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 AssemblĂ©on 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