In SMT Assembly, Even 1 Second of Cycle Time Can Affect Profitability


Patty had just returned from SMTAI 2015. It was a sentimental meeting with the retirement of longtime executive administrator JoAnn Stromberg. At one of the technical sessions, Patty was especially interested in epoxy flux being used as an underfill. She couldn’t wait to discuss it with The Professor.

As she drove up to Ivy University’s campus, she was struck by the many hundreds of students walking to class. No one was overweight and no one was smoking. She reminded herself to discuss this topic in her statistics class. Surely Ivy U did not represent the typical 18-22 year-olds in this regard.

Soon, she arrived at her office. After clearing her laptop of emails, she headed to The Professor’s office.

Patty had been working to improve her French. Since French was one of the 18 languages in The Professor’s repertoire, they often spoke it to improve (for Patty) and keep sharp (for The Professor). Patty chuckled to herself that her French was now good enough to hear The Professor’s Quebecois accent. He learned French as a pre-teen, as his parents were missionaries for Wycliffe Bible Translators and worked with some remote Indian tribes in northern Quebec.

Bonjour Professeur, comment allez-vous?Patty dit gaiement.

“Je suis bon Patty, comment étais SMTAI?” Le professeur a répondu.

The remainder of the discussion will be translated into English for our non-Francophone readers.

“It’s too bad that you couldn’t make it this year. The retirement dinner for JoAnn was touching,” Patty began.

“It will be hard to replace her, indeed. Her commitment was extraordinary,” The Professor responded.

After discussing this topic for a few minutes, The Professor changed the subject.

“Were there any interesting papers presented at the SMTAI tech sessions?” he asked.

“That’s why I’m here,” Patty replied. “There was a paper on epoxy flux as an underfill material. It was a great talk comparing epoxy fluxes to standard underfills. The speaker mentioned how using epoxy flux allows the operator to avoid using a separate dispensing process and curing oven that standard underfills require. His point was that the epoxy underfill approach would save a lot of money, as long as the epoxy process only added one second or less to the cycle time. This one second was the time it took to dip the flip chip or BGA into the flux.”

Patty immediately saw the troubled look on The Professor’s face.

“Professor, I sense you are thinking the same thing that I was,” Patty said.

“Yes, one second is a long time,” The Professor replied. “One second is 5% of a 20-second cycle time, so your production is reduced by 5%. Not a trivial amount.”

“My sense is that this one second would be a greater cost than paying for the dispenser and curing oven in a standard underfill process that keeps the cycle time at 20 seconds,” Patty said.

The Professor nodded his head in agreement and then went to his laptop. In just 3 or 4 minutes, he had calculated four different scenarios using ProfitPro software.

“Well, in most cases, the cost of that 1 second/cycle lost by the epoxy flux process costs the operator somewhere between a few hundreds of thousands of dollars to more than one million dollars per line per year,” The Professor explained. “This estimate even considers the fact that the standard process already needs a dispenser and curing oven.”

“You know what I always say.” The Professor started.

“It never pays to reduce productivity,” Patty chimed in, always the faithful student.

“Take a look at this one example. A large ESM manufactures a product with a 3-shift, 5-day/week operation on a state-of-the-art SMT line. The default, as shown in the figure, is the financial result for one year of production, using a typical underfill, assuming $200K for a dispenser and curing oven and a 28 second cycle time.

“The second run shows the financial results using an epoxy flux that requires a one second longer cycle time (29 seconds), but saves capital cost in that the line does not need a dispenser or reflow oven.”

“Wow, the company loses over $100,000 per year with the epoxy flux!” Patty exclaimed.

“Precisely,” The Professor responded.

“But, this doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t use epoxy flux as an underfill,” Patty stated.

“Right, they just need to avoid losing the one second.” The Professor agreed. “Where do you think the one second can be found?”

“Probably in line balancing,” Patty responded. “About the closest you can balance a line is within a second or two. It could be as simple as having the epoxy-fluxed part placed by the fastest placement machine.”

“And if there are many components that use epoxy flux?” The Professor asked.

“It would likely pay to get another placement machine,” Patty answered quickly.

“As always, there is never one right or wrong way to address a problem like this,” The Professor pointed out. “But, we should always perform the calculations to determine which approach makes the most sense.”

“Yes, and always remember that it never pays to reduce productivity,” Patty joked.

They both smiled as Patty left The Professor’s office.


Dr. Ron