Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SMT Tours REStronics ORPRO Vision Inspection Open House

(May 25, 2010) — REStronics New England recently hosted an open house at their Billerica, MA showroom to demonstrate and discuss SPI and AOI. Inspection technology from ORPRO Vision was used to perform live PCB inspection demos.

The ORPRO Vision systems available for visitor demos included the Symbion S36 Plus component and post-solder AOI; Symbion P36 Plus 2D/3D solder paste deposition inspection (SPI) system; and the Spectrum prototype table-top AOI system.

Kenneth Lunde of ORPRO Vision presented “AOI for Defect Detection vs. AOI for Process Controls” during the open house. He discussed ways for electronics assembly to include post-paste and component inspections, and why this visual inspection benefits the bottom line. “Opinions regarding AOI are that it’s a tool to capture and report component defects incurred during the assembly process. AOI is an effective tool for this purpose when used at a post-soldering stage,” Lunde noted, saying that such implementations are intended as a “safety net to ensure that no defects are shipped out the back door.” Why use AOI before the soldering process? Lunde said that, without solder paste inspection (SPI), all the possible solder level defects proceed down the line unchecked. “If most issues are solder specific, then pre-solder inspection is not your best value placement for test. On the other hand, if most defects observed are component-level defects, then testing solder joints may not be the best option. It is a question of support time.” Lunde also compared the value of 2D SPI sampling to true 100% paste inspection, which functions as a process control. When SPI is implemented with AOI inline with SPI post-deposition and AOI pre-reflow, all data collected reflects process events, he added. Lunde reviewed the uses for AOI pre- and post-reflow, and what component- and solder-level defects can be captured. “There is a not a best solution for every line. It can be the application of AOI or SPI alone. It can be the implementation of both technologies,” he said. Assemblers should ask themselves: Where are the issues today? Where will they be in the days to come? and base their inspection strategy on their answers.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

For more information, visit http://www.orprovision.com/ or http://www.restronics.com/. Read more about inspection on http://www.smtonline.com/ in our Inspection center.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

After the Show: APEX Deals Announced

(May 11, 2010) — A few companies announced equipment sales and new customers from the show floor at IPC APEX EXPO, held in April 2010 in Las Vegas. (Check out our Twitter archive for a few of the sales announcements from ASYS Group Americas and others, http://twitter.com/SurfaceMount). Following the show, however, many more are announcing completed sales initiated at the exhibition. Here are a few of the partnerships; add your own in the comments section.

Aqueous Technologies Corp. sold a Zero-Ion g3 Ionic Contamination (Cleanliness) Tester to Vu Nguyen of Consysis (San Diego). The Zero-Ion g3 is designed to test electronics assemblies for ionic contamination. It automatically removes and detects contamination on an electrical assembly or bare board and provides quantitative contamination measurements. The Zero-Ion g3 uses a dynamic technology that provides automatic regeneration of the machine’s test solution, maintaining a high degree of test solution sensitivity. The Zero-Ion meets the requirements of military and commercial cleanliness testing standards including MIL 2000A, IPC test method 001, MIL-C-28809, MIL-P-55110 and IPC TM650-2.3.26. The Zero-Ion also has been determined to be 3.7 times more sensitive than the manual resistivity of solvent extract (R.O.S.E.) test. The Zero-Ion performs cleanliness tests automatically and features a Windows PC-based control platform with a 15" LCD touchscreen interface. http://www.aqueoustech.com/

Lenthor Engineering, a California-based designer, manufacturer and assembler of rigid-flex and flex PCBs, purchased a new Orbotech Discovery OLB Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) system. This new and improved AOI system by Orbotech boasts shorter set up times, faster scan times, and more accurate results, with the easiest user interface available. The user’s continuous access to the panel at all times during the scanning process allows for immediate, in-process repair of defects for maximum AOI throughput with the least false positive results. http://www.lenthor.com/

Aqueous Technologies Corp. sold a Trident III automatic defluxing and cleanliness testing system to Advance Circuit Technology of Rochester, NY. The Trident Series represents the next generation of lead-free-compatible, fully automatic post-reflow defluxing systems. Kevin Buckner, Aqueous Technologies’ sales manager sold the system to ACT’s Bob Kajfasz. Trident III is capable of removing all flux residues including rosin, no-clean, and water-soluble. Both leaded and lead-free flux residues may be removed using the system, and it is equipped with an automatic chemical injection system that automatically adds a programmable volume of defluxing chemical to the wash water. Trident III is equipped with a closed-loop wash solution recycling system. Wash solution is heated automatically and sprayed onto the assemblies. At the end of the wash cycle, the wash solution is directed back to the holding tank for subsequent reuse. It has a real-time cleanliness tester, and rinse water is sprayed onto the assemblies until the desired cleanliness level is achieved. All rinse water is directed through the pre-drain filtration system and then sent to drain. Assemblies are dried via the onboard convection and radiant forced air drying system. http://www.aqueoustech.com/

Chris Dodd of MIRTEC Corp. sold a 5 megapixel (MP) MV-7xi in-line AOI system to Aeroflex of Colorado Springs, CO, on the last day of the show. The MV-7xi in-line AOI system is configured to provide 1 high-resolution color digital top-down camera and 4 of the same fitted as side-view cameras. The Quad Angle Lighting System provides 4 independently programmable zones for optimal illumination of inspection areas. The Intelli-Scan Laser System provides lifted lead detection for gull wing devices, four-point height measurement capability for co-planarity testing of BGA and CSP devices, and enhanced solder paste measurement capability. A comprehensive Package Type Library provides simple “Drag and Drop” component programming. The Automatic Teaching Tool (ATT) software provides automatic teaching of component locations using CAD centroid data. http://www.mirtecusa.com/

Did you make a purchase, or a sale, at the IPC APEX EXPO 2010 in Las Vegas? Tell us about it in the Comments Section below.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Can Highest Reliability and Eco-Awareness Coexist? Cobham and TURI’s 20-Year Partnership Anniversary Demonstrates Success

Military, defense, and other electronics products exempt from most environmental legislation are now oft produced with lead-free parts, a concession to the supply-chain-driven obsolescence of leaded materials. Add in deliberate reduction in hexavalent chromium usage; overhauls of facility waste, lighting/energy, and water management; and a focus on lead-free reliability, and you’ll be closer to what a successful environment strategy for the high-rel space looks like. SMT recently toured Cobham Systems in Lowell, MA, which has successfully collaborated with the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) for 20 years.

In recognition of Cobham and TURI’s 20 years of fruitful partnership, Massachusetts State Senator Steven Panagiotakos called Cobham an “example for other companies in safety and environmental care,” adding that the “concrete results” achieved in the facility were all the more impressive because Cobham’s high-rel status meant there was “no mandate for them to make these changes.”

Environmental Initiatives
From 2002 to 2004, there has been an 84% reduction in lead use at Cobham. “It was obvious to Cobham, even as a RoHS-exempt hi-rel company, that the world was going in the lead-free direction, and that lead-free was the right thing to do,” said Dick Anderson, senior principal engineer at Cobham. The company learned how to work with suppliers and assembly houses on a lead-free supply chain; how to test and inspect lead-free joints; and when lead-free is appropriate, and when it cannot be implemented.

“Removing hexavalent chromium and lead from their products has been good for workers at Cobham as well as customers,” said Gregory Morose, project manager at TURI. It is also a costly endeavor to undertake alone, which is why the Cobham facility has collaborated with 30 electronics companies in the New England Lead-free Consortium from an early phase.

When Cobham first tried to move from hexavalent chromium to trivalent, the results were terrible. Learning from TURI’s research techniques, they adapted the process. Now, Cobham has a zero-corrosion trivalent chromium process, and uses hexavalent chromium only when absolutely necessary.

Another prong of Cobham’s environmental responsibility approach is a facility-wide engagement with ISO-14001 (environmental management system — EMS). The Cobham environment, health, and safety (EHS) team — lead by EHS manager Bob Canedo — identifies controllable aspects of the process, rates the impact of said processes, and creates new methods or steps to counteract negative impacts. With complete employee involvement, Cobham’s EHS team has optimized cleanroom airflow and facility lighting to reduce energy usage. Methyl ethyl ketone use was reduced via a switch to ultrasonic cleaning. Simple procedural changes led to cutbacks on acetone and ammonia consumption, and increased waste recycling. Many of these steps can be undertaken at any hi-rel SMT assembly facility. For more on ISO-14001, read TFI's blog post on the subject here.

Cobham’s Reliability Lab: Proving Out Eco Processes
To build high-reliability electronics with the newer materials and processes of lead-free and trivalent chromium, etc., Cobham needs to perform in-depth and long-term analysis. The “problem solver” lab studies solder joints and chemical results in electronics assemblies. Using focused-ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM), scanning acoustic microscopy (C-SAM), X-ray fluorescence (XRF), and other analysis tools, they inspect for signs of lowered reliability or performance, right down to visually evaluating the eutectic structure of a solder. Counterfeit analysis is also possible in the lab.

Thermal shock atmospheric chambers replicate the harsh environments where hi-rel PCB assemblies will operate. Cobham performs highly accelerated life tests (HALT), shock tests, salt fog corrosion, drop tests, acceleration/pull tests, vibration, and temp/humidity tests, all with the goal of finding and measuring the assembly’s weaknesses. Cobham describes the lab as the place where they “beat up assemblies.” Testing can be as specific as dialing in vibration tests to match the environment of a certain helicopter, vehicle, etc. Without this degree of certainty in its manufacturing processes, Cobham would not be able to simultaneously inhabit the high-reliability and eco-friendly assembly markets.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Questions on moving to lead-free and other EHS projects in a hi-rel environment?
Contact Gregory Morose, project manager, TURI, at Gregory_morose@uml.edu
Robert Canedo, manager of environment, safety, and health, Cobham Sensor Systems, at Robert.canedo@cobham.com

Friday, April 16, 2010

New Standards Revision J-STD-001E Vs. New iPad

During IPC APEX Expo 2010 this month, IPC released J-STD-001E on industry requirements for soldered electrical and electronic assemblies. This is the sole industry-consensus standard for soldering processes and materials, according to the IPC. It encompasses advanced technologies, provides updated criteria for three classes of construction, and expands support of lead-free manufacturing.

My hat goes off to those dedicated industry professionals who voluntarily worked on the 4.5-year revision process for "Requirements for Soldered Electrical and Electronic Assemblies." It took 3500 meeting hours involving voting, writing, revising, and consolidating soldering criteria. The changes in IPC J-STD-001E are significant, including hole-fill criteria for Classes 1 and 2, new SMT termination criteria with flattened post/nail-head, expanded area array, expanded staking, and adhesive criteria for bonding of through-hole and SMT components to boards. Information on thermal management for component attach, consolidated lead placement, and soldering criteria for each terminal type, and more. In other words, if you want to assemble PCBs, you had better become acquainted with the latest standards for doing so: J-STD-001E.

In addition to technical changes, the updated standard has four-color illustrations to make each point clearly, as well as other easy-to-use aids.

Thanks to all that work and countless edits, updated standards can make it so much easier for product developers to help bring a new product to market. Teresa Rowe, director of quality at AAI, chaired the task group responsible for the standard that should make a major step forward to develop new products.

At IPC APEX 2010 this month, Rowe and Daniel Foster, senior analyst with Defense Acquisition Inc. and vice chair of the task group, conducted a course called “The New J-STD-001 Revision E – Learn from the Leaders.” It’s an attempt to provide insight into the revision and reasoning behind these changes. In IPC-A-610E Broadens Scope, coming up in the May/June issue of SMT, Terry Costlow, IPC online editor, explains what you need to know about the streamlined IPC-A-610, "Acceptability of Electronic Assemblies," supplemented with flex circuits, board in board and package on package (PoP).

From Product Development to New Products Now

I looked for news about the electronics assembly standards revisions in the usual places: Business Wire, Reuters, and the Wall Street Journal. Nothing there. What I did find was an abundance of heady press about the recently released Apple iPad as it hit the stores.

The iPad and J-STD-001E hit the marketplace and the relevant news sources at the same time, but with such a different style. Engineers wanted to take the iPad apart, of course, to gather insight into its design and the components inside that make it tick. In response, according to one Reuter’s report, Apple is making teardowns more difficult by stamping their microprocessors with the Apple logo to disguise the component OEM name. Ah, the creation of yet another counterfeit.

iPad teardowns: iSuppli iPad Teardown Reveals Interface-focused Electronics Design

Chipworks Teardown of the iPad: Few Changes in State-of-the-art Semiconductor Technologies

Other sources couldn’t apply enough superlatives to the new iPad. Walter S. Mossberg reviewed the product in the Wall Street Journal saying, “After spending hours and hours with it, I believe this beautiful new touch-screen device from Apple has the potential to change portable computing profoundly, and to challenge the primacy of the laptop.” A contender against not just for PCs, but laptops? Now that’s something.

The biggest difference between the two releases — the revised standard and the iPad — is that the standard tells one how to assemble a product, providing the knowledge that you need to do your work on future projects. The iPad is another exciting new thing to buy, a new way of doing things, a new marvel of ingenuity.

Both are valuable, but work comes first. When attending the APEX course on Revision E, I’ll bet you would like to have had a new iPad...just for taking notes.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large

Check out other standards released at APEX:
IPC-A-610E Released: Industry Requirements for Acceptability of Electronic Assemblies Updated

Updated Materials Declaration Standard IPC-1752A Addresses Revolving Door of Environmental Regulation Changes

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

2 for the Price of 1: IPC APEX Expo 2010 Highlights SMT Assembly Machine Integration and Manipulation

Recessions tend to squeeze the highly cyclical capital equipment market. Coming out of this recession, companies look more likely than in 2008 and 2009 to invest in new capital equipment for their manufacturing facilities. Combine these trends, and it’s not surprising that the printer and pick-and-place designs seen at IPC APEX Expo 2010 went beyond typical in-line improvements.

Pemtron and SJ Innotech showcased a printer/SPI combination that — to oversimplify — bolted Pemtron’s TROI solder paste inspection system to the end of an SJ Innotech printer. Milara and Mirea conjoined a printer and pick-and-place system. Siemens and Assembléon both showcased methods to transform their pick-and-place systems to higher capacities without a change in floor space; Europlacer morphed its iineo placement platform into a chipshooter.

Why are companies gluing two machines together? Consider the benefits on the SMT line, starting with adjustable-capacity component placement machines. Adding pick-and-place onto an existing assembly line via the traditional route means moving around other capital equipment to make room, setting up new conveyors, integrating the new placement system onto the ERP or MES software, etc. Line balancing is a chore. With the more modular idea of adding placement heads to the pick-and-place machine, floor space and set-up time are saved, machine calibration is done automatically within the placer, and companies are more flexible with balancing lines or ramping production. Assembleon states that True Capacity on Demand for the high-volume A-Series can save 20% of initial capital costs. Coming soon in the Assembly center of smtonline.com, watch a technician add a gantry to the Siemens SIPLACE SX placement system during APEX.

The XPii-II from Europlacer was designed to join the line with iineo systems, boosting production to medium-/high-volume. Unlike the set-footprint Assembléon and Siemens systems that hold fewer or more placement heads depending on need, the XPii-II is a separate system with different feeder capacity than the iineo. However, it is the same design, in a smaller footprint. Joined to the iineo, it boosts the throughput of a high-component-mix line.

In some situations, affixing one piece of capital equipment to another is a matter of quality. Pemtron brought the technology from its stand-alone TROI SPI unit onto the SJ printer, in a tighter chassis. Companies willing to pair their equipment — which would otherwise be the user’s choice — seem to be stating that this printer is best served by that SPI system, and so forth. With many assemblers foregoing the staff and expense of a purchasing investigative committee, this is one endorsement for a smoothly functioning new SMT line. We’ll see more detail on the Pemtron/SJ Innotech product in the video demonstration Pemtron gave SMT at APEX. Look for it soon in the Printing center on smtonline.com.

Milara’s paired printer and placement system, the P3, combines a Touch Print Digital TD2929 printer and Mirae’s Mx400LP pick-and-place system with tray and max feeders. Why? Milara says that the set saves floor space, actually adds flexibility, and is faster than working with two different systems. Milara will service the system in the Americas, with annual training from Mirae.

Are you squeezing every inch of floor space on the SMT line, or is machine footprint lower on your priority list? Do production volume changes or line balancing force you to reconfigure lines? Are you glad to see companies integrating two pieces of machinery into one, or do you find it limiting? Let us know your opinions in the comments section.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor, mcourtemanche@pennwell.com

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

High-Reliability and Low Toxicity: Lead-free Marches into the Military Sector

SMT will be giving away copies of a new book on lead-free in high-reliability/mission-critical electronics at our APEX booth 1474.

Integrating environmentally friendly practices into high-reliability and high-security electronics assemblies is not only difficult and complex, but also technically unnecessary. While most electronics are subject to RoHS and similar restrictions on use of hazardous materials, medical, defense, military, and other critical sectors are exempt. For now. Companies face pressure from an increasingly lead-free supply chain on one side, and lessening exemption support on another. The good news is that the high-reliability electronics sector is taking an active, involved approach to environmental friendliness.

As part of the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act, Cobham Sensor Systems - Lowell has been selected by the Toxic Use Reduction Institute (TURI) at the University of Lowell as a "TURA 20th Anniversary Leader" for its environmental leadership. Cobham was recognized for its voluntary involvement in green practices, which are usually considered adversarial to military/high-rel electronics manufacturing. More on Cobham and TURI’s accomplishments — as well as SMT's tour of the reliability and analysis labs where Cobham studies lead-free, hexavalent-chromium- (CrVI-) free, and other approaches to electronics assembly — soon.

In the mean time, visit SMT’s booth 1474 at APEX to pick up a free copy of The Lead Free Electronics Manhattan Project – Phase I from the American Competitiveness Institute, Science and Technology Department of the US Navy, and the Benchmarking and Best Practices Center of Excellence. The Lead Free Electronics Manhattan Project team determined that lead-free electronics used in harsh environments pose technical risks that can lead to degraded reliability and reduced lifetimes, though quantification cannot yet be performed within valid statistical confidences. Further reliability data is needed to unite existing prediction methodologies and provide acceptable modeling accuracy. “Point solution” projects will not adequately address the gaps that exist in the current body of knowledge on lead-free electronics. The goal of the “Manhattan Project” is to ensure viable product design, manufacturing, test, delivery and sustainment at an affordable cost.

The book outlines best practices identified to mitigate the risks associated with lead-free electronics usage in high-reliability, high-performance aerospace and defense systems. The “Manhattan Project” approach is a best practice for addressing pervasive issues facing the manufacturing and customer community. The lead-free electronics best practices were compiled by nationally-recognized subject matter expert scientists and engineers.

Prepared concurrently by the Navy ManTech’s Benchmarking and Best Practices Center of Excellence (B2PCOE), the “Manhattan Project” framework addresses process aspects of dealing with complex, multi-disciplined technical issues. Skilled scientists and engineers collaborated within a real-time, concentrated working environment to synthesize their collective knowledge and experience into a practical set of findings and guidelines.

Phase II of the Pb-Free Electronics Manhattan Project will build on this current baseline and develop a three-year roadmap for the Phase III research and development required to deal with those issues.

Stop by Booth 1474 at IPC APEX EXPO, April 6-8 in Las Vegas, to get a free copy of this new publication, The Lead Free Electronics Manhattan Project – Phase I, as well as SMT issues and subscription update forms.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Learn about Halogen-free and the New RoHS

Are halogens currently banned elements in electronics? What will RoHS II look like? Can I achieve the same performance with lead-free materials as I used to with leaded assembly products? These and other questions are answered in SMT’s free Webcast, Lead-Free/RoHS Materials for Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing, available on demand on SMT’s homepage, smtonline.com. Edson Ito, Vectra LCP technical marketing manager, Ticona Engineering Polymers; Rob Rowland, supplier engineering manager, RadiSys; and Jeff Bowin, technical service manager, Henkel Electronics Materials present.

Ito focuses on the Vectra liquid crystal polymer (LCP) and its application to lead-free assembly. This halogen-free material offers coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) stability (tight dimensional tolerances) and robustness advantages in the higher-temperature reflow environment of lead-free assembly.

Rowland then summarizes some of the major changes anticipated in the new version of the EU RoHS Directive, currently dubbed within the SMT industry as RoHS II. His presentation, based on his column in the January/February issue of SMT, EU's RoHS 2 on the Horizon, covers terminology changes, exemption expirations, and the complex layout of a single all-inclusive document that replaces the original RoHS Directive and subsequent Decisions

Bowin’s presentation concentrates on sustainability and specifying the right halogen-free solder paste now, meeting current standards and performance requirements, before legislation pushes you into halogen bans unprepared. Halogens are deliberately added to solder pastes and fluxes as activators, in addition to already existing halides and halogens that may be present. Henkel’s solder R&D focuses on creating a paste that prints and solders well (low voiding, good moisture resistance, etc.) with no deliberately added halogens. Reliability, reflow, and slump tests show that the balance of sustainability and performance characteristics can be achieved.

Register now for this free, on-demand Webcast at http://www.electroiq.com/index/webcasts/webcast-display/8371357768/webcasts/smt/live-events/lead-free_rohs-materials.html

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Monday, March 8, 2010

Predicting the Future: The Interrelationship between Technology and Politics

Did you ever want to know the future? Invest in stocks that you knew would soar in value, start a venture at just the right time to take advantage of a new technology (as we did with SMT in 1986), and avoid pitfalls along the way.

I’ve recently been reading about trends — a brief history of the 21st century titled The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, and The Next 100 Years, which forecasts the geopolitical future of the world and is written by an unrelated George Friedman.

Thomas Friedman talks about how technology has become global and how it has enabled the rise of China and India in manufacturing and services in the electronics supply chain. Bangalore, he points out, is one of the most wired places in the world, and rents and wages are less than one-fifth what they are in Western hemisphere capitals of London or New York. Economics follows technology and technology follows production in areas with an educated population that will work for low wages.

The world is now a global environment for technology and innovation spurred by scientific infrastructure. Where that innovation happens is the fuel that feeds the growth of a rising middle class, T. Friedman contends. If we want to keep innovating in the U.S., then we need to support university research and R&D efforts overall. The World is Flat is filled with Friedman’s findings of a flattened playing field as he visits electronics manufacturing (EMS) firms in India.

George Friedman, on the other hand, is not a journalist like T. Friedman. He is the founder and CEO of STRATFOR (http://www.stratfor.com/), a private intelligence firm. The major export of the U.S. in our recessionary crisis has been unemployment in China, to where the U.S. outsourced EMS industrial plants. G. Friedman predicts the political rise of Turkey and Poland, the decline of Germany, the instability of China, and the rise of Mexico to one of the major economic powers in the world. “By 2080, I expect there to be a serious confrontation between the United States and an increasingly powerful and assertive Mexico,” he writes.

By 2050, advanced industrial countries will be losing population at a dramatic rate. Birthrates will decline. “The shift will force the world into a greater dependence on technology — particularly robots that will substitute for human labor, and intensified genetic research (not so much for the purpose of extending life but to make people productive longer),” G. Friedman writes.

I highly recommend both books and both authors, if for nothing more than making you look at the world of technology through different eyes. In both books, the ability to innovate and educate are the keys to politics.

Gail Flower, editor-at-large
Also Read:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

No Die Code, No OEM Certification, No Service: How One Component Distributor Is Keeping Counterfeit Parts out of Your SMT Line

Fusion, an independent component distributor based in MA, recently added an Anti-Counterfeit Screening and Analysis Laboratory to its Wilmington location; and SMT toured the new facility. While the lab is full of chemicals and equipment for exposing counterfeit components, Fusion’s Bill Masterson and Paul Romano say that a three-pronged approach of communication and investigation, experience and testing and smart supply management by the component OEMs will secure the electronics manufacturing supply chain against counterfeit components.

Fusion tests all components that come into the facility without original manufacturer certifications. These grey-market components may come from EMS surpluses or third-party distributors. “This is the first place to cut off the counterfeiters. It all begins with sourcing and we rigorously monitor our supply channels to exclude many companies we cannot trust.” said Masterson.

Fusion is on the authorized vendor list (AVL) of many major original equipment manufacturers and contract electronics manufacturers. As an open-market component broker, they serve Tier I EMS companies. “Our primary role is to fill chip shortages,” noted Romano.

As the semiconductor industry cut back drastically during the recession, Fusion was able to grow — adding 20% more staff and new equipment. As electronics assembly picked back up late in 2009, said Masterson, Fusion fielded demand from CEMs that shunned overstocking inventory only to find that chip makers made significant cuts in.capacity.

At its Wilmington lab, Fusion performs incoming inspection and quality checks for verification on all stock. Some components move on to the analysis lab because they cannot be traced to the OEM, while others are always tested due to customer specifications.

The lab features destructive and non-destructive screening and analysis. A real-time X-ray imaging system from Glenbrook Technologies is used for non-destructive die, wire bonds, and lead frame analysis. Fusion keeps a library of “golden” components, known-good samples from the OEM. If a component is still in doubt after X-rays, it moves to destructive tests, such as solvent tests for markings and decapsulation. Counterfeiters will often sand off the top layer of a package (pulled from a discarded PCB, taken from reject piles at assemblers, or otherwise acquired), roll on an epoxy globtop, and remark with laser or printing techniques. Solvent tests often expose this inferior marking. If the results aren’t conclusive, the product goes to decap.

The decap machine from Nisene exposes the interior of the chips through a process of acid stripping. The exact recipe for decapsulation varies with each component, said Lab Technician Rich Derum who operated the machine for us. They use a custom mold and gasket to hold the package, then subject it to various concentrations of sulfuric and nitric acids for a period of time until the leadframe and die are exposed sufficiently for microscopic analysis.

Technician expertise is key in all of these lab processes. “There is no Pass/Fail in these tests,” noted Masterson. It is more akin to detective work, requiring equal quality from the technicians as from the testing systems.

The decapped package is presented to high-power (2000×) optical microscopy, where the lab technician scrutinizes the die and leadframe under light and dark field contrasts to detect any type of handling and rework markings; and for comparison to known-good samples. This microscope has video recording functions as well and can save all part images to the company’s component picture library.

Prescreening and counterfeit testing are actions that companies can take for themselves, said Masterson and Romano. Beyond that, we need to communicate. When they discover any suspected counterfeit patterns (single source) or new counterfeiting techniques, they share the data with relevant associations. They also bring the issue to the component OEMs’ attention. “To solve this problem, the whole supply chain has to be involved,” pointed out Romano. Fusion is a member of The Independent Distributors of Electronics Association (IDEA), which has developed standards for dealing with the threat of counterfeits.

It’s important to remember that no single part on a bill of materials (BOM) is safe. “They'll counterfeit any kind of part, from 1 cent capacitors to microprocessors worth hundreds of dollars,” Romano confirmed. “Communication is as important as this lab’s technology for detecting counterfeits,” explained Masterson. Communication is, in some sense, harder to institute. No one wants their name associated with counterfeits; however, when the specter of bad parts is allowed to loom over the industry without anyone discussing it, no one wins.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Contact Fusion's Romano and Masterson: promano@fusiontrade.com; bmasterson@fusiontrade.com

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Financials, Entertainment Show Electronics Future Is Bright

I started 2010 by looking at my investments, as I prepared material for the upcoming tax season. It has been a rocky year, with last December’s investments at the bottom of the chart, then slowly rising back up. The global economy has followed this same market path in coming out of the worst recession in decades — slowly — and those who held in with good, diverse investments are gradually seeing rewards.

Looking at individual stocks in the electronics sector, companies are reporting encouraging quarterly results. Intel recently declared quarterly cash dividend of 15.5 cents per share on the company’s common stock, reflecting the previously announced 12.5% increase from the fourth quarter of 2009. Intel's fourth-quarter net income was at $2.3 billion, up 875%. Rival AMD reported fourth quarter and annual results in January 2010 as well, announcing revenue for the fourth quarter of 2009 of $1.646 billion, an increase of 18% compared to the previous quarter and 42% compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. AMD has transitioned to a fabless business model and has reached an antitrust settlement with Intel, both of which affected the bottom line.

There are markets that I expected to see grow quickly, such as the E-book reader — the ultimate Christmas gift this year. According to the Boston-based Yankee Group, the E-book reader market will spark $2.5 billion in revenue by 2013. This segment is still catching fire.

I never noticed much when nieces and nephews started going to 3D movies, thinking that it was just an expensive new way to hook children on a new trend. Now that I’ve seen Avatar, it’s easy to understand that this area can affect other areas. 3D movie technology is making its way into the home, opening up 3D TV for consumers, demonstrated this year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). 3D cameras are now being actively field-tested for use in TV production.

The only problem I had with Avatar was that the movie plot seemed to imply that technology development represents “the bad guys.” Since Avatar uses state-of-the art electronics for computer-generated 3D images, yet condemns technology as a threat to the environment, the theme is a bit contradictory.

Electronics manufacturers are very aware preserving nature, generally through materials restrictions on the industry. From lead-free solder to the elimination of halogenated materials, to using less of raw materials (the Occam process is one example), the electronics industry has certainly become one that is more compatible with the natural world.

Because of Avatar’s award-winning popularity, other 3D movies and 3D TV will certainly be contributing to the health of our economy.

Gail Flower, editor at large

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Is Solar Cell Production A Viable Business Venture for PCB Fabs?

If you’re a PCB manufacturer hoping to jump into the high-growth photovoltaics manufacturing industry, there’s good news and bad news. The good news, according to Don Cullen, managing director of photovoltaics at MacDermid, is that photovoltaic cells, especially once assembled into a module, are heavy and fragile. This means that they benefit from geographic pairing, where the assembler and customer are in the same region and shipping is minimized. Solar cell assembly is also a highly automated in-line process, so labor costs are minimal. The bad news? Despite similar processes such as chemical etch and electroplating, circuit board fabricators will likely need to re-tool from the ground up to convert to solar cell manufacturing.

Cullen spoke to a joint meeting of IMAPS, SMTA, and ACerS in Boston. He outlined several areas for improvement in solar cell manufacturing and highlighted three in particular — the screen printing, conductor metallization, and imaging processes — where PCB fabrication expertise is welcome. Silicon solar cells are made from thin wafers with screen printed silver paste conductors, and the force of screen printing can lead to breakage. Printed paste covers 7% of the average cell, shadowing areas that could be absorbing light. Compare that to electroplated nickel and copper where shadowing is less than half than 7%. Also, the silver conductor paste is both expensive and difficult to work with; opens are a problem. Right now, about 90% of solar cells are screen printed, said Cullen, who calls solar cell manufacturing an “inelegant process, compared to circuit board and semiconductor manufacturing.” Some methods to improve screen printing include electroplating silver on top of a narrow conductor path, augmenting it. Other technologies call for an electroless bath to embed silver into the nooks and voids of the sintered silver paste. Plated metal conductors of all sorts are also in early stages of implementation. Metallization expertise is needed, as various combinations of silver/nickel and copper layers are still under development. Plating can create a 40-µm-pitch conductor, whereas screen printed conductors are 120 µm wide.

The decision to manufacture with screen printing or with a different metallization system impacts costs. The capital equipment investment for metallization technologies is steep; however, it eliminates the waste (breakage), consumables cost (silver paste), and efficiency problems (shadowing, wide conductors) of screen printing. Factor in the huge scale of solar cell throughput, and the equipment costs aren’t terribly overwhelming.

Electronics manufacturing is a mature market, as Cullen noted, but it is built on solid expertise, automation, and cost-sensitivity. It experiences about 5% annual growth. The solar energy sector sees roughly 40% growth annually, with solar technologies persevering through the recession. Right now, capacity outpacing demand, as new entrants are getting poised to produce 2012 demand. The 3 gigawatts of excess production drives retail costs down, increasing demand, leading to extra capacity. This is all typical of a fast-growing industry.

Is there profit to be made in solar cell manufacturing? Make-where-you-use means PV manufacturing could become a major industry in the U.S. and other developed nations. Module prices are falling, Cullen reports, but this is mainly due to a drop in the price of silicon and other raw materials, so PV maker’s profits remain intact. There is room for cost reduction in PV manufacturing, Cullen adds. Profitability looks more sustainable in solar than ever before. Challenges for entry into the photovoltaics manufacturing field will come from the investment side, as capital is harder to obtain during this recession. Cullen compares the growth rate of PV to that of semiconductor manufacturing from 1981 to 1994. The PV growth predictions from analysts mirror this historic growth path of semi.

Different solar applications require different manufacturing processes and emphasis, so consider niches such as space applications or military applications in solar. While experience in military PCB manufacturing may not translate directly process-to-process for military solar panels, an understanding of the use environment, reliability expectations, and mobility requirements will prove valuable. Similarly, if you are accustomed to manufacturing high-volume, thin, consumer-product PCBs, this knowledge can be ported to solar cell manufacturing with low cost/cell and minimal waste. To covert from circuit board manufacturing to solar cell production (or extend your electronics business into the solar sector), you need capital, guidance from experts in the solar field, a strategic plan for implementing solar production, and possible partnerships in the sector.

:: Click Here to View Cullen's Presentation on the IMAPS Website ::

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

About Don Cullen
Don Cullen is the managing director of photovoltaics at MacDermid (Waterbury, CT). His group is responsible for interacting with the worldwide photovoltaic manufacturing supply chain to ensure the correct development, deployment, and use of chemical processes. The Photovoltaics Solutions division was formed from MacDermid’s New Business Opportunities review team in 2008. Cullen previously served as director of OEM & assembly applications within the Electronics Solutions business. He acted as a liaison between the OEM sector, PCB manufacturers, EMS providers, and MacDermid’s Electronics Solutions worldwide business. Cullen helped found the Final Finishes group in MacDermid Electronics Solutions, which includes nickel/gold, silver, tin, OSP, and palladium processes for PCB technology. He holds three patents, and authored the latest edition of Coombs’ PCB Handbook chapter on Surface Finishes, among over 100 other publications and industry papers. Cullen holds a degree in chemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI).

Friday, January 15, 2010

Microscan Opens Northeast Technology Center: Electronics Major Focus

(January 15, 2010) NASHUA, NH — Renton, WA-based Microscan opened its Northeast Technical Center in Nashua yesterday. The company provides technology and hardware for data acquisition and control, including machine vision and go/no-go inspection applications. Microscan acquired the Machine Vision business of Siemens in late 2008, gaining a 20,000 sq. ft. facility in Nashua, NH. This Technology Center now includes a product demonstration room, engineering labs, training space for customers and distributors, as well as offices. Microscan president Jeff Timms notes that the electronics industry will be one of their top three end-use sectors, where Microscan’s vision systems can be used to improve incoming inventory management, tracking and traceability, inspection, and counterfeit prevention.

The Nashua, NH facility will be used for R&D on machine vision, machine vision lighting, direct part mark (DPM) reading, and verification technologies. The company currently holds 85 patents, with 30 more pending. Its Northeast Technology Center will have four PhDs on staff.

The East Coast location was dedicated by Vision Systems Design editor Andy Wilson (seen at left with Timms), who referenced the region’s long history with machine vision innovation, welcoming another chapter in this technology evolution. Timms echoed this sentiment, stating that talented employees have been continuously joining the organization even through the economic recession. New employees include Mark Ragard, regional sales manager; John Macrena, VP of sales; Al Silva, director of Latin America; and John Cooley, strategic accounts. Microscan also recognized VP of Engineering William R. Riley Jr., who passed away after a battle with cancer, by dedicating the new facility’s conference room in his honor.

In the training room, customers and distributors are able to see firsthand the technologies in use. Things like lighting and geometries are difficult to describe over the phone or online, explained Microscan staff, and this East Coast location will enable more in-depth training on new products and applications. In the electro-engineering labs, R&D personnel work with challenging parts marks, such as a data matrix code on clear plastic, miniaturized labels on components, already assembled on a PCB, codes on shiny copper foil, and other applications, such as steel automotive parts, pistol bodies, dental implants, and more. Different markings on different surfaces require different colors and types of light for accurate reading. In the product room, interactive displays demonstrate this point. From simple ring and dome lights, the products advance to mobile scanners that cycle through several lighting options to get the best read on a particular part, visual inspection stations that track fiducials and areas of interest on a PCB, for example, regardless of the product’s rotation when placed under inspection.

The Electronics Sector
Microscan will focus on end-user applications in electronics manufacturing, life sciences, and automotive, in the interest of developing products as driven by these markets. In electronics manufacturing, assembly/part verification, robot guidance, and PCB traceability can benefit from machine vision systems and controlling software. Microscan offers product-level readers for barcode/DPM data as well as middleware, such as its Track, Trace, Control (TTC) software co-developed with Cogiscan. This allows users to find where a specific product is, where it has been, and where it should go based on the information collected. Al Silva, director, Latin America for Microscan, noted that electronics manufacturers are adding TTC to satisfy strict quality standards in automotive and military electronics manufacturing, to reduce inventory waste, and to improve beat rates of SMT lines. With data from every step synthesized in a software environment, an assembler can ensure lead-free solder is being used on the correct printer, with the correct PCB, which is then populated by the correct components for the job. Through-hole components, often manually inserted, can be scanned quickly for correct placement and polarity with a go/no-go machine vision system. With 5 or 6 product flow control scans on a line, the user can manage assembly with capital-equipment-independent machine vision.

Counterfeit component control was another electronics application, described by Dr. Ludlow, who noted that the more information and detail put into a part marking, the more difficult it is to replicate. UV-light markings can also be used as a non-visible data label, adding more security in the authenticity of parts. This can improve incoming inspection for any electronics manufacturer working in high-reliability sectors.

In addition to machine-independent applications, Microscan’s vision systems can be embedded into in-circuit testers (ICT) and functional test (FT) systems, optically verifying presence of components and augmenting the test processes.

Meredith Courtemanche, executive editor

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Printed Electronics, a High-growth Future

Early in December 2009, I attended Printed Electronics USA 09 sponsored by IDTechEx.

Held in the San Jose Convention Center, the printed electronics show was touted by the sponsor as the largest event on the topic in the U.S.

A review of the printed electronics market showed lots of healthy growth statistics. IDTechEx’s CEO, Raghu Das, who unfortunately fainted on the stage as a result of flu, presented impressive numbers for printed electronics in 2010. For example, the market for organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs) will reach $900 million, photovoltaics will reach $400 million, inks will extend to $400 million, sensors come to $120 million, and electronic paper will stand at $100 million this year, according to his figures.

Peter Harrop, IDTechExpo chairman, finished up the talk as Das recovered. Some of the leading drivers to supporting high growth in the industry are not low cost so much as form factor, he stated, since flexible substrates fit well in smaller devices. Even with flex substrates and barrier films, though, there are basic challenges such as water and oxygen contamination. Progress continues with E-paper displays, point of purchase displays, organic electroluminescent displays, thin film photovoltaic products, and in other areas.

Ken McGuire, principal scientist at Proctor and Gamble, talked about consumer electronics applications and why printed electronics is important to P&G. As an $80 billon consumer products company, P&G looks for ways to differentiate their products from others on the shelf. Before considering printed electronics as one of these methods, each must be evaluated for low cost, rugged survivability though the delivery chain, eco-friendliness, and usefulness. I had to imagine what that might look like — a large, orange container of Tide glowing, blinking, or somehow acquiring a printed-electronics-driven advantage on the shelf at the local Kroger store here in Cincinnati. McGuire invited the audience to discuss how P&G could use printed electronics creatively as a marketing tool, and the response was enthusiastic.

It was a really exciting show that brought back the foment and creativity that the SMT industry saw in the 1980s. Approximately 900 attendees, representing more than 25% growth from the previous year, enjoyed the Printed Electronics USA show this year. There were 85 exhibitors, 100 speakers, 8 tutorials, a tour at Applied Materials and a demo at Kovio’s plant. Some exhibitors brought new product introductions to the floor, such as Novacentrix’s PulseForge 3100, which is effective with widely used print methods including inkjet, flexo, gravure, aerosol, and screen printing. Fujifilm Dimatix won the show’s commercialization award for its inkjet printer platform, DMP-2800. So far 450 of these printers have been sold worldwide for printed electronics.

Visit the IDTechEX Website for more information: http://www.idtechex.com

Gail Flower, editor at large