‘Fake Parts’ Data as Perplexing as the Issue

Interesting report on counterfeit component trends, prepared by ERAI.  PLICs and microprocessors are the most commonly reported counterfeited parts.

One big takeaway: “Suspect/counterfeit parts that have not been previously reported are constantly entering the electronic supply chain and the threat of encountering one of these parts remains very high.”

All that said, the number of fake parts reported is minuscule — just 774 were reported to ERAI. As epidemiologists know, the best way to reduce risk and occurrence of negative outcomes is through research and communication.

Nothing Doing on NAFTA

For all the chatter (rancor?) over various deals with Iran and China, left almost completely unnoticed is that the soft deadline to present any changes to NAFTA has come and gone with nothing to show for it.

US legislators had set a May 17 target to allow Congress the time needed to OK a new deal this year. That date wasn’t picked out of thin air. The US Constitution bestows Congress with the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations (the so-called Commerce Clause). As such, President Trump can’t circumvent Congress and sign a deal himself. Instead, he must give Congress 90 days’ notice before he signs any agreements.

Then, thanks to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and
Accountability Act of 2015, the US International Trade Commission must submit two reports to the House Committee on Ways and Means and the Senate Committee on Finance on the economic impact of the pending agreements. Once those reports have been digested, Congress will be facing a countdown to the January swearing-in of new legislators, at which point all bets are off.

Compounding the situation, Mexico’s presidential election takes place July 1, and the leading candidate is expected to replace Mexico’s negotiating team when he takes office in December.

While President Trump campaigned on rewriting NAFTA, the rush to tender a new agreement has stalled as priorities have shifted. Of late, the three sides spent weeks debating how to carve up the lucrative automotive supply chain, without success.

One look at a 2106 US ITC report crystallizes the impact of NAFTA, in particular, the key auto supply chain. Per the report

from 1993 (the year before NAFTA entered into force) to 2014, Mexican motor vehicle production increased from 1.1 million units to 3.4 million. Mexico’s share of NAFTA vehicle production increased to 19% from 8% during the same period. At the same time, Mexico became a more important automotive parts producer for the North American market. Mexico’s share of value-added content in North American final demand for motor vehicles, trailers, and semi-trailers from 1995 to 2011 increased to 9% from 4%, while US content declined from 63% to 43%.

According to the US Census Bureau, the US exported $243 billion worth of goods to Mexico last year, while importing $314 billion. Both totals are the highest ever with the southern neighbor.

The US does even more business with Canada, exporting $282 billion worth of products last year and bringing back $300 billion. While China is our single largest trading partner, combined our abutters make up 29% of our overall trade, which is considerably more than China’s 16%.

This week Reuters quoted US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer as saying a deal was “nowhere near close.” The finger-pointing is starting in earnest.

None of this is good for businesses, which must make long-range decisions on everything from equipment purchases to plant locations to staffing. Whatever problem we are trying to solve, let’s hope it doesn’t cause a bunch of new ones.

 

 

Just What Gets Counted in the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Top 50?

I received a note today from an EMS company that had revenues exceeding $400 million in 2017. Why, they asked, did they make the MMI Top 50 EMS list but not the recently released CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Top 50?

It’s a fair question, and one that comes up each year. In short, MMI calculates its Top 50 differently than we do. While it states it uses calendar 2017 EMS sales, that is demonstrably incorrect.

Key Tronic, for example, which is No. 35 on the MMI list, had sales by quarter of

  • Q1 113.6 million
  • Q2 118.5 million
  • Q3 109.2 million
  • Q4 111.7 million

for a total of $453.1 million. MMI lists Key Tronic’s revenue at $467 million, which was actually the amount for its fiscal year ended July 1, 2017.

Another example: Ducommun. It is similar to many EMS/ODM companies in that it is part of a larger corporation that has other divisions unrelated to contract assembly. MMI has Ducommun listed as 32 on its ranking, yet its EMS sales were, by quarter

  • Q1 $78.7 million
  • Q2 $81.8 million
  • Q3 $79 million
  • Q4 $77.2 million

for a total of $316.7 million. The rest of its sales come from unrelated products such as motors, switches and other non-PCB components. The no. 50 company on the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Top 50 was Global Brands Manufacture, with EMS sales of $430.2 million in 2017. As such, in EMS only, Ducommun does not belong. (And again, MMI used the fiscal year, not calendar year, for the revenue total, even though its chart explicitly states otherwise.)

Another reason why the lists don’t match up is in the definition of “EMS.” CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY counts ODMs such as Foxconn, Quanta, Compal, Wistron, Pegatron, etc., because they design and assemble products for other companies. (We also take care to remove the revenue unrelated to direct design and manufacturing for third-party customers.) MMI includes some of these companies but not all. But MMI does include Alpha Networks, which is an OEM, selling almost all its products under its own name.

MMI also counts revenue from bare board fabrication (Flex, Sanmina, etc.), which we remove. Yet MMI does not include companies such as ZDT, Mektron and MFlex which perform vast amounts of contract assembly although their primary business is flex circuit fabrication. We do so because their respective assembly operations are huge – in the billions. If you buy components and assemble them onto circuit boards for external customers, you are an EMS. To not include such firms is a huge omission.

I will say, it’s not easy to align companies’ EMS/ODM revenues, especially when they use different fiscal years, accounting standards, and reporting methodologies. Throw in the fact that most of these firms have businesses unrelated to pure EMS, some are private, and several report in languages other than English, and the task becomes very exacting. This certainly should not read as a criticism of MMI (or anyone else’s) methods, because 1. I know how hard it is to get everything right and 2. I truly respect the data that MMI (and others) add to the industry domain.

 

PCB Industry on Fire — Literally

The potential for fire is an occupational hazard of printed circuit board fabrication and assembly. Plating lines can be highly flammable, as can be ovens and the exhaust systems.

The deadly fire at Chin Poon in Taoyuan, Taiwan, over the weekend underscores how careful workers must be when building circuit boards — and how important it is for management to ensure safety practices are in place and followed.

The US tends to be reliable when it comes to fire safety. The last publicly cited incident was in 2016, when a minor fire broke out at TTM’s fab site in Anaheim.*

Overseas is a different story. Wurth’s plant in Neiderhall, Germany, was decimated by a blaze in 2014. The company rebuilt. Likewise, Unimicron spent millions to rebuild its site (the former Ruwel) at Geldern, Germany, following late December 2016 fire.

In Southeast Asia, blazes are all too common. Fires have been reported at ITEQ, Compeq Manufacturing, Gold Circuit (twice), Unitech (twice), Unimicron, Wus Printed Circuit and Tripod Technology (twice). Viasystems in Guangzhou was shuttered for a period of time following a 2012 blaze, and also sustained a fire in Zhongshan. Gold Circuit in Changsu .Taiwan PCB Techvest suffered a blaze in Suzhou, and Zhen Ding (ZDT) sustained one in Jiangsu.

And that doesn’t include another tragic incident which occurred last year at Unitech Printed Circuit Board in Taiwan, where four workers died after falling into a wastewater tank. They reportedly were overcome with fumes from the hydrogen sulfide present and lacked proper protective gear.

Assembly plants are risky too. Ovens and wave solder baths are potentially combustible, and it seems a cleaner explodes at least once a year.

A plant at EMS provider SVI Public Co. in Bangkadi, Thailand, burned to the ground in 2015. The last time we can recall a US assembly plant sustaining such damage was more than a decade ago, in 2005. That was a rough year for assemblers, as at least two were decimated by fires. Fawn Electronics, in North Carolina, chose to rebuild after a December fire leveled the plant. (It has since been acquired by ACDi.)

Workers at Mid-South Electronics weren’t so lucky: The EMS provider closed after a disastrous fire to its plant in Kentucky in January that year, leaving more than 700 workers out of jobs.

It’s commonplace to for management to say their workers are their greatest assets. We hope the tragedy in Taoyuan is a wakeup call for companies everywhere to review their safety practices and ensure the utmost caution is taken to prevent future disasters.

 

*Update: A good friend noted after this piece was published that ICM Controls’ captive board shop in North Syracuse, NY, was demolished by a fire in May 2017.

What is Your Supply Chain Telling You about Packages?

Have you purchased any electronics components lately? Have you tried and failed to do so lately? Allocation is the word of the day and substitutions are your friend.

Many, many parts are in short supply, or unavailable with extraordinarily long lead times. Sure, that happens every now and then in this industry. It’s a periodic nuisance, but what should you do for the long term? We’re are getting some interesting stories from component suppliers that might help. 

What we’re hearing is that many passive manufacturers will be trying to move their customers to smaller sizes. They want to consolidate on as few packages as is possible. That means we may be seeing the end of 1206, 0805, and maybe even 0603 form factors for many passive values.

It kind of makes sense. Right now, there might be several dozen different varieties of 0.1uF, 16V capacitor. Does the industry need that? And if there isn’t enough fab capacity to make all of the variations, why not consolidate and run more of fewer variations? It won’t surprise me if we start seeing fewer voltage ranges as well. In most cases, a 16V part will be just fine if you’re calling for a 6V or 10V part.

The chip industry has been doing this for a while. Many of the newer components just come in BGA or QFN packages. Fewer and few leading edge parts come in large through-hole or SOIC packages.

Consider using smaller components, like standardizing on 0402 parts. I know it can be a pain to use smaller parts, but any potential for future proofing your design now can prevent delays or otherwise unnecessary redesign cycles. You might just be able shrink your board size and save some money on the board fab too.

Keep approved substitutions close by, and look for newer chips that are more likely to stay in production. For microcontrollers, pick parts that have multiple memory capacity or speed range variants all in the same package.

This looks to be a pretty extreme allocation cycle, and I have a feeling that the industry will be different when we come out of it.

Duane Benson
Which is worse
Being the missing link or the weakest link?

 

A Question on Schematic Style

Just a quick question here…

I’m placing the components for my TinyFPGA based stepper motor controller board (see the prior articles here firsthere next, and here last). Specifically, I’m finding places for all of the capacitors. That’s where the question of schematic style comes in. 

When I first started using CAD software, sometime shortly before the stegosaurus roamed the land, I would position component symbols on the schematic near the chips they belonged with. Doing so made it easy, come layout time, to remember which capacitors go where.

Since then, though — and I don’t remember when I started this — I’ve started following the practice of grouping capacitors on the schematic, as I’ve done on this sheet to the right. All of the capacitors are up at the top, shown connected to V+ and ground rails.

That’s not a problem when they’re all 0.1uf bypass capacitors and each chip just takes one. However, with higher speed and more complex chips, multiple bypass caps or different values are often required on each chip.

Now, when I go to layout, I need to go find my component data sheets again (they really should never be very far away) and re-figure out what combinations of bypass capacitors go to which pins on what chips.

I like the cleaner schematic that results from grouping bypass caps, but it’s adds pain and a bit of opportunity for error during layout.

What style do you use and why? Am I an idiot for doing it this way? Wait. Don’t answer that last question.

Duane Benson
Six of one and 12 × 5 × 10-1 of another

Does Solder Paste’s “Five Ball Rule” Remain Valid in SMT Today?

Folks,

My good friends, Phil Zarrow and Jim Hall, in their audio series “Board Talk,” were recently asked about the “Five Ball Rule”. In the comments section for this session, one listener asked if this rule, created in the 1990s, was still valid. After all, the 1990s was the era of 0603 and 0402 passives; 01005 and even 008004 passives have arrived.

First, let’s consider what a “rule” is verses a “law.” As an example of a law, consider Newton’s Laws of Motion. At everyday speeds, these laws are shown to be accurate to within our capability to measure. As we will recall from Physics 101, these laws were superseded by Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, at speeds close to those of the speed of light. However, in our everyday world, Newton’s Laws are well … laws. They are, for practical purposes, exact.

What is a “rule” then? A rule is an expression that approximately fits some empirical data or the experience of experts. Moore’s Law is actually a rule, as it is not precise. The doubling of transistor density has varied from every 18 months to every two years. That’s why I call it a rule, a very useful rule indeed!

The “Five Ball Rule” is clearly a rule. It was likely developed a generation ago by some of the first SMT pioneers. It may be backed up by experiment, but I think it was likely more a consensus of SMT industry authorities from the 1980s and 1990s.

What is the “Five Ball Rule?” It states that the solder paste’s largest solder particle diameter should be such that at least five of these particle diameters would span the width of a rectangular stencil aperture (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Five Ball Rule

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When this rule was developed, stencil apertures were much coarser than today, and the finest solder powder was a Type 3, with Type 4 on the horizon. While it is true that stencil aperture widths are much finer today, solder pastes of Type 4.5, 5, and even 6 are now in use.

The particle sizes of different “Type” solder pastes are shown in Figure 2. Note that, for Type 4 powder, 80% by weight of the particle diameters are between 20 and 38 microns. 38 microns is considered the “largest particle.” So, from Figure 2, for Type 5 powder, the “largest particle” is 25 microns. For the sake of the Five Ball Rule, the “largest particle,” for each powder type are those shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Solder Powder Sizes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, is the Five Ball Rule still valid? It would be hard to argue that it is not. Hundreds of experiments have been performed using the Five Ball Rule, combined with the aperture ratio being >1.5 for rectangular apertures or the area ratio being > 0.66 for square or circular apertures, with successful results.

StencilCoach software now includes the newer (finer) solder powder sizes to 1) tell the user the fineness of solder paste powder for the Five Ball Rule, as well as 2) help with calculating aperture or area ratio. By the way, some have suggested that, for a square or circular aperture, an “Eight Ball Rule” is more appropriate. So, StencilCoach uses the Eight Ball Rule for such apertures.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

 

PCB Chat: Are Designers Lazy, and is Automation All-Important?

“Content is the most important aspect of the design world right now,” says Manny Marcano, president of EMA Design Automation. Over the past nearly three decades, he has grown EMA into the leading Cadence Channel Partner as the exclusive distributor of OrCAD in North America. EMA has also developed a series of its own software products for library management, component supply chain data, and conducts training.

Manny talks about the role of automation and whether designers are keeping up with their profession this week as my guest on PCB Chat.

In Acquisition Mode, Foxconn is Turning Up the Heat

OEMs, beware: Foxconn is coming for you.

No, not just to buy your components, build your boards and run your logistics. Foxconn is coming for your data, your markets, and your customers.

We’ve been sounding the alarm about this for years. It’s not healthy for your primary supplier to be bigger than the nearly the entire rest of the market. Foxconn, pushing $150 billion in revenues, is as large as the next five EMS/ODMs combined, and more or less as large as numbers 7 through 500.

The 2016 buyout of Sharp could be chalked up to a desire by Foxconn to nab a key technology and supplier to Apple, it’s top customer. The just-announced deal for Belkin, however, coupled with its foray into developing 5G computing and cloud platforms,, suggest a drive to higher margin, branded products. Foxconn’s revenue is larger than almost everyone of its customers, and a new plan to issue $50 billion worth of stock could give it the capital it needs to go on a massive acquisition spree.

OEMs, beware.

In China, A Bet on Tariffs

Several news stories are breaking today about President Trump’s anticipated tariffs on scores of goods from China. On the list of items that will see new import duties is consumer electronics.

The effects of this move have the potential to go far beyond the administration’s stifling of a series of high-profile acquisition attempts, including Singapore-based Broadcom’s attempted not-so-friendly takeover of Qualcomm, or that of a Chinese investment firm’s deal for Lattice Semiconductor. One wonders, if the TTM-Meadville deal were in play today, what the ruling from the feds would have been.

China has successfully reached its goal of the “world’s factory,” but is it good for the US — or the world, for that matter — to have so much critical manufacturing concentrated in one place? I would argue no. Foreign companies get a raw deal trying to access the China market. The rules are set up to favor domestic companies, the government’s reach extends into all levels of private businesses, and the judicial system is weak, at best. As we have noted before, in China, “copyright” means “the right to copy.”

The US is the only economic body, except perhaps the European Union, capable of forcing China’s hand. China will not change on its own.

It would take a better fortune teller than me to predict how this will play out. On principle, some critics are primed to dismiss the administration’s move. But governments interfere in economic systems all the time. The entire US import system is one giant hurdle. So is Europe’s. It says here the risk is worth taking.