Although it has maintained a presence in Washington for two decades, IPC long has resisted calls to join the ranks of other trade groups (and some of its own members) by forming a political action committee.

Apparently lobbying works. IPC announced this week the launch of its own PAC, which will raise money to educate policy makers on issues that affect the electronics manufacturing industry.

The eponymously named PAC will support pro-manufacturing candidates based on their positions on key policy issues, including environment; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education; R&D investment; regulatory reform; and tax, IPC said. The trade group plans to raise money to impact the 2016 elections.

We’ve suggested in this space that the time might be right for IPC to do so. Having experienced (endured?) numerous IPC Capitol Hill Days, the name for the mostly annual trips to Washington to plead the industry’s case for various causes, we’ve seen firsthand how ineffectual a piecemeal program is. Like it or not, the US Congress responds better to cash than complaints.

Over the years, IPC has been effective in getting its members’ needs met in areas such as environmental and chemical reporting, but has been stymied getting traction on the financial side.

It did get the DoD to appoint a representative to address counterfeit parts, advanced technological capabilities, and manufacturing capacity. Given that the military is sourcing more and more parts from companies either primarily based offshore or directly from offshore suppliers, the jury is out as to whether this has helped. Likewise, it’s too early to get excited over last year’s introduction of the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act, a one-time, $600 million investment in a network of regional institutes across the country, each focused on a unique technology, material, or process relevant to advanced manufacturing. While it passed the House, the bill remains bottled up in the Senate.

Outside of that, one highlight of success in Washington was the late 1990s resolution that the printed circuit industry represented a critical industry. We all know how that story ended.

We welcome this new approach to Washington by IPC. While it’s a bit sad that this is what it takes to move the needle these days, putting money in the Members of Congress’ pockets is a not only more realistic stance, but will likely prove a more effective one too.

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Robots on the Move

As mentioned in our last post, robots were a huge part of Productronica this year. Check out some of the video footage at the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY YouTube channel.


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Robots on Parade at Productronica

Robots are the rage this year at Productronica.


An 8′ tall robot greets visitors at Productronica.

While German companies are talking up Industry 4.0 (also known as the somewhat misnamed smart factory), the more significant development we’ve seen has to do with the variety and number of robots being demonstrated performing real-world tasks. (This ignores, of course, the oversized Transformer-styled edition that greeted visitors on Day 1 of the show, shown at the right.)

The other visible trend involves established equipment vendors filling out their line cards.


Redesigned DEK NeoHorizon printer

There are quite a few new placement machines. ASM has the TX series, a high-speed dual lane machine in a smaller footprint aimed at the handheld market. The company redesigned the DEK NeoHorizon screen printer; it’s lost its bubble shape in favor of cleaner, more industrial-looking straight lines that match the boxes of the Siplace placement machines. ASM also rolled out a novel feeder that ditches the traditional program and pick routine for a vision-based approach whereby an upward-looking camera directs the nozzle to the appropriate part lying loose on a tray. Reels are eliminated, as are tape and splicing. Programming is reduced to describing feeder and part number. It sounds a bit chaotic, but the cartridge used by the Bulk Feeder X can hold up to 1.5 million 01005 components (the current pickable range is 01005 to 0402; the company is working on metric 0201 and 0603 parts).

Panasonic is showing two demo lines, the NPM DX and NPM VF. The latter is a high-speed odd-form placement machine with a clinching option that feature insertion height check and PCB hole recognition. The DX is a dual-gantry, dual-lane machine with four heads (4, 8 or 16 nozzles) that is said to perform “nonstop data correction.”

The Samsung Decan S2 double-headed chipshooter is rated at 92,000 cph and handles boards up to 510 x 460 mm, with an optional 1,200 x 460mm upgrade. Component range is 03015 to 12mm.

Siemens TX placement lines

ASM Siplace TX placement lines

Speedline is showing the MPM Edison printer, which is aimed at high-volume applications such as handhelds and automotive. The machine was also shown at SMTAI and SMT Nuremburg earlier this year. Its Vitronics Soltec cousin has the ZEVAm selective soldering platform, which is lower priced than its other lines but can process three PCBs simultaneously thanks to three full-size preheating units. The machine has tilt soldering capability for pitches under 2mm.

Heller reportedly has a fluxless reflow oven that relies on formic acid. The system reportedly was developed in a joint venture with IBM. Echoes of years (decades?) ago: The concept actually isn’t new: sources say Nokia among others experimented with it back in the day.

The partnership of ASYS and Rehm has spawned a slick reel-to-reel printed electronics line, leveraging ASYS’s handlers with EKRA printers and a Rehm infrared soldering system.

ASYS reel-to-reel handler for printed electronics

ASYS reel-to-reel handler for printed electronics.

It’s hard to move around all the test and inspection equipment, which takes up more about 1.5 halls, or about as much as all the printing, placement and soldering equipment combined. Again, this is where one really can see companies stretching their product ranges. Viscom debuted the X7058 inline x-ray, its fifth generation AXI which targets the EMS industry, and the X7056, a “partial” AXI aimed at the automotive market.

Saki showed its third generation 3D AOI (called 3D ID), which among its eight cameras is a four-way side angle camera for viewing and inspection. The machine is capable of running 50% faster than the second generation model and can be programmed offline. Also new is the BF-X3, a sealed tube, 130kV x-ray which offers adjustable slicing up to 2,000 slices.

TRI rolled out a new 3D AOI (TR7700Q), SPI (TR7007QI), and upgraded its CT on the TR7600 series 3D AXI.

Vi Technology has the 5K3D inline AOI, based on its 2D AOI, featuring two laser cameras and one beam. The 3D sensor is said to have 1 micron resolution.

The A Leader Pro Series AOI has a grid laser for coplanarity checking. The machine is said to be 50% faster than its predecessor.

Yamaha upgraded its 3D x-ray called YSI-X with a 7-micron resolution high-speed option.

Landrex has a new robotic test cell, a three-way collaboration with Omni and Precise Robotics. The demonstration involved a robot picking up boards and putting them in a fixture, then returning them to their rack. The grippers and media presented could be customized, says Landrex president Jim Gibson.

We saw some LED test machines, led by Premosys, but only two flying probe testers.

ASM showed its first SPI, called Process Lens, which was built in-house (so much for the rumors they would buy Koh Young), as well as a new software tool called ProcessExpert that assesses the SPI data and can automatically reset several print parameters (printer height, pressure, stencil wipe, x-y offset).

Several companies showed industrial robots, some of which were simply flying during basic final assembly operations. Multiple cold test environmental chambers (Rehm, SMT) and vacuum soldering lines (Asscon, Rehm, Eightech Tectron, SMT) are on display as well.

Asscon vacuum soldering

Asscon  VP6000 vacuum soldering

There’s not as much talk about closed loop feedback this year, probably because it’s been supplanted by Industry 4.0.

What’s also apparent is that no company has emerged to displace the established world order. So while there are companies not known on the world stage everywhere at the Munich show this week, it’s clear that the next two years will bring more of the same.

Ed.: Check out the robots in action on the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY YouTube channel.


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The New Verticals

Chasing the vertical OEMs is not a new strategy in EDA.

But it is becoming that much more widespread as the major players extend their reach from automotive (long the domain of Mentor Graphics) to other sectors.

Semiconductor design companies — the linchpin to the product development and cash flow of Synopsys, Mentor and Cadence — are expected to consolidate over the near term, and the revenue outlook from that market is being tempered.

But the “new verticals” — military, aerospace, IoT, cloud — offer the chance for the EDA titans to extend their reach by not only selling IC design software but also an ever-growing array of emulation, analysis, and system design tools to a single customer. Doing so tightens the binds between EDA firm and customer, potentially making the deal more profitable as some list price devaluation that naturally occurs with bundling is offset by a lower cost of sales (including commissions).

As Cadence CEO Lip-Bu Tan said this week, “We had been emphasizing system design development. That basis is providing the entire vertical solution spec that is from IT tool and PCB and a host of system design and verification and we strongly believe that is the strategy going forward to meet the requirement of some vertical (markets).

“IoT, the cloud infrastructure and the massive cloud infrastructure fueling up; the automotive as kind of the connective devices; some of the medical field and DNA sequencing … and a few others: those can be clear application for some of our IT portfolio and some of our EDA flow and also some of our hardware PCB and system analysis requirements.”

We are starting to hear the major EDA companies discuss the PCB segment on their quarterly conference calls. This is an emerging trend; not long ago PCB was an after-thought to most analysts because the revenues were so puny compared to those of semiconductor. Now that PCB is part of a larger strategy, as opposed to simply a (profitable) business unit, that’s changing.

As this strategy ramps, it could very well shift the scope of acquisitions by the major EDA players. For decades, Synopsys has stayed far away from owning PCB design tools  although some of its tools have been tied into Zuken’s. Its last foray into PCB came when it acquired Viewlogic in 1997; management quickly bought out the PCB design segment the next year. Would a shrinking semi customer base lure them back in?

Most PCB design M&A related deals these days are tied to filling gaps in technology. There’s still a disconnect between ECAD and MCAD, and there will be some shakeout as new disruptive hardware startups enter the field. So while Cadence and Mentor are pursuing true top-down strategies, not everyone is following suit.

Altium corporate director, technology partnerships and business development Dan Fernsebner told me at PCB West last month, “Incubators and hardware startups have to put products out very quickly, and they have to be right the first time.” Fernsebner says the model for these companies is shifting from enterprise engineering to relying on reference designs.

Does the change to entrepreneurship pose a challenge for the developers in terms of having to reevaluate their business models, I asked Fernsebner. “I think you’ll see explosive new companies changing the business model for those who have been in it for years,” he said, citing Telsa, Nest and Skully, companies that develop products that are field-upgradeable.

It’s rare that any single model wins out completely. But if the end-customers in key industries begin to flex their muscles, it won’t be long before the M&A activity gets really interesting.

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Post-Leever, Who Will Pull Platform’s Levers?

Not sure whom Platform Specialty Products has in mind to replace Dan Leever, but it’s not going to be an easy gig.

Leever is a second-generation PCB guy whose father, Harold, was MacDermid’s first R&D chemist and eventually led a group of employees who purchased the firm from its founder in 1959. Dan joined the firm in 1982, and became CEO in 1990. He took it private in 2007, returned the firm to profitability, then was prepared to take in public again in 2011 before scrapping the IPO and selling to Platinum.

Leever was promptly put in charge of Platinum and, since then, has been on an acquisition streak, gobbling up OMG’s printed circuit chemistry unit and Alent, which includes competitor Enthone plus solder materials maker Alpha.

Leever knows the quirks of the PCB industry through and through, having endured three major downturns and the near-complete geographical transformation of the market. His decision to retire leaves Platform in a bit of a pickle, faced with absorbing and integrating the pending acquisitions, plus turning around a debt-laded balance sheet.

Whomever they bring in — and Leever is said to be having a hand in picking his replacement — will have a company capable of best-in-class  product development but will face scrutiny from investors and analysts over the company’s finances for some time to come.

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If the shoe doesn’t fit, can you still wear it? You might have to if they are the only shoes available. In this case, the SMD packages for this PCB assembly application are actually wider than the PCB footprint itself. There are any number of reasons for this, from changes in component design to substitution issues, but we won’t get into that here. But the problem is that the leads actually overhang the SMT pads and extend onto the solder mask area (Figure 1).

These packages are too large for the corresponding footprints, with leads extending and overlapping the solder mask.

These packages are too large for the corresponding footprints, with leads extending and overlapping the solder mask.

This, of course, is unacceptable. But attempting to shorten or “snip” the leads won’t work either; the shear force could easily be too much for the package’s integrity.

The solution was to bend the pins in slightly so that they could fit onto the SMT pad without extending or overhanging off of the pads (Figure 2).

Bending the leads back slightly to fit within the confines of the pads is the only acceptable solution.

Bending the leads back slightly to fit within the confines of the pads is the only acceptable solution.

Certainly some stress and tension is applied in mechanically bending the leads, but not enough that we need to worry about it. And even though the lead is contacting the pad at a changed angle, there’s enough solder to create a robust solder joint. Remember that in the early days of SMT, some through-hole DIPs were snipped off and soldered to SMT pads creating butt joints, and these proved to be robust and reliable.

The bent leads solder to the pads just fine, forming robust solder joints, and meeting acceptability criteria.

The bent leads solder to the pads just fine, forming robust solder joints, and meeting acceptability criteria.

An added advantage of not shortening the leads is that retaining lead length provides added spring-like flexibility for the lead to flex with thermal cycling, minimizing the possibility of solder joint failure due to thermally-induced stress. It isn’t much trouble, a good solder joint is created, and the part passes standard acceptability criteria because, in part, the leads are contained within the solderable pad area.



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A Sticky Situation

Figure 1. Two SMDs have misaligned during reflow due to uneven pad sizes and disproportionate solder liquidus surface tension.

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Temporary solder mask glue applied to two corners of each component prior to reflow keeps them in place.

Figure 3.

Figure 3. Post-reflow, the adhesive is easily removed, and the SMDs are perfectly positioned as they should.

The surface tension of liquidus solder exerts a considerable pulling force on a component during reflow. This is why, once upon a time, small components could be relied on to self-align on SMT pads during reflow. They still can, of course, providing that all things are equal, such as pad dimensions all around. But if they’re not, you can expect problems.

In this case, two components had shifted away from their center location on the PCB footprint during reflow (Figure 1). This was due to the fact that a large SMT pad on one side of the components, see photo, was exerting a stronger pulling force on the component than the ordinary-size pads on the opposite side. More surface area means more pulling force, and consequently component misalignment. It doesn’t matter that the placement machine put the part in the right location beforehand.

Mechanical fixturing simply wasn’t a practical solution. Instead, two dots of temporary solder mask glue were applied to the corners on one side of each component, prior to reflow, to hold it in place. The glue acts as a temporary adhesive and prevents the parts from moving during reflow because it is stronger than the pull of the liquidus solder. After reflow, the glue is easily removed, and the SMDs are perfectly centered. Problem solved!



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Coming Up Short

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Original part’s through-hole pins are not long enough to go through the board and be soldered from the bottom side.

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Cross-section of PCB showing penetration depth of part’s original pins.

Figure 3.

Figure 3. Side view showing new pin length (inset: bottom side view).

In another PCB assembly challenge, the customer’s BoM called for a through-hole header part to be installed on a circuit board, a mixed technology (SMT and PTH) assembly. A problem became immediately apparent with the first PCB that our operators began to assemble; this was a very thick circuit board (12.15mm thick), but the part specified and received did not have terminal pins long enough to protrude all the way through the PCB to other side (bottom side) (Figure 1). Obviously, we needed the pins to penetrate all the way to the bottom side and protrude so that they could be properly soldered using wave or selective soldering techniques.

What to do?

In this instance, a replacement part with pins of sufficient length simply wasn’t available. The easiest solution (although labor-intensive) required manual removal of all the original pins from the part, and their replacement with longer pins of sufficient length, actually, to form good and robust solder joints on the bottom side of the PCB assembly (Figure 3). Once the longer pins were added, it became a simple matter to re-insert the through-hole header part and solder it in place from the bottom. The parts of the pin protruding from the solder joint could then be dealt with the same way as any other soldered through-hole pins.



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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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