Fab Drawings or Assembly Drawing Standards?

It’s not always possible to have all of the information needed for a successful PCB assembly printed on the blank PC board. When this is the case, we ask for an assembly drawing – like I suggest here. But what about things that are important at the PCB fabrication stage rather than at assembly.

That’s where the fab drawing comes in.

One of the problems with this system is that the “standards” for fab and assembly drawings are only loosely adhered to, if you can call them standards at all. If in doubt, label the fab drawing “Fab drawing” and the assembly drawing, “Assembly drawing.” That may seem obvious, but in the wide world of technology, obvious too often is anything but.

benson-oct25

(image from xkcd.com)

Clearly label anything that the fab shop needs that isn’t obvious from the Gerber files, make a PDF, and label it “Fab drawing.pdf.” Do the same for any assembly information and instructions and label it “Assembly drawing.pdf.” If information is needed by both the fab shop and us, the assembler, put it in both drawings.

We recently had a case where a component polarity wasn’t marked on the board or in the assembly drawing, but was in the fab drawing. We do our best to catch such things, but it ads a bit of ambiguity to the process. If you’ve been reading this blog before, you’ve likely picked up that I do not like ambiguity. I do not like it one bit.

Duane Benson
Vote for clarity! Kick ambiguity out to the street

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com

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Filipino Fiasco

The situation in the Philippines is starting to feel a lot like that of Turkey from July of this year: A paranoid leader turned strongman seeks to exert his supreme dominance over a democratic nation.

Will the country stand back while Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte effectively declares martial law? Or will the army — no fan of China — assert itself and ironically return law and order to the nation by overthrowing a budding dictator?

There are more than 30 EMS companies in the Philippines, the largest of which include IMI, ranked 28th worldwide in EMS revenue at $800 million last year, EMS Components Assembly ($110 million), and Ionics ($63 million), which has seven plants there.

Other major players with smaller operations include Siix, Celestica, Cal-Comp and Wistron.

Although US-centric for decades, the Philippines under Duterte are pivoting toward China. US companies have invested nearly $5 billion in the country; even if they no longer feel welcome, extracting that won’t be easy.

Either way, politically the Philippines are a complete mess. Duterte has taken a stable nation and completely disrupted it, without any clear end-game. If his goal was to expand his nation’s markets and hedge its bets — understandable, given their neighborhood — he could have done so in a much simpler fashion. As it stands, he has alienated many of the Philippines primary trading partners, and for what? Business partnerships don’t have to be a zero-sum game. He could have ramped his dealings with Beijing without destroying his relationship with Washington.

Duterte likes to rail against the West for being what he considers corrupt and hypocritical would-be overlords. His own military very well appreciate the security the West historically has provided, however. His words might play well with the public, but he could very well pay the price with his life.

 

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Full Autonomous Autos: Decades Away and In Need of Unprecendented Reliability

Folks,

Since writing my last blog post, there continues an unending litany of articles about the imminent arrival of the self-driving car. I stand by my position that a fully functional self-driving car is decades away. Let me discuss why.

I was recently asked about Google’s efforts amide claims of tens of thousands of hours of self-driving.  Wikipedia has the best answer:

As of August 28, 2014, according to Computer World Google’s self-driving cars were in fact unable to use about 99% of US roads.[51] As of the same date, the latest prototype had not been tested in heavy rain or snow due to safety concerns.[52] Because the cars rely primarily on pre-programmed route data, they do not obey temporary traffic lights and, in some situations, revert to a slower “extra cautious” mode in complex unmapped intersections. The vehicle has difficulty identifying when objects, such as trash and light debris, are harmless, causing the vehicle to veer unnecessarily. Additionally, the LIDAR technology cannot spot some potholes or discern when humans, such as a police officer, are signaling the car to stop.[53] Google projects having these issues fixed by 2020.[54]

Ford claims it will have self-driving cars deployed by 2020. However, a quote by Jim McBride, Ford technical lead, sheds some light:

“Q: What are the big technical challenges you are facing?

“A: When you do a program like this, which is specifically aimed at what people like to call ‘level four’ or fully autonomous, there are a large number of scenarios that you have to be able to test for. Part of the challenge is to understand what we don’t know. Think through your entire lifetime of driving experiences and I’m sure there are a few bizarre things that have happened. They don’t happen very frequently but they do.”

Level four is indeed impressive, but it is not full autonomous as described by SAE:

SAE automated vehicle classifications:

Level 0: Automated system has no vehicle control, but may issue warnings.

Level 1: Driver must be ready to take control at any time. Automated system may include features such as Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Parking Assistance with automated steering, and Lane Keeping Assistance (LKA) Type II in any combination.

Level 2: The driver is obliged to detect objects and events and respond if the automated system fails to respond properly. The automated system executes accelerating, braking, and steering. The automated system can deactivate immediately upon takeover by the driver.

Level 3: Within known, limited environments (such as freeways), the driver can safely turn their attention away from driving tasks.

Level 4: The automated system can control the vehicle in all but a few environments such as severe weather. The driver must enable the automated system only when it is safe to do so. When enabled, driver attention is not required.

Level 5: Other than setting the destination and starting the system, no human intervention is required. The automatic system can drive to any location where it is legal to drive.”

The difference between level 4 and 5 is enormous.  Just a few days ago I drove a level 2 Volvo SC90. It was a lot of fun. It had autonomous steering and acceleration/breaking. It worked very well, but it needed the lane markers, a not insignificant requirement.

Level 4 could not take you on a trip from my house, in Woodstock, VT, to a meeting in downtown Boston. To start, some of the trip is on roads without lane markers. Let’s also assume that there is construction with hand written signs directing the cars to a detour. There is also a traffic cop who signals you to stop and roll down the window to listen to instructions, a huge pot hole that has a hand-made warning sign is in downtown Boston, etc. None of these challenges would be unusual for a human, but a challenge for Level 4 autonomy.

self-driving-ford

Ford’s self-driving car has the equivalent of 5 laptop computers.

 

Singapore has implemented what appears to be level 3 vehicles, but there is a human backup and the route is specially selected.

All of this is exciting news.  But getting a vehicle that can handle 99% of human driving tasks with 99.99% reliability (let’s call it Phase I) will be easier that getting the last 1% with 99.99999% reliability (Phase II).  I agree that Phase I may be only years away, but Phase II is decades away.  Without Phase II, the driverless car that has no steering wheel or gas pedal is not achievable.

How does all of this affect us in electronics assembly?   It will be an interesting adventure to work with the auto industry on the extreme reliability required.  My guess is that this reliability need will be a dominant theme in the future.

Note: Probably the best article on this topic was in the June 2016 issue of Scientific American.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

 

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Mentor in Play

With Mentor stock being bought up by hedge funds (again) and the CAD company having gone so far as to enlist an outside banker to provide M&A advice, expect a lot more of this in coming months.

One thing to keep in mind: If Dassault or Siemens were to buy Mentor, what would that do for Altium and its owners’ exit strategy?

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Self-Driving Vehicles Will Require Unprecedented Reliability

google_car

Google’s self-driving car

Autonomous (driverless or self-driving) cars will require unprecedented software and hardware reliability. This need may require double or triple redundancies in some critical systems. Those of us in electronics assembly think first of the reliability issues with hardware, but software concerns may be even greater.  Almost every day we have to reboot one of our electronic devices to get it working, due to software issues, yet seldom have a hardware fail. So the equivalent of the “blue screen of death,” may be the greatest concern for this future technology.

Still, hardware reliability will be a critical issue. Therefore we can expect our colleagues in automotive electronics assembly to be the most demanding in history regarding reliability.

Just how far in the future is the autonomous automobile? Some may think it is already here after reading about the auto accident death of a man while his Tesla was doing the driving.  However, this accident was caused by an auto with only the L2 capability of automation. In L2 automation only speed and lane changing is performed by the auto and only in special circumstances. The human is still in control.

The industry has defined 5 levels of automation, as shown in Figure 1 below. Only L4 or L5 is true automation. In L5, the auto would likely not have a steering wheel, as the human does not take part in driving at all. Figure 1 came from a recent article in Scientific American by Steven Shladover. Shladover argues that L4 and L5 vehicles are decades away, at the earliest 2045. Informal discussions I have had with a leader in the industry, who does not want to be quoted, agrees with this perspective.

 

selfdrivingcars-1

Figure 1. Many technologists suggest that only L4 or L5 automation is practical.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many argue that it makes no sense to have L2 and L3 vehicles as the driver could lose focus while the auto is driven autonomously, and not be alert when needed. When the L4-/L5-era arises it will likely reduce the death toll from accidents significantly. When one considers that 100 people in the US are killed each day in auto accidents, this benefit will be welcome indeed.

Fully autonomous cars will be a major technology disruption. According to John Krafix, CEO of the Google Self-Driving Car Project, we use our cars only 4% of the time. In the era of driverless cars, why have the expense of owning one, when you can summon one for a much lower yearly cost?

It will be interesting to watch all of this unfold, and it will present new and rewarding challenges to those of us in electronics assembly. However, sadly, most of us working today will be well past retirement by the time it comes to full fruition.

 

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Racing to Failure?

Reuters is reporting that Samsung has temporarily suspended production of the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone after replacements for the first batch of devices also proved to be almost as good at spontaneously combusting as they are at surfing the Web.

One brand manager went so far as to compare the self-igniting smartphones to the Ford Pinto, whose rear-end fuel tanks had the unfortunate tendency to explode upon contact.

Samsung’s situation isn’t unique: Apple experienced similar problems with previous iterations of the iPhone. But given the speed with which new phone models are brought to market, one begins to wonder whether these defects are part of a larger failure of the process itself.

Is is possible we’ve reached an inflection point whereby, in the rush to get product to market, the validation phase is — pardon the pun — being short-circuited? Are suppliers properly vetted, product thoroughly tested, risks appropriately balanced?

Or has consumer electronics reached a point where it’s a race not to market but to failure?

Oct. 11 addendum: The Korea Herald and others are now reporting Samsung has decided to pull the plug completely on the Note 7. The estimated cost: Billions.

 

 

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Foxconn India: Still a Pipe Dream

It’s been a year (more actually) since India announced — to great fanfare — a memorandum of understanding with Foxconn to invest $5 billion over the next five years in the nation. For India, it seemed like a marriage made in heaven: the world’s largest electronics manufacturer would be an ideal partner for its goal to develop a local end-to-end supply chain that could not only serve its burgeoning domestic population but also provide a steady stream of exports to the rest of the world.

Yet as the Times of India points out today, the bride is still waiting at the altar.

As we said at the time, Indian officials shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for the relationship to be consummated. Foxconn is really good at promising huge investments, only to fall short in the end.

Actually, we’ve been saying this for years. Foxconn is Chinese to the core. It may on occasion have dalliances with other countries, but it always returns to its mate. Suitors, take note.

 

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What’s the Deal with Delly?

Gayla Delly left Benchmark with no notice last week. Why?

Changes at the top of Tier 1 and 2 EMS firms don’t happen often. Before Friday, in fact, Benchmark had had just two chief executives in its 30-year history.

Cary Wu founded the company as part of a buyout from medical device manufacturer Intermedics in 1986. He remained in charge until December 2011, when he promoted Delly, the company’s longtime head of finance, to the top spot.

Highly dependent for years on the high-end computing sector, especially IBM, Benchmark had been trying to balance its portfolio via acquisitions. With its acquisitions of Suntron and the EMS operations of CTS, both in 2013, the company attempted to broaden its reach into the high-reliability industrial, medical and aerospace/defense markets. It then snapped up industrial communications OEM Secure Technology in 2015.

Many bigger EMS acquisitions are slow to be accretive. The large amount of fixed assets and (typically) lower capacities at the acquired company mean layoffs and restructuring costs will follow. Still, investors are impatient and the deals were met with criticism in some quarters.

Much like Sparton and its now-departed CEO Cary Wood, Benchmark faced strong opposition from a loud activist investor who accused the EMS company of poor fiscal management. (Interestingly, unlike many of its similar-sized competitors, Benchmark has typically been patient with its M&A strategy, choosing to keep its debt levels low.)

The intensity of that criticism, which was public in the spring, had quieted down during the summer after the investor won two board seats. On its quarterly conference call in late July, Delly went to far as to deny any strategic changes in the direction of the company following the seating of the new directors. This makes the timing of Delly’s departure all the more curious.

Last Friday, the announcement came that Delly was being replaced as president and chief executive with veteran electronics executive Paul Tufano, effective immediately. Tufano is a Benchmark board member who has spent more than three decades in the technology and telecommunications industries, most recently as chief financial officer of Alcatel-Lucent. He also has a background in EMS, having been executive vice president and CFO of Solectron. It’s possible the move implies the company will refocus its sights on computing and telecom. We shall see.

Neither Delly nor the company has yet commented on the change.

 

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Changing of the EDA Guards

Turnover among the heads at the major suppliers of electronics design-related software is rare indeed. Since 2010, the top spot of a leading PCB software company has changed hands only once.

The dean of PCB EDA, Makoto Kaneko, founded Zuken in 1976. Wally Rhines has run Mentor Graphics since 1993. His counterpart at Cadence, Lip Bu Tan, has been in place since 2009.

Altium has had three chiefs in its existence, the most recent being Aram Mirkazemi, who was installed in 2014. But for a shareholder revolt in 2012, however, Nick Martin, who founded the company in 1985, might still be in charge.

That’s why it’s was so unusual this week when, on the same day this week, Ansys and NI each named the successors to their respective thrones.

Ansys appointed Dr. Ajei S. Gopal CEO-in-waiting, succeeding longtime head Jim Cashman. Gopal’s been a familiar face around the company, however, having joined its board in 2011.

Cashman joined Ansys as president in 1999, and was named CEO a year later. On his watch, Ansys’s revenues have grown from $50 million to almost $1 billion.

In NI’s case, it’s in some ways an even bigger transition. As a researcher at the University of Texas, James Truchard cofounded National Instruments in his garage in 1976. Come Jan 1., when Alex Davern takes the reins, it will be as chief executive and president of a $1.2 billion firm employing more than 2,000 workers worldwide.  If Davern has an advantage, he’s held a variety of positions in finance at NI dating to 1997, and he’s been Cashman’s right-hand as COO and CFO since 2010.

What’s clear is that the software industry, while dependent on innovation, also prides itself on stability. Since the market is characterized by a relatively small number of major players, the ability to maintain relationships with key customers may have something to do with that. That the leadership at most of the aforementioned companies has been relatively controversy-free doesn’t hurt, either.

From the looks of it, the heir apparents promise more of the same. Given the respective performance of the CEOs they are following, that’s not a bad thing.

 

 

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Reshoring

I am often asked by those in the printed circuit and electronic packaging industries about reshoring. My response generally is that reshoring is a myth. It seems that whenever I try to contact someone by email I get an automated response stating, “I am currently in China and will return to my office on ….” Many of the facilities and much of the equipment that would be needed to reshore have been auctioned off or sent to the scrap heap. Those that operated them have moved on to other jobs. Some have gone to work for Chinese companies.  Further, reshoring intimates bringing back something. However, technology does not stand still. Advances in fabrication processes and equipment require major expenditures to produce today’s, and tomorrow’s products.

Major firms such as Apple have announced intentions to establish independent research facilities in China. Production often follows within the region of successful R&D.

What seems to be occurring is not reshoring but new activity to establish new companies, manufacturing operations and produce product — albeit on a very modest level. However, with a sluggish economy, high corporate taxes, and overly burdensome government regulations there are few venture capital sources available for such efforts – especially in the uncertainty promulgated by the current election year. In fact, affordable financing to modernize and upgrade America’s smaller PCB enterprises is largely unavailable.

We must also consider the question posed by Andrew Strong an associate director of Cambridge Consultants when we think about reconstituting older manufacturing plants for potential re-shoring: “Repair, Replace Or Re-Invent?” I would suggest, assuming that the products to be made have sufficient competitive market longevity, replace with improvements based on recent developments, automation, design changes, new materials, and lean manufacturing principles — assuming sufficient financing is available.

Reshoring continues to be a very “hot topic.” A member of our 2,500+ Linked-In network members wrote the following thought-provoking and incendiary comment: “Reshoring for electronics manufacturing doesn’t make sense due to high levels of process automation, extensive and effective supply chain already established, end product unit value to weight ratio enabling low unit shipping cost and relatively smooth global logistics.

The issues with establishing new manufacturing for other products in the USA are highest corporate tax rates, increasingly difficult regulatory positions discouraging small businesses and startups, government interference in attempting to “pick winners,” and uncertainty about the sustainability and competitiveness of our free market capitalism as we continue to follow the European socialists countries into oblivion.”

Another colleague of the past half-century sent an interesting response to the “silent  complaint” story linking it to reshoring. We posted it on our “Comments & Discussion” page.

What do YOU think? Do you wish to engage in this vital conversation? Should we redefine the challenge? Do you have a workable solution? Let us know!

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