The Patty Chronicles: Leaning on Suppliers

Patty was checking her email. She noticed a note from someone who had attended last night’s SMTA meeting. She had just been elected chapter president, after giving a talk on the head-in-pillow defect.

In her talk, she also shared how important it was to work closely with your materials and equipment suppliers. To her, it was obvious that her suppliers were interested in her success. If they were competent, why shouldn’t she rely on them for technical information and help? If she didn’t think they were competent, she should get new suppliers. She was surprised at how much “push back” she got from the attendees. Several stated that they felt that suppliers where just out to make a sale and that a smart person just bought from the supplier with the cheapest price.

Patty found this perspective negative and self-destructive. She was sure that 60% of all process knowledge was learned from her suppliers, either in person or at the technical conferences. She felt the main reason to go to these shows was the technical program. And some of the best papers were presented by the better equipment and materials suppliers. One of their marketing VPs even told her, “We believe that the more technical help we give our customers, the more successful we will be.”

Well, wasn’t that a condensation of what good business should be like? He who helps his customer is the most successful, she thought.

As she was thinking these thoughts a new email popped up on her PC. It was from Hal Lindsay, a noted curmudgeon. Patty read on.

“I heard you telling some of the people at the meeting last night that lead-free assembly had some process advantages. Hogwash. Lead-free has no process advantages, and it’s not needed,” he started.

After a few more complaints, he finished, “It’s because of young tree-huggers like you that never stood up and fought lead-free that we are in this mess to begin with.”

In preparing her response, Patty’s mind went back to some conversations about this she had had with The Professor. He had made two strong points:

1. The first purpose of RoHS is to make recycling safer. So much recycling unsafe processes is performed in poor countries with unsafe practices. RoHS-compliant products will save the lives of the unfortunate people who have to perform this type of recycling to survive.

2.  Lead-free soldering is challenging because the solder does not wet as well. This situation forced us to develop assembly processes with tighter process windows. However, an initially unseen benefit is that tighter lead spacings are possible with lead-free soldering because of this poor wetting. Many portable products such as mobile phones could not be assembled with leaded solder. There would be too many shorts.

Patty was including this information in her response to grumpy Mr. Lindsay, when the phone rang. It was Rob.

He began, “?????????????ACME???????????????????????????”

(For our few readers that can’t read Mandarin: “It looks like I will be traveling to China to visit some of ACME’s new factories there. I think you will be going to work on some soldering issues too.”)

“Whoa!,” Patty exclaimed, “Why would you be going to visit ACME’s factories in China?”

Rob went on, “You know things haven’t been going well here at AJAX, we never adopted “Lean Sigma” techniques like ACME did. Today, we had a layoff and I got hit.”

“Yikes!” screamed Patty. Her mind went through many scenarios with Rob being unemployed five weeks before their wedding.

“Easy,” Rob implored. “My GM called me in and said that he was sorry to see me go, but being a friend with your GM, he got me a job at ACME. I am to be the liaison for the three factories that ACME has in China. My fleuncy in Mandarin made the difference,” he finished.

Patty and Rob were unusual for Americans in that they both spoke Spanish and Mandarin. Both had fathers who encouraged them to take Mandarin at Tech as they had both taken many years of Spanish in high school. Both did a language study abroad (LSA) term and an internship in China. As their dads said, “If you can speak English, Spanish, and Mandarin, you can speak to almost any professional in the world.” Both Patty and Rob found that their language skills gave them a ready bond when they were abroad. One German colleague even told Patty that she was the only American he knew that would not fit the European view of Americans when they ask, “Are you bilingual, trilingual or American?”

After Patty calmed down, she asked Rob why he thought she would be going.

He responded, “When your GM gave me the job offer on the phone, he alluded to a team visit to China, by me and this genius young woman that is a process expert. Apparently, they have some head-in-pillow, graping and productivity issues. I will be handling the business aspects, you the technical. He also mentioned he would like The Professor to go. I don’t think he knows we are engaged.”

Patty congratulated Rob and finished to conversation. She hoped that their being married wouldn’t create any issues in working together. She also was a little annoyed that she always seemed to be the last to know about trips that the executives were planning for her and her team. It was especially annoying that Pete seemed always know before her when they would need to go on one of their adventures. After all, she was Pete’s boss. Well, at least this time it was Rob, not Pete. There is now way Pete could know about this potential adventure.

She went back to finishing her note to cranky Hal Lindsay when she heard, “Pack your bags kiddo, it looks like China this time. Oh, and Rob is going.”

Dr. Ron

I saw Patty at a recent SMTA meeting.  I mentioned that many of her fans would like to see a photo of her.  Surprisingly, neither of us had a camera.  As you remember she is also a self taught artist,  I asked if she would mind sketching herself.   Here tis.

The reflow image of leaded and lead-free solder coutesy of Motorola.

All the best,

Dr. Ron

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

One thought on “The Patty Chronicles: Leaning on Suppliers

  1. I am all for being environmentally responsible…
    and agree with the intentions of ROHS…
    and understand there is some cost in being responsible ( cost of change)

    I don’t buy the professor’s ROHS statements…
    and I am certain the European Union’s intent was not concern over manufacturer’s ability to solder ever finer pitch components.

    The issue is much more complex.
    and I don’t think the simple mandating of restrictions will necessarily improve the environment or help poor people involved in recycling of materials.
    quite the contrary….

    – recycling ROHS solder in crude conditions isn’t much (any?) safer. (breathing tin fumes or getting burned with unsafe processing)
    – the environmental impact of additional tin demands are taking out forests and increasing “conflict” metal demands.. (tin is now a conflict metal)
    – IT IS EXCEPTED AS FACT BY THE ELECTRONICS INDUSTRY -ROHS is not as reliable as standard solder.
    – the environmental impact of solder joints being more brittle/rigid -causing shorter life spans for electronic infrastructure … (quicker replacement cycles = more energy/environmental impact)
    and .. yes…. the EU in their wisdom… medical/communications infrastructure will lose their exemption status in near future… not that it mattered , few semi companies willing to produce ROHS and non-ROHS versions of their products much longer.
    – tin whisker? .. .dito above
    – dozens of other examples of little / no improvement with ROHS.

    yea.. some very small lead spaced solder joints may be easier to address with ROHS.
    but , I don’t believe lead based solder can’t be made to address the same conditions.
    I have soldered VERY tiny components with lead based solders ( 01005.. hybrids.. etc..)
    Wasn’t a big deal.. numerous ways to change wetting of a solder.
    and with smaller spacing .. tin whisker becomes that much bigger concern.

    look for better solution than solder? sure!
    but to mandate what materials cannot be used?.. full of secondary un-intended effects.
    Wrong tool to implement change with.

    The real issue:
    Society’s leadership (governments) mandating specific solutions without reasonable knowledge of secondary impact the mandates will create.
    Consulting science experts.. far from consulting Engineers.

    “The road to hell being paved with good intentions….”

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