Tuesday, March 31, 2009

From the Show: SMT VISION Awards

Producing and hosting the SMT VISION award program each year involves an immense amount of work, coordination, and planning. But I look forward to the event. Each time some things change — the shape of the award was refreshed this year, for example — and each time certain things stay the same, comprising the principles on which we base the SMT VISION concept. These include independent, anonymous judges from industry, analyst, and academic points of view; product judging based on innovation, cost-effectiveness, speed/throughput improvements, quality, ease of use, maintainability/repairability, and environmental responsibility; and categories reflecting the needs of the industry, to name a few.

You can see the winners of the SMT VISION Awards on SMT’s Website, at SMT Celebrates Products and Services to the Electronics Assembly Industry With SMT VISION Awards. Look for full information on these products in the next issue, May/June SMT, with details on features and benefits offered by each winning product.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Monday, March 30, 2009

APEX 2009: Anticipation and Expectations

The IPC APEX Expo in 2008 exceeded most of our expectations for energy, attendance, and peer/customer interaction. Many lauded the move for the tradeshow from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Now in its sophomore year at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, APEX faces a drastically different economic climate: nerves and uncertainty on a grand scale. My bumpy, swaying flight into Vegas was either a metaphor for the feeling of the business world, or simply a free version of the rollercoaster at the New York, New York casino. The APEX show floor will open tomorrow, Tuesday the 31st, and I am interested to see what APEX brings.

Before we head out to the exhibits, we can set worrying aside and celebrate innovation with the 17th Annual SMT VISION Awards, taking place tonight. Some of the award judges commented on this year’s entries, noting that new ideas were coupled with price-consciousness and economical operation. Electronics manufacturers naturally gravitate toward lean principles, like low/no waste and efficient operation, and this really has value during tight economic times. Read more about the SMT VISION Awards on SMT’s homepage, smtonline.com, and in the SMT WEEK e-newsletter on Thursday, summarizing the APEX show.

I will be blogging from the show all week, sharing product news, insights from industry experts, and the “mood” on the show floor at this major event for electronics manufacturers.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

For more on APEX 2009, read:
From the Show: APEX Cleaning & Alternatives Subcommittee
Pre-show Preview: IPC APEX Expo
APEX Product Showcase
IPC APEX Expo Preview: Innovative Technology Center, Task Groups, and More
APEX Product Preview
Get Ready for APEX: Preview of Technical Sessions and Noteworthy Events
and see the APEX Product Preview in our March/April issue.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

APEX and Universities: The Collaboration is Academic

SMT has long considered our role to be a teaching magazine, educating electronics assemblers in new technologies or most efficient uses of existing ones. Affirming this commitment to education, we added S. Manian Ramkumar, Ph.D., faculty professor and director at the Center for Electronics Manufacturing and Assembly (CEMA), Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), to the Editorial Advisory Board in 2008. Professor Ramkumar has written multiple articles on the intersection of industry and academia, including A Workforce to Support Electronics Industry Growth and Industry Academia Partnerships: Sustaining Growth and Competitiveness. Industry itself is much a product of the universities and technical colleges that fuel it through the production of new methodologies, technologies, and engineers/technicians. I’m looking forward to the Academic Poster Competition, March 31–April 2 at IPC APEX in Las Vegas. Fourteen poster papers from domestic and international learning institutions were selected by the industry association. APEX attendees will vote on the top three posters.

This is IPC’s first year doing the poster competition, according to Tony Hilvers, IPC VP of industry programs, and they received 29 entries. With economies around the world searching for new growth and new ideas, greater industry/academia cooperation seems logical, immediately necessary, and vital. Academic achievement during a period of threatened economic growth and severe unemployment is a matter of bravery and resilience for students and schools willing to invest in an industry’s future. "We looked for innovative original research in accepting the winning posters," said IPC representative Kim Sterling. She adds, "We did it to create more access for the industry to what is currently going on in academic research — to build stronger relationships with the universities. In the past, there was a lot of R&D being done inside OEMs. With outsourcing, that has declined. This is a way of highlighting the R&D that is being done at the university level." Winners of the top three posters will be announced at the IPC APEX EXPO closing keynote on Thursday, April 2.

IPC’s top 14 poster papers are:
“Whisker and Hillock Growth Observed on Pure Sn, Sn-Cu, and Sn-Cu-Pb Electroplated Films” by Aaron Pedigo, Pylin Sarobol, John Blendell, and Carol Handwerker, Purdue University; “Silver-Bismuth Alloys as a High Temperature Lead-Free Solder” by Anthony Muza, Purdue University; and a third Perdue submission, “Utilizing the Thermodynamic Nanoparticle Size Effects for Low Temperature Pb-Free Solder Applications” by John P. Koppes, Purdue University.

“Room Temperature Sintering of Ag Nanoparticle Paste by Chemical Dip Treatment” by Daisuke Wakuda, Osaka University is an international submission, as is “Control of Tin Whisker Growth” by schoolmate Keun-Soo Kim, Osaka University.

The eastern U.S. research belt is well represented, with “Selective Electroless Nickel and Gold Plating of Individual Integrated Circuits for Gold Stud Bump Flip-Chip Attachment” by David Lee, Johns Hopkins University; “Reliability of Standard and Flexible Termination Multilayer Ceramic Capacitors under Temperature-Humidity-Bias Conditions” by Garry Brock and Michael Azarian, University of Maryland; and “Printed Wiring Board Delamination — Some Unique Findings” by John Folkerts, Johns Hopkins University. Also from the East Coast, “Bio-Composites from Chicken Feathers and Plant Oils for Printed Circuit Boards” by Mingjiang Zhan and Richard P. Wool, University of Delaware.

Not to be outdone, West Coast submissions include “The Calculation of Liquidus Temperature for Various BGA/CSP Assemblies” by Jianbiao (John) Pan, California Polytechnic State University and “Fluxless Bonding of Si Chips to Cu Substrates Using Ag-In System” by Pin J. Wang, University of California — Irvine.

One Polish submission will be in the poster competition: “Reliability Tests of Ecological Soldered Joints” by Professor Zdzislaw Drozd, Warsaw University of Technology.

The penultimate poster in our list is also from a European school. “Ink-jet Printed Electronics” by Rostyslav Lesyuk, Werner Jillek, Ewald Schmitt, Yaroslav Bobitski, and Zhen-Guo Yang comes from the National University “Lvivska polytechnika,” Lviv, Ukraine and University of Applied Science in Nuremberg, Germany.

Finally, Taiwan’s academic program is represented by “A Suitability Study for Mechanical Shear and Bend Tests as Alternatives for Thermal Cycling Reliability Test of Electronic Components” by Yeong-Shu Chen, Chen-Tse Fan, and Yu-chun Huang, Yuan-Ze University.

Chicken feathers? Printed electronics? Nano materials? These ventures do not look like the timid offerings of an industry clamming up in hard economic times. The ultimate test will come once these projects and students graduate into the electronics assembly “real world.” I hope we continue to have a flow of information between research and industry reality, as Sterling said, one informing the other, to continue advancement in our field.

Opportunities for learning abound at APEX. Check out these expo and conference events:
IPC APEX Expo Preview: Innovative Technology Center, Task Groups, and More
APEX Product Preview
APEX Products
IPC APEX Expo Preview: Technical Courses and Tutorials
Get Ready for APEX: Preview of Technical Sessions and Noteworthy Events
APEX Update: Designers Summit and Management Meetings
and see the APEX Product Preview in our March/April issue.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hints of Recovery

Have you ever noticed that when things are at their worst, you can always find a few hints of a recovery? In the midst of a patch of snow, yellow and purple crocus blooms promise that Spring will follow shortly. Where are the blooms in electronics?

We all agree that recent news seems dire. Early in March, market research company IDC announced that PC shipments would drop 4.5% in 2009. Worldwide PC shipments fell 1.9% in Q’04 2008 following five years of almost uninterrupted double-digit growth, IDC reported. Also check out Henderson Ventures' recent report on the PC sector. As the economic environment continues to deteriorate in 2009, PC shipments are expected to fall by more than 8% in the first half of the year, and gradually improve in Q’04 2009 to a small positive growth, IDC said. Is that a crocus?

Further, the U.S. was the destination for 37% of PC shipments in 2000. In 2008, the U.S. share is down to 23% and emerging markets are up to 49%. So the shift of markets for PCs continues to show. A crocus in the PC market is in notebooks and ultra portable devices. Who thought that the mobile Internet device (MID) would be such a success story for Intel’s Atom processor?

Speaking of Intel, if you only noticed that Intel is closing three assembly test facilities in Southeast Asia, and has cut staff accordingly, you might have missed that it is bringing up a new assembly test facility in Vietnam later this year. Closing older facilities in a slower cycle and investing in a growing, more cost-efficient area is smart business.

Most of us have wandered into Circuit City, if only to drool over the flat screen TVs and generally look for a bargain before that company closed its 567 U.S. stores permanently. How sad to think of all those employees from the nation’s second-largest electronics retailer having to look for employment. How many knowledgable electronics sellers can Best Buy absorb? Some may have sought employment at Staples, since this retailer has begun supplying notebooks and PCs more than ever. And although they don’t claim to be a “genius” crew as Apple uses, the employees in the PC area are hands-on at Staples. Markets are shifting for certain.

For the economy as a whole, even experts are guessing when recovery will begin, though many have come up with a safe Q’01 2010 estimate. Right now, I’m willing to watch for crocus buds until the daffodils, tulips, and forsythia — so to speak — light up the PCB market.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

PCB Design for Manufacturing: Soup to Nuts

Sunstone Circuits and National Instruments announced a collaboration this week, with National Instruments joining Sunstone’s “ECOsystem design environment” for PCB design. Sunstone is aiming for a design approach that brings customers from disparate CAD files, mechanical layouts, bills of materials (BOMs), and the like into one sleek supply chain that integrates module design, parts ordering, physical planning, and more.

National Instruments adds a new gear to the machine. Customers using NI Multisim and NI Ultiboard can order prototype PCBs via the Sunstone ECOsystem, and Sunstone is hoping more off-the-shelf hardware providers will follow suit. Electronics assemblers are stretched to the limit for resources and resource management, Terry Heilman, president and CEO of Sunstone, explained, and automating the process, eliminating human error and time-wasting activities, is the way to bring PCB design and prototyping into manageable and valuable work schedules. The full news story about National and Sunstone’s collaboration is available on smtonline.com.

Small design problems snowball, classically, causing massive problems at the manufacturing stage. Design for manufacture (DfM) is one of the most important tools prototype/new product designers can use to stay on time and on budget. Consider a disconnect between mechanical and electrical design. At the design phase, with DfM, component height tolerances are established and the finished assembly fits properly in its case when manufactured. Without DfM, one component may be too tall for the PCB’s case, for example. A new component must be substituted, BOMs changed, new parts ordered, etc.

By adding National Instruments to the ECOsystem, Sunstone is amassing companies that specialize in certain areas — National for PCB assemblies, Digi-Key for component sourcing, Screaming Circuits for PCB build — and properly networking them to serve the electronics designer and manufacturer most efficiently and transparently. Fewer people and less time, less waste, lower investment are all goals for the ECOsystem users.

Recently, I was part of a team that launched SMT’s newest sister publication, PVWorld. We launched the Website on schedule, not without any bumps and baubles and retracing our steps. The element that kept work flowing was a close interaction with the website designers, content managers, and other online gurus that instructed us and knew how to resolve every issue that came up. Can it work? Can the new product introduction (NPI) supply chain progress smoothly like a well-oiled machine? It may not happen every time — certain parts are not available through certain distributors, last-minute changes from above may push designers back a step or two, freak snowstorms may hold up a delivery truck on its way to the EMS provider — some wrenches in the gears cannot be helped. But the ECOsystem concept represents an ideal that Sunstone is pushed toward achieving, adding partners at a fast clip, including the most recent National. The ECOsystem works like a consortium product, with all companies contributing toward the goal of DfM.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Monday, March 2, 2009

Goodbye AOI

Shedding noncore business units is a fairly common, though not overwhelmingly popular (see the latest CFO study by Prime Advantage) method of cutting costs and improving the bottom line. With the international markets fluctuating wildly and manufacturers bunkering down for the economic turmoil, Agilent and Orbotech have divested their automatic optical inspection (AOI) businesses.

This week, Orbotech announced a buyer for their legacy and current-generation AOI systems, choosing Orpro Services s.r.l. Agilent, having announced their divesture just in February 2009, has yet to name a partner, buyer, or other outlet for the AOI and automatic X-ray inspection (AXI) intellectual property (IP) they hold.

Companies outside of the inspection sector have made the change as well. Siemens reorganized its massive business structure, moving electronics assembly machines in with its Drive Technologies division, and moving machine vision to Microscan.

For assemblers and OEMs purchasing capital equipment, the key information is who will service my new, expensive system; where will spare parts, add-ons, and software updates come from; and what useable life can I now expect for the product? With Orbotech’s Orpro Services acquisition, the newly formed company, Orpro Vision, will handle all of these services and follow-ons. For Agilent, decisions are still in the future about where the inspection systems will end up and in what form. The company has provided a dedicated Website, www.agilent.com/find/inspection, for all questions from manufacturers.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor