Never Take Pin Numbering for Granted

Our all-things-about-electronics manufacturing standards body, the IPC, specifies the proper numbering order for most components. That’s a pretty nice thing that they do there, but it’s not always enough to prevent layout mishaps. Case in point a line of small PCB mount switches.

IPC calls out pin numbering for dual inline components, with pin one on the upper left (at zero degrees rotation), counting down, then over to the bottom right, and counting back up, as in the illustration below.

Given, that, it would be logical to assume that all dual inline components follow the same pattern. Logical, yes. Accurate, no. Multi-color LEDs, connectors and switches are some of the more common offenders.

In this particular switch, it’s not just a case of the numbering not following convention, it’s also different from one variant to another. I understand why. The switch isn’t changed between through-hole, top mount surface mount and side mount surface mount, but the leads have to be accessible from different parts of the package.

The following two footprints are from the same switch. One mounts on its side, and the other, standing up.

The pin one numbering doesn’t follow convention, nor does the numbering of pins 4 – 6. And, you may have also noticed that the two are top-to-bottom mirror images of each other. Ugh.

This is why my mantra is: Always check the datasheet. Always.

Duane Benson
Don’t take it for granite either, because granite is too heavy.

Components So Fragile, They Break Before Arrival

There are a lot of components that require special handling. Some days, “special” requirements seem more the norm than the exception. But, every now and then, we see something that puts even those special components to shame.

Not long ago, we received a parts kit that contained a component so fragile, that most of them didn’t survive the trip with the shipper. It’s a 10 x 9mm (well, actually 9.68 +0.00/- 0.08mm x 8.64 +0.00/- 0.08mm, to be precise) sensor that’s only 0.05mm thick. That’s 1/4 as thick as the diameter of the solder balls connecting it to the PCB.

The part has solder balls on the silicon, with no other packaging. The dice has to be that thin, as the light-sensitive area is on the other side. That doesn’t make for a very robust component. It would require special handling all around. Unfortunately, no matter how careful we might be, if they’re broken when we receive them, there’s not much we can do (other than take pretty pictures).

In taking these closeups, I noticed that the registration in ball placement isn’t all that great. In the image below, take a look at the ball on the left, second from the bottom, and the ball on the far right.

The datasheets call out all non-specified tolerances as +/-0.001mm. With these being 0.2mm diameter solder balls, I’d have to say this is way outside of that tolerance. I’m sure the part would have adhered to a decent board just fine, but if the PCB were off a similar amount in the opposite direction, you may very well have a problem.


Duane Benson
You could make a very tiny sundial out of this.
But, could you use the shadow parallax to calculate the distance to the sun?

Trolling NY

Apparently someone has decided to toy with New York state by assuming the role of “Foxconn US” and trolling a poor soul named Chris Souzzi, who works for Genesee County Economic Development Center.

I’m no fan of Foxconn, and I don’t think there’s a snowball’s chance in hell they put a plant in the Empire State, but stunts like these aren’t funny (even if that’s what’s intended) and simply go too far.



Madam President

I cannot express how pleased I am today at the news that my former colleague and (still) good friend Kathy Nargi-Toth has been named president of Eltek USA.

Kathy is one of the warmest and kindest persons I have had the pleasure of coming across, and her industry knowledge is second to none.

I wish her all the luck in the world in her new job — not that she will need it!


Are iPhone ‘Leaks’ a Ploy?

With each year comes a new model of the Apple iPhone. And like clockwork, a few months before the product release, purported images and details of the new phones (and other Apple products) start showing up on various social media.

Would it be right to be suspicious that these “leaks” are simply ploys to generate interest?

Gerber: The Format that Just Won’t Die

I’m a big believer in standards but I’m not so sure why IPC is pushing a Gerber Coupon Generator when it has spent so many years developing IPC-2581, a much more comprehensive electronic data format.

Now in its B revision, IPC-2581 has been implemented in trial and production, and represents the most comprehensive set of industry requirements for printed circuit board fabrication, assembly, and test in a data-centric, open, license-free, industry driven standard format. Moreover, the consortium supporting its adoption boasts more than 90 members, including all the major PCB software vendors, plus a host of major OEMs, equipment suppliers, manufacturers, and service suppliers.

It’s time the emphasis be placed on moving the industry out of the buggy era. (Pun intended.)

Full disclosure: I’ve been a member of the IPC-2581 task group since its inception, and spent several years at IPC working on the predecessors to IPC-2581.

Calculating Confidence Intervals on Cpks

Let’s look in on Patty, it’s been awhile.

Patty was looking forward to sleeping in.  Normally she was up very early, sometimes before 5:30 am, after usually getting to bed too late, so she was looking forward to an alarm set at 7:45 am. The kids were off from school and Rob was taking them skiing, so all agreed a 7:45 am wake up time was reasonable.  Since she had no early meetings, her scheduled 9 am arrival at her Ivy University office was also in the cards.

Patty was sleeping soundly when she heard her seven-year old twin sons shouting, “Mom! Dad! Come quickly.”   At the same time, their two-year old beagle, Duchess, started barking.

Her heart pounding, Patty raced to the racket now being produced by this energetic trio.  As she arrived she saw her sons and Duchess looking out of their back window to see a beautiful female deer eating from their bird feeder, just 30 feet away. The entire family was involved in a bird counting exercise and had noticed, several times, that the bird feeder was “wiped out” overnight. This mystery was now solved.

The entire family agreed that it was hard to be angry at the doe, as deer are such beautiful creatures.

Figure 1.  A Female Deer at the Bird Feeder at Patty’s House


It was 6:15 am and it didn’t seem to make sense to go back to bed.  So, Patty stayed up and was off to Ivy U in less than 30 minutes.

Patty had a rather light week as she had guest speakers for her two lectures.  However, she was sitting in for one of the engineering school’s senior professors later in the day.  This fellow prof had asked her to sub for him as he was called to an emergency meeting overseas.  Her topic was manufacturing processes; one with which she felt very comfortable.  But, she had to admit to being a bit nervous sitting in for one of Ivy U’s most famous professors.

As was her usual practice, Patty checked her email first.  After going through the first 5 or 6, she saw an email with the subject header, “Ivy U Professor Wins Prestigious Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering.”  As she opened the article, she was stunned as she saw a photo of the professor for whom she was substituting later in the day.  The article went on to explain that this prize was like the “Nobel Prize” for engineering.

As she finished her emails she was relishing the thought of having a less hectic day and week ahead.  Maybe she would even have time to read the Wall Street Journal during a relaxing lunch.  Suddenly, her phone rang, startling her a little.  She picked up the receiver to hear a familiar voice.

“Professor Coleman, this is your most faithful student Mike Madigan,” Madigan cheerfully said.

Madigan was CEO of ACME at large electronics assembly contractor. Patty worked at ACME before becoming a professor at Ivy U. Her husband, Rob, and sidekick, Pete, were also ACME employees, but were now all at Ivy U.  Pete was a research assistant and Rob was just becoming a research professor.  Although they all enjoyed their time at ACME, they were much happier at Ivy U.  All three had a part-time consulting contract with ACME and Madigan was typically their main contact at their former employer.

“Mike! What’s up?” Patty said cheerfully.

“We are evaluating a new solder paste and I’m concerned we might make a mistake if we switch,” Mike responded.

“How so?” Patty asked.

“Well, we agreed that consistency in the transfer efficiency (TE) of the stencil printed deposits was the most important criteria,” Madigan began.

“That sounds reasonable as most of our past work has shown that a consistent TE is a strong determinant of high first-pass yields,” Patty responded.

“Right! But the difference between the pastes is only two percent. The old paste has a Cpk of 0.98 and the new paste 1.00,” Mike went on.

“I sense there is more to the story,” Patty suggested.

“Yeah. The new paste has a poorer response to pause,” Madigan said.

“Yikes!” Patty almost shouted.

Patty had shown, time and time again, that poor response-to-pause in the stencil printing process can hurt productivity and lower profitability considerably.

“My sense is the two percent difference in Cpk, might not be significant,” Mike suggested.

“Mike, I think you are on to something. What printing specs were you using and how many samples did you test?” Patty asked.

“The lower TE spec was 50% and the upper 150%. We tested 1,000 prints,” Madigan answered.

“Let me do some homework and I’ll get back to you,” Patty said.

“One problem. Can you get back by 3 pm today? The new solder paste supplier is coming for a meeting at 4PM and is pressing us,” Mike pleaded.

“OK. Will do,” Patty said, sighing a bit.

“There goes my somewhat relaxing day,” she thought.

It was a good thing she had already prepared her lecture and that it was scheduled for 4:30PM.

For several hours Patty thought and searched through some textbooks on statistical process control.  Finally, she came upon the solution to the problem in Montgomery’s Introduction to Statistical Quality Control.

“Perfect!” she thought.

She did finish early enough that she could read the WSJ over lunch, marveling, as always, that she was the only person her age that enjoyed reading a real newspaper.

She called Madigan at 3 pm.

“Mike, I think I have your answer.  I found a formula to calculate the confidence intervals of Cpks,” Patty started.

“And the answer is?” Madigan asked expectantly.

“The Cpk 95% confidence interval on the new paste is 0.95 to 1.05, however the old paste is 0.93 to 1.03,” Patty began.

“So, even I can sense that they aren’t different,” Mike commented.

“Yes, since the confidence intervals overlap, they are not statistically different,” Patty agreed.

Figure 2. The Confidence Interval of the Cpk on the New Paste is 0.95 to 1.05.


They chatted for a while and Madigan asked if Patty could join the first 20 minutes of the meeting by teleconference.  It was a bit close to her lecture start time, but she agreed.

Patty had met Madigan’s son at West Point when she visited there to be an evaluator for a workshop two years ago.  She decided to ask how he was doing.

“Mike, how is your son doing at West Point?” she asked.

“Thanks for asking. He is now a Firstie and was in the running for First Captain, but he just missed it.  It’s a good thing he takes after his mom,” Madigan proudly responded.

“Wow! That’s great,” Patty replied.

“I have to admit though, my wife and I are a bit nervous. He has chosen armor as his branch and there is a good chance he will see combat sometime in his career,” Madigan responded with a bit of concern in his voice .

They chatted for a while more and Patty was touched to see so much humanity in Mike Madigan.  He seemed much changed from his gruffness of earlier years.


Dr. Ron

As always, some of this story is based on true events


What’s So Difficult about Diodes?

A diode can be put on a a PCB in one of two ways. It’s only got two pins (usually — see, I already have a caveat). I’ve written about them a few times before. I’ve got a sampling of those posts here. But first,

Good marking:





Bad marking:





The diode schematic symbol is always a good choice. If there isn’t room for that, “A” for anode or “K” for cathode work well too. Why “K”, and not “C”, you may ask? Because “K” kan’t be konfused with a capacitor.

Okay. Enough ranting for now. Just use the diode schematic symbol, “A”, for anode, or “K”, for cathode; and always look at the data sheet for the exact part number.

Duane Benson
1 cricket per chip

Cpk is Still King in Evaluating an SMT Solder Paste Printing Process


If you think about it, to evaluate any process you typically want to know its precision and accuracy. Look at the dart players in the Figure 1 below. The yellow player has good precision, but his accuracy is off. The green player has such poor precision, it is hard to tell if his accuracy is good. The yellow player will typically be easier to correct, as she just needs to change her aiming point.

Figure 1. The yellow player has greater precision. She only needs to change her aiming point.











Recently I was asked to evaluate several solder pastes to determine which printed better. We used transfer efficiency (the volume of the stencil printed solder paste “brick” divided by the stencil aperture volume) as the evaluation metric, expressed in percent. So 100% would be the target. The lower specification limit we choose was 50% and the upper specification at 150%.

Figure 2. Data from Pastes A and B.


A good result would be an average of 100% with a “tight” distribution. The “tightness” of the distribution being determined by the standard deviation. Figure 2 shows data from two pastes. Note that Paste A has an average of 100% and a standard deviation of 16.67%, whereas Paste B has an average of 80% and a standard deviation of 30%. Clearly, Paste A is superior to Paste B in both accuracy and precision. But what is the best way to express this difference? Is there one metric that will do it? Cpk is the answer.

Cpk is one metric that is sensitive to both the accuracy and precision. Cpk is defined as:




Where x is the average and S is the standard deviation.

Using these equations, we see that the Cpk of Paste A is 1.0, whereas the Cpk of Paste B is 0.333. Note that Paste B has a significant number of data points (about 17%) outside of the specification limits, however, Paste A has almost no data points out of specification.
So when evaluating most processes, Cpk tells it all!

Dr. Ron


What Makes a Good Fiducial?

Accountants may have a fiduciary responsibility, but that really has nothing to do with PCB assembly. Change the “ry” to a “ls,” however, and you get fiducials, which does have something to do with PCB assembly.

A fiducial is essentially an alignment mark for surface-mount assembly machines. High-volume assembly requires them to ensure accurate registration and parts placement. Low-volume assembly, like we do at Screaming Circuits, doesn’t necessarily require them. (Some low-volume shops do, so ask before assuming.) Even if they aren’t required, they still help and are always a pretty decent idea.

The basic idea, explained in this blog post here, is to create a non-reversal pattern with two or three fiducial marks on the board or panel. As you can see in the image above, the designer placed three fiducials around the board in a non-reversible pattern. (To protect the confidentiality of the board design, I obscured the circuit detail with this convenient robot head.)

In terms of the specific construction of a fiducial, two things are most important: contrast, and accuracy of position.

Contrast comes from it being bare copper – make it 1 to 2mm in diameter. Don’t cover it with solder mask. Make the mask opening 2 to 5mm larger than the copper.

The image on the left shows closeup detail. This particular fiducial mark uses a square cutout in the silk screen. Most use a round cutout, but the shape isn’t all that important. The copper pad should be round, though.

Making it out of copper gives the positioning accuracy. I’ve been asked why silk screen markings aren’t acceptable. Silk screen isn’t always registered consistently, and is therefore won’t ensure accurate alignment. Don’t use silk screen as a fudicial or positioning mark of any kind.

Again, they’re generally required for high-volume manufacturing. We (Screaming Circuits) don’t require them for low-volume, but some assembly houses do. Even when not required, they’re still a good idea.

Duane Benson
Fiducial on the roof is a long movie
But at least it stays in place