Phil Zarrow Weighs in on Productivity


I ran into good friend Phil Zarrow the other day. Phil, Jim Hall, and I developed the SMTA Certification Program. We ended up chatting a bit about productivity, one of my favorite topics.

Ron: Phil, you have likely visited more assembly factories than anyone I know, hundreds for sure. What are some of your observations on how folks address or don’t address productivity?

Phil: Ron, there are so many bad practices that result in low productivity. More often than not, when we enter the manufacturing floor (for a process audit or other reason) we see a sea of red and/or orange light towers – rather than PCBAs in process. Most managers have no concept of the capacity they are operating at and usually feel that adding another line (with faster equipment) will increase capacity. However, there are three top “sins” that should be addressed – immediately!

The first is setup time. Unless you’re an OEM building the same PCBA day in and day out, this is something you have to master. And the higher the product mix, the more line changeovers prevail, and the more this impacts throughput. There are a number of things that can be done to “expedite” setup and they all add up. Any facility with more than one active line can benefit from a systematic approach toward setup. I tend to favor (and have had excellent luck with) the “Pit-Crew” approach. Note that the operators and setup crew are working together. Sequential changeover goes a long way: as soon as the last PCBA in a run passes through a machine center the crew commences changing over that machine (stencil, feeders, programs, etc.) rather than waiting for that last PCBA to clear the reflow oven.

Usually, hand-in-hand with this situation is a lack of adequate feeders for the different components that need to be changed over. Having a feeder already loaded with the component and “popping” it in rather than having to remove a reel and replace the component reel goes a long way. Feeder carts go even further. But this costs money and management usually doesn’t “get it.” In fact, we’ve encountered situations where there is such a shortage of extra feeders that, when the tech or engineer discovers that a feeder is malfunctioning, they don’t have a “spare” and are forced to continue using it, continuing to produce defects that have to be attended to (more time, expense, etc.).

Ron: Phil, I have observed similar practices as, noted in my book “The Adventures of Patty and the Professor.” What is the second sin?

Phil: Another common situation is a lack of balance in the line. Particularly predominant in the placement machines, if one machine is waiting a disproportionate time for another machine, the line is unbalanced. Components can and should be shifted from one machine to the other. While most of the placement machines come with software for calculating this, it is very simple math – single variable algebra (like we learned in 8th grade). But the “math phobia” we seem to suffer from is a subject for a different day….

Ron: I agree. The engineers will tell me that the line is balanced, but when I go out to the shop floor and check with my watch, the lines are almost never balanced, even though, in theory, the placement machines will easily handle it.

Now, we are holding our breath, what is number 3?

Phil: I’d finally like to comment on, to use a term you originated, “floundering time.” This is where the operator or tech comes across a problem or situation and has no idea what to do. She is not sure of the reporting system or “who to call.” It could be a machine problem, a tooling problem, a component outage, or a variety of other things. But, they all result in unscheduled downtime and severely impact productivity.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, Ron. But just addressing these areas can improve productivity and cost a lot less than adding another line.

By the way Ron, I know you have thoughts on how materials can affect productivity. What’s a top example?

Ron: Obviously the main consideration for materials is that they perform their material function well. As an example, you would want your solder paste to form a reliable solder joint. However, solder pastes can affect productivity. I have seen cases where the poor response to pause of a solder paste was so bad that, if the line was idle for more than 20 minutes, the paste would stiffen up and have to be wiped off the stencil and replaced with fresh paste. These types of issues are discussed in “The Adventures of Patty and the Professor” in Chapters 9, 10 and 21 and can affect productivity and profitability more than you might expect.

Phil, thanks for the nice chat!

Dr. Ron

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Solder Defects Causes and Cures Webinar

If you missed the SMTA International preshow webinar supported by CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY you can view it online here.

Printing solder paste or other conductive material requires zero defects printing if a high first-pass yield is to be achieved when using fine-pitch components. Monitoring and control of paste height and volume are becoming the norm in many markets, but what capability can we expect?

Correct printer setup, good stencil design and manufacture plus consistent printing materials are key to successful manufacture but inspection and monitoring the performance makes a process more robust. The same three-dimensional inspections are required in other AOI applications like solder joint analysis. There are common process defects during printing and reflow, Willis says, and the webinar shows causes and cures to help yield improvement.

The webinar is presented by Bob Willis and covers:

  • Solder paste inspection standards
  • Soldering yield impact with poor printing
  • Common solder paste defects
  • Impact on reliability based on paste thickness
  • Solder joint inspection defects
  • Common process defects causes and cures

Results of survey of 98 engineers from last week’s webinar on process defects.

Print Defects
Inspection Location

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HDPUG Event Offers ‘Unbeatable’ Data, Networking

Thanks to the High Density Packaging User Group and the invitation from long-time industry veteran – and friend– Jack Fisher for the invitation to attend one of their open meetings on Sept. 9.  One of several annual meetings, this daylong event was held in my “backyard” in Atlanta, and sponsored by Engent.  This particular day was “open” to the industry; the second day of the event limited to member companies.

For those not familiar with the group, HDP is a 22-year-old international, project-oriented, nonprofit trade organization/consortium whose stated mission is “to reduce the costs and risks for the electronics industries when employing the use of electronic packaging.” Membership is offered to companies involved in the supply chain of producing products that utilize high-density electronic packages.  And lest phrases like “project-oriented,” “consortium”  and “trade organization” strike a bit of fear in your heart or bring to mind unwieldy committee meetings,  this particular meeting – and all such meetings – according to members in attendance – are  characterized by a refreshing lack of bureaucracy.  Numerous projects – and updates of – were discussed – and the meeting itself was nicely moved along under the watchful (and firm!) eye of Jack Fisher.

Members suggest projects, then gather a team together, set objectives and deadlines, and then report back to fellow members with regular updates and final data during members-only meetings.  It’s a value proposition that’s pretty unbeatable.  These activities are run, according to the HDPUG, “ in a domain where members are able to gain much more by joint activities rather than duplicating work in each member company.”  Visit to see more information on current, completed and new projects.

It was great to see old – and not so old – friends Tony Senese, Panasonic; Eric Moen, Akrometrix;  Paul Houston, Engent;  Glen Oliver, DuPont;  and Neil Chamberlin, Polar Instruments, along with HDPUG executive director Marshall Andrews. Larry Marcanti, marketing director for HDPUG, reminded  me he used to serve on the PC FAB review board, and we reminisced about the days of Continental Circuits and Velie Circuits.  And, kudos to Kim Andrews, who organized this event – I know what it takes to move people from point A to point B…well done! I promised Laurence Schultz a personal shout-out (he wins “best radio voice of the day”!) and to Alun Morgan, project facilitator and also Chairman, EIPC, who has offered me a place to hang my hat in the EIPC booth during Productronica!

Selfishly, on behalf of CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY, PCD&F and UP Media, I must claim the “highlight” of the day was the presentation by Mike Buetow, our editor in chief.  He was webex’ed in with a presentation “The Changing Electronics Market and Customer” – a provocative and thought-provoking look at the changing roles and opportunities for EMS, OEMs and ODMs.  Suppliers were advised now may be the time to “seize the day” – and attendees bemoaned the fact that Mike was unable to attend in person so they could “pick his brain.”

All in all, a day well spent. Many thanks to HDP Users Group for including CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY and PCD&F.



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Down the Drain

Figure 1 shows a closeup photo of a PCB assembly, it seems as though solder has flowed “down the drain” and away from the solder joint where it’s needed.

In fact it has, because the customer has inconveniently located a via right through the center of one of the two topside SMT pads for a surface mount component. When the assembled PCB is run through reflow, the molten solder drains away through the barrel of the via and out the other side of the PCB. There isn’t enough solder remaining post-reflow to create an acceptable solder joint per IPC-A-610. The joint is “starved”; this is unacceptable. What to do?

Figure 1. Insufficient solder, i.e., "starved" solder joint on an SMD pad.

Figure 1. Insufficient solder, i.e., “starved” solder joint on an SMD pad.

The via is there to stay, by virtue of the customer design. So, no matter how many times solder is added to the joint, every time the PCB is run through the reflow oven the solder is going to drain away because the PCB , including the via, is at reflow temperature.

Obviously, more than one run through the oven makes no sense. The only practical solution is to manually add solder to the individual solder joint, post-reflow, without running the entire PCB through another thermal cycle. It’s a touchup procedure that’s required to create a robust SMT solder joint that meets acceptability criteria. This is a manual PCB assembly soldering process that should be performed by a skilled hand-soldering or rework operator. Solder is added only to the joint, via cored wire solder or solid wire with flux, in order to build up the volume of solder at the solder joint to provide strength, connectivity, and an acceptable meniscus per IPC standards, covering the via drain-hole. The solder won’t flow through the via because only the surface joint area is heated.

Figure 2. The solution: Add solder to the joint manually via a touchup procedure.

Figure 2. The solution: Add solder to the joint manually via a touchup procedure.

It may seem tedious, but a skilled operator can touch up the joint in a few seconds, and if there is only one instance per assembly it won’t appreciably cause production delays.


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Foxconn Labor Strategy Emblematic of China’s Growing Influence

A pair of University of Padua researchers have written a really interesting comparison of Foxconn’s management practices in Turkey and the Czech Republic versus those in China.

Among the findings:

  • Foxconn relies heavily on a temporary work staff in the CR, where 40% of its 9,000 workers are temporary, but all its 350 staff in Turkey are direct.
  • In both countries, Foxconn’s strategy is to drive down labor costs.
  • Foxconn leans heavily on the respective countries for financial support in the way of tax rebates, worker hiring rebates, tax holidays and other incentives.
  • Foxconn actively seeks to minimize the influence of worker unions.

The researchers say the emergence of China is having a direct impact on labor practices elsewhere, and global production is inseparable from “social reproduction.” It’s worth a read.

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PCB West Next Week

I’d like to remind readers to register now for PCB West, the Silicon Valley’s largest trade show for printed circuit board design, fabrication and assembly.

The show takes place next week at the Santa Clara Convention Center. It includes a three-day technical conference, featuring nearly 70 presentations, which on average run more than 2 hours apiece. PCB West has always been different from other conferences in that regard. Founder (and UP Media Group president) Pete Waddell, a former designer himself, recognized that there was big hole where in-depth training for board designers should be. PCB West fills that hole.

The conference runs Sept. 15-17. There is also a trade show featuring more than 100 leading suppliers to the electronics industry on Sept. 16. The exhibits are free, and there will be a free lunch on the show floor, plus a happy hour starting at 5 pm.

The show also includes 11 free sessions covering everything from laminates to signal integrity to board assembly. We strongly encourage anyone involved in the electronics supply chain to stop in.

Visit for more details and to register.

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Those Danged LEDs Again

I fell into one of my own favorite traps last week: the dreaded LED footprint mess.

I designed a board based on the Microchip PIC32 — it’s a ChipKIT Arduino-compatible board — that has a number of RGB LEDs on it. I used part number LTST-C19HE1WT, from Lite-On. The datasheet is easy to find, and the footprint information is right up front, just the way we like it.

11 designers nb figure 1Almost all is well, but I somehow missed taking my own advice and I didn’t double-check the footprint.The footprint I used is more or less 180 degrees off from this one. The common anode is still on pin 4, but the numbering is different. It’s got pin one in the same place, then pin two is in the lower left. Pin 3 is on the same place, and pin 4 is on the upper right. That’s the conventional pin numbering order.

Fortunately, the fix won’t require any mod wires. If I rotate the LEDs 180 degrees, the anode will be in the right spot. All I’ll need to do is adjust my software for the correct R, G and B pin locations.

Duane Benson
I’m dizzy with rotation

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Comparing Emerging Markets for EMS Production

How do various regions compare when it comes to locating EMS plants? Joe Fama, a veteran of 30 years with EMS companies around the world, wanted to explore this question.

He developed the initial table below, with some embellishments by CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY.

EMS Comparative Matrix

We thought it would be an interesting project to crowd source. As such, readers are encouraged to submit their ratings for any country with which they are familiar by clicking on this link and completing the short survey. There are 15 countries listed in all. We will continue to update this matrix as inputs are received. (Please note that all responses are anonymous.)


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New ‘Extended’ Safety Data Sheet in REACH

Many companies use safety data sheet software for updating, searching and viewing SDSs. What surprises people is that under the REACH regulation in Europe, companies must produce something called an extended-Safety-Data-Sheet, or e-SDS.

REACH regulation is the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization of Chemicals — Europe’s famous regulatory behemoth for managing hazardous substances in the marketplace. If you use hazardous substances registered under REACH, your suppliers now have to provide you with a new, extended safety data sheet that includes exposure scenarios.

What’s an exposure scenario?

Exposure scenarios are the new, key element in safety documentation. They include safe use conditions, the operational conditions and necessary risk management measures.

In other words, exposure scenarios say, “We tested this spray paint for spraying paint, and we assume your use will be similar.” But if you want to use the spray can to blow up a balloon, that’s a different story, and for that you will need to get a new exposure scenario from the supplier. Get more detail about exposure scenarios.

What’s in the extended-SDS?

Ideally, the extended safety data sheet should cover all uses in the life cycle of the substance, from manufacture through to waste, including:

  1. Uses within your own company
  2. Uses by your customers in their processes or products, i.e. mixtures or articles
  3. Uses by companies supplied with chemicals by your customers
  4. Thus, the extended safety data sheet provided by your supplier should include:
  5. The main technical function of the substance (e.g. flame retardant, pigment, stabilizer) and the uses covered in the exposure scenarios
  6. Threshold values of the exposure levels for human health and the environment that should not be exceeded, according to the assessment made by your supplier
  7. Physicochemical data needed to carry out exposure assessments (e.g. water solubility, vapor pressure, biodegradability)
  8. One or more exposure scenarios containing practical advice on the conditions of safe use, including risk management measures and waste management measures
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Investment Promises Don’t Add Up

My latest editorial considers the disconnect between reports of future investments Foxconn and what actually comes to pass. Too often, the astronomical sums reported don’t ever turn into real new employment.

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