Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Materials Enabled Designs: The Materials Engineering Perspective to Product Design and Manufacturing

Most of electronics assembly is achieved in non-mechanical bonding processes: lamination, plating, soldering, underfill, encapsulation, and so on. Even mechanical joining — such as board-to-board connectors — is based in one or more material-based interconnect. I promised a review of a materials-focused text in the blog post, New Materials for an Evolving Industry, and Michael Pfeifer's text delivers the well-rounded, prototype-to-production viewpoint of materials usage we were looking for.

Pfeifer’s new text book, Materials Enabled Designs: The Materials Engineering Perspective to Product Design and Manufacturing, published by Butterworth-Heinemann, an imprint of Elsevier, covers design, materials, manufacturing processes, reliability, quality and process control, yield, and cost management with materials as the focus. Engineers should “better understand the risks and rewards associated with…materials used in a product; the manufacturing processes used to produce the product; and the suppliers of materials, components, and subassemblies used in a product,” Pfeifer asserts.

The book also has sections focused on total product design practices and smart operating procedures, which requires most companies to specify components without strict controls over all materials used. Pfeifer offers these tips:
“Start with materials that offer a high probability of success. Do not consider the entire world of materials, components, and subassemblies for use in a product. Work out all details of a strategic custom component or subassembly before using a low-cost supplier. Consolidate materials within and across product platforms. Develop design guidelines. Include a budget for materials engineering support.”

Flow charts and matrices throughout the chapters are visual prompts to readers, asking them to consider product design with discipline and constructive creativity.

While a large portion of the text is devoted to material properties and materials science, the theme throughout is about perspective. The reader should emerge with a stronger background in properties of solders, surface finishes, etc., and — more importantly — with a concept of the role materials play in a product’s success, from design to sourcing to manufacturing and test. As Pfeifer states, poor understanding of materials science can lead to “delayed product launch, field failures, poor customer satisfaction, and poor sales.” He encourages “understanding the relationship between the properties of a material, its compositions, its microscopic structures, and how it was processed.” For example, a high-volume assembly may be dense and small with high computing power, but if the solder specified is easily degraded by the print process, frequent downtime at the printer will kill expected yields. Materials ignorance can be costly.

The text is available from Elsevier. Pfeifer is president of Industrial Metallurgists LLC. He wrote the book based on materials compiled for a Manufacturing and Design Engineering (MaDE) program course at Northwestern University.

Meredith Courtemanche, managing editor

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

SEMICON West: Top Topics at the Show

Now that I live in the San Francisco area, I’ve noticed that each day starts out slowly with cool fog, and then gently warms up to a predictably sunny day. SEMICON West in the Moscone Convention Center, July 14-16 was a bit like that: warmer and more enthusiastic and upbeat than I expected. Major discussion points included the recession, supplier/customer interaction, 3D packaging, and solar energy.

Of course, what everyone wanted to talk about was when the recession would end. George Burns, president of Strategic Marketing Associates said that, in the fab area, increasing chip sales and activity will drive equipment and related capital equipment spending up in the remaining months of this year and for all of 2010. Capital spending is predicted to be at $24 billion this year, a decline of 41% from 2008, and next year it will be at $31 billion, a growth of 30%. Semi projects 2009 semiconductor equipment sales to reach $14.14 billion, according to the mid-year edition of the SEMI capital equipment forecast. “We expect 2010 spending to show double-digit improvement off of extremely low levels in 2009,” said Stanley T. Meyers, president and CEO of SEMI. Watch the archived Webcast of Meyers' SEMICON presentation here.

The Intersolar North America hall at Moscone West was hopping with activity. In that area, where many of the solar module interconnect paths are screen printed, traditional methods used for printed circuits can expand into the solar area, providing growth opportunities for our industries.

I spend quite a bit of time with the materials providers for SMT companies, and in this space, industry has begun to pick up. Henkel, for instance, reported profitable growth in each of the past five months. Heraeus had booths in the West Hall with Intersolar and in the more traditional semiconductor assembly South Hall, and couldn’t have enough to say about specialty metals, solders, bonding wire, and ribbon.

Kyzen’s Tom Forsythe reported that the cleaning consumables company didn’t cut jobs or salaries during this economic down time, but found other efficiencies and waste-cuts to remain profitable with precision cleaning chemistries for advanced packaging and other electronics applications. Testing cleaning in systems at Kyzen’s lab offers a way to get close to customer’s specific problems as well.

Tom Mealey of Virtual Industries Inc. showed us the smallest vacuum-handling tweezers and accessories imaginable. He also had spatula-like vacuum devices for picking up large BGAs or even whole wafers.

At Finetech’s booth, we talked about the next challenge for advanced rework systems, now that rework systems can handle small passives, such as the 01005, and difficult bonding challenges with placement accuracy as low as 0.5 ┬Ám.

At Asymtek’s booth, they were talking precision dispensing, jetting, and automated fluid dispensing. Asymtek engineers are working on a range of precision applications in LED assembly, FPD assembly, and biotech product manufacturing.

All in all, SEMICON West was a great show. Senior managers need to make tough bets during difficult times, said keynote speaker Ananad Chandrasekher of Intel. Every economic crisis over the last 40 years has resulted in significant innovations. “Toward the tail end of the oil shock of the early 1970s the first cell phone emerged, produced by Motorola. The second oil crisis in the 1980s eventually led to IBM’s PC,” noted Chandrasekher.

Perhaps stacked 3D packaging or solar energy will emerge as the innovations of the recent recession. For now, we are beginning a healthy climb back up out of poor economic conditions, and that climb was evident at SEMICON West.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SEMICON West Week: Products and Predictions

SMT assemblers are the middle ground between chips' computing power and end-product functionality. The week of SEMICON West, co-located this year with Intersolar North America, brings together semiconductor manufacturers and packaging and test experts to evaluate new products, confer over technical issues, and make educated predictions for the short- and long-term future. SMT group editorial director Peter Singer is Twittering from the show. SMT editor-at-large Gail Flower also will be reporting from the show floor. What is celebrated, panned, and decided upon at SEMICON will affect SMT assemblers immediately and down the road.

Check out the new products at SEMICON with this booth guide from Advanced Packaging: SEMICON West Exhibitor's Products

Preview the Mentor Graphics keynote, "World Semiconductor Dynamics: Myth vs. Reality"
Get into the technical aspects of next-generation wafer inspection with this product preview from KLA-Tencor

Check out the MEMS, LEDs, and other emerging electronics technologies at the Extreme Electronics section of SEMICON
Learn more about 3D wafer metrology at SEMATECH's workshop
and get more information about the show on the SEMICON West homepage.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Assemblers Weigh in on Pick-and-Place Systems

SMT’s September/October issue will include a pick-and-place round-up article, the third annual component placement round-up article I’ve written. Overall, it has been an interesting experience working with worldwide users of placement equipment. Judging by their workload, and current news, I’d say that the industry is gaining strength.

Users complain about the cost of nozzles, and that pick-up nozzles don’t always match the size of miniaturized packages, nor do their vacuum and shape fit for large dense connectors. Custom-made nozzles from a third-party supplier may work for the components, but the machine software might fail to recognize these custom ID markings. Assemblers also say that many manufacturers are hesitant to provide access for custom nozzle markings to be input into placement programming by the customer. Also, there are not enough nozzle connections for many jobs, especially with facility’s the existing equipment, which may be older.

Some SMT line operators have complaints about feeders and trays: the changes coming from the package design world are not in sync with pick-and-place systems. This forces users to buy custom feeders at a high price. Different weight of components may require a different rate of vibration, so in some cases a stick feeder is required for a single IC — taking out up to 8 positions on a placement machine for a single part.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Some parts require too much time to program into vision software because image data is not available to suit the configuration, especially with ball grid arrays (BGAs), chipscale packages (CSPs), and fine-pitch quad flat packs (QFPs).

The more I study the pick-and-place sector, the more interesting this round-up cover story becomes. Though most users acknowledge that business is not booming, all said that economics have not stopped or slowed their business. Responses came from the Ukraine, from China, from U.S. military contractors, and other widely dispersed production engineers.

Looking at the current news, some areas show fairly steady growth. Amsterdam-based TomTom said that Q’02 shipments (and prices) are up. As a user, I can certainly understand that. Even my new Nokia E71x phone has a GPS in it, just in case. How did we ever find our way around without GPS devices? Intel has had a pretty good year, since mobile internet devices (MIDs) and other small computers using their Atom processor have sold well. LG is considering additional LCD production for flat-screen TV panels as the LCD industry slowly recovers with healthy TV sales.

All of these products have SMT components in them. Though engineers using pick-and-place may have legitimate complaints, the complaints are usually because they want more efficiencies, better software, more nozzles, and up-to-date component handling. Perhaps they’re anticipating future growth.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

Read the 2007 and 2008 Round-Up articles on Pick-and-Place:

Annual Pick-and-Place Round-up 2008

Pick-and-Place: Users and Vendors Speak Out

Look for the 2009 Round-up on Pick-and-Place in the September/October issue of SMT