Who Needs 2 Newspapers?

Juxtapositions can funny, even when the subject is serious.

From DigiTimes today:

Foxconn considering lawsuit over leukemia report

“Foxconn Electronics (Hon Hai Precision Industry) is considering taking legal action against UK-based Daily Mail for its recent report claiming Foxconn employees working in Shenzhen plants have developed leukemia.”

Foxconn promises assistance for ill workers in response to leukemia report

“Foxconn Electronics’ (Hon Hai Precision Industry) plants in Shenzhen, China reportedly have seen many of their workers develop leukemia because of long-term operations in the presence of electronic cleaners.”

 

 

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Wave of Innovation

Old friend Jeff Miller (some readers may remember him from his ACT and Wise days)

3D printed car

3D printed car

took this photo of a 3D printed car this week while at IMTS in Chicago.

Meanwhile, while at PCB West earlier this week, we saw the row of Tesla demo cars on display and waiting for test drives in San Jose. A designer from Telsa’s Palo Alto R&D center (the former HP semiconductor plant) was at the show and was visibly excited talking about the range of electronics he gets to work on.

No one will confuse Tesla’s elegance with the admittedly rough model at the right, but there are some amazing things happening with both board technology and form factors right now, and we are lucky to get a front row seat for this latest wave of innovation.

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Hitachi’s SMT Exit

And then there were … 27?

Hitachi’s board today announced plans to exit the SMT component placement business, selling off certain parts of the division and closing the rest. In a press release, the firm said it would transfer the sales organization to Yamaha and cease its development and manufacturing activities.

Japan has always been the major provider of the world’s component mounters, headed such major conglomerates as Fuji, Yamaha, Juki, Sony and Panasonic. And while Hitachi’s competitors will welcome one fewer player in the market, this in all likelihood won’t shake up the industry.

Over the years it’s been widely assumed consolidation was inevitable, yet it’s taken more than a decade since the Great Tech Recession of 2001-03 for any major moves to be made.

There have been several transactions and reshufflings, of course: ASM bought Siplace (Siemens), Universal was acquired by a private equity group, as was Assembleon. Mydata was acquired by a fellow Swedish OEM. And earlier this week Dima, a small European player, was snatched up by Nordson. None of these deals has truly changed the shape of the market.

In fact, the June 2013 merger of Juki and Sony was the first major deal in which a serious player ceased to exist. Hitachi’s will be the second.

The 27 (at least) remaining players will welcome the chance to grab Hitachi’s roughly $68 million in equipment sales now in play as result of this decision. Someone’s bottom line will look at least marginally better in the coming year. But more moves will be needed before the SMT market can truly regain the types of margins needed to inspire significant commitments to innovation that were standard fare in the 1990s.

 

 

 

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Calculating Optimal Solder Paste Printing Aperture Parameters

Folks,

A while ago, I developed an Excel-based spreadsheet, StencilCoach, that calculates optimal stencil aperture parameters for several common SMT solder paste printing applications. These applications include standard apertures, passive apertures, pin-in-paste (PiP) apertures, and preforms with pin-in-paste (PiP+) apertures. These algorithms are now online at http://software.indium.com/. Over the next several posts, I will review the use of this software tool.

Let’s first look at standard apertures. After logging into to the website, click on “Stencil Coach” and then “Standard Apertures.” The page gives the definitions for “Aspect Ratio” for a rectangular aperture and “Area Ratio” for circular and square apertures. The aspect ratio, which is defined as the width of the rectangular aperture divided by the stencil thickness, should be greater than 1.5. Whereas the area ratio, for circular or square apertures, is given as the area of the opening divided by the area of the sidewalls. This formula simplifies to D/4t, where D is the diameter of a circular aperture or the width of the square aperture. The area ratio should be greater than 0.66. These recommendations are not standards, but are good rules of thumb.

Let’s consider a situation where a PWB has rectangular apertures with a pitch of 35 mils and circular and square apertures with pitches of 40 mils each. The stencil thickness is 6 mils. See if you can develop the pad and aperture sizes and reproduce the figure below. Hopefully this tool will help you design your stencils.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

PS: If you need a hand, feel free to contact me at rlasky@ indium com.

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End of Summer — End of an Era?

Which is the way forward? New or renew?

Nepcon in Shenzhen Aug. 26-28 was “OK” in terms of attendance. Lots of prospects/”tire kickers” but very few buyers.

Japan’s high-tech PWB volume in June increased  8.6% over that of June 2013, but revenue declined 4.1% for domestic build-up types of multilayers — a typical sign of declining business, a maturing industry, cheaper foreign sources, and overcapacity. According to DKN Research, prices for these types of circuits used in cellular phones dropped 12% in Japan during the past year.

Japan manufacturers are also engaged in a price war with Taiwanese and Chinese competitors with double-sided and multilayer flexible circuits. Selling prices on these dropped more than 33% in the past year. Overall, the forecast for the Japanese circuit industry for 2014 is not better than 2013’s, which was the worst since 2008.

The world’s top 100 printed circuit makers account for approximately 80% of global demand.

Nothing is forever. The interconnect industry (PCB and PCBA) has had a good run and matured. It has progressed technically, shifted geographically, consolidated, thrived and suffered due to geopolitical shifts as well as technical advances. Some well-known domestic companies are undergoing inversions. Others are shrinking or struggling to regain a profitable (albeit smaller) status after squeezing suppliers, inventories and eliminating much of the R&D funding for future improvements. Renewing appears to be more difficult as competition for “more of the same” continues to increase and value differentiation declines. In fact, some of the cost reduction activities have actually removed value from many of the offerings making them less attractive in the long run.

Change is inevitable! We can contribute to it or be the “victims” of it. We can invest in the future or have no future. We believe that today’s survivors that are experiencing declining options for their current offerings must seek out new directions, new alliances, new wares, new  cooperative development activities and support for the future.

Opportunities do exist! 3D packaging has stalled due to both economic and technology issues. Mitsubishi Heavy Industry has started a new room temperature wafer bonding service for MEMs and biosensors for firms designing 3D packages and are unable to make them themselves. 2.5D appears to not be faring much better. New improvements in packaging appear to be filling some of the current needs and gaps. We can extend product life cycles with product/process improvements while developing new disruptive or not-in-kind technologies.

New flexible substrates with 14 micron thin cores and 9 micron Cu surfaces provide the reality of 25 micron line and space volume production and, along with new technologies, the opportunity of PCB and IC substrate makers, and their supply chains to work more closely with the packaging industry.

Future success will require a total reassessment of your company’s core values, mission statement and goals. It takes a new strategy and action plan. It will require you to question your managements’ styles. Procedures will have to be reviewed, too. Why were these established? Are they still needed? Should they be modified to meet today’s Lean manufacturing needs and technology requirements? Do they support speed to market? Should you change or create new areas of focus? Do all your managers feel the urgency?

What are you doing to ensure your future?

New cooperative activity. The newly established liaison between the IPC and the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC’s) Standardization Management Board (SMB) should be a boon for the rapidly growing printed electronics industry. All concerned parties have something to contribute and something to gain from this collaboration to create international standards. One must, however, keep an open mind for new potentially disruptive technologies that could potentially bridge some applications of the areas encompassed by printed electronics, printed circuits, and other packages.

It’s time to get serious. The Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA) has asked for government support to help Taiwan’s PCB industry develop next-generation products to counter slowing growth rates. The nation’s industry (including output from its factories in Mainland China) will generate sales of $18.3+ billion this year. The TPCA is likely to receive a good audience from the government as the nation’s vice president has been a keynote speaker at the annual TPCA show’s opening ceremony the past few years.

Shortly after announcing a new $30 million share repurchase program this month Plexus held an opening ceremony for its $40 million 265,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Guadalajara, Mexico. The company has stated that it is now actively recruiting to fill employment opportunities. Full employment at this facility is expected to exceed 700 workers.

The increasing costs in China and elsewhere, the stability and availability of a skilled and semi-skilled work force, locally established supply chains, and the proximity of five universities are all sure to have contributed to the decision.

SEMI announced another positive book-to-bill IC equipment order ratio for the month of July. Where will the equipment go? What types of chips with what nodes will it build? What industries will consume the added production? When will the PCB/packaging industries partake in the results?

Who is building the packaging substrates and where are they built? Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, yesterday said its revenue hit a record high $2.16 billion last month up 7.6% from June and 24.6% higher than a year earlier. The company also forecast a sequential revenue increase next quarter because of its strength in 28nm and 20nm process technologies as well as strong demand for flat panel IC drivers and tablet power management chips.

United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC), Taiwan’s second-largest contract chipmaker, posted its lowest revenue in three months last month, down 7% to $380 million due to lower contribution from its solar business.

Conversations with several major circuit interconnect and packaging supply chain members in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan indicate that business is “spotty” at best. KCE in Thailand is having record sales participating in circuits for the automotive after market, now the 2nd biggest in Asia. Unimicron Technology’s second quarter net profits were up 377% from the previous quarter to $9 million. Gold Circuit Electronics and M-Flex are still working to restore profitability. Viasystems lost money the second quarter of the year. The second half of 2014 looks promising for Taiwan-based circuit makers. Global Innovation has restored its Lone Star name with a statement that it will only provide domestically produced circuit boards.

SEMI has forecast double-digit growth for equipment makers for the next two years. What will the applications be? Will Intel’s new 14nm node be part of the surge, or will the cost/benefit ratio not be good enough? How much of an effect will “wearable electronics” have?Which substrate/board builders will benefit? When? Where?

Samsung’s smartphone market position in China has been supplanted by Xiaomi  and in India by “home-grown” Micromax in the 2nd quarter of 2014. The latter is offering a 6-inch screen with magnetic flip cover, 1.3 GHz dual-core Media Tek processor, and an Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system with a 5-megapixel camera and a 6-month movie subscription for $140 (8,500 rupees)!

How is your crystal ball? Are you monitoring and re-evaluating your attainable markets and shares? Are you redefining your businesses? have you found creative ways of extending product life cycles? Are you noting major shifts in supply chains and aligning your companies with the king (or prince) makers of the next few years? Are you redefining your markets and stepping “outside” the traditional boxes? If not, I suggest (re)reading Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (2005, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2005).

As a supporting organization of the China Sourcing Fair Fall 2014, Electronics & Components, to be held on October 11-14, 2014 at AsiaWorld-Expo, at the Hong Kong Airport, the HKPCA is offering its members VIP Buyers’* privileges to this Fair.  These include:
– Free admission to the fair;
– Free transportation arrangements to the fairs;
– Coupons for F&B & shopping discounts at the Hong Kong International Airport area and AsiaWorld-Expo;
Exclusive use of onsite office suites to its invited VIP buyers (Wifi connection, office equipment, etc);
– A free Octopus Cash Card with HK$150 stored-value for transportation or purchases.

 

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Remote ESD

ESD, or electrostatic discharge, is of great concern to anyone who deals with electronics. That’s obvious. What’s not necessarily so obvious, is that some times, you don’t even need to be all that close to the circuit board or component to damage it.

This article by Douglas C. Smith illustrates why sometimes just a wrist strap isn’t enough.

That’s why we don’t only use wrist straps, but also have a grounded conductive floor and use ESD jackets and conductive foot straps to protect the boards and components out on our manufacturing floor.

Here’s a video showing the dreaded ESD monster and us protecting your gear from him:

 

Duane Benson
Greased lightning is an interesting concept
Would it reduce power line transmission losses?

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com

 

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Investigation at Fabrinet

Weirdness abounds at Fabrinet. Consider the following:

On Aug. 1, CEO David Mitchell sells 40,000 shares of company stock in a transaction valued at $734,000.

On Aug. 12, JDS Uniphase lowers its outlook, saying its current quarter sales will be as much as 8% lower than the consensus analyst forecast. JDS is Fabrinet’s largest customer, and one of two 10%-plus customers of the EMS firm.

Today Fabrinet announces it will postpone its fourth-quarter earnings release in the wake of an internal investigation into “certain accounting issues” uncovered by company management during its most recent fiscal quarter. The firm says it is also looking into whether there may be any “deficiencies” with its disclosure controls and procedures.

There’s no obvious straight line here. I’m hoping the timing of Mitchell’s transaction was just good luck, and that the investigation isn’t related to any insider shenanigans. Based on similar announcements from other industry companies, the investigation has something to do with the company’s inventory management. Such tightly sequenced events bear further watching, however.

 

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Warped PCBs

You just got a nice big PCB back from the fab shop. You set one on your desk to admire only to discover that it’s warped. What do you do?

There are two primary types of causes of board warping: process related at the fab or assembly shop, and layout-related issues. If it’s warped before assembly, it’s between fab and layout. If it’s flat before assembly and warped, after, it’s most likely between layout and assembly — although sometimes a fab problem won’t show up until a pass through the reflow oven at your assembly partner.

Determining the root cause is generally a bit of an iterative process. It’s tempting to start right off with your fab or assembly partner, but you need some information before giving them a call. You’ll need such things as the amount of warpage per inch, board size and thickness. With that, you need to take a good look at your design and consider copper pours, component size and component placement.

With that information in hand you can make your phone call. If the board is warped before assembly, call your fab shop. If it’s flat pre-assembly and warped post-assembly, call your assembly house.

The shop you call will want to talk over your design to help you pinpoint the cause. If you can rule out a design issue,then you need to talk with your partner to determine whether it’s a fab or assembly issue and next steps to take care of you.

 Here are a few design issues that could contribute to warping:

  • Uneven copper pour. Copper and FR-4 are a good match relative to thermal expansion, but they aren’t exact. A large pour on one side or corner of your board can lead to warping due to dissimilar expansion characteristics. This could cause warpage either at the fab shop or the assembly house.
  • Components with large thermal mass grouped together on the board. This would be more likely to cause problems during assembly than during fab. The thermal mass will act as a heat sink for that area on the board, which can lead to uneven expansion and uneven soldering.
  • A board that’s too thin for the size or number of components could lead to warping at any stage.
  • Odd shapes or large cutouts could also lead to warping at any point.

There may be other, more obscure causes, but those are the main design related causes. If it’s none of those talk with your partner.

Occasionally, design requirements lead to a board that is essentially non-manufacturable. Hopefully you never have this situation, but if you do, make sure that thickness, component location, pours, or cut outs really, really, really, need to be the way they are.

If you absolutely, positively can’t change anything, go back and try again. Then you can to look for heroic means to get the board fabbed and built.

Slight warpage might go away when the board is mounted. Just be careful with that. Some components may not stay securely soldered when you flatten it.

The board may need a special fixture during assembly to prevent warping. This will likely cost extra, but if you can’t change your design, and still need it built, it may be your best option.

Finally, if nothing works, you may need to look harder at the design, or look for a new fab or assembly house. We all like to think we can do just about anything, but every shop has its limits, and on rare occasion those limits can be difficult to spot.

Duane Benson
What if Godot was late because he was waiting for John Galt?

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com

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Cisco’s Job Cuts

Cisco yesterday announced it an 8% cut to its workforce. Although the company did not say when the layoffs would occur, the suggestion is that some 6,500 workers will find themselves without a job at some point in the future.

Or will they?

The last time the networking giant announced layoffs was August 2013. At that time, it said it would pare 4,000 jobs from its global workforce of 75,049 workers. And just five months earlier, Cisco had indicated it would cut 500 other positions. Yet as of July 2014, the close of its 2014 fiscal year, the company had about 74,000 staffers worldwide. While numbers for its fiscal fourth quarter aren’t yet available, the firm cut just 1,200 jobs through the first three quarters of its fiscal 2014.

Even accounting for open jobs that Cisco may have decided not to fill and offsets from acquisitions, the number of announced layoffs do not seem to match — that is, fall well short of — what Cisco says it will eliminate.

This is a trend.

As of July 2012, Cisco employed 66,639 workers. That month, it said it would cut 1,300 jobs. A year later its headcount had increased by more than 8,400 workers.

Even the last major bloodletting wasn’t as, well, bloody as predicted. In July 2011 Cisco announced it would ax 6,500 jobs, or 9% of its 71,825-man staff. A year later the headcount stood at 5,186 less, a significant number to be sure, but not as bad as what was forecast.

I’m not suggesting Cisco is being intentionally disingenuous about its plans. Certainly many companies respond to predicted downturns with layoffs, and perhaps in most of these cases business has been stronger than what was expected, thus sparing many people the ax. A cynic might say these moves are done less for the actual bottom line and more to pump up the stock price. So be it.  Nor is Cisco alone, for that matter. But it goes to show that job security, even in the volatile tech sector, is likely better than one would think from just reading the headlines.

 

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Low-Temperature Solders: Niche No More?

Folks,

It surprises many people that the foundation metal of almost all solder alloys is tin. Alloy elements such as lead, silver, copper, indium, etc., are extremely important, as they lower the solder melting temperature below tin’s relatively high 232°C and often improve wetting and other process or performance properties.

Figure 1. Bismuth metal. (Source: Indium)

As an example, tin-bismuth near-eutectic solders have a melting range around 140°C with a processing temperature of about 170°C, putting tin-bismuth solders 50°C or so below most common lead-free solders such as SAC 305. A while ago, I posted on tin-bismuth solders, asking if their time had come. This post generated follow-on questions that were answered in a second post.

iNEMI predicts that low-temperature solders, such as these tin-bismuth solders, may become main stream as soon as 2017. In light of this situation, my colleague and friend, Dr. Ning-Cheng Lee, is presenting a workshop on “Properties and Applications of Low Temperature Solders” at SMTAI on Sept. 29, from 8:30-12 noon in room 54.

The course summary is: Since the dawn of the electronic industry, the soldering process has encompassed mainly component manufacturing and printed circuit board assembly, with a hierarchic solder melting range. Components are made using solder alloys with melting temperatures around 300°C, which will not melt in the subsequent PCB assembly process, where the solders typically melt around 200°C. Low-temperature solders, with melting temperatures less than 170°C, are currently used mainly for niche applications. However, the iNEMI roadmap predicts low-temperature soldering to become a mainstream processes by 2017. Low-temperature soldering is greatly desired for assemblies such as heat-sensitive devices, systems with more hierarchic levels, parts with significant differences in their coefficients of thermal expansion, components exhibiting severe thermal warpage, or products with highly miniaturized design. This course will cover several varieties of low-temperature solders with an emphasis on lead-free alloys, their physical, mechanical, and soldering properties, and the applications involved with those alloys.

And the topics covered will be:

· Design of low-temperature solder alloys.

· Indium-bearing solder systems and their properties.

· Bismuth-bearing solder systems and their properties.

· Recent development in bismuth-bearing low-temperature solder alloys.

· Mechanisms of reliability enhancement of new bismuth-bearing solder alloys.

· Applications of low-temperature solders.

Be sure to add this workshop to your list of things to do at SMTAI.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

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