Another National Treasure Lost?

The April 26 news in the Cedar Rapids Gazette announcing the impending closure of Rockwell Collins’ 49-year-old printed circuit operations should be spotlighted nationally for several reasons. It cites declining profits and business as the reason for the decision. It follows by just 6 months the layoff by Rockwell Collins of 300 workers. It signals the continued decline of manufacturing in America along with the accompanying know-how and innovation formerly ascribed to Collins’ printed circuit business. It says that outsourcing PCB production is fairly common in the electronics industry. This is true. But then, the article states that Apple, the “most valuable company in the United States outsources the manufacture of all its components, including printed circuits.” What it does not tell us is that these components are also primarily purchased and assembled into iPhones and iPads in China, mostly by Foxonn (Hon Hai). Tens of thousands of Chinese workers are employed to do this profitably for Apple.  Is the Rockwell Collins spokesperson who was quoted inferring that Collins’ boards are to also be made in China? Is there an ITAR issue involved in this case? In any event, the announced closure plan should remind us that our once strong manufacturing base that produced nearly 60% of the jobs in the US when the Collins PWB works was founded has now shrunk to about 20%, or less. Manufacturing in America is now reported to be only about 20% of our GDP. So I listen to all those that say we must bring jobs back to America and wonder, “How? Over what period of time? In what industries?”

Nepcon China, held in Shanghai April 23-25, was busy, but with tire-kickers, not buyers. The show, slightly smaller than the previous edition, seemed to lack the excitement of previous years as business outlook was cloudy. Several former Chinese companies appear to have dropped out now that show producer Reed is applying uniform prices to all exhibitors. Chinese firms had paid reduced fees for spaces in prior years.

There was little in the way of innovation. There was a plethora of Western reporters from virtually all of the related media. There were at least 3 well known industry journalists from the U.S. and Europe conducting video interviews in English as well as Chinese of exhibitors and celebrity attendees.

Concern over the economic effect caused by the Chinese-Japanese territorial tiff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands increased during the show as stories of customs delays in critical spare parts and new equipment shipments were reported. Japan is a major suppliers of SMT assembly and test equipment to our industry in China.

Dr. Philip Carmichael, the new IPC president of China operations, was there meeting people, making presentations, negotiating collaborative deals for the future, and giving interviews. During his short tenure Dr. Carmichael has met every major organization in our industry in China to see how he can increase the value proposition of IPC members. Making sense of 23 different trade shows and major events can be daunting, but Carmichael seemed unfazed by the challenge. He has already increased IPC’s China membership by about 20% this year. He advised us to watch for new announcements in the near future.   The IPC sponsored hand soldering competition remained a crowd-pleaser in Shanghai as it was at its other previous venues.

CTEX 2013, which started as a show in Suzhou named “Circuitex” by Taiwan board makers, will have its 9th presentation May 8-10 at the Suzhou International Exhibition Center. The name “Circuitex” was first coined by MacDermid in the early 1960s when it established its first specialty chemical line of products for the printed circuit industry. This year’s presentation will cover bare boards, SMT and ICs with a focus on products for the iPhone5, IPad Mini, and Nexus 7 by Apple and Google. The event is being promoted as the 9th Suzhou PCB/SMT Show.

Collins Closing

Count me among those sorry to hear the news that Rockwell is closing its printed circuit board fabrication plant.

I’ve been through that plant and this is sad to see. I wrote a profile of the plant for PC FAB in 2000. At the time, then GM Mike Driscoll was overseeing a major implementation of Lean manufacturing, making the site one of the early adopters of the practice.

I’m of the opinion (minority, probably) that OEMs retaining in-house knowledge and expertise of manufacturing processes is a good thing, even if they can’t necessarily generate a direct profit from it.

That, plus I knew several people who worked in that shop over the years and every one of them is a class act.

There are still a few major OEMs with in-house fab capacity. Let’s hope they see fit to keep it.


RoHS, Six Years After


I was at IPC Apex Expo the other week.  San Diego is a great venue for the show, but I always forget how cold it can be (55°-65°F) this time of year.

While at the show, I was interviewed on lead-free reliability and its cost for consumer electronics. These are topics I think about often, so let’s discuss them a bit. First, let’s consider reliability.  RoHS was enacted on July 1, 2006, more than 6 ½ years ago. Each year more than $1 trillion worth of electronics are made, therefore, in this period of time, something over $3 trillion worth of consumer electronics have been manufactured. There have been no “the sky is falling”-type of reliability issues in this time. How can I say this? Well, my office at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth is across the hall from the IT (information Technology) Dept. They purchase all the millions of dollars worth of PCs, printers, displays etc. that Thayer uses. Several years ago (say early 2011) I stopped by when most of the department was in and cheerfully asked if the reliability of the equipment they purchase has gone down since lead-free assembly was enacted. They asked me in unison, “What’s lead-free assembly.” After I explained what lead-free assembly was, they confirmed that they have noticed no changes in reliability. Since RoHS, my family has purchase about 100+ electronic devices, a few have had reliability problems, about as many as in the past. Most were attributed to hard drive fails. Of the scores of friends and colleagues I have, no one has ever commented that they have noticed an increase in electronics fails. So, my conclusion is that consumer product reliability is not “practically” worse if my family and  these many  other folks haven’t noticed it.

I have made an informal study of reliability data of lead-free vis-a-vis tin-lead solders published in papers. A statement from Rockwell Collins’ JCAA/JGF-PP No Lead solder Project: -55C-125C Thermal Cycle Testing Final Report  sums up my overview conclusion nicely: “Test vehicles assembled with lead-free materials (notably tin-silver-copper) exhibited lower reliability under some test conditions.”  Naysayers might be quick to suggest that this statement says that lead-free is no good. However, the statement could be reworded to say: “In considerably more than half of the test conditions, test vehicles assembled with lead-free materials had higher reliability.” Counting the comparisons in the Rockwell-Collins paper shows lead-free better in 51 cases, tin-lead better in 31 cases, and one draw. However, it is disturbing that a small percentage of lead-free assembled test vehicles had much much worse reliability than tin-lead test vehicles. This later information makes me believe that lead-free is not yet ready for mission-critical, high-reliability, long-life products. These small numbers of much poorer reliability assemblies must be understood and corrected before lead-free is ready for mission-critical prime time. The much shorter lifecycle of today’s consumer electronics may also mask this concern.

What about cost? I don’t at all want to minimize the expense that many went through to go lead-free and RoHS compliant. In about 2007, one of our colleagues estimated that it cost the electronics industry $20 billion to become RoHS compliant. I think this number is low, but, from a consumer’s perspective, there has been no cost hardship. The price of a PC continued to go down during and after RoHS implementation, as shown in the figure below. While performing my non-scientific survey of co-workers, family, and friends on reliability, I also asked about cost. All agreed, electronics are cheaper than ever.


Challenges still exist, even in consumer electronics with the Head-in-Pillow, Graping, non wet opens, and other defects.  However, we can all purchase lead-free, RoHS compliant products at a reasonable cost and reliability.



Dr. Ron

The source for the image is :


Best Wishes,

Dr. Ron

Talking Data Transfer at ZDAC

I had the great pleasure of attending Zuken’s ZDAC users group meeting earlier this month in San Antonio at the invitation of Steve Chidester, head of product marketing, and Amy Clements, marketing/sales manager.

Steve and Amy had asked me to present on electronics data transfer, a subject many readers know has long held my interest.

There were about 100 people who attended the event this year, slightly up over last year. All the usual Zuken folks were there: Gerhard Lipski, GM of Zuken Europe; Dave Gullickson, GM of Zuken USA; apps engineer Griff Derryberry; Humair Mandavia; Sandy Jones; and so on. I also was fortunate to meet with Zuken COO Jinya Katsube and CTO Kazuhiro Kariya.

As we’ve reported over at, just before ZDAC, Zuken rolled out two new tools: DesignForce, which accelerates prototyping by enabling chip-package-interconnect substrate optimization in a single, native 3D format. The CAD company also released CR-8000, its primary CAD flow. (DesignForce is embedded in CR-8000.) They spent a considerable amount of time discussing those two new tools and their ongoing product roadmap, including CR-5000 Lighting v. 14 next March, which will include a netless router. Zuken says it sees a need to move more information to upstream design, such as system and architecture. The main takeaway was that design makes up 4% of the cost of the process, but it determines 60% of the product cost.

I had about 45 people in my session. There was great interest in the topic, in part because some of the people there have been pushing their companies (RIM, Rockwell Collins, Northrop Grumman, to name but a few) to standardize on IPC-2581. All in all, it was well worth the time.

Also, Zuken is doing a lot in wiring harness design. This is a big market for many EMS companies (especially for military and aerospace work), and there are probably 12 to 15 companies that supply design software for wiring harness. (Some big ones are Mentor, Zuken, Eplan, Autodesk, and IGE-XAO). I didn’t attend the wiring harness design sessions, but it seems the audience was fairly split between the two.

Next year’s event will be held in Newport, CA, around the same time frame (early November).