Latest Podcasts Look at AS9100D, EMS Innovation

A couple new podcasts to call your attention to.

In one, I speak with my longtime friend Randall Sherman, the EMS/ODM analyst and founder of New Venture Research, on recent developments in the market and how EMS companies are leading innovation by building intelligence into production systems.

In the second, I discuss the ongoing issues faced by the supply chain, and especially fabricators, in the wake of AS9100D.

The podcasts can be found at https://upmg.podbean.com.

 

The Bourse Identity

Foxconn’s prospectus to issue a public offering to raise money for its nascent foray in to cloud computing is less revealing for what it proposes than where the offering will take place.

Rather than leverage its newfound admiration in the US (or at least, in a couple pf offices in Washington) by accessing the Nasdaq or NYSE, instead Foxconn is opting for a far less prominent bourse: the Shanghai Exchange.

The reasons are obvious: The Shanghai bourse lacks the capital controls and oversight of the world’s dominant financial exchanges. A company, even one as large as Foxconn, can get away with a lot more, since reporting requirements and level of scrutiny are so less rigorous than in New York or Munich or London. Foxconn’s financial picture is opaque: even reporting on its revenues and profits remains an uncertain undertaking. Staying offshore makes that possible.

Finally, Shanghai is a Chinese exchange and Foxconn is a Chinese company. (Yes, I know it’s based in Taiwan. But look where the bulk of its facilities, workers, investment and attention is. And keep in mind that for many Taiwanese, China is still the motherland.) This latest move underscores that fact.

Research Grants Offer Glimpse of Future of Electronics

The sums aren’t huge, and the research decidedly blue sky, but the US Department of Energy is following through on an Obama-era initiative to fund early-stage research projects aimed at innovative technologies and solutions in advanced manufacturing.

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) today announced $35 million in awards to universities, national laboratories, and for-profit and nonprofit partners to a host of universities, national laboratories, and other entities

Among those with specific implications for electronics design and manufacturing:

  • The University of Maryland nabbed almost $2.1 million to improve the balance of electrical-mechanical-thermal properties in materials for electrical wiring, contributing to a future reduction in material usage and energy waste in the nation’s transmission-line networks and in microchips. These new materials could be used to make conductors for power lines with higher strength and higher current carrying capacity and interconnects with longer lifetime in microelectronics.
  • The Dana Farber Cancer Institute received a $1.2 million grant to design and build billions of first-of-their-kind molecular 2D printers, that are atomically precise, and which could produce trillions of atomically precise products to advance atomically precise manufacturing.
  • Zyvex Labs received more than $2.45 million to create and test atomically precise materials in two dimensions using a scanning tunneling microscope that can pull individual hydrogen atoms out of a surface and a coating procedure to substitute other atoms in their place. This project will significantly advance atomically precise manufacturing for applications such as quantum computing and nanoelectronic computing devices.

Many of the other grant recipients are working on concepts similar in nature to the Dana Farber and Zyvex projects whereby atoms would be pushed around and connected. While those projects are targeting clean energy and other applications, it is possible the technology would have applications in electronics as well.

On the Road at SMTA Pan Pac

Folks,

I am giving a paper, chairing a session and hosting a panel at SMTA Pan Pacific on Feb. 6 at the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort in Hawaii.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The paper is “Using Cpk and Cpk Confidence Intervals to Evaluate Stencil Printing,” with my coauthor Chris Nash of Indium Corporation. In this paper I will discuss how to calculate confidence intervals when using Cpk to evaluate the quality of stencil printing.

By comparing the confidence intervals of Cpks one can determine whether or not there is a statistically significant difference between different samples of stencil printing data.

The session I am chairing is on “Advanced Materials.” The papers in the session are:

  • “Oxygen Vacancy Migration in MLCCs” by Dock Brown, CRE, DfR Solutions
    “Update on Cu-Ni/Sn Alloy Composite Solder Paste for Harsh Environments” by Stephanie Choquette, Ph.D., Iowa State University, and Iver Anderson, Ames Laboratory (USDOE)
  • “Resistivity Stain Analysis of Graphene Coated Frabric for Wearable Electronics” by Martine Simard-Normandine, Ph.D., S. Ferguson, MuAnalysis, and K. Manga, Q.-B. Ho Grafoid.
  • The panel topic is “Solders for Harsh Environments.” Brief presentations will be given by some of the panelists with a question and answer period to follow. The panelists are Dwight Howard of Delphi Automotive, Iver Anderson of Ames Lab, John Evans of Auburn University, and Prabjit Singh of IBM.

We expect to learn a lot. I hope to see you there!

Cheers,
Dr. Ron

 

Taking the ‘Pulse’ of Productivity

On PCB Chat this week we talk with Mark Hepburn, the new director of product management at Cadence. Some industry veterans may remember Mark from a few years back — he was with Viewlogic, Innoveda and Mentor in the late 1990s and mid 2000s. He spent the past eight years with Perception Software, a developer of collaboration software.

Fittingly, he joined Cadence just in time for its launch of Allegro Pulse, a new web-based platform for collaboration and productivity measurement and analysis.

Take a listen here.

Is Industry 4.0 around the Corner?

Folks,

I attended a technical session on Industry 4.0 at SMTAI in Rosemont, IL, in September. I admit to not knowing much about it, so I found the topic fascinating. Industry 4.0 begs the question as to what were Industry 1.0 to 3.0 are (were?) The image below explains the progression, Industry 1.0 was mechanization with water and steam power, Industry 2.0 is mass production with the assembly line using electricity. Industry 3.0 adds computers and automation. Whereas Industry 4.0 is the age of cyber physical systems, the internet of things, cloud computing, and cognitive computing.

Industries 1.0 to 4.0. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Industry_4.0#/media/File:Industry_4.0.png

One could imagine an Industry 4.0 (I4.0) workplace something like the following in an electronic assembly factory. A customer places an order in the cloud. It is received by the factory and after some analysis performed by a “Watson”-type AI, the order is accepted. The I4.0 system then goes to work scheduling the job and ordering the correct components, PWBs and hardware. It designs the stencil from a Gerber file and so on and so on. There is little human interaction and the factory runs at about a 95% uptime and is profoundly efficient and profitable.

As with self-driving cars, I am a bit of a skeptic of I4.0. To be sure there may be a few factories that exhibit some of the Industry 4.0 technology, but I don’t see this major technological shift becoming mainstream for a generation or so.

One of the reasons is that I don’t think most factories today are even at Industry 3.0 (I3.0), they are more like Industry 2.5 (or less?). Many colleagues that I chat with about these types of things, and I have toured more than 100 factories world-wide and still marvel at how inefficient they are. I was once asked to give an executive, new to our industry, a tour of an electronics assembly facility. The facility that graciously offered to let us tour had six assembly lines. In the 90 minutes we were there, not one line was running. The reasons were typical: for line 1 the team could not find the right stencil, line 2 needed a reel of components that no one could locate, line 3 had an equipment malfunction, etc., etc. These types of experiences are discussed in The Adventures of Patty and the Professor.

Another example of electronics assembly being a bit short of I3.0 was demonstrated by a student project that was recently commissioned to measure uptime on a simple assembly line. The line consisted of a stencil printer, component placement machines, and a reflow oven. The engineers that worked for the company that sold the assembly line were confident that the students would have no difficulty measuring uptime by sampling signals from the computers controlling each piece of equipment. After hundreds of hours of work by the engineers and the students, it was concluded that it was not possible to measure line uptime without adding some type of sensors on the assembly line to detect the flow of the PWBs. Industry 3.0 indeed!

At SMTAI I was asked to participate on a two-person panel on the topic, Will Virtual Reality Soon be Used in Electronic Assembly? Readers will likely guess that I was the skeptic. Watch the video and see what you think.

As with self-driving autos, I think Industry 4.0 is a great idea and encourage the many people working on it, but I believe it will be quite a while before it arrives in any meaningful way to typical factories. In the meantime, let’s all work to ensure that the factories we currently operate approach Industry 3.0 are run efficiently with high uptimes.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

 

EDA, All the Way

The market for electronics design software continues to outpace gains in overall electronics demand, with sales up 8% year-over-year in the September quarter. PCB/MCM tools rose even faster — up 13.4% for the period.

Wally Rhines, president and CEO of Mentor and spokesman for the ESD Alliance of EDA companies, spoke with me about the results for the latest PCB Chat podcast.

 

Malingerers, or Just Millennials?

Peter Bigelow pens a timely and salient column on the current crop of new employees and the differences in culture with the veteran workforce. (Sample comment: “Collaboration cannot exist if everyone shows up to work at a different time.”)

As usual, Peter makes some fascinating observations. I’ll add my own 2 cents.

Smartphones, video games, etc. have a demonstrable affect on users (of any age, actually, but particularly youth). The constant stimulation of the digital world is addicting, and physically changes your brain structures. I’ve had to institute rules for my kids (ages 12 and 14) about screen use for even the simplest of activities. (They actually reached the point where, when they would see me pulling up to pick them up, they would then get on their latest mobile game while walking to the car).

It’s no surprise, then, that this behavior carries over to the workplace. Young people are hooked.

Ironically, I’m the one in our house constantly fighting to get the kids away from their screens. My wife, who knows more about the brain than almost anyone, seems almost blasé about it. Grrrrr….

Laminate Companies: On the Move

It took until the second business day of the new year for the chips to start falling in the US printed circuit laminate industry.  On the same day, Isola changed hands and Park Electrochemical announced it was putting its PCB unit up for sale.

As the East Coast braced for a winter blizzard of epic proportions, Park Electrochemical sent a cold shiver down the spines of more than a few industry observers with its announcement of a “strategic evaluation” of its core printed circuit materials business, one that could result in a sale.

Park has been paring its PCB operations over the past few years amid falling revenues and tighter margins. Said revenues have been falling despite a rebound in the overall PCB market: Even as aerospace revenues have grown, overall Park sales have fallen year-over-year in 10 of the past 11 quarters, more than half the time by double digits.

Although it generates most of its revenue from the PCB materials unit, sources indicate the firm sees more upside in its aerospace materials division, which isn’t as susceptible to the commodity pricing pressures of board-level laminate. The sale or closure of the division could further disrupt the North America supply chain, however.

Park’s long history is heavily intertwined with that of the North American PCB industry, and one of the last remaining “family” firms. Cofounded in 1954 by Jerry Shore, his son Brian is now CEO and grandson Ben a senior vice president. Its sale, whenever that day comes, will truly mark the end of an era.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Isola completed the transfer of its equity ownership to an investment group led by Cerberus Capital Management. This deal was not a surprise: Isola had reportedly been trying to restructure a debt load of more than half-a-billion dollars since last summer.

Isola was primarily owned by the investment firms TPG Capital and Oaktree Capital Group. It’s unclear at present how the stakes in the company are now divided. No doubt Isola won’t be one of the bidders for Park, however.

Couple this with the changes at Arlon over the past two years, and the US laminate industry continues to be in flux. Many of the other major players appear stable: Kingboard, Shengyi Technology, Nanya, Panasonic, Ventec (which merged with TMT in 2016). Among US-based vendors, Rogers’ position at the high-end has enabled it to remain financially sound. It may be the only one.

Demand for lower-tech materials isn’t enough to sustain footprints in higher-cost markets. M&A can result in stronger, more viable companies. Let’s hope that the future for Park (or whomever buys it) and Isola are brighter than the present, as the North American supply chain depends in large part on their success.

Jan. 5 update: Investment bank Needham & Co. says the Electronics unit could bring $50 million to $80 million in a sale.

How the Chips Have Fallen

The history of consolidation in the semiconductor industry, in one slide:

Source: Fortune