Early Placement Tales

Some comical reminisces on an early (50 years old!) attempt to machine-assemble a printed circuit board. The program was written on punched paper tape and feed into a robotically controlled “placement machine.” Hijinks ensure.

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The Best-Read PCD&F Articles in 2014

As we did with CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY on Monday, here’s the list of the best-read new articles at PCDandF.com this year.

Leading the pack was IMI president Peter Bigelow, whose piece “When ‘Scaling Up’ Leads to ‘Belly Up’ ” received the most hits of his 10-year career as our columnist.

Next up was “A Two-Team Race?” Dr. Hayao Nakahara’s annual list of the largest PCB fabricators.

Coming in third was “Design for Reliability with Computer Modeling.” Dr. Randy Schueller and Cheryl Tulkoff, both with DfR Solutions, explained a new CAD tool that imports design files and quantitatively predicts product life.

They narrowly beat out “Magnification vs. Resolution in Visual Examination Specifications,” by Louis Hart of Compunetics and consultant Robert Simmons.

Coming in fifth was “Design Practices for Panelization and Depanelization,” by Phil Lerma, fabrication manager at NexLogic Technologies.

In sixth was Patrick Carrier’s “Maximizing Capacitor Effectiveness,” the first of multiple contributions from Mentor Graphics.

Next was “Power Electronics Packages with Embedded Components – Recent Trends and Developments,” by Lars Boettcher, Stefan Karaszkiewicz, Dionysios Manessis and Andreas Ostmann, who summed the work of a cross-industry team’s development and testing of a PCB-based embedded chip technology for an under-the-hood automotive application.

They were followed by “Qualification vs. First Article Inspection,” authored by Charles Hill and Karen Ebner of Raytheon.

The ninth most-read piece was “Effectively Managing PCB Design Constraints,” by John McMillan of Mentor Graphics.

And closing out the Top 10 was yet another Mentor offering, “Passing Electrical Signoff,” by Rod Dudzinski and Minoru Ishikawa.

The top written staff articles were “The One-Stop SoCal Shop,” senior editor Chelsey Drysdale’s look inside Murrietta Circuits, and “Good Values in Vegas,” our staff writeup of the 2014 IPC Apex Expo trade show.

We want to thank all our contributors from last year, and especially our loyal readers. Happy new year!

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Is Sharing for Suckers?

In my January editorial I asked, “Absent a government-industry technical agency, is the US shooting itself in the foot?” My comments were made in response to a former Bell Labs researcher who wrote that the US should consider reestablishing a government-supported technology research center.

A couple days ago in the Boston Globe, MIT science historian Loren Graham, an expert on Russian technology, points to how scientists there have led the way in everything from electric lights to fracking to the laser, none of which they were able to commercialize and thus take advantage of domestically.

Graham points to many reasons for this, specifically the Russians lack of a robust legal, political and economic system that would provide the necessary infrastructure and protections. But interestingly, he is convinced that individual mores are also to blame, saying, “In the Russian scientific community, the belief that business is dirty. And that you should not demean yourself by stepping out of the world of ideas.”

Fascinating.

Some in the US are concerned that the pressure of competition might actually stymie ideas. It seems our counterparts in Russia may share those concerns.

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The Most-Read CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Articles of 2014

People often ask what our most popular topics are. There are many ways to slice and dice that, but what we’ve done the past few years is announced the Top 10 most-read articles of each year.

Number one in 2014 was “Advances in Fine-Pitch Printing Process Technology,” by Isaiah Smith of Speedline. It narrowly beat out “Circuits Disassembly: Materials Characterization and Failure Analysis,” by a quartet of Raytheon authors led by  John Wolfgong.

Coming in third was “Solder Joint Integrity Test for Finding Latent Defects in PCBs,” by Hiroshi Yamazaki of Hioki E.E. Corp.

The next four continued the technical bent:

4. “Shielding Effectiveness of Polyimide Tape during Rework,” by Adam Gaynor and Bob Wettermann of BEST.

5. “Advances in Concentration Monitoring and Closed-Loop Control,”by Umut Tosun and Axel Vargas of Zestron and Dr. Bryan Kim of Pressure Products.

6. “Automated Dispensing of 2 Component Materials in Electronics Assembly,” by Per Orla-Jensen of Nordson Asymtek.

7. “Printing Miniaturized Devices for the Automotive and Industrial Manufacturing Sectors,” by Clive Ashmore and Mark Whitmore of DEK (now ASM).

Rounding out the Top 10, coincidentally enough, the final three most-read articles were staff-written.

8. “Libra Industries Finds Its Balance,” Mike Buetow’s profile of the Ohio EMS company.

9. “ASM Takes Root in SMT,” in which Chelsey Drysdale detailed her visit to ASM’s European headquarters in Munich.

10. “A Muddled Recovery,” by Mike Buetow, our annual list of the Top 50 EMS Companies.

Interestingly enough, Nos. 5, 7 and 10 were cover stories in the print edition, while Nos. 3 and 6 were web-only. Given that more than 30,000 people see the print edition each month, it would be neat to know how the numbers would have changed if we were truly measuring apples to apples.

I will note that the data might also be skewed this year because of changes to our website. We launched the new CircuitsAssembly.com site late last spring, and in doing so reset the hit counters, not to mention introduced more splashy graphics that highlight the latest articles, so there’s a bias toward features that were published later in the year.

Tomorrow we will list the Top 10 most-read articles at PCDandF.com.

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2014: The Year of the Deal

Today brings to an end one of the most fascinating years of acquisitions since the crazy Internet era of late 1990s and 2000.

Unlike that episode, however, 2014 was a much more orderly state of affairs, and while some of the deals were not foreseen, the pricing (and volume) were within the realm of reason.

To recap:

  • TTM Technologies announced it would buy Viasystems, bringing to a close one of the most talked-about chapters in PCB industry history. The deal has cleared all but the last few regulatory hurdles, and is expected to close in mid 2015.
  • Rogers will buy Arlon, merging two leading suppliers of high-frequency laminate materials, and perhaps further complicating the supply chain for some of the smaller fabricators that lack the purchasing power of the major players, not to mention consolidating the RF/microwave product supply base for the US Defense Department. Given its shoulder shrug of TTM’s Chinese ownership, will the DoD even bat an eye over this, or will it be concerned enough to throw a wrench in the deal?
  • On the assembly side, ASM purchased DEK, which had been readied for sale since late 2011. The acquisition gives ASM top-of-the-line print-to-placement equipment offerings and positions it to compete with the major Japanese players such as Panasonic, Yamaha, Juki and Fuji.
  • Nordson acquired Dima Group, stretching its traditional dispensing and, later, AOI and test focus into SMT placement. Will Nordson keep the pick-and-place lines, or package that unit up and sell it?
  • Likewise, Amtech Systems has a pending agreement to buy BTU, stretching its semiconductor and solar production focus to include SMT reflow.
  • And just yesterday Kulicke and Soffa made a deal to buy Assembleon for $98 million in cash. While Assembleon had been expected to be acquired since Philips first put it on the block several years ago, K&S’s entry into the printed circuit board equipment space was unforeseen. Does it plan to continue to roll up other companies (Speedline?) and build a worthy competitor to ASM?

Most of the major deals that took place in 2014 happened on the supplier side. Does that presage a similar consolidation on the manufacturing end in 2015? Will some of the units long-rumored to be in play (Multek, Hitachi) finally be consummated? Will EMS, which took a breather in 2014 after major deals involving Natel (Epic), Benchmark (Suntron, CTS) the year before, catch a new spark?

We can’t wait to find out. Happy New Year!

 

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Do You Need that Part, or is It Just Habit?

At the moment, I’m working on an Arduino compatible clock. Like most of my Arduino compatible boards, this one uses an Atmega32U4, with USB built in. With the Atmega32U4, I sacrifice a little in program memory and SRAM, but gain a bit in reduced parts count.

A USB capable Arduino-compatible is, of course, programmed via USB, and can be powered by the USB port. Most Arduino boards also have a 5V regulator to be used when being powered by a wall-bug power supply. Naturally, I put the USB connector on the clock board, as well as the 5V regulator. With the two different supplies, I also put in circuitry to auto switch sources and protect the USB host when both supplies are connected at the same time.

My first PCB revision required6a00d8341c008a53ef01b8d0aae30b970c-800wi a few hand-mods, but not many. Still, I decided to respin the board and remove the two mod wires. While doing so, it suddenly occurred to me — a blinding flash of the obvious — that most cellphones and other small devices are charged with a USB-connector 5V wall-bug power supply. Why then, would I also need a separate power supply and on-board 5V regulator?

By pulling the regulator off of the board, I could eliminate a few capacitors and the supply auto-select / protection circuitry. Not only did I save in component cost, but I was able to reduce the PCB size, and thus cost, by about a third.

  1. I had the 5V regulator in the design because Arduinos can be powered by either USB or a non-regulated power supply.
  2. The reverse power protection is necessary to prevent damage to the USB host if the other power is also connected.
  3. The auto-power switching circuit is necessary so that a user doesn’t need to flip a switch or change a jumper when changing power sources.
  4. I had two extra LEDs to indicate which supply was powering the clock.

I questioned my original assumptions, found a “because it’s always done that way” and eliminated it. Assumptions are meant to be challenged.

Duane Benson
Question authority!
And then get squashed
(or, squash extra space out of your PCB)

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Higher (Cost) Education

Rensselaer Polytechnic is an outstanding academic institution, one that has minted more than a few of the stellar engineers working in the electronics industry today.

And you can count me among those who believe that if we want to ensure that top minds continue to consider careers in academia, the pay scale needs to reflect such emphasis.

But the news that Rensselaer’s president received more than $7.1 million in total pay in 2012, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual pay survey leaves me stunned.

While it’s true Rensselaer president Shirley Ann Jackson has a stellar resume and much of her pay came via a $5.9 million retention incentive that kept her in place for 10 years, the incentive bonus coupled with her annual salary of $945,000 means the real cost came to  $1.5 million a year.

Rensselaer’s annual tuition cost: $46,700 per semester (not including room and board).

How many students do we discourage from or otherwise price out of the leading colleges each year? How many of those who do suck up and write the checks leave so encumbered by student loans that they end up on Wall Street or sales or some other non-engineering area where they can recoup their “investment?” And for good measure, let’s ask what is the mission of the university in the first place?

 

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Chips Making Faces

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com/

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IPC Apex Expo Programs Highlight Technology and Innovation

Ed.: This is a guest blog from IPC.

No matter where you are in the global electronics supply chain, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “I need it now.” In this fast-moving, ever-evolving industry, we hear that a lot.

What drives what happens now? A critical combination of the latest technology and knowledge, which is what you’ll find at IPC Apex Expo 2015.

Starting with the opening keynote with Robbie Bach, former president of entertainment and devices at Microsoft and Xbox visionary, you’ll learn about the triumph of a strategic process that brought together a disparate group of talented individuals who applied entrepreneurship to build a successful consumer business within the larger Microsoft structure.

On the show floor, you’ll see and compare equipment from more than 440 of industry’s top suppliers, discover new processes to gain greater efficiency and uncover news solutions that will help improve your bottom line.

In keeping with the event’s theme, “Upgrade Your Tech-NOW-ledgy” the technical conference will feature approximately 100 technical papers detailing original research and innovations from industry experts around the world.

For best practices in design, lead-free technologies, materials, process improvement, solder joint reliability, PCB fabrication and materials, quality and reliability, the more than 30 professional development courses will go beyond theory to provide practical solutions you can implement now.

With so many outstanding courses and technical papers to choose from, and the world’s elite subject matter experts to interact with, your best registration option is the All-Access Package. This package will save you a significant amount off a la carte options, but more importantly provide the maximum learning experience for your investment.

The All-Access Package includes the technical conference, conference proceedings, standards development committee meetings, a choice of up to five half-days of professional development courses, event essentials, luncheons, design forum, and if you’re a senior-level executive – PCB supply chain leadership or EMS management council meetings.

If you want to upgrade your tech-NOW-ledgy, IPC Apex Expo 2015 is the place to be. For more information or to register, visit www.ipcapexexpo.org.

 

 

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New Motivation?

On the eve of the industry’s largest PWB show, I have begun to reflect on what the American expats whom I will meet here are doing for their Greater China employers. I wonder what they could not have done in the United States, and the reasons why. Now the game has changed. Labor costs are up. Automation is advancing. Business continues to consolidate rapidly as “blue chips” have vanished. Others are in jeopardy. Those remaining are few and far between.

One thing is certain. The days when Asian companies would buy old, tired American facilities and fix them up as a potential method of market entry are long gone. They have learned that it is better to invest in the newest technologies at the outset and not waste their funds patching and fixing near-obsolete operations. This could be one of the motivations for some American corporations to design and install new state-of-the-art automated and “green” captive PWB operations. One such venture is even predicting a bare board cost reduction of greater than 30% over his currently outsourced panels.

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