Monday, October 19, 2009

IPC Midwest: Friends, Fellowship, and Live SMT Assembly

It was a better-than-expected IPC Midwest tradeshow and conference in Schaumburg, IL this September. The A-Line live electronics assembly line attracted interest as each piece of automated equipment performed its task to build a mixed-assembly board with both through hole and SMT components. The process of assembly on a tradeshow floor never fails to draw a crowd, and this year the A-Line at Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel & Convention Center drew a line-up of visitors following the operation and waiting for a chance to snap up a finished board, still a bit warm from solder reflow.

As in last year’s A-Line, The Morey Corporation, long known for electronics manufacturing services (EMS), organized the set up. The Bare Board Group PCB distributor donated the boards. Microscreen stencils were used for paste deposition. The Capital Equipment Exchange Company set up a Speedline MPM AP Excel screen printer. Qualitek International donated the solder paste and flux, adding their support. PROMATION’s conveyors and handling equipment connected the equipment. Fuji America operated its XPF small-footprint pick-and-place system that can be flexible even at high speeds and with a wide range of components from 01005s to 68 mm2. Ace Production Technologies donated their KISS-104 automated selective soldering machine to solder through-hole components. ASYS used their BLS 01 laser marking system to mark codes and images into solder resist. Aqueous Technologies operated the Trident III automatic defluxing and cleanliness testing equipment, using Kyzen’s Aquanox A4241 aqueous cleaning solution to clean the assemblies.

It’s always amazing that a full assembly line works together so cooperatively and efficiently, even in the fast and temporary set up of a tradeshow floor.

There were plenty of new products and news at the tradeshow as well. Asymtek had the DispenseJet DJ-100 high-speed equipment for jet dispensing. CyberOptics showed the SE500, a fast, accurate solder paste inspection (SPI) system. Fuji America had its large-board all-in-one placement system XPF-W at the show. Juki demonstrated the FlexSolder W510 selective solder machine, said to handle dual mini waves for simultaneous use. MYDATA showed its MY100SX pick-and-place. Panasonic had a NPM (Next Production Modular) line. Zestron America highlighted its VIGNON N 501 pH-neutral defluxing agent.

IPC Midwest wasn’t the huge show of yesteryear, but it was quite productive, exciting and enjoyable. Hey, a great event in the Midwest just shouldn’t be missed.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

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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