Industry 4.0: The Great Equalizer?

Gen Consutling Co. (GCC) has issued the Radiant Insights report “Global HDI Printed Circuit Board Market Forecast and Analysis 2016-2021.” The report provides a detailed analysis of worldwide markets for HDI Printed Circuit Board from 2011-2016, and provides market forecasts for 2016-2021 by region/country and subsectors. It covers the key technological and market trends in the HDI Printed Circuit Board market and further lays out an analysis of the factors influencing the supply/demand for HDI Printed Circuit Board, and the opportunities/challenges faced by industry participants. GCC states that the major players in the global HDI market are Unimicron, COMPEQ, AT&S, TTM, Zhen Ding, Ibiden, Tripod and Unitech.

Multek, a wholly owned subsidiary of FLEX, launched its new Zhuhai automotive division on May26 to support its rapidly growing automotive business. The company also announced completion of ISO/TS16949:2009 quality accreditation for its high layer count factory, and now delivers TS16949-grade automotive offerings at all of its manufacturing facilities globally.

Industry 4.0 is advancing rapidly in the Kunshan, China, electronics manufacturing hub. Will Industry 4.0 be enough by itself to make other areas of the world more competitively suitable for  sourcing?

Kunshan in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai attracts much of its investment from Taiwan. It is now accelerating growth by replacing workers with robots. Thirty-five of the 4,800 Taiwan companies in this area, including Foxconn, spent $610 million on artificial intelligence last year. Foxconn reduced  its labor force there from 110,000 to 50,000 by the introduction of robots. AS many as 600 more Taiwanese companies in  Kunshan are reported to have similar  plans.

Reality 4.0 – Are you missing the boat?

Some of our North American smaller fabricators facing difficult times and decisions sit back on their haunches and vociferously state that the IPC does nothing for them. They are missing the boat. The IPC provides the structure and support that allows virtually any group to band together, and work collaboratively to overcome obstacles and handicaps, and succeed in a rapidly changing and challenging environment. The IPC Ambassadors are creating an Executive Forum just for them and their supply chain. It will explore new technologies and trends, support opportunities,  and provide answers to many of the questions posed by these smaller enterprises of which there are more than 100 in the US. Additionally, the IPC will provide a new membership opportunity that will be difficult to refuse. Remember, there is strength in numbers! Stay tuned!

The IPC’s 3rd Reliability Forum held in Dusseldorf this month was a resounding success. The 2-1/2 day event started with a presentation on building in reliability by IPC director and ambassador Mike Carano, vice president of RBP Chemical Technology. Other prominent presenters included DuPont, Fraunhofer Institute, Atotech, and Park Electrochemical. The first full day focused designing for reliability, while the second addressed process. A half day on government relations activities was also included.

The Boston Chapter of the SMTA held its May meeting at Cirtronics, which graciously opened its doors (and factory for a tour) to host the event. Though held in New Hampshire, it attracted IPC and SMTA members from Massachusetts and the Western part of Connecticut. Cirtronics is an employee-owned contract manufacturer founded by its CEO Gerardine Ferlins. The busy facility was up-to-date and spotless. The profitable 176 employee company has progressed to the point where 70% of its business includes box-build. It has just acquired several new screen printers and is evaluating several new 3D AOI systems for purchase.

The meeting program featured Leo Lambert, vice president and technical director of EPTAC Corp. He covered key changes in and amendments to the IPC-A-600, IPC-A610, and J-STD-001 standards and how they affect our industry and the latest training and certification programs. Somehow the live presentation provided a far different result than the typical webinar. Humor was used to highlight specific points, problems, difficulties and the current situation. The result was very effective – at least to me. For example, amendments have been made that are different or in direct opposition to the original document. Yet the certification programs and manuals still contain and teach the unmodified or corrected items. Lambert well presented the need for peer review of training – if not standards – documentation so when the users receive it, they are not confused by any inconsistency.

The first Innovations Forum Hungary: Automation in Electronics Production “– building a competitive advantage in the region” will be held on the 16th of June, 2016 at the prestigious Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), which represents robot manufacturers and research institutes, says China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s biggest market for industrial robots.

There is increasing concern about the secure availability of advanced printed circuits for America’s defense industry. These are needed to provide the platforms for high tech electronics. R&D for new systems seem to be progressing well. However, the US base of smaller fabricators that produce more than half of military boards is hard-pressed to fund the new equipment needed to build these circuits. Costs are often more than 20% of annual turnover. Some fabs in the Northeast as well as in California continue to report difficulty in acquiring the skilled workers needed for production. Others cannot modernize or add capacity due to local (state) “environmental” laws and restrictions. Congress is slow to act and too busy with the election to do much of anything this next year. It has funded some major items but do not consider printed circuits a big item. PWBs’ importance is still not yet well-enough understood. Do you have a comment, recommendation, or solution?

When will 3-D printing for prototyping be at your favorite circuit shop?

Sooner than you think — at least for prototyping. One system utilizing an ink containing nano silver particles for fine line printing will be made available commercially by the end of this year. It will be demonstrated at the CES show in Las Vegas January 2017. The deposited circuit traces may be photonically cured (sintered). HP announced a 3-D new system that is 10 times faster than its predecessors. The insulating substrate may be UV cured epoxy. One such system for epoxy has already been demonstrated in the UK. Get your 3-D circuit printing update at the IPC Ambassador Council Executive Forum for fabricators and their supply chain at IPC Apex Expo in San Diego on Feb. 13, 2017.

Financial news from Taiwan

Chin-Poon Industrial, with more than 70% of its revenues coming from the automotive industry, announced consolidated revenues for April 2016 increased 5.4% over April 2015 to $58.7 million. The company’s cumulative 2016 sales through April increased 9.3% from a year earlier. Consolidated revenues at Tripod Technology’s sales were up 1.1% from a year ago to $107 million in April 2015 Compeq Manufacturing had consolidated revenues of $93.9 million in April 2016, down 0.1% from April 2015 PCB producer Apex International’s April 2016 revenues were $21.4 million a 9.4% increase over last year.

Board maker Zhen Ding Technology Holding’s net profits declined 88% on quarter and 77% on year to $9.52 million in the first quarter of 2016.

The UK’s HK Wentworth, parent company of Electrolube, which supplies sprays and coatings to protect, clean and lubricate electronic circuit boards, switches and sensors, is spending £500,000 to build a new factory to make protective coatings in Bangalore, India.

It’s a new era and all about “the Car”

SEMI and Georgia Tech, in partnership with iNEMI, IMAPS, and IEEE, will launch a new workshop called FUTURECAR: New Era of Automotive Electronics Nov. 9-10, 2016, in Atlanta, GA. The new era of automotive electronics is the most complex electronics technology to date. It includes not only computing and communications electronics, autonomous driving electronics, sensing electronics but also high-power and high-temperature electronics. It is expected to account for a third of the value of “the car”, creating a market of approximately $1 trillion within a decade. The challenges to address this market include: 1) research and development of key technologies, and 2) technology ecosystem stewardship to enable swift and cost-efficient commercialization. The basis of this workshop is the synergy between Georgia Tech in R&D in partnership with its 50 supply-chain companies and SEMI in technology stewardship. This is complemented by the strength of co-sponsors such as iNEMI in roadmaps, and IEEE-CPMT and IMAPS as global electronics societies.

The European Institute of Printed Circuits (EIPC) meeting on “Strategies to maintain profitability in the European PCB Industry” will be held June 9-10 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The European Commission said growth in the euro zone and the wider European Union will be slightly weaker this year than previously forecast, as it warned that the economic slowdown in China and other emerging markets, geopolitical tensions and uncertainty ahead of the U.K. referendum on EU membership could weigh on the economy. Economic growth in Gulf States is forecast to slow to 1.8% this year as the oil dependent region cuts spending to battle fiscal deficits reaching 11.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A new China target?

French oil and gas producer Total plans to sell Atotech. “Atotech no longer falls within Total’s strategic vision,” chief executive Patrick Pouyanne was quoted as saying. Total is reported to be seeking a buyer that was “committed to sustaining Atotech’s current strategy.” Berlin-based Atotech, which generates annual sales of about $1 billion, manufactures specialty chemicals and equipment for printed circuit boards and semiconductors. It is Total’s sole remaining specialty chemicals unit.

Apple lost the trademark suit in the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, which ruled that Xintong Tiandi Technology can continue to use the phrase “IPHONE” on its leather wallets and accessories, according to China-based Legal Daily. Chinese regulators reportedly shut down iTunes Movies and the iBooks Store last month.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn sold his entire stake in Apple, citing the risk of China’s influence on the stock.

SEMI continues to strengthen and broaden its supply chain reach

SEMI has announced the appointment of Melissa Grupen-Shemansky, Ph.D., as chief technology officer for the FlexTech Group and for SEMI’s Advanced Packaging program. With over 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry, Grupen-Shemansky will oversee FlexTech’s flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) and Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC) R&D programs and technology advisory councils. Grupen-Shemansky will also serve as technical advisor to SEMI’s Advanced Packaging initiative and as technical liaison to NextFlex, the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Nepcon China held in Shanghai the last week of April was surprisingly the best in years. Pent up demand for pick-and-place equipment led the surge in active buying interest after a near drought in purchasing the past few years of the economic slowdown there.  The next few weeks will tell just how real the show activity was as stated interest converts to orders.

Firan Technology Group (FTG) is buying the assets of Teledyne Technology’sNew Hampshire’s printed circuit technology business (Teledyne PCT) for $9.3 million in cash. For approximately 50 years, Teledyne PCT has designed and manufactured rigid-flex printed circuit boards and assemblies used in the defense, aerospace and oil and gas industries. For each of the last three years, the unit has generated between $15.0 to $20.0 million of annual revenue. FTG has two operating units: FTG Circuits is a manufacturer of high technology, high reliability printed circuit boards. FTG Aerospace manufactures illuminated cockpit panels, keyboards and subassemblies for original equipment manufacturers of aerospace and defense equipment.

GHS Timeline in USA

The Globally Harmonized System (GHS) of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals is a worldwide initiative to promote standard criteria for classifying chemicals according to their health, physical and environmental hazards.

GHS is a universal pictograph language. So that a worker in Asia, or in the Americas —or in Africa or Europe or Antarctica — can all read and render the same hazard insignias at a glance. GHS makes sense.

A lot changes with the new system. Most readers of this blog are familiar with the new system’s use of pictograms, hazard statements, and signal words “Danger” and “Warning” to communicate hazard information on product labels and safety data sheets.

So what are the GHS deadlines for US companies?  At the right you’ll see a graphical timeline showing dates for US implementation of GHS.

For help with GHS compliance, contact your favorite consultancy or check with a neutral, platform-agnostic software provider. On the software note, the GHS challenge is formidable enough to have spawned newbie GHS solutions. Do basic Google searches and research. Talk to a few software vendors. Actio Corporation is a good example of a veteran, proven software company that can help with GHS conversion. Whether you decide to use software or not is up to you. Just know that a software company might really help with your GHS challenge.

Speaking of Reference Designators …

In my prior post about BOMs, I gave a few examples of reference designator formats in the BOM. BOMs are a common item that have standards but no standards as are reference designators. There are actually a number of standards covering reference designators, but I still find people referring to documents published in the 1970s!

Some aspects are pretty obvious. They are a code letter followed by a sequential number. Each and every placement on the PCB has to have a unique reference designator. The code letters are somewhat standardized, in practice. Some vary based on the particular user. Pretty much everyone uses “R” for resistor and “C” for capacitor. The mostly standard designator for an integrated circuit chip is “U”, although I’ve seen “IC” used enough times. Crystals and oscillators are supposed to be “Y”, but I’ve also seen “X”, “Q” and “U” used. Check this page over at Mentor Graphics for its recommendations.

Things start to get sticky when people have more than 10 of a given type of component or when putting together a family panel (several different designs on the same PCB panel). Let’s say you have 15 resistors. You could designate them as R1, R2, R3 – R15. But maybe you’re a little OCD and you want them to all have two digits. In that case, you might have R01, R02, R03 – R15. To a human, “R1” and “R01” might very well be exactly the same thing. But to a surface mount robot, they are two different things. The robot would be happy with R01, R02, R3, R03, R4… but that could cause problems for a human reworking or maintaining the circuit later. It’s best to be consistent. Basically, the assembly systems see reference designators as text items, not numerics.

Let’s take the example of a family panel. One board has C1 and C2 are a 10uf, 24V tantalum cap. The other board has C1 as a .01uf, 50V ceramic and C2 as a 220uf 24V metal can electrolytic. If you were having them built separately, there wouldn’t be any problems, but the two of those on a surface mount machine in a family panel and you will have bad news.

First, you could avoid running your boards as family panels. That’s not always practical, though. Second, you could just start numbering the second design where the first one stops: design one: R1, R2, R3, R4. Design two: R5, R6, R7, R8. That makes a lot of sense for a family panel. Just treat it all like one big design. That can get confusing though if you later run them individually or need to do some rework. Some poor tech could go crazy looking for R1 on design two. Even worse would be: design on: R1, R3, R7. Design two: R2, R4, R5, R8. Again, fine as a family but darn confusing when separated.

Personally, I would probably go with something like: design one: R101, R102, R103. Design two: R201, R202, R203.

Duane Benson
You know the nearer your designator, the more you’re silk screening away


Yes, I’m talking about BoMs (bills of materials), not bombs. That would be silly and irrelevant. At least mostly irrelevant. If you make bombs, it wouldn’t be, but it would probably be all secret so we couldn’t talk about it.

The question of the day is: “What makes a good BoM?” There are a lot of BoM formats in use. It’s one area that the standards train more or less left behind. Well, there are standards. For example, IPC-2581 covers not only BoM standards, but a replacement for Gerbers and the whole manufacturing data package. One of these days, we’ll all be using the IPC-2581 formats for our data and life will be beautiful all of the time.

However, those standards aren’t really in common use today. And, they are complex enough that they can’t really be used in spreadsheet form. There’s a lot of nesting and hierarchy that makes it more difficult to deal with without a BoM management software package. Still there is good data in there. A lot of good data. So much good data that my head is still swimming.

But until that day, there is a set of data and data labels that will help ensure accuracy. The headers are important too. If this seems quite rudimentary, that’s because it is. But it’s important.

BOM snippet

  • “BomItem” or “Item #”: This is just the line number. Each type of part gets an item line, not each part. If the pat number is the same, you just put it down once and give the quantity.
  • “quantity” or “Qty”: How many of this specific part you need per board
  • “RefDes”: The reference designators used by the parts on the PCB silk screen. All of the same part number should be in the same excel spreadsheet cell: i.e., “R3, R4, R5, R6”. You can also indicate a contiguous range with a dash: “R3-R6” or “R3-R6, R10, R15”
  • “Manufacturer” or “Manf”: The name of the component manufacturer. It’s best to spell out the full name, e.g., “Texas Instruments”, but common abbreviations such as “TI” generally work too. The less ambiguity, the better.
  • “Mfg Part #” or “Manufacturer Part #”: The part number that you would use if you were buying this exact part from the manufacturer or a distributor. All of the suffixes are important too. For example, “PIC16F88” is not enough when you really need a “PIC16F88-I/P”.
  • “Dist. Part #” or “Distributor Part #”:Not strictly necessary, but can help in cases with a bit of ambiguity. Again, this would need to be the exact part numer as you would order it from that distributor.
  • “Description”or “Desc”: This is the component description as given by the manufacturer. Again, this isn’t strictly required, just a good idea.
  • “Package”: This is the standard package type, e.g., “SOT-23”, “TO-92”, “0201”. Again, not strictly necessary but can be a good redundant check.
  • “Type”: Optional indicator of the generic type. e.g., “fine pitch”, “smt”, “thru-hole”, “Leadless”. Not required but can help with assembly quoting.

That’s not IPC-2581, but it is a good set of usual requirements. It’s also best to put your final BoM on the first tab in your excel spreadsheet. That will make it easier for buyers to know exactly what you want.

Duane Benson
So long mom, I’m off to drop the bill of materials
So, don’t wait up for me

New CEO Mitchell Breathing Life in IPC

The early feedback is that new IPC CEO John Mitchell has brought a much-needed breath of fresh air to an organization that had lost its drive and character after 11 years under the previous regime.

Among the early changes include a recognition that IPC has become out of touch with many segments of its membership. Designers were so disenchanted, a group of the Designers Council leaders were preparing to bolt the organization altogether. Fabricators’ antipathy toward IPC is well-documented and may even run deeper, as many smaller and private shops have long since labeled IPC as disinterested in their concerns. Even some assembly equipment suppliers have shared concerns over the standards process and perceived biases toward certain groups.

Much of that is turning around under Mitchell. He has moved quickly to make the rounds of various constituents, and in a departure from his predecessor, has not relied on staff to vet member opinions. He has begun to shed some of the entrenched “lifers” who had alienated too much of the membership to continue in their roles. And he has made clear, according to sources, that the staff focus going forward needs to be on the members, which is a long overdue switch from a decade of “Is It Good for the IPC?”*

Further, he is repositioning the organization to better reflect the way the industry is structured. One new division is simply called Member Success, which he describes as a group of functions (membership, member support, events and industry councils and market research) “focused on helping our members be more successful and taking an active role in helping them more fully benefit from their IPC membership.” Most of these areas had grown stagnant to the point of calcification. One of the problems many had identified with IPC is that it existed as much (or more) to ensure its own success but had lost its vision on how to improve members’ profitability. Recognizing that the onus needs to be on IPC to help its members (and not the other way around) is a long overdue and welcome shot in the arm.

Dave Torp, whom many feel is a talented but marginalized asset, is now clearly in charge of the technology and training programs, a role where his background in engineering at Rockwell Collins and sales and marketing at Kester will truly help him excel.

There is a renewed interest in Public Policy, which will in the future coordinate with Brussels and Beijing (and perhaps other key spots). IPC plans hire a new vice president for this space, a sign that it needs fresh input and energy if it plans on making a difference with the legislative branch.

Mitchell seems highly motivated to invest in IPC’s international operations, a space where the trade group’s board had been critical of the previous president for moving at a glacial pace. To that end, IPC is casting about for a president of its China organization, a smart move and a tacit nod that in Asia, titles mean something, and the approach of using a middle manager with no real authority was not working. It says here that if vice president Dave Bergman stays on, he should move to Shanghai, where his experience at IPC (30 years) could better be put to use.

One very smart move was to create a Special Projects function, which allows IPC to look at new or short-term initiatives without distracting staff from the core functions.” We see this as wise because new projects often either sap all the attention and resources from important but functioning efforts, thus potentially leaving those programs to wither, or vice versa, attending to existing programs can act as a excuse for letting new efforts simply dangle. Mitchell has brought on a former colleague named Ed Trackman to run this area.

IPC holds a critical place in the electronics supply chain, but that spot had slowly been eroding over the years. It’s early, and the proof will be in the results, but based on several conversations with IPC members who are much happier today than I’ve seen them in years, Mitchell appears the right person for the job.

*With apologies to Office Space.

Europe Gets Serious about Standards

Consumers should not be obliged to change several chargers for their electronics devices. And a mass diffusion of electric cars will not happen without common standards for their recharge. Mobile phone or software companies are publicly showcasing their battle for the leadership of their respective standards.

In an era of increasing global competition, European competitiveness depends on the EU’s ability to foster innovation in products, services and processes and fully exploit the potential of the Internal market.  Standards are a decisive tool in international competition, a cornerstone of industrial policy and — sometimes — innovation.

We say “sometimes” because of the Great Operating System (OS) wars of the 1990s in Silicon Valley, where Unix, Apple’s Mac OS, and IBM’s OS2 battled it out. And those of us using the products would grumble constantly about a standardized platform (remember when your Windows Word doc wouldn’t open on a Mac?).

We were right to grumble. But you can’t say that innovation suffered for those lack of standards — in fact, arguably innovation flourished there.

Standards in manufacturing. But when you try to sell me a $30,000 electronic automobile and tell me I can’t use half the recharging stations on my route from here to Los Angeles because of lack of standards on the equipment, we may have a deal breaker.  Truly, in a B2C market, standards become more compelling.  (The race for market share for the Computer OS’s was largely fought in terms of corporate contracts.)

Or more accurately, in the B2C market, standards become more compelling more quickly.  One IT fix can solve a dual-platform problem for an entire company or 1000 employees, but 1000 individual consumers have no fix, and therefore, end up struggling to see the value.

In Europe, now, in a time of:

  • increasing global competition
  • an ageing European population/workforce
  • fiscal restraint.

European competitiveness may depend on their ability to foster innovation in products, services and processes and then to drive those innovations forward. A systematic approach to research, innovation and standardization adopted at European and national level would likely help best ideas to reach the market and achieve wider market audience quickly.

We call it globalization. And here are the steps the European Commission says it will take toward this end:

  1. The Commission will establish an annual Work Programme, which will identify priorities for European standardization
  2. The Commission will demand that European standards for innovative products and services will be quickly elaborated and adopted, for example in the field of eco-design, smart grids, energy efficiency of buildings, nanotechnologies, security and eMobility
  3. The Commission will make funding of the independent European standardization bodies (ESOs) conditional on certain performance criteria. In particular European standards should be adopted more quickly
  4. When European standards with a scientific component are to be incorporated into EU policy, impartial, sound and balanced scientific evidence will increasingly be taken into account
  5. ESOs, Member States and other standardization bodies are expected to improve awareness and education about standardization
Standards (metric or imperial?) in the EU

The European Commission proposes a series of legislative and non-legislative measures to develop more and faster standards. Standards are sets of voluntary technical and quality criteria for products, services and production processes. Nobody is obliged to use or apply them but they help businesses work together and to save money for consumers.

The European Council of 4 February, in its conclusions on the “Innovation Union”, invited the Commission “to make proposals to accelerate, simplify and modernize standardization procedures, notably to allow standards developed by industry to be turned into European standards”.

European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani, responsible for industry and entrepreneurship said: “[S]tandards allow us all to have the best quality and sustainable products for a lower price. Standardization is also a key issue for the well functioning of our internal market.”

Here are important steps that the Commission took recently to strengthen the system of standard-setting in Europe and to implement related commitments:

  1. Europe will push for more international standards in those economic sectors where Europe is a global leader
  2. High-tech products are often sold in combination with maintenance services. Although there are many European standards for products, there are hardly any for services. Therefore, more market-driven European standards for services could be developed giving companies commercial advantages
  3. To propose a light and fast way to recognize the increasingly important ICT standards developed by global ICT standards development organizations, such as those underpinning the internet, to be used in public procurement, EU policies and legislation. This will stimulate innovation, cut administrative overheads and build a truly digital society by encouraging interoperability between devices, applications, data repositories, services and network
  4. The Commission will enhance its cooperation with the leading standardization organizations in Europe (i.e. CEN, CENELEC and ETSI) so that their standards will be available more rapidly. Businesses using these standards can make their products more compatible with other products so that consumers will have a broader choice at a lower price
  5. European standards will be drafted with the help of organizations representing those most affected, or most concerned – consumers, small businesses, environmental and social organizations
  6. The new standard for a universal mobile-phone charger to fit all models is a perfect example of the tremendous value of European standards for our daily lives
  7. Some of the proposed actions can be implemented immediately while the others require the approval of the European Parliament and the Council.

Good thing to keep an eye on.

The Cost of Misunderstanding Standards

An article in the latest issue of Assembly magazine asserts that use of standards, specifically IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001, raises the cost for US manufacturers and has led to the widespread offshoring of assembly.

The premise of the article, authored by a Dr. James A. Smith of Electronics Manufacturing Services Inc., is that standards drive up costs. This is stunning in that it completely mischaracterizes a core reason standards exist: to ensure widespread uniformity to a predefined level of quality.

Indeed, as someone who has traveled extensively abroad — I have spent more nights in Shanghai than any city other than the ones I have actually lived in — I can unequivocally state that manufacturers in China, Taiwan, Malaysia and so forth use IPC-A-600 and IPC-A-610 almost exclusively. And the reason is, those are the standards that their Western customers demand. Southeast Asia might offer lower labor rates, but that has nothing to do with IPC-A-610. As they used to tell me in stats class, correlation isn’t causation. I’m surprised Dr. Smith’s grad school teachers didn’t drill that conceit into him.

In the article, Dr. Smith asserts that “cost-plus” contracts reward poor manufacturing by ensuring that the assembler gets paid a set margin even if low yields lead to high rework costs. Besides being expensive, rework, of course, can be detrimental to the long-term board quality. Says Dr. Smith:

Some types of heat damage—lifted pads, delaminated circuit boards, and melted component bodies to name a few—are easily recognized. However, soldering iron heat causes serious degradation inside components such as ICs where the damage can’t be seen. The most prominent example of such damage is accelerated growth of the intermetallic (“purple plague”) between the gold wire bond and the aluminum pad on the chip substrate. As the intermetallic grows, electrical resistance inside the connection increases and switching characteristics change; depending on the sensitivity of the circuit, this change alone can be fatal. Even worse, Kirkendall voids develop in place of the pad material and breaks develop around the edges of the pad.

Therein lies the problem: Dr. Smith gets the technical details right and yet extrapolates from them a complete fallacy, writing “touchup and rework are all about deceiving the customer who, unwittingly, receives product with higher probability of premature failure.”

I am a former member of the IPC technical staff responsible for IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001. Having spent many a weekend in J-STD-001 meetings, I can state from experience that many defense contractors pushed to ease certain requirements in order both to save money and improve reliability. In one instance that springs to mind, Boeing provided ample evidence that minimum hole fill could be reduced because, they found, although a higher percentage of hole fill was seen as more reliable, in practice inspectors would have the rework technicians hit nonconforming holes with the solder gun, and the additional temperature excursion *reduced* long-term reliability more so than the greater volume of solder in the hole could increase it. These types of discussions don’t show up in the final boxscore, but you can’t understand the outcome of the game without knowing them. If Dr. Smith hasn’t been able to “unearth the data” behind the standards, it is because he hasn’t attended the meetings.

He also takes aim at the American industry for ignoring the teaching of the great quality gurus. “Instead of the focus on results emphasized by Deming and Juran, industry has embraced paperwork bureaucracy.” In fact, Dr. Deming focused on process, with the idea being a perfect process would net perfect results, and his “knowledge of vriation” concept runs through J-STD-001. At its core, J-STD-001 is a process driven document; a company that doesn’t understand SPC and process deviations has no hope of properly instituting it.

This all indirectly raises a separate point, however, namely: that it is critical for the US to maintain control of the standards. As my old friend Dieter Bergman used to tell me, he who controls the minutes controls the meeting. By authoring the standards (and making sure that the key Western OEMs are active contributors), the US can ensure a place at the international table far superior to the one our depleted manufacturing base would otherwise allow.

Who’s Right?

Jack commented on my prior post, An Unanswered Question. His point was that instead of just saying “check with the manufacturer’s datasheet”, like I so often suggest when talking about land patterns, I should give more credit to the IPC and understand that many datasheets are the result of less-than-thorough study. That’s a very good point.

The challenge is that some manufacturers do a great job of figuring out how to use their packages, such as TI with its Package-on-Package (PoP) OMAP, or Freescale with some of its ZiBee chips. u-blox has done a good job of documenting paste mask requirement for its castellated mounting configuration, too. On the other hand, some other manufacturers seem to have cut-and-paste part of an old datasheet without even giving it a once-over. As Jack mentioned, with some of the newer packages, IPC doesn’t always have the data yet. I didn’t see that IPC-7351B covers 0.4mm pitch BGAs yet. It does do a good job of covering the need to segment the solder paste stencil over a QFN center pad, which I also have written about more than a few times.

I guess my thinking is that the part manufacturer should be the best equipped to tell us how to use their components. To Jack’s point though, that would be in an ideal world. But, reality rarely holds up to the ideal. Some manufacturers do quite well and some seem to virtually forget that they even made the part once it’s out of the development labs. IPC does a very good job but isn’t necessarily the most current. Then, of course, some manufacturers don’t follow IPC guidelines. Board fab houses and stencil makers have a lot of good data too, but also aren’t always up to date (nor are assembly houses).

I suspect that I get a little cynical on this subject in general because we see so many diversions from standard come through our shop. The designers, by and large, would much prefer to lay out their boards for greatest manufacturing success, but so many of them have a very difficult time finding the necessary data.

In some ways, I think the environment is getting better. More people seem aware of the need for good standards and to follow those standards. IPC seems to be pretty quick in adding in newer packages. The IPC land pattern generator is a big help. But the proliferation of new parts in new form-factors negates a lot of that gain.

Duane Benson
I’m not convinced that in net, this post has any actual content.

Electronics Stewardship: EPA Creates Task Force

On Nov. 8, 2010, Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley established an interagency Task Force to develop a national strategy and recommendations for improving Federal stewardship of used electronics.  The Task Force was to be co-chaired by the US Environmental Protection Agency, General Services Administration, and Council on Environmental Quality.

Currently, regulation is done on a state-by-state basis.  The map below from EPA may help.

Universal waste regulations can vary between states; and states can add different types of wastes or modify the category.  The map (courtesy EPA) shows the states that have universal waste regulations and which of those states have added different waste categories (in green).

Universal waste is a category of waste materials deemed to be “lower risk” hazardous waste generated by a variety of people.  This waste includes CRTs which includes of course computer monitors, TVs, phones, and similar electronic devices.

Murky? It can be. The point of this federal Task Force is to, among other things, pursue federal legislation and therefore condition and possibly comb out the tangle of provincial law on electronics waste in the US.

Electronics Stewardship Task Force mission. The Task Force mission is towards American businesses, government and citizens working together to manage electronics throughout the product lifecycle — from design and manufacturing through use and eventual recycling, recovery, and disposal.  It’s a bold idea.  The deadline for the group to produce a national framework is May 6, 2011.

By May 6, the Electronics Stewardship Task Force will produce a national framework for:

  1. Directing Federal agencies to exercise all appropriate authorities to achieve the electronic stewardship goals, consistent with domestic and international law.
  2. Developing a system-based approach to the long-term design, management and disposal of Federal used electronics.
  3. Information gathering and tracking, regulatory options, and best management practices for used electronics that can be used by the Federal agencies and leveraged to the private sector.
  4. Building partnerships in the public and private sector for sustainable electronics management nationwide.
  5. Reducing exports of used electronics to developing countries that lack the capacity to properly manage them, and assess how federal agencies can improve their ability to deter these exports.
  6. Building capacity within and share best practices with developing countries, so they can improve their ability to safely handle used electronics, while promoting economic development.

Electronics Stewardship framework background. Unwanted or discarded electronics not reused or recycled represents a lost opportunity to reuse functioning electronic equipment and components, such as cellphone and computers/laptops or recover valuable resources, such as precious metals, plastics or minerals that are found in scarce or critical supply.

Additionally, used electronics may be exported to developing countries that lack capacity to manage them appropriately and result in negative impacts to human health and the environment.

The majority of electronics recyclers in the United States refurbish, repair, or pre-process (demanufacture, shred, sort) used electronics to prepare them for the final recovery step. Facilities that further recover raw materials, through smelting and refining (end-processing), are mostly located outside the United States.

Such facilities can convert electronics scrap into

  1. high grade copper and precious metals (e.g., gold, silver, and palladium),
  2. new CRTs, or
  3. new plastics

all of which can be reused in the marketplace.

The current comment period ended on March 11. There will be another opportunity to comment on the Framework developed by the Task Force after it is delivered to the Council on Environmental Quality, which, again, is slated for May 6, 2011.

Electronics Stewardship current regulation. Currently, there are no federal mandates that require electronics recycling or restrict unwanted electronics equipment from solid waste landfills in the United States.

Bear in mind that EPA does, however, control how cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors (for instance, from TV and computers) are managed domestically – especially if they are subject to hazardous waste regulation. EPA requires notifications if CRT monitors are exported for recycling.

A growing number of states are mandating collection and recycling of used electronics. In addition, there are now two electronics recycling standards and accredited certification and innovative product stewardship software programs that address the handling of used electronics throughout the recycling chain.

For more, see:

Farewell, Dr. Jennings

Charles Jennings isn’t a household name – even to electronics engineers – but most every person who designs or builds circuit boards for a living owes a small debt of gratitude to him.

For it was Jennings, a Sandia National Labs chemist, who in the early 1970s conducted the research that led to the current carrying capacity charts that have been a staple of electronics design ever since.

As I wrote on the TechNet ListServ more than a dozen years ago:

Jennings’ report describes a series of tests to establish electrical properties. The results includes voltage holdoff, current carrying capacity and insulation resistance for two-sided bare, coated, and encapsulated boards.

Average breakdown voltage (V) followed the relationship

V = 3.1 S(superscript)0.51,

where separation (S) ranged from 0.25 to 1.5 mm.

(This is for bare boards at ambient conditions.)

Current carrying capacity of conductors was evaluated by temperature rise between conductors generated with step increases in current. Variations in temperature rise between conductors with the same nominal or design width were correlated with meaured

differences in conductor cross-sectional areas. Resistances calculated from conductor lengths and cross sectional areas were within 10 percent of the measured values.

The boards tested were fabricated using a panel plate and solder dip or plate and liquid level process. A few measurements were made on boards fabricated using a pattern plating process with thin clad laminate.

Testing was “frequently” extended until functional failure to obtain a better understanding of the failure mode.

IPC published the Jennings’ paper, “Electrical Properties of Printed Wiring Boards,” as IPC-TP-117 in September 1976.

The results of the study indicated that conductor spacing recommendations in MIL-STD-275 were very conservative and could be reduced. Yet the mil spec’s commercial equivalent, IPC-D-275 (known famously as Table 3-4), and later IPC-2211, all pulled from the original work.

Since then, several companies, including AMP, Hughes and Lockheed-Martin, tried to duplicate the measurements. Generally speaking, they discovered certain holes in the findings.

On several occasions, I have talked with Mike Jouppi, the heady and creative Colorado engineer who has been wrestling with Table 3-4 for a decade. It looks like Mike has won. This week, IPC published IPC-2152, which finally replaces IPC-2221’s conductor sizing charts. Now, almost 40 years later, it is only a matter of time until Dr. Jennings’ landmark work will finally be laid to rest. But let’s not let the inevitable progress of technology to sand over a truly remarkable history of utility, one from which we have all benefitted.

P.S. IPC has sold tens of thousands of copies of IPC-D-275 and its successors, all based on Dr. Jennings’ famous study. Yet Jennings never made it into the IPC Hall of Fame. Go figure.