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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Keeping Things on the Level

Sometimes, in PCB assembly, it’s not the layout of the SMT PCB that creates issues, but the design of the part itself, or the plan for the part’s location, given its dimensions. We have to ask ourselves, sometimes, “What were they thinking?”

In this case, a customer’s BoM called for a part (an RF200 module with through-hole pins) to be mounted onto a PCB. At one end is a bulky SMA connector that due to its size exceeds the thickness of the module. The SMA connector faces inward on the PCB; it’s not mounted to hang over the edge. As a result, the SMA connector bottom side touches the board and props one end of it up; it doesn’t permit the module’s pins to be properly inserted into their corresponding PTH barrels on the board. One end of the SMA is pointing upward on an angle like a missile-launcher.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

This is obviously not acceptable in circuit board assembly; not only is customer access to the connector compromised, but the module cannot be mounted in a planar fashion and having some of the pins fully inserted and some halfway out of the barrels, with one end of the module elevated, is certainly not acceptable.

The fix was relatively easy; we recommended that the customer allow us to use two single-row socket pin adaptors to provide the standoff necessary to keep the SMA connector from touching the board while at the same time allowing easy and unobstructed access to the connector.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Figure 4

Figure 4

Two socket headers were used, corresponding to the module’s two rows of pins. Not only did this provide the needed standoff, without creating any other issues, but it also allowed the customer the potential for removing or replacing the module in the socket pin adaptor in the future without serious rework issues, since it’s a mechanical mounting. It’s also a robust electronic assembly connection in terms of strength and durability, and the module is completely planar with the surrounding PCB surface.

Roy

http://rushpcb.com/

 

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Life in the Sun

We are seeing a warming trend in the solar industry, with Flextronics, Celestica and others publicly talking up the renewable energy sector.

In Juárez, Flextronics’ manufacturing plant has reached its maximum capacity production of 1.3 million solar panels a year.

Meanwhile, Celestica poured millions of dollars in the June quarter  into ramping production for solar lines in Asia. Speaking to analysts on July 23, CFO Darren Myers said, “[W]e think there is a lot of exciting opportunities for us within solar.”

It was just five years ago when the solar industry was growing like gangbusters, fueled by massive government investments and incentives. Then came the crash in 2012, which prompted some conglomerates to offload units (read: Dover) that had become dependent on those markets.

But the market has heated up again. In the US alone, one major trade group believes the installed solar panel capacity will double, to 40GW, between in 2014 and the end of next year. Another industry watcher forecasts a 36% gain worldwide this year alone.

Whether the gains will sustain themselves after US government tax credits on home installations run out is anyone’s guess. For now, at least, EMS companies are once again basking in solar’s warm glow.

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Platinum Deals Cost a Lot of Gold

The silence, as they say, surrounding the pending Platinum Specialty Products acquisitions for OMG and now Alent, has been deafening.

Could it be because it’s summer, and people aren’t paying as close attention?

Could it be because that’s how the respective companies prefer it?

We receive announcements several times a week from various folks within Alent, but they haven’t said boo about the buyout. And the folks in the industry I’ve queried about it haven’t been quick to respond either, both on the Alpha and the Enthone sides.

Platinum is aggressively buying up companies in the solder and electroplating/finishing materials space, first having bid for OMG’s PCB chemicals unit (the former Electrochemicals) and now agreeing to terms for Alent, the former Cookson metals divisions which include Enthone and Alpha.

The aggregate price tag for the various units: $2.67 billion, including assumed debt.

That will add to the debt Platinum assumed when it acquired MacDermid in 2013 for $1.8 billion. The weight of these transactions is making folks inside and outside the industry a bit cautious, as this recent statement from Moody’s indicated.

Platinum paid nearly $40 million in interest in the first quarter alone, and its operating profit for the period was just $2.2 million. The additional acquisitions will further stress a balance sheet that carried $1.4 billion in debt as of Dec. 31.

Dan Leever, the man at the helm of Platinum following its buyout of MacDermid, knows the PCB industry inside and out, but it’s unclear to me how much further they can go before running into a Viasystems-like situation.

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Lead Free 2015

It is hard to believe that in July we will celebrate the 9th anniversary of the advent of RoHS. So the timing seemed right when I was recently asked to speak at the Boston SMTA Chapter on The Status of Lead-Free 2015: A Perspective.

An overview of the entire 75-minute presentation would be a bit long, so I am going to discuss three of the “questions” that I covered.

  1. Q: We are now almost nine years into RoHS’s ban on lead in solder. How has lead-free assembly worked out?

A: Something over $7 trillion of electronics have been produced since RoHS came into force, with no major reliability problems. One senior person, whose company has sold hundreds of millions of lead-free devices since 2001, reports no change in field reliability. The challenge that implementing lead-free assembly placed on the industry should not be minimized, however. Tens of billions of dollars were spent in the conversion. In addition, failure modes have occurred that were not common in tin-lead assembly, such as the head-in-pillow and graping defects. But assemblers have worked hard with their suppliers to make lead-free assembly close to a non-issue. Some people ask how I can say that lead-free assembly is close to a non-issue. My office is across the hall from some folks that purchase millions of dollars of electronics a year for Dartmouth. Several years ago, I asked them how they feel that electronics perform since the switch to lead-free. They answered by saying “What is lead-free?” If people that buy millions of dollars of electronics have not even heard of lead-free it can’t be a big issue.

  1. Q: In light of sourcing difficulties, is there an industry consensus regarding lead-free conversion for military, medical, aerospace etc. assemblers that will continue to be exempt?

A: The main issue is getting components with tin-lead leads, especially BGA balls. Many assemblers are reballing BGAs, which has become a mature technology, although with an added cost. As years go by and there becomes more confidence in medium to long term lead-free reliability, some exemptees may switch to lead-free. However, I think mission critical applications with 40-year reliability requirements must be extremely cautious to make the switch. There may be subtle reliability issues that may show up in 40 years, that are not found in accelerated testing. One concern is aging. Even at room temperature, solders are at over 50% of their melting temperature on the absolute scale (300K/573K = 0.52). So aging can occur at room temperature. Some research suggests that lead-free alloys may be more affected by aging than tin-lead alloys.

  1. Q: It has been said that you claim that lead-free assembly has some advantages. Can this be true?

A: Guilty as charged. Lead-free solder does not flow and spread as well as tin-lead solder. This property can result in poor hole fill in wave soldering and some other assembly challenges. However, this poor wetting and spreading means that pads can be spaced closer on a PWB without the concern of shorting as seen in the image below. Your mobile phone would likely be bigger if assembled with tin-lead solder.

image001

Lead-free solder does not flow as well as tin-lead solder. Hence, closer pad spacings are possible.

 

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

Photo courtesy of Vahid Goudarzi.

 

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Stop the Drop: Fixturing a Heavy SMT Component Saves Time, Money

Double-sided SMT PCBs are usually no problem to solder; two passes, and the bottom-side components are held in place with SMA adhesive. But occasionally, a large or heavy component on the bottom side, such as an inductor, poses a problem because it will drop off during top-side reflow.

In one particular case, an inductor with an open bottom (with inner coils visible) couldn’t be fixed in place with adhesive.Fixture1RushJ Its two pads didn’t have enough solder surface tension when liquidus to hold it to the bottom side of the board during the board’s second run in the reflow oven with part turned upside-down. What to do?

The solution was a universal reflow fixture with support bars, located beneath the part to support its weight during reflow so that it would not pull loose and drop. Fixture2RushJThe fixture had to hold it firmly in place and in location during the second pass through the oven.

Other solutions were either unsuitable or added an extra process step. The use of adhesive, as mentioned above, was not practical, since there was little available component body to attach to, and one did not want any foreign material, i.e. adhesive, to get inside the component body with the exposed coils. Nor was the use of a higher-temperature solder practical; the component is a standard part and simply needed to install with the other components without additional steps or complications. Fixture3RushJ

Adapting the universal fixture to hold the inductor in place was an easy matter. The flexibility of universal fixtures is such that they can be adapted to support a wide variety of component sizes and shapes effectively across a wide range of board sizes, layouts, etc. They are also much less expensive than a custom fixture, and readily available for use. Consider this in contrast to an expensive custom fixture that will require on average 2 to 5 days to fabricate.

The universal fixturing will do the job, and be reusable: it’s a one-time investment that can be used over and over for a multitude of different assemblies. Saving production time and tooling costs has a positive effect on profitability, and at the same time, the highest level of product quality and reliability is maintained. Obviously, not all assemblies require fixturing, only those with special requirements like this one that cannot be processed as simply as most SMT assemblies can.

Roy

rushpcb.com/rushblog

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No Need to Waste Parts

We love parts on reels. Who doesn’t? But reels aren’t always practical — and it’s not just about cost. Cost is, of course, important, but there may be other factors to consider.

Say, for example, you need 20 2.2K Ohm, 5% 0805 resistors. You could buy a small strip of 25 from Digi-Key for $0.32. That gives the 20 you need, plus a few spares just in case.

Alternately, you could buy a digi-reel ( a custom quantity reel). On the reel, you’ll probably want more parts to keep the strip long enough for the feeder. Let’s go with 250 parts for $1.39. Digi-Key charges $7 extra to create a custom reel, so that’s a total of $8.39. Still peanuts.

For a third choice, you could just buy a full reel of 5,000 for $10.64. Still peanuts. If you’re gong to need the same part for a lot of designs, this might make sense. But, there’s more than just cost to consider. You need to store and ship it. Shipping two dozen reels gets pretty expense. Storing and inventorying several dozen reels can become a hassle too. 6a00d8341c008a53ef01b8d1356272970c-320wi

The beauty of Digi-Key, Mouser and other places that sell cut strips is that they essentially become your parts warehouse. You pay the 32 cents and never have to worry about whether the part is in your inventory, how many are in your inventory, digging it out of wherever you stuffed the reel when you last needed it.

If you do buy and store the whole reel, you don’t need to ship the entire reel to us. Just cut a strip with the number you need, plus about 5% for that “just in case.”

Of course, if you need a few thousand of the parts go ahead and send us the reel. It would make sense then.

Duane Benson
Reel, reel your part
Solder it, solder it, solder it, solder it
Cost is but a factor

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In Search of Pluto

This isn’t directly related to printed circuits but oh-so-cool nonetheless.

NASA this week snapped this photo of (ex) planet Pluto (shown with its largest moon, Charon, at the left), proving once again that man is capable of remarkable engineering feats:

Pluto, with moon Charon on left

Pluto, with moon Charon on left

This shot was taken by the New Horizons space probe from a focal point several million miles away from the dwarf planet, which seems like a lot only until one considers the ongoing nine-year long trip has taken the probe nearly 3 billion miles from Earth.

Congratulations to the NASA and Johns Hopkins APL team that conceived and executed this mission, and to those behind-the-scenes designers and manufacturers that built this one-of-a-kind system.

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