Is the Time Right for Solderless Assembly?


Apex 2010 appeared to be a great success. Attendance was high and my “Lead-Free Assembly” workshop broke a personal record of about 60 attendees.

While at the show, I was invited to a meeting on solderless assembly, ably organized by Phil Marcoux. About 15 people were at the meeting. The intent was to crystallize what is needed to make solderless technology a reality. Many have suggested that solderless assembly’s time is now. The main reason being the challenges of lead-free solder-based assembly and its perceived lack of reliability. Some believe that solderless technology is a next logical step in assembly on the order of importance of the advent of SMT assembly.

I was well-behaved at the meeting (I am a something of a renowned skeptic of solderless assembly), but pointed out, early on, that any solderless assembly technique (the Occam process a likely contender), must be disassemble-able to meet the requirements of WEEE.

Much spirited but pleasant discussion transpired related to what is needed to make this technology a reality. Several folks mentioned that a “killer app” would be needed to kick-start solderless assembly, and supply the considerable monies needed.

Finally, near the end of the meeting, Phil, suggesting I had been too quiet, and asked me to chime in. I said that I agreed that a killer app was needed, and proceeded to tell a story. It went as such:

Let’s say it was several years ago and Steve Jobs heard about solderless technology. He was wondering if it might be right for Apple’s future killer app, the iPad. So we are invited to visit him on Infinity Drive. After confidentially agreements are signed, he starts speaking. He proceeds to tell us that the BOM for the entry level iPad is $250 and assembly adds $9. Reliability of lead-free products has been equal to, or better than, leaded products and lead-free enables finer PWB lead spacings than does leaded solder. So he is not unhappy with lead-free assembly, but would like to do solderless technology, if it makes sense. The assembled cost has to be less than the $259 and solderless reliability must be better. We would need to be ready for an April 2010 launch.

I think the cost metrics in this scenario would be difficult for a solderless technology to compete with. And, even if the price was a few dollars less, what is the compelling reason to change?

SMT arrived because through-hole technology could not meet the miniaturization requirements of modern electronics. We could not have modern electronics without SMT. What are the compelling reasons solderless technology should be used in an application like the one discussed above? The answer still escapes me.

Dr. Ron

2 thoughts on “Is the Time Right for Solderless Assembly?

  1. I have some experience with alternatives to soldering .. thick film / thin film hybrids , conductive polymer based adhesives , etc…
    and I even prefer some of them to ROHS SMT ……
    ( at present, I don’t see Occam making it… maybe I am missing something)

    Your final assessment is correct…
    Unless there is a compelling reason.. disruptive changes in technology will not happen.

    from 1950s to late 80s… Military / aerospace drove electronics technology… and costs were secondary.
    This allowed many different alternatives in packaging ..
    many niche packaging solutions, with modest volumes existed.
    robustness (temp, rad hard, etc) , size, weight were of primary importance

    from 1990 to present… consumer products drive technology.. and costs are primary.
    Standardization of SMT processes, size , raw performance were close behind in importance.
    Robustness.. has fallen in importance.. ( make it last 20 years? why? it will be replaced in 3)

    The problem:
    Robustness is very important..
    and designing for product life of less than 5 years.. is environmentally unsound..
    Besides wasteful of materials/energy… we haven’t really solved re-cycling issue.

    This industry wide mind set has made it very hard to find components / processes that will be supported for products that MUST be robust ( medical, infrastructure, military, industry)..
    This pervades all aspects of product design .. (software, testing , etc…)

    so.. we create more complex and fragile products.. nearly impossible to guarantee it’s performance in critical applications ( Toyota? Smart Power Grid performance/security?).

    When will the pendulum swing back ? .. time will tell.

  2. A very smart man once said to me, “Never underestimate the tenacity of incumbent technology.”

    Timeless wisdom.

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