Where the Light Is Always On

Our February issue includes an article on a process for embedding active components for “high-reliability” (think missiles) applications. The process is more than just a concept. It’s actually passed DoD testing and is in use today. A patent for the process has been issued as well.

The inventor? Jim Raby, 73 years young.

Raby has spent his entire career – covering more than 50 years – in electronics manufacturing. It’s hard to imagine anyone in assembly who hasn’t been impacted, directly or otherwise, by his work. The laundry list of his accomplishments runs the gamut from designing to building to training. He has patents for wave soldering, worked on the Saturn/Apollo Program, and initiated the Zero Defect Program for wave soldering. He is credited for developing the NASA and Navy (the famous China Lake) soldering schools, and was instrumental in developing the IPC soldering certification curriculum. He initiated the Electronics Manufacturing Productivity Facility (now known as the American Competitiveness Institute). All in all, he has trained tens of thousands of engineers and operators.

For more than 30 years, Raby has worked on industry standards, including DOD-STD-2000, MIL-STD-2000, J-STD-001 and IPC-A-610. He also helped write and implement standards for wire harnesses. He has been involved in the research for lead-free solder processes and materials.

Naturally, Raby’s standards background is intertwined with IPC’s. His relationship with the trade group dates to 1960, when his boss assigned him to provide technical support for government representatives. In 1976, he was named co-chair of a committee to write a specification that could be used for lesser level military hardware. That three-year project begat a soldering standard, IPC-815, and the term “solderability,” a major problem for industry. It also led to Raby’s full-fledged involvement in standards work, to which his lab contributed a large amount of test data in support of various requirements.

“Dieter Bergman, IPC’s then technical director, led a group of engineers to China Lake many times to work on requirements, the best one being the contamination levels of solder in a wave pot,” Raby recalls. “I obtained all the Navy contractors’ previous years’ test results, and we took that very large amount of data and broke it down to requirements usable and acceptable by all industry (commercial and military).”

His seminal paper, “Standardization of Military Specifications,” was the roadmap for reducing some 219 specifications into a single four-document set known as MIL-STD-2000, the precursor to J-STD-001 and IPC-A-610. He has worked on more than a dozen standards and training programs, and chaired or vice-chaired four key committees, including ones for soldering, rework and repair, component mounting, and product assurance. He wrote the curriculum and conducted beta testing for IPC training programs for J-STD-001, IPC-A-610D, IPC/WHMA-A-620, and IPC-7711/7721A. In recognition of his work, Raby won IPC’s Presidents Award in 1984.

Yet, while Raby is probably best known for setting up the soldering programs that have trained three generations of engineers and operators, it would surprise many to learn he is also the person behind the Lights Out Factory concept that revolutionized the modern electronics manufacturing facility.

The Lights Out Factory was the result of the Circuit Cards Assembly and End Processing System (CCAPS), a Navy-funded program in the mid 1980s. Mel Scott, who worked on CCAPS with Raby, calls it “where automated manufacturing got its start.” The Navy invested about $60 million in CCAPS over a seven-year period, and IBM was the prime contractor. “We were able to develop a lights-out manufacturing facility, with plated through-hole and the beginnings of SMT, using robots to make assemblies, with a lot of vision and x-ray,” Scott says. “It was the beginning of automation. A lot of what came out is used today. At that time, equipment OEMs were going outside for software development. It launched SMEMA: the idea of making one piece of equipment communicate down the line with another. It was Jim’s idea. If we were to automate, and increase hardware reliability, the process equipment would have to talk. He sold the vision and idea and benefits to the Navy’s ManTech Program, which (ultimately) funded it.”

Today Raby is technical director and program manager at STI Electronics in Madison, AL, where he provides technical direction on all government and military contracts.

Earlier this month, IPC issued its annual call for nominations for its Hall of Fame. Inductees are individuals who, in the trade group’s words, have reached “the highest level of achievement, extraordinary contributions and distinguished service to IPC and in the advancement of the industry…. This is the highest level of recognition … and is based on exceptional merit over a long-term basis, the operative imperative being long term [italics mine].”

Few have served the IPC and industry longer than Jim Raby. Even fewer have served it better. Do you support Jim’s nomination? Write IPC or drop me a line (mbuetow [at] upmediagroup.com).

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). 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

25 thoughts on “Where the Light Is Always On

  1. I have the pleasure of working for this man. STI hired me almost 2 years ago as an instructor and I have learned more from him in that short time that I could imagine.
    Knowing what he has done for industry and the electronics world, I feel he is THE man for the nomination.

  2. I’ve known Jim for over 10 years. When Jim getting STI rolling in Huntsville I was a Process Engineer at Avex Electronics (now Benchmark). I was in the Advanced Technology Group there and we had a lab with SEM, C-SAM, etc. Jim would come by to use the equipment. I learned more from Jim during those sessions than any book, class, or PAC that I’ve ever attended. Jim has been on a constant quest to make sure that engineers “really understand a solder joint”. A significant portion of the “real” understanding of the solder process, especially in the South, originates with Jim. I dispense “Jimisms” to this day.

  3. Amen to your article. I have known Jim Raby since the 1970’s starting at China Lake.
    Jim allowed me to give a technical paper on wave soldering for one of his annual seminars. I knew him then by reputation and was so nervous in meeting him the first time my insides were full of butterflies. Through the years Jim has given me advice on business and personal issues and I consider him to truly be one of the all time outstanding leaders in our industry. I am previledged to know Mr. Raby and his family and consider him one of my best friends. Go Auburn.

  4. I am one of the priviledged to have learned most of what I know from Jim Raby. He hired me out of college and set me on the path to understand the importance of doing a job right the first time and process control. It has been several years since I have worked for Jim but he has always been only a phone call away. He continues to contribute to our industry and the Hall of Fame would be lucky to have such a pioneer as a member.

  5. I first met Jim 20 years ago at China Lake at a soldering seminar. I started my government career working at the Soldering Certification Center at Redstone Arsenal, which Jim was instructmental in starting. Over the years, I have worked with Jim on several IPC committees. One very rememberable meeting, he volunteered his “end of the table” to begin writing the training plan for J-STD-001. We met at STI in Madison to begin work. (Remember the picture in the cotton field?) Over the years, anytime I had a technical problem and needed help, all I had to do was pick up the phone. Jim was always more than willing to help and there was never a dumb question. Jim is truly an icon in the electronics industry and a true Southern Gentlemen and very deserving of this award.

  6. The real question is not wether Jim Raby should be in the Hall of Fame but why does there need to be a blog to get him nominated. He should be in the Hall of Fame for the Electronics Industry already as a pioneer and a Legend. He is a pioneer of change and growth and technology. He is a pioneer and a Legend to 1000’s of technicians and engineers and upper management who have been students of his teaching and consultation / advice over the years. Does one need more than 50 years of service to the electronics industry, more than 10,000 students taught in the art of soldering, how many patents does one need for consideration, and how many solutions to complex and unique soldering problems does one need to create for clients before one is considered a pioneer in the industry. He has made many contributions to every facet of the Electronics industry, from innovation on new equipment, component packaging solutions, industry and military specifications, to new and patented solutions for the growth of the industry. The question is not when does he get into the Hall of Fame but why is he not already a member. He has spent his last 50 years serving and pioneering innovation in the Electronics Industry and teaching 1000’s in the art of soldering. This influence will have a major impact on the growth and direction of electronics for years to come. This should be an easy decision for those responsible for the nomination and election of Jim Raby to be awarded the Hall of Fame for the Electronics Industry. Jim represents all the qualities needed: Pioneer of Change, The Creator and Guardian of industry specifications, The Technologist of Innovation, and the Ultimate Teacher in the Art of Soldering.

  7. Jim has been my mentor in Soldering Technology since the 70’s but I am not alone. Mentoring is another area that Jim aided the soldering and electronics field. He got a few of us interested in the Electronics Assembly technical field and aided us in our development and careers. I was always impressed with his ability to stay at the cutting edge of technology and sense the direction that Electronic assembly was going or in his view that it needed to go. He was instrumental in shaping the people and direction of Soldering and Electronics Assembly technology.

  8. If there is somebody in the industry that should be nominated for the honor of the Hall of Fame, the answer is JIM RABY. I met him many years ago and had the pleasure to travel with him around the world for installations and process training. I learned a lot about the soldering process from him. He always has been looking for new ways to innovate the process and as a person he is a great friend.

  9. It has been an honor and privilege to work under Jim’s direction at STI Electronics for the last six years. As a young engineer out of Auburn, Jim and company have provided the foundation for my career in the electronics industry. As a mentor, inventor, and supporter, Jim has always provided keen insight into developing leading edge programs and establishing state of the art technology to resolve many of the industry’s manufacturing and assembly problems. I am a strong advocate for recommending Jim Raby as an inductee to the Hall of Fame for the Electronics Industry.

  10. I fully agree with all the comments listed already. Jim’s nomination in the Hall of fame is long overdue! He has been someone I have looked up too and admired both professionally and personally, for several years. I consider myself fortunate to have worked with Jim here at STI Electronics for the last 2 and a half years.

  11. I support Mr. Raby’s nomination into the Hall of Fame whole heartedly. I have known Mr. Raby since early 90’s during my tour of duty at Motorola-UDS in Huntsville Alabama. He is like a second dad to me, in the sense that his words of encouragement and his passion for excellence in our industry are what I use for motivation. He is a mentor and a friend. He deserves the recognition for his accomplishment in this industry and his willingness to mentor young engineers.

  12. It has been my pleasure to know Jim Raby for 10 years or so. In my estimation Jim is not only a soldering expert, but he is kind, affable and has helped to establish a legacy of excellence in the American electronics manufacturing community. If there is someone on the scene today that deserves induction into the IPC hall of fame, Jim would get my vote.

  13. Jim Raby is “the Rockstar” of electronics. Look at his bio that was prepared for his US Congressional Record Award!

    Sincerely Yours
    Christopher J Fussner

    Jim D. Raby was born August 10, 1934 in Jeff, Alabama (Madison County)

    Jim grew up as a sharecropper in north Alabama, primarily growing cotton.

    Jim graduated from Monrovia High School in 1952 and briefly attended Andrew Jackson Business School in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Jim joined the US Navy in 1954.

    Jim Attended Radar School, Electronic Technician School, and served as a Communications Technician as well as a Seabee.

    In 1958, Jim began work in Huntsville, Alabama for the Army Ballistics Missile Agency (ABMA) as an Electronic Technician. He worked with the former German Rocket Team, including Dr. Werner Von Braun, on the early stages of the US Space program.

    In 1960, ABMA became NASA. Jim worked on almost every phase of the Pegasus, Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Skylab programs.

    Jim developed specifications and standards for electronic manufacturing, specifically soldering and crimp terminations as well as cable and harnesses. Jim installed many of these cables and harnesses in the original Mercury capsule. Jim then established schools for each of these subjects and performed lead activities in the fabrication of electronics for Saturn/Apollo program. Jim moved to various contractor facilities (as a NASA employee) throughout the US to provide NASA guidance on manufacturing methods and techniques as well as providing Quality Assurance functions. He had the last word on flight readiness of electronic/electrical installations and in troubleshooting these systems when problems arose. The Moon landing during the summer of 1969 was the climax of this great era in Jim’s life

    Jim left NASA in 1975 to work for the US Navy at China Lake, California. At China Lake, Jim developed the Soldering Standardization Program (standardizing requirements DoD wide) and the Solder Training and Certification Program. He also started the Electronic Manufacturing and Production Facility (EMPF).

    Jim left the Navy in 1984 to start Soldering Technology International, a family business in which he is still active. Soldering Technology International (STI) helps customers build more reliable electronic hardware. Under Jim’s guidance, the company has twice been selected to INC Magazine’s INC 500 list of fastest growing private companies. STI was also selected as Huntsville/Madison County’s Small Business of the Year in the business services category for the year 2000. STI currently employs 45 people and has customers in all 50 states and 44 countries.

    Of all Jim’s achievements, he is most proud of his family, wife Ellen, son David, daughter-in-law Sheila, and beautiful grand daughter Ashley and of all of the many friends and admirers that he has come to know over the years. We salute Jim Raby on the occasion of his 70th birthday and hold him in the highest regard as one who has helped to make ours a great nation.

  14. I have known Jim Raby for over 45 years and worked with him many of those years when we were at NASA MSFC. He and I have remained friends all this time. He has made many contributions to the Electronics industry and military and space projects. He is highly deserving of being inducted into the IPC’s Hall of Fame for his extremely valuable contributions to the electronics industry.

    Leon Hamiter
    Components Technology Institute Inc.

  15. I have known Jim for many years. I first met him at the China Lake Seminars when I was in the Navy. I now have the honor of working for him for nearly seven years. Jim has always been there when I had a question. The information he has given me has been priceless. I often find when asked a question I recall a conversation we had and draw on that knowledge. When it comes to why something is done a certain way in our industry chances are he has the answer. He is a great freind to have in this industry.

  16. I have known Jim for over 45 years. I have enjoyed working with him during these decades when he was an instructor at NASA and later an advocate with the U.S. Navy accomplishing the utterly impossible job of consolodating different arm forces specifications into one comprehensive specification and then having industry manage the specification. Impossible job well done. I knew when jim started STI with his son David that he would be successful, and he is.
    Jim has lived with rules all his life and yet continues to be innovative. That is not easy! The government, military and industry owe Jim Raby a huge Thank You and Well Done. No one I know deserves accolades and awards more than Jim.

  17. I am writing this email to nomiinate Jim Raby for the IPC Hall of Fame Award, I have known and worked with Jim for over 15 years. Jim served as a consultant to me for improviing our process capabilities and product reliability. His knowledge and passion for the industry is World Class, he is the ‘Gold Standard.” He has helped educate and train many of our employees and conveys a high commitment to education and knowledge sharing. We are a better company and our oproducts are better because of what Jim has taught us. If there is one person whom i could vote for i would cast my vote for it would be Jim who is truly deserving of this honor.

  18. I have had the distinct pleasure of having known and worked with Jim for over 25 years. I first became familiar with him during the days when I was training to be Certified Instructor Examiner in China Lake. I have since worked with him and have continued to get IPC training at STI in Alabama.
    I cannot imagine Jim not being in the IPC Hall of Fame, his contributions, achievements and advancements to the industry are known world wide.
    I do not get to see Jim often, but when I do, I look forward to the discussions of the latest technolgies, the stories, and history. His guidance and help over the years has been invaluable not just for me, but for the industry as a whole.

  19. I am one of the many people who can call Jim Raby mentor and friend. I first met Jim in the early 1980’s at China Lake, CA. He has taught me the majority of what I know about electronics manufacturing. He has impacted electronics manufaturing of DOD products in a positive way his entire career. Also, I know first hand of his involvement with soldering/assembly specifications from WS6536 to J-STD-001 and IPC-A-610. It is not a stretch to say that in some way he has touched everyone who has worked with military and IPC soldering specifications, from the 1970’s to the present. His legacy is yet to be written but his long term impct on the electronics manufacturing industry is significant and should be recognized. Jim has my vote for induction into the IPC Hall of Fame

  20. I have known Jim for 12 years, I wish I’d met him sooner. STI is a hall of fame in its own right. Is there any influential person in the electronics industry that doesn’t know Jim and STI? From China to Mexico to Singapore to Japan, and two score more countries, companies bring Jim and STI the “tough stuff”. the STI analytical lab contains equipment, far more comprehensive than many large companies. There probably isn’t a failure mode in the electronics industry that Jim hasn’t seen.

    if you haven’t seen the STI patent number 7,116,557 you should. If you know Jim well, he might tell you the results of the first gun lunch. Absolutely remarkable technology!

    The title of “where the light is always on” has dual meaning to me. first, his brain “light” is always on. He is savvy from both business and technical perspectives. Second, his business “light” is always on for his clients and friends – almost any time. He relates with all classes of people – from company presidents to janitors to engineers to Navy admirals to caregivers to Presidents of the USA.

    If you know Jim very well, you know he is a Christian man – he uses his God-given abilities and values to run his life and his business, and his Christian love for his fellow man is evident in all aspects of his life. He’ll bring out the best with from within you.

    If Jim isn’t inducted into the Hall of Fame, it should be relabeled the Hall of Shame.

  21. I never had the pleasure of meeting Jim but as a long time board designer my career kept criss-crossing Jim’s path. When chasing more knowledge, there weren’t many documents or conferences of a serious nature I came across that didn’t mention Jim or China Lake for one reason or another, over very many years.

    In my mind, he stands tall as a legend in his own lifetime, and as other people who have known him attest, for the electronics world in general. He should be, no must be, in the Hall of Fame.

  22. I have been in this industry for 54 years and working with Jim for 46 of these. We have shared many “oppertunities”.
    We have never found one that he did not fix the right way,the first time.
    Since I first met him he has been my mentor and has greatly improved both my personal and professional life.
    Simply stated I consider him to be the GREATEST.

  23. Starting early in my career at Sperry Univac (late 70’s-early 80’s) I had the honor to meet Jim Raby because he was interested in my research on water soluble fluxes. My time with him and his team at China lake was very inspiring. I soon moved too Apple Computer and was very surprised when Jim called me and said he would like to refer other companies to me who were looking at water soluble fluxes. This was like getting a call from Babe Ruth, because in my mind he is the best of the best. I also went to China Lake to take his course on soldering to meet WS-6536. He has always been one of those people who just stick in your mind forever.

    I did not spend any more time with him and I doubt he even remembers me, but I am not as easy to remember as he is.

  24. Jim is s shining example of what the word “teacher” means. Having run process with Jim in the very infancy of no-clean flux technology, I learned what it means to work with someone who has the patience to approach a problem from a purely analytical perspective, examine each aspect one at a time, find the root cause of problems and then devise simple solutions. The whole time Jim asks your opinions and brings you into the process so you can make it your own. Jim teaches without teaching. Not many people I know have that talent.

    Jim is truly a keystone figure in this industry. I’m sure there are many others globally that have experienced much the same what I did with Jim. Jim Raby is unquestioningly deserving of this honor.

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