The Hurdles of New Technology Adoption

Every so often a new electronics assembly technology comes along, and I am asked my opinion about it. The latest “new” technology for assembly is RF Activated “Green” Nano Solder.

My response when asked about this? I think Intel’s caveat in the article tells it all: “Intel cautioned, however, that several engineering refinements need to be made before the new RF soldering method can be used commercially.’

Interpretation: This puppy needs $20 million of R&D before it is ready.

Nano solders have been studied for years. They are interesting and have promise, but there are big hurdles. People will say they want an exciting new technology like this, until they find that the soldering material costs much more than their current one, they need new equipment, etc. All of a sudden, today’s process (disappointments included) don’t look so bad. It is hard to replace an incumbent process unless there is a strong need — and typically it must be at equal or lower cost. These will be challenges for this proposed process.

So my take is, it is interesting process science, but let’s wait to see more data, prototypes and cost estimates before we get too excited.

Any new technology process must be evaluated under the following criteria:

  • If “disruptive,” it must meet an overwhelming need. E.g.: If your process has a 95% first-pass yield and the 5% of the product that is repaired only cost a small amount, you would be unlikely to take a chance on a unproven technology when the time comes to invest money in it.
  • The new technology’s implementation must have a minimum of disruption, if implemented in a current process and the cost must be equal or less than today’s process. E.g.: You want to improve your process in #1; however, if the new process requires radically new equipment and/or materials, you would be hesitant to adopt.
  • The process will need several years to prove itself. You know the problems with today’s process, but what are the problems with the new process? You likely want yield and reliability data. These requirements take some time.
  • You must consider the improvements in the old process. Often a new process will aim at where the old process is today, not recognizing that the old process is often improving by the time the new process is implemented.

Using these criteria, let’s look at the implementation of SMT technology in the age of through-hole (TH), circa 1980. How did it measure up to these four criteria?:

1. SMT met an overwhelming need. One simply could not design a small, high performance personal product, like a mobile phone, with PTH.

2. SMT lines evolved from PTH lines, sometimes with radical changes, but the need overwhelmed any disruption.

3. Much work was performed on SMT products to demonstrate that reliability was acceptable.

4. The need for SMT was so great that PTH’s “future” was not an issue.

Contrast this to the SMT process discussed above (that has 95% first-pass yield) with the 5% fallout reworkable. It becomes difficult to envision making any “disruptive” change to a process like this .. it just won’t pay financially or in any other way.

Your comments?

Dr. Ron

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