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.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He is also vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversees all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 20 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

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