was October 2008.

Even peripheral supply chain companies will impact your daily operations at manufacturing facilities. For example, shipping company DHL will restructure, phasing out its domestic freight to focus on international transport, targeting phase-out by January 2009. The restructuring measures will reduce U.S. operating costs by over 80%; 71% of all international shipments to and out of major metropolitan areas in the U.S. will see improved service levels. The company foresees an "extremely challenging 2009," said John Mullen, global CEO of DHL Express. DHL's U.S. Express business will discontinue domestic-only air and ground products. As a result of the change, DHL Express will close all of its U.S. ground hubs, reduce the number of stations from 412 to 103 and retain 3,000 to 4,000 U.S.-based employees serving DHL's international express customers.

Semiconductor and electronics supply companies, like Sun Microsystems and Orbotech, are announcing massive restructuring plans seemingly every day. Others like Intel began making changes back in 2006. Even if a company is in sound standing, investors or equity holders may not have such strong balance sheets, and the company can be altered as a result. As more companies go into restructuring phases to protect themselves or realign with the current market, the industry will evolve and change as well. Unfortunately, you cannot assume your business is bullet-proof because your financials and operations are in good order. As Camtek's Amit put it, "This [global slowdown] is a situation we have never before faced. We should review our strategy daily and act as necessary." Widespread volatility can and has devalued companies by faulty association to the financial crisis, or simply through investor panic, so vigilance and awareness are in order. Strong relationships with suppliers and customers can minimize disturbance to the manufacturing floor and inventory rooms.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

The Evolution of Start-ups: Nextreme Meets Its Market

Start-up technology companies don't have it easy. They face an uphill battle from the start, with strong competition, limited access to resources, and — sometimes — a market that isn't yet ready for their offering. Recently, we spoke with Paul Magill, Ph.D., VP of marketing and business development at Nextreme, to learn about their new agreement with Voxtel Inc. The company will be incorporating Nextreme's OptoCooler UPF4 thermoelectric cooler into its VDHAX line of avalanche photodiode (APD) receivers. This marks a new phase in Nextreme's evolution as a company, says Magill, asserting that the market is now ready for the thermal management advances they can provide.

The APDs suit military laser radar and optical communications, as well as commercial telecommunication applications. Adding OptoCooler thermal management to the component improves efficiency, mitigates noise, enhances the spectral and frequency response; improves overall gain, adds reliability and a longer life span, and saves space on the board. This device, if equipped with traditional cooling technology, like a bulk eTec, would be too large for most modern PCB designs in these sectors, Magill explained. Using the company's thin-film thermal bump technology, the OptoCooler UPF4 was integrated directly into the VDH-A TO-8 package. This solution delivers more than 45°C of cooling during operation, removing a maximum of 610 mW of heat at 85°C ambient in a 0.55 mm2 active footprint. As the market for denser, smaller PCBs in telecom applications grows, Nextreme is targeting it directly with the miniaturized Tecs, requiring no additional circuitry or board space.

Voxtel's APDs integrate the Nextreme OptoCooler technology.

APD performance usually is limited by thermally generated noise, which can be reduced by cooling the chip. The OptoCooler UPF4 and OptoCooler UPF40, for LED applications, pump heat at rates of 0.4 and 4.0 W/cm2, respectively. APDs can multiply the signal produced by incident light by as much as 100 million times, enabling photon detection at very low light levels. Cooling an optical device also makes the LED brighter, Magill said, and the LEDs get an extended lifecycle with the improved heat-to-light energy output ratio.

This isn't the only news coming out of Nextreme these days. Sensitive to market demand, the company developed non-lead-based solder processes for use in manufacturing its thin-film thermoelectric products. As the replacement for leaded solder, Nextreme is using a gold/tin (AuSn) alloy, which they say maintains joint strength and thermal conductivity. With a melting point of 278°C, AuSn permits standard processes to integrate Nextreme devices into photonic, microelectronic, and optoelectronic device packages (laser diodes, semiconductor optical amplifiers and sensors, etc.) and to operate at higher temperatures. This higher melting point, along with established use in the optoelectronics market, proved the alloy's suitability for their micro-scale thermoelectric products.

As a growing start-up company, Nextreme has gone through many phases. Defining what kind of company they are — a component fabricator, an intellectual property (IP) provider, or something else entirely — was dictated as much by the market as it was by the company. Keeping to its core thermal management technology and adapting to the trends of environmentally friendly production, cost-effectiveness, and miniaturization are paying dividends. So long as the company remains agile, they will continue to provide us with new products, technologies, and applications that are in step with the needs of electronics assemblers.

And on a side note, as you're reading this editorial, we have a new President Elect in the U.S. I won't bombard you with any partisan talk, but I do have one question. How happy will you be when you turn on a radio or TV without encountering any campaign ads? That's a win for everyone.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

For a packaging perspective on our interview with Nextreme's VP of marketing and business development, see Advanced Packaging's coverage.