Component Footprint Rotation, Part II

I’ve noticed that a lot of CAD library footprints for two-pin polarized parts have pin one pointed up as zero degree rotation. According to IPC, pin 1 pointed to the left is zero degree rotation.

Why is this such a common error? I can’t be certain, but I have a pretty good idea.

Surface mount parts, as everyone knows, generally come in reels of tape. It stands to reason, that the parts would be placed into the tape at a standard zero-degree rotation. They generally do. Before putting a perplexed look on your face, take a look at the image below.

When looking at the tape, it’s a pretty natural thing to pull it out and hold it horizontally – with pin 1 up – perpendicular to our angle of vision. Makes sense. It’s not a stretch to look at this strip of tape and end up assuming that pin one is up at zero rotation.

However – the machines are the ones being spoken to. Not humans. The machines get the parts in line with their line of vision. That puts pin one on the left.

Makes more sense when you look at it this way. Running into the machine, pin one, at zero rotation, is on your left.

For more to the part rotation story, tune your browser dial to here. Or just scroll down a little bit. It’s right below.

Duane Benson
The long and winding reel leads to your PC board. Not your door.

All Worked Up

It’s vogue to assert that mass employment will never return in surface mount manufacturing, but there are good reasons to be skeptical of such reports.

It’s true that efficiency and automation generally go hand in hand, and that companies look to minimize their fixed costs. (While some economists consider labor a variable cost, I think it’s more practical to view it as a fixed cost because, in practice, it is very difficult to match staff to short-term dips and peaks in demand.) But it’s also true that as we drive down the cost of electronics, we expand the potential market for those products, thus potentially increasing the volumes. Higher volumes demand additional lines which in turn begets increased staffing.

I do think there will be a continued tendency to reduce the number of workers per line, but true “lights out” manufacturing is still a long way off. As long as the demand for electronics remains insatiable, and as long as creative designers and engineers continue to dream up ingenuous ways to integrate technology into every facet of our lives, we will need workers — and lots of them — to turn those dreams into reality.

A New Trend in Assembly Shows?

Years ago, three major events dotted the US electronics assembly trade show landscape. They included Nepcon East, Surface Mount International, and the mother of them all, Nepcon West.

While Nepcon West was the undisputed champ, all three shows were worth attending, and exhibitors often made new product announcements at each one.

Interestingly, and for reasons too detailed to get into here, none of those shows exist today. And for much of the 2000s, the place to roll out new products became IPC’s Apex. Other events were relegated to regional status, and traditionally were staffed as much by distributors as by OEMs.

There’s a few small signs that trend may be shifting again. While IPC Midwest, taking place this week in the Chicago suburbs remains a local show (and honestly, could they make seeing the exhibitor list any more user-unfriendly?), SMTAI is at long-last beginning to fill the niche for a seasonal alternative to Apex. To wit, we’ve received numerous press releases of late reporting new products to be introduced at SMTAI. That’s evidence suppliers see the venue as a viable place to make product launches.

Also at SMTAI, on Oct. 18, I am cochairing (with CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY columnist Sue Mucha) a panel titled “Global Strategies for Lowering EMS Costs” at SMTAI in Ft. Worth, TX. Topics include EMS in Eastern Europe; networking technical trends; improving quality, delivery and cost in high mix manufacturing; and vapor phase technology, and feature speakers from Kimball, Tailyn, Fabrinet and IBL Technologies. We conclude with a panel on building an EMS cost model.

I can’t mention these events without touting our own. Next week marks the 20th annual PCB West conference and exhibition at the Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center. Traditionally the industry’s leading conference for printed circuit board design and fabrication, we have beefed up the electronics assembly side (with a big assist from the Silicon Valley SMTA Chapter). Highlights include papers on low silver solder alloys, advanced packaging, new plasma-based PCB surface finishes, and lead-free electronics risk reduction, presented by such leading companies as Hewlett-Packard and Amkor. Check out the program at  We really hope to see you there.

The Free Flow of Fakes

While it’s true that counterfeit parts are pervading all aspects of the electronics supply chain (not to mention consuming all amounts of oxygen from industry pundits such as yours truly), is it possible our sense of fear is overblown?

By fear, I don’t mean “risk” — that’s the inherent chance of failure taken by, knowingly or not, using a fraudulent part. Rather, I mean the “if I do this I might get someone hurt and/or lose my job” feeling.

Yesterday, the SMEMA Council, a group of electronics assembly equipment OEMs, admonished customers to use only authorized channels for replacement parts and service. By using fake parts, SMEMA said, the risk (there’s that word again) users take is that the assembly equipment OEM could void their warranty. That’s a tough nut to swallow, considering the price tag of new placement machines, testers and screen printers.

The question I have is, why would SMEMA even feel compelled to issue such a statement? Faked parts (one old friend says in China, copyright means the “right to copy”) are ubiquitous and systemic. Two US senators this week accused China of blocking a probe into counterfeit electronics by refusing visas to investigators, but it’s hard to know whether the US is truly wants to stop the flow of knockoffs goods or just put pressure on China in order to exact other reforms or negotiating leverage. Indeed, so-called fourth shifts are not only common, they have been for years. So forgive me for being cynical when a few bureaucrats say they want to do something about it now.

In my opinion, there’s no end in sight to the free flow of fakes because, in fact, America and Europe don’t really fear the potential outcome. For a decade, manufacturing programs have been shuttled en masse to China. And while OEMs pay lip service to the notion that their IP is their livelihood, they aggressively seek out the manufacturing partners of their competitors, thus simultaneously ensuring their IP will be shared and that their products will be commoditized.

Let’s put it another way. If company ABC contracts to China and learns a few months later that every Chang, Wang and Li is walking around with a cheap duplicate of their widget, ABC may snort and snarl a few times, but will it fire the folks involved in outsourcing? Highly unlikely. But if that widget never gets built, or ships late because a machine is down or an oscillator is unavailable, heads will roll. Supply chain employee is thus naturally emboldened to take risks that they otherwise might be unwilling to contemplate. The wheel is set in motion.

SMEMA is trying to reorient customers as part of a much-welcome attempt to demand accountability, and I wish them luck, but I don’t think it will make much difference. The corporate buyer culture has changed.

Don’t believe me? Just go to the EMSInsider group on LinkedIn and look at all the listings by members looking for spare parts. Utilizing only approved vendors is nice and all, but when product needs to be shipped before the quarter’s up, the AVL is an industry anachronism.