Happy Holidays!

With 2015 almost over, UP Media Group would like to take this opportunity to thank our advertisers, exhibitors, colleagues and loyal readers for another successful year. It was a good year for us, topped by another terrific PCB West.

We wish everyone the best for the holiday season and for a buoyant 2016!


Posted in Hot Wires | Comments Off on Happy Holidays!

The Common Parts Library

The two most common causes of delay in small volume manufacturing here at Screaming Circuits (and presumably, others like us) are component availability, and footprint mismatches.

We don’t substitute parts without your approval for a number of reasons. I’ve written about those reasons a few times before. (Here, here, and here.)

Incorrect footprints can lead to a host of headaches as well. (Read more herehere, and here.)

Until recently, I haven’t seen a lot of progress toward solving these problems for the hordes of engineers that don’t have big support departments at their disposal. In fact, with the proliferation of newer, and small, component packages, and evolution of the supply chain, it’s really gotten worse.6a00d8341c008a53ef01bb089b708f970d-120wi

However, there are a couple of Knights in Shining Armor riding in to try and solve both problems. The Common Parts Library (CPL), created by Octopart, aims to create a list of components with the highest probability of being available and staying available (there are no guarantees where component supply is concerned).

The other exciting entrant is SnapEDA. SnapEDA has a massive, and growing, library of component footprints. I’ve used their footprints with good success for high pin-count devices, and other parts with complex packages. It can save a lot of time and give better confidence that all of the pins go to the right functions.

Duane Benson
Map makers put fake roads in as copyright traps
These folks don’t do that. Nice.


Posted in Screaming Circuits Blog | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on The Common Parts Library

Made in the USA

This is a pet peeve, so forgive me in advance.

Manufacturing in the US is by no means dead.

We don’t have nearly the number of unskilled or semi-skilled manufacturing jobs as once before, thanks in part to hands-free automation and a higher level of engineering knowledge / skilled labor needed for the non-automated work. Overall employment in the sector dropped about 12% between 2003 and 2013, and more than 20% from 1993 to 2013.

We are no longer the global leader in either manufactured goods — a title lost in 2010 — or valued added manufacturing — which we ceded in 2013 — although the data are skewed of late in China’s favor because of currency valuation changes.

And here’s no question manufacturing as a percent of GDP has certainly slipped in the US (and not to our advantage, but that’s a different discussion).

But even given that, in terms of how much the US produces, we still produce north of $2 trillion worth of manufactured goods every year.

That’s a really big number.

Now, how to get some of that back in the US printed circuit industry?

Posted in Hot Wires | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Made in the USA

Automakers ‘Dashing’ for 3d Party Platforms

The fight for the dashboard is heating up as reports surfaced this week that two major automakers will ditch their current embedded software systems in favor of alternatives from Google and Apple.

Ford, which has dabbled with Apple’s CarPlay for two years even while using Microsoft Windows Embedded for its infotainment systems, drop Microsoft and migrate to an Apple-compatible platform, reports indicate.

Likewise, Hyundai is going all in on CarPlay and a competing system from Google called Android Auto.

There’s big money at stake. Automakers generate substantial profits on infotainment and related on-board gear: Ford bundles Sync with Sirius radio and other options in a package, priced at $1,250, which is purportedly nearly $1,000 higher than the OEM’s costs.

While the tools not only control today’s dashboard displays, they could be even more significant down the road as self-driving cars start to populate the roads, freeing vehicle occupants to do tasks once considered unthinkable in moving cars, such as shopping online.

So while the prospect of moving toward more interactive onboard systems holds promise and profits for the automakers themselves, major OEMs like Apple and Google stand to benefit from a captive audience inside the vehicle.

In the future, “keep your eyes on the road” may be replaced with “keep your eyes on the dash.”

Posted in Hot Wires | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Automakers ‘Dashing’ for 3d Party Platforms

Failure Rate Calculation


Let’s see how Patty, Rob, and Pete are doing helping Mike Madigan establish his Zero Defects program.

“So let me see if I got this straight: if I want to establish that the defect rate is 1 per million or less, I need to have 3 million in the field with no fails?” Mike asked.

“That’s correct,” Rob responded. “Patty and I developed an Excel spreadsheet that will calculate the number of samples needed, with no fails, to verify a given defect rate. I sent a copy to your email account. Open it.”

“Select the sheet titled,  ‘Calculate Number of Samples.’ Now enter ‘95’ in the blue cell after ‘Percent Confidence Desired’ and 1E-6 in the blue cell after ‘Failure Rate to Verify.’ The number of samples needed to verify this defect rate is in the gray cell. Note that it is a little short of 3 million.”

From a different perspective,” Patty added, “if you have a certain number of samples in the field and want to verify the defect rate they can support, if none fail, the sheet ‘Calculate Failure Rate’ will make that calculation.”

Lasky“Let me see if I can use it,” Mike replied.

Mike entered 95% and a desired defect rate of 1E-6.

“Wow! It works!” Mike exclaimed, “It says I need a little less than 3 million samples.”

“So how many samples do you need to demonstrate 0 defects?” Pete teased.

Mike thought for a while and then responded, “Three times infinity! Yikes!”

“I think three times infinity is infinity,” Pete teased again.

Patty glared at Pete.

The group ended by discussing the nobility of a zero defects plan, but the futility of demonstrating it by field sampling.

After they hung up, Patty looked a little agitated.

“Sometimes you two act like 12-year-olds,” she scolded.

Both Rob and Pete had a “Who? Me?” look.

“Why do you say that?” Rob asked sheepishly.

“Both of you laughed when Mike proposed a sample size of 20 to demonstrate zero defects, and then Pete teased about 3 times infinity equals infinity,” Patty responded. “Mike deserves to be treated with respect. We shouldn’t laugh at people when they don’t know or understand something that we do. Especially now that we are all at Ivy U, we are here to help people learn.”

“But he was so annoying when we worked at ACME,” Pete shot back.

“That doesn’t matter. And besides, for whatever reason, we all agree he is much nicer now.”

Both Pete and Rob murmured in agreement.

“Ma’am, we will be better in the future,” Rob and Pete teased in unison.

“Hey, Patty. Remember your concern that almost 50% of Ivy U students did not know who wrote A Christmas Carol?” Rob asked.

“Sure,” Patty responded.

“I asked Pete and he said J. K. Rowling,’” Rob said.

“Well at least I got the right country,” Pete replied.

Patty couldn’t help herself; she burst out laughing with the other two.


Dr. Ron

  1. If you would like a copy of the Excel Spreadsheet that performs the defect rate calculations discussed in this post, send me an email at rlasky@indium.com.



Posted in Dr. Ron | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Failure Rate Calculation

Raspberry Pi — What’s It All Mean?

What would you do with a computer that costs $5?

First, let me explain a bit. The Raspberry Pi, if you don’t know, is a small, inexpensive single board computer designed by the non-profit Raspberry Pi foundation in England. Its mission is to make computer-related education less expensive and more accessible to the masses. As a next step in that mission, it just introduced the Raspberry Pi Zero, with an MSRP of $5. So, you can buy a Big Mac, or a Pi Zero. You could buy some peanut butter, jelly and a loaf of bread, eat that for the next five lunches, and buy five Pi Zeros.

Now some folks have complained that it’s not very useful on its own. It needs a wall bug power supply, a micro SD card, a few cables, and a USB hub to connect a keyboard and mouse to.

That’s true, if you want to use it as a full PC workstation, which you can. It runs the “Raspian” distribution of Linux. But, I don’t think that’s where theRaspberryPi greatest potential for this thing lies. No, I wouldn’t use this as a workstation. It’s biggest potential, in my opinion, is as an inexpensive embedded controller.

It has I2C, SPI, and RS232 pins available, as well as plenty of GPIO. Attach a small daughter card with accelerometer, gyro, magnetometer, and GPS, and you’ve got a nice drone auto pilot. Attach a few sensors and a cell phone module, and you’ve got a remote data logger. What would you do with one of these?

Duane Benson
Little Jack Horner couldn’t get a plum out of this pi.


Posted in Laying It Out, Screaming Circuits Blog | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Raspberry Pi — What’s It All Mean?

Talking About the AirAsia Crash Report

A great discussion of the final report of last year’s AirAsia crash is taking place on the IPC TechNet listserv this week. Investigators say solder fatigue on the plane’s rudder control warning system precipitated the disaster.

To register, send an email using the following format:



     MESSAGE: subscribe TechNet Your Name

Or click here for more details.

Posted in Hot Wires | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Talking About the AirAsia Crash Report

The Rule of 3/N for Estimating Field Failure Rates


It looks like Patty is a bit troubled….

When she was younger, Patty was always annoyed by cranky old people, and now she was worrying that she might become one. The trigger making her cranky was what students know and don’t know. It all started when a colleague showed her the “Texas Tech Politically Challenged Video.” 

“How could so many students not know who won the American Civil War, who the Vice President is, or who the United States won its freedom from?” she thought.

Some of her colleagues felt the video was staged, but the producers came up with a response video that strongly suggested that it was not. What was even more unsettling was the fact that all the students knew who Snooki was and who Brad Pitt’s wife was.

Some of Patty’s statistics students got wind of this video and decided to make a similar video at Ivy University. The results were mostly comforting: 49 out of 50 students knew who won the Civil War, and the one student who didn’t was from India. They also did well with some other questions, 85% knowing that Joseph Stalin was the leader of the Soviet Union in World War II, and a high number knew that Joe Biden was the VP.

But Patty was most troubled that almost 50% did not know who wrote A Christmas Carol. She had discussed the topic with Rob and was further annoyed that he didn’t seem as troubled as she was. Rob pointed out that some international students might not have had English literature in their studies, and being a story about Christmas, it could be a cultural thing. Patty was unconvinced by his arguments. It still seemed troubling to her.

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens in 1867, 24 years after he authored “A Christmas Carol”

As she was mulling over these thoughts, the phone rang. It was Mike Madigan, CEO of her former employer, ACME.

“Hey, Patty, it’s Mike,” Madigan said cheerfully. “I need your help with a statistic problem. It might be good if Rob and Pete were involved, so could we do a teleconference?”

Patty scheduled the teleconference for later in the day. When the time came, Pete and Rob were in Patty’s office and she called Madigan. After exchanging pleasantries, Madigan got to the point.

“We have a demanding customer from the military,” Mike started. “They have a Zero Defects program and want to know how we can guarantee it after field exposure.”

“To clarify, you mean guarantee zero defects for units in the field?” Pete asked.

“Yeah,” Mike replied.

“The way I figure it, if we have 20 units in the field and none fail, we can say with 95% confidence that we have zero defects, because one unit is 5% of 20, and if none fail, that means we can be 100%-5% or 95% confident,” Mike said.

Patty instinctively reached for the mute button, as Rob and Pete went into hysterics. She glared at both of them.

“Hello, hello, are you there?” Mike asked as he heard no response.

Finally, with Patty continuing to glare, Pete and Rob had stopped laughing. So she unmuted the phone.

“Sorry Mike, the failure rate in the situation you described is that you can be 95% confident that is it less than or equal to 15%” Patty replied.

The other end of the conference call was quiet for a while and finally Mike answered,

“Yikes! OK, can you explain?”

“Patty and I have developed the math to explain how to calculate confidence limits on field failure rates,” Rob responded. “For 95% confidence we have developed what we call The Rule of 3/N.”

“How does it work?” Mike asked.

“If you have N samples in the field, and none have failed, you can say with 95% confidence that your failure rate is 3/N or less. As an example, let’s say you have 300 units in the field and none fail. You can then say with 95% confidence that the failure rate is less than or equal to 3/300 = 1/100 = 0.01 = 1%.”

“If we have 300 units with no fails, we can only have confidence in a 1% failure rate?” Mike groaned.

“One percent or less, with 95% confidence,” Patty chimed in.

Is demonstrating a 0% failure rate possible?  Will Patty and the team find a way to help Mike? Stay tuned for more details.


Dr. Ron


Posted in Dr. Ron | Tagged , , | Comments Off on The Rule of 3/N for Estimating Field Failure Rates


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.

Posted in Hot Wires | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on IPC’s New PAC

An Engineer Entrepreneur’s First Brand Lesson

If you’re an engineer starting a business, do you need to worry about your business’s brand?

In a word: yes.

You don’t need to make a big project out of it at the start. It can be as simple as a collection of notes. But simple or complex, you really need to start right away. Doing so will make things much easier down the road. The nice thing is that you can get started quite small. You don’t even have to call it a plan. At this point, it can just be a vision. (If the word “vision” seems too buzzwordy, then just call it “a bunch of ideas”)

What is a brand?

A brand has a lot in common with a person’s personality and reputation. It’s close enough that you can think in those terms. And, think, you should. Think about what you would like people (customers, employees, friends, family, etc.) to think and feel when they hear your company’s name.

What personality do you want your company to have?

  • Are you mean and gruff?
  • Are you nice?
  • Quiet?
  • Loud?
  • Helpful?
  • Athletic?
  • Sedentary?
  • Reliable to a fault?
  • Usually reliable?

Will you strive to be perfect, just okay, or a bit better than “good enough”? Do you want people to see you as having the best technology, or the best price? Go on with questions like that. Write down your questions, and write down your answers. You can carry a small note pad and pen around, but I suggest that you use a memo application on your phone. You’ll always have it with you, and it’s quick and easy to use.

When you walk into a grocery store, look at the signs. Do they strike you as inviting, or cold? When you get new tires for your car, watch how you’re treated. When you order parts online, consider how easy or difficult the web site is to use. Will any of that, or something similar, apply to your business? If so, jot down a quick note about it. Make a note any time you see or think of anything that triggers thoughts of what you want your business to be like.

You’ll collect all of these notes and clean them up a bit. These will become your brand attributes. They are the seed of a brand for your company.

Once you have this seed, you’ll use it to guide business decisions – all of them. For example; if financially frugal is one of your chose attributes, you won’t go out and rent a big office with mahogany paneling. If you want to be seen as leading edge in the media world, you might buy Mac laptops instead of clunky desktop Windows PCs.

Every thing you do and say, all of the time; it is all part of your brand.

A few example notes:

  • Am I cheap or expensive? Neither – I just want people to feel like they got a bit more than their money’s worth.
  • What about flashy? A little, but only where relevant. I don’t want fancy boxes, but I want them to look befitting of new technology.
  • I’m selling to engineers in banks, so casual suits if I’m in the front office, but no suits when I’m not.
  • Do I want people to envy my lifestyle? No, I want them to see me as a crazy workaholic.
  • What about getting in touch with me? I don’t think phone support is necessary for all of my customers, but I think email should be answered within an hour.
  • Am I “big industry”? No. I’m nimble and “new economy.” I should get a small office in a recently gentrified part of town, instead of in a mid-city office building.

Keep going. It can be as simple as that. You can get more formal and organized with it later.


Posted in Screaming Circuits Blog | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on An Engineer Entrepreneur’s First Brand Lesson