Industry 4.0: The Great Equalizer?

Gen Consutling Co. (GCC) has issued the Radiant Insights report “Global HDI Printed Circuit Board Market Forecast and Analysis 2016-2021.” The report provides a detailed analysis of worldwide markets for HDI Printed Circuit Board from 2011-2016, and provides market forecasts for 2016-2021 by region/country and subsectors. It covers the key technological and market trends in the HDI Printed Circuit Board market and further lays out an analysis of the factors influencing the supply/demand for HDI Printed Circuit Board, and the opportunities/challenges faced by industry participants. GCC states that the major players in the global HDI market are Unimicron, COMPEQ, AT&S, TTM, Zhen Ding, Ibiden, Tripod and Unitech.

Multek, a wholly owned subsidiary of FLEX, launched its new Zhuhai automotive division on May26 to support its rapidly growing automotive business. The company also announced completion of ISO/TS16949:2009 quality accreditation for its high layer count factory, and now delivers TS16949-grade automotive offerings at all of its manufacturing facilities globally.

Industry 4.0 is advancing rapidly in the Kunshan, China, electronics manufacturing hub. Will Industry 4.0 be enough by itself to make other areas of the world more competitively suitable for  sourcing?

Kunshan in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai attracts much of its investment from Taiwan. It is now accelerating growth by replacing workers with robots. Thirty-five of the 4,800 Taiwan companies in this area, including Foxconn, spent $610 million on artificial intelligence last year. Foxconn reduced  its labor force there from 110,000 to 50,000 by the introduction of robots. AS many as 600 more Taiwanese companies in  Kunshan are reported to have similar  plans.

Reality 4.0 – Are you missing the boat?

Some of our North American smaller fabricators facing difficult times and decisions sit back on their haunches and vociferously state that the IPC does nothing for them. They are missing the boat. The IPC provides the structure and support that allows virtually any group to band together, and work collaboratively to overcome obstacles and handicaps, and succeed in a rapidly changing and challenging environment. The IPC Ambassadors are creating an Executive Forum just for them and their supply chain. It will explore new technologies and trends, support opportunities,  and provide answers to many of the questions posed by these smaller enterprises of which there are more than 100 in the US. Additionally, the IPC will provide a new membership opportunity that will be difficult to refuse. Remember, there is strength in numbers! Stay tuned!

The IPC’s 3rd Reliability Forum held in Dusseldorf this month was a resounding success. The 2-1/2 day event started with a presentation on building in reliability by IPC director and ambassador Mike Carano, vice president of RBP Chemical Technology. Other prominent presenters included DuPont, Fraunhofer Institute, Atotech, and Park Electrochemical. The first full day focused designing for reliability, while the second addressed process. A half day on government relations activities was also included.

The Boston Chapter of the SMTA held its May meeting at Cirtronics, which graciously opened its doors (and factory for a tour) to host the event. Though held in New Hampshire, it attracted IPC and SMTA members from Massachusetts and the Western part of Connecticut. Cirtronics is an employee-owned contract manufacturer founded by its CEO Gerardine Ferlins. The busy facility was up-to-date and spotless. The profitable 176 employee company has progressed to the point where 70% of its business includes box-build. It has just acquired several new screen printers and is evaluating several new 3D AOI systems for purchase.

The meeting program featured Leo Lambert, vice president and technical director of EPTAC Corp. He covered key changes in and amendments to the IPC-A-600, IPC-A610, and J-STD-001 standards and how they affect our industry and the latest training and certification programs. Somehow the live presentation provided a far different result than the typical webinar. Humor was used to highlight specific points, problems, difficulties and the current situation. The result was very effective – at least to me. For example, amendments have been made that are different or in direct opposition to the original document. Yet the certification programs and manuals still contain and teach the unmodified or corrected items. Lambert well presented the need for peer review of training – if not standards – documentation so when the users receive it, they are not confused by any inconsistency.

The first Innovations Forum Hungary: Automation in Electronics Production “– building a competitive advantage in the region” will be held on the 16th of June, 2016 at the prestigious Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), which represents robot manufacturers and research institutes, says China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s biggest market for industrial robots.

There is increasing concern about the secure availability of advanced printed circuits for America’s defense industry. These are needed to provide the platforms for high tech electronics. R&D for new systems seem to be progressing well. However, the US base of smaller fabricators that produce more than half of military boards is hard-pressed to fund the new equipment needed to build these circuits. Costs are often more than 20% of annual turnover. Some fabs in the Northeast as well as in California continue to report difficulty in acquiring the skilled workers needed for production. Others cannot modernize or add capacity due to local (state) “environmental” laws and restrictions. Congress is slow to act and too busy with the election to do much of anything this next year. It has funded some major items but do not consider printed circuits a big item. PWBs’ importance is still not yet well-enough understood. Do you have a comment, recommendation, or solution?

When will 3-D printing for prototyping be at your favorite circuit shop?

Sooner than you think — at least for prototyping. One system utilizing an ink containing nano silver particles for fine line printing will be made available commercially by the end of this year. It will be demonstrated at the CES show in Las Vegas January 2017. The deposited circuit traces may be photonically cured (sintered). HP announced a 3-D new system that is 10 times faster than its predecessors. The insulating substrate may be UV cured epoxy. One such system for epoxy has already been demonstrated in the UK. Get your 3-D circuit printing update at the IPC Ambassador Council Executive Forum for fabricators and their supply chain at IPC Apex Expo in San Diego on Feb. 13, 2017.

Financial news from Taiwan

Chin-Poon Industrial, with more than 70% of its revenues coming from the automotive industry, announced consolidated revenues for April 2016 increased 5.4% over April 2015 to $58.7 million. The company’s cumulative 2016 sales through April increased 9.3% from a year earlier. Consolidated revenues at Tripod Technology’s sales were up 1.1% from a year ago to $107 million in April 2015 Compeq Manufacturing had consolidated revenues of $93.9 million in April 2016, down 0.1% from April 2015 PCB producer Apex International’s April 2016 revenues were $21.4 million a 9.4% increase over last year.

Board maker Zhen Ding Technology Holding’s net profits declined 88% on quarter and 77% on year to $9.52 million in the first quarter of 2016.

The UK’s HK Wentworth, parent company of Electrolube, which supplies sprays and coatings to protect, clean and lubricate electronic circuit boards, switches and sensors, is spending £500,000 to build a new factory to make protective coatings in Bangalore, India.

It’s a new era and all about “the Car”

SEMI and Georgia Tech, in partnership with iNEMI, IMAPS, and IEEE, will launch a new workshop called FUTURECAR: New Era of Automotive Electronics Nov. 9-10, 2016, in Atlanta, GA. The new era of automotive electronics is the most complex electronics technology to date. It includes not only computing and communications electronics, autonomous driving electronics, sensing electronics but also high-power and high-temperature electronics. It is expected to account for a third of the value of “the car”, creating a market of approximately $1 trillion within a decade. The challenges to address this market include: 1) research and development of key technologies, and 2) technology ecosystem stewardship to enable swift and cost-efficient commercialization. The basis of this workshop is the synergy between Georgia Tech in R&D in partnership with its 50 supply-chain companies and SEMI in technology stewardship. This is complemented by the strength of co-sponsors such as iNEMI in roadmaps, and IEEE-CPMT and IMAPS as global electronics societies.

The European Institute of Printed Circuits (EIPC) meeting on “Strategies to maintain profitability in the European PCB Industry” will be held June 9-10 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The European Commission said growth in the euro zone and the wider European Union will be slightly weaker this year than previously forecast, as it warned that the economic slowdown in China and other emerging markets, geopolitical tensions and uncertainty ahead of the U.K. referendum on EU membership could weigh on the economy. Economic growth in Gulf States is forecast to slow to 1.8% this year as the oil dependent region cuts spending to battle fiscal deficits reaching 11.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A new China target?

French oil and gas producer Total plans to sell Atotech. “Atotech no longer falls within Total’s strategic vision,” chief executive Patrick Pouyanne was quoted as saying. Total is reported to be seeking a buyer that was “committed to sustaining Atotech’s current strategy.” Berlin-based Atotech, which generates annual sales of about $1 billion, manufactures specialty chemicals and equipment for printed circuit boards and semiconductors. It is Total’s sole remaining specialty chemicals unit.

Apple lost the trademark suit in the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, which ruled that Xintong Tiandi Technology can continue to use the phrase “IPHONE” on its leather wallets and accessories, according to China-based Legal Daily. Chinese regulators reportedly shut down iTunes Movies and the iBooks Store last month.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn sold his entire stake in Apple, citing the risk of China’s influence on the stock.

SEMI continues to strengthen and broaden its supply chain reach

SEMI has announced the appointment of Melissa Grupen-Shemansky, Ph.D., as chief technology officer for the FlexTech Group and for SEMI’s Advanced Packaging program. With over 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry, Grupen-Shemansky will oversee FlexTech’s flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) and Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC) R&D programs and technology advisory councils. Grupen-Shemansky will also serve as technical advisor to SEMI’s Advanced Packaging initiative and as technical liaison to NextFlex, the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Nepcon China held in Shanghai the last week of April was surprisingly the best in years. Pent up demand for pick-and-place equipment led the surge in active buying interest after a near drought in purchasing the past few years of the economic slowdown there.  The next few weeks will tell just how real the show activity was as stated interest converts to orders.

Firan Technology Group (FTG) is buying the assets of Teledyne Technology’sNew Hampshire’s printed circuit technology business (Teledyne PCT) for $9.3 million in cash. For approximately 50 years, Teledyne PCT has designed and manufactured rigid-flex printed circuit boards and assemblies used in the defense, aerospace and oil and gas industries. For each of the last three years, the unit has generated between $15.0 to $20.0 million of annual revenue. FTG has two operating units: FTG Circuits is a manufacturer of high technology, high reliability printed circuit boards. FTG Aerospace manufactures illuminated cockpit panels, keyboards and subassemblies for original equipment manufacturers of aerospace and defense equipment.

Good Talk

The big story out of IPC Apex Expo last week – about the only story, really – was the introduction of an open communications standard by Mentor Graphics’ Valor division, followed by the rapid response by more than two dozen assembly equipment providers and software developers over shared concern that the solution to machine-to-machine communication might end up residing in the hands of a single company.

At the heart of the matter is the so-called Industry 4.0. Also referred to as IIC (US), Made in China 2025 (China), Industrial Value Chain Initiative (Japan), Manufacturing 3.0 (South Korea) and other names, it stands for the capability for different equipment, made by different OEMs, to share bi-directional data over an open, yet secure, platform. Done right, it’s a major step toward permitting manufacturers to pick the best machines for their specific needs, versus being beholden to a single line solution. Fundamentally, it’s at the heart of a fully beating Internet of Things; some feel the fully automated factory can increase production efficiency by more than 30% over time, adding billions or more to national GDPs.

Let’s start with the Mentor specification. Two years in the making and announced just prior to the annual IPC trade show, it was released at the Las Vegas event as OML, which stands for Open Machine Language. Having years of experience writing translators for various assembly line machines, Valor took those translators and installed OML in front of them, and packaged the combination in a black box. Thus, in a relative instant, a solution to a much-discussed electronics assembly problem was at hand; OML satisfied the need for machines to talk to each other, and the box handled any connectivity issues.

Mentor planned to make OML available to any company through a partner program and would retain ownership over the protocol while relying on the partners to help shape the future direction of the specification.

In Las Vegas, of course, everything’s a gamble. Once word got around the show, equipment vendors said “not so fast.”

Mentor’s angle was to multiply the use of IoT through OML, thus exponentially expanding the market for its Valor tools. Perhaps worried by the legalese, or the potential for a single “owner” to license and potentially change or even shut out competitors, roughly two dozen assembly OEMs met over the course of two days to hammer out an agreement that reshapes the trajectory of the specification. Several equipment OEMs PCD&F/CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY spoke with agreed OML is technically sound but felt the business issues inherent in licensing a corporate spec could pose a host of problems. Up against this strong front, Mentor pivoted and offered OML as a starting point for a to-be-determined IPC standard.

In one sense, then, bi-directional communication goes back to the drawing board. Some 15 years ago an IPC committee published a shop floor equipment communication standard labeled IPC-2541 and colloquially known as CAMX. One presenter at the Apex sessions demonstrated how IoT could work using enhanced CAMX. The early take – and this has yet to be finalized, as not even the charter is on paper yet – is the task group will study a combination of OML, CAMX and perhaps other, yet-to-be-written software as part of its IPC mission.

All sides agree there will be an emphasis on speed. If nothing else, OML forced the industry to confront the fact that not only is a standard needed, it was needed yesterday.

Going forward, it will be up to each software company and manufacturer to leverage the IPC standard as they see fit. It remains to be seen if Mentor will ultimately concede OML or whether it will attempt to go it alone.

Some will recall a similar scenario with the data transfer formats for printed circuit board designs. Various specifications sat mostly idle for years, IPC-D-350, IGES and EDIF among them, until the powers behind Valor’s ODB and IPC’s GenCAM formats squared off. Valor donated the XML version of ODB to IPC in 2008, yet continues to maintain its ODB++ format. GenCAM evolved into IPC-2581, and upon Mentor’s purchase of Valor, finally gained traction among worried software competitors and OEMs who feared being shut out of markets or forced to switch tools.

Regardless of the back story, this is where the industry stands today, and a basically workable plan is being formulated. The speed with which the industry moved – and Mentor should be thanked for spurring action – screams the need is present and widespread, and there is general consensus on the solution. That’s a great story. After all, in electronics, how often does that happen.

Goldman Moment

Congratulations to my old friend — as in “long-term”; I would never dare call her old — Patty Goldman, who was inducted into the IPC Hall of Fame this week (long overdue). In doing so, Patty becomes the first woman inducted to receive IPC’s highest honor (also long overdue).

I was on the IPC staff when Patty was chair of the Technical Activities Executive Council, which sets the priorities for all IPC standards activities. She ran that group of unruly engineers with an iron fist (well, really a gavel), demonstrating that not only could some sense of order and civility be brought to the Council, but that their meetings didn’t have to last four hours, either.

Way to go, Patty!

IPC’s New PAC

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.

Hats Off to Gary

Congratulations to Gary Ferrari, who last month became the 33d person to gain induction to the IPC Hall of Fame. For printed circuit board designers, this is something of a symbolic victory, as Ferrari is just the third designer (after Dieter Bergman and Vern Solberg) to make it in the IPC Hall.

Ferrari, who has been an occasional contributor to PCD&F over the years, needs little in the way of introduction to the current generation of designers, in the US and abroad. He has his name on all the major industry design and fabrication standards, having led the development of IPC-D-275 and IPC-RB-276 (now IPC-2221/2222 and IPC-6011/6012, respectively). He, along with Bergman, helped found the IPC Designers Council and drove the certification program. Along the way, he has trained or taught several thousand engineers and designers on a variety of topics from layout to heat management to standards to fabrication and assembly. While not the person whose name you will see on a book, Ferrari is still one of the first phone calls anyone with an engineering problem is likely to make.

The timing is bittersweet in that it occurred just months after the death of Bergman, Ferrari’s longtime friend and colleague. Still, it is a long time coming for one of the true iron men of the industry. I am thrilled for my friend.

‘Follow the Money’

Although all the presentations and keynote speakers at the Electronic System Technologies Conference in Las Vegas in May were of value, interesting and well-presented to those who attended the various tracks, several caught my attention as being especially worthy of further pursuit. One was the apparent strength of 2.5D solution among a variety of packaging challenges and options. The other, which affects all of the members and segments of the microelectronic supply chain in pursuit of the future and funding, was the stated need for a new business model. R&D and manufacturing funds, profit margins, consolidations, time-to-market have all served to squeeze everybody’s budgets, cash flows and bottom lines, save one group — the OEMs. The advice given was to “follow the money.” Bringing the OEMs back deeper into the supply chain equation may be the only practical solution to selecting and funding future commercially viable solutions — both large and small.

How does one stay linked to the technology changes that blur the clear definitions of various segments of the electronic packaging industries? Please note that I said “industries,” not industry. Will they all wind up the purview of a handful of giant corporations and organizations? How will one find new promising technologies that apply? How will these be funded to get beyond the alpha demonstration or beta stages? Who will adopt and sponsor those that are not yet finished items to which standards can be developed or applied, e.g., process or breakthrough proprietary materials, or production or test/inspection equipment. (I am personally  aware of several that have demonstrated proof or principle, moved beyond the alpha stage, or are just preparing for scaled up production. These are in jeopardy of languishing into oblivion as “no one” wants to invest in “Western” inventions in the PCB or PCBA industry during the current economic malaise.) There is still a prevailing attitude of “I tried that” for advancements in prior technologies that may now make them commercially viable. Perhaps some answers may be found at the CAMEST formation meeting or the proposed resurrection and reconstitution of the TMRC.

Are you following Charlie Barnhart’s columns on EMS, ODM and OEM trends and business? His recent publication on 10 global trends confronting OEM operations is fascinating and chock full of ideas and stimuli for those working on strategies to move forward in the rapidly changing marketplace. Of note is his perspective, with which we agree, on the rate of increasing labor costs in China, slowing growth of outsourcing to EMS companies, unprecedented risk in supply chain sourcing, and shorter demand cycles. He states that OEMs have fewer resources. This applied to more than just OEMs. It includes suppliers of manufacturing equipment. This also provides ne opportunities for creative planning and actions.

Another National Treasure Lost?

The April 26 news in the Cedar Rapids Gazette announcing the impending closure of Rockwell Collins’ 49-year-old printed circuit operations should be spotlighted nationally for several reasons. It cites declining profits and business as the reason for the decision. It follows by just 6 months the layoff by Rockwell Collins of 300 workers. It signals the continued decline of manufacturing in America along with the accompanying know-how and innovation formerly ascribed to Collins’ printed circuit business. It says that outsourcing PCB production is fairly common in the electronics industry. This is true. But then, the article states that Apple, the “most valuable company in the United States outsources the manufacture of all its components, including printed circuits.” What it does not tell us is that these components are also primarily purchased and assembled into iPhones and iPads in China, mostly by Foxonn (Hon Hai). Tens of thousands of Chinese workers are employed to do this profitably for Apple.  Is the Rockwell Collins spokesperson who was quoted inferring that Collins’ boards are to also be made in China? Is there an ITAR issue involved in this case? In any event, the announced closure plan should remind us that our once strong manufacturing base that produced nearly 60% of the jobs in the US when the Collins PWB works was founded has now shrunk to about 20%, or less. Manufacturing in America is now reported to be only about 20% of our GDP. So I listen to all those that say we must bring jobs back to America and wonder, “How? Over what period of time? In what industries?”

Nepcon China, held in Shanghai April 23-25, was busy, but with tire-kickers, not buyers. The show, slightly smaller than the previous edition, seemed to lack the excitement of previous years as business outlook was cloudy. Several former Chinese companies appear to have dropped out now that show producer Reed is applying uniform prices to all exhibitors. Chinese firms had paid reduced fees for spaces in prior years.

There was little in the way of innovation. There was a plethora of Western reporters from virtually all of the related media. There were at least 3 well known industry journalists from the U.S. and Europe conducting video interviews in English as well as Chinese of exhibitors and celebrity attendees.

Concern over the economic effect caused by the Chinese-Japanese territorial tiff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands increased during the show as stories of customs delays in critical spare parts and new equipment shipments were reported. Japan is a major suppliers of SMT assembly and test equipment to our industry in China.

Dr. Philip Carmichael, the new IPC president of China operations, was there meeting people, making presentations, negotiating collaborative deals for the future, and giving interviews. During his short tenure Dr. Carmichael has met every major organization in our industry in China to see how he can increase the value proposition of IPC members. Making sense of 23 different trade shows and major events can be daunting, but Carmichael seemed unfazed by the challenge. He has already increased IPC’s China membership by about 20% this year. He advised us to watch for new announcements in the near future.   The IPC sponsored hand soldering competition remained a crowd-pleaser in Shanghai as it was at its other previous venues.

CTEX 2013, which started as a show in Suzhou named “Circuitex” by Taiwan board makers, will have its 9th presentation May 8-10 at the Suzhou International Exhibition Center. The name “Circuitex” was first coined by MacDermid in the early 1960s when it established its first specialty chemical line of products for the printed circuit industry. This year’s presentation will cover bare boards, SMT and ICs with a focus on products for the iPhone5, IPad Mini, and Nexus 7 by Apple and Google. The event is being promoted as the 9th Suzhou PCB/SMT Show.

RoHS, Six Years After

Folks,

I was at IPC Apex Expo the other week.  San Diego is a great venue for the show, but I always forget how cold it can be (55°-65°F) this time of year.

While at the show, I was interviewed on lead-free reliability and its cost for consumer electronics. These are topics I think about often, so let’s discuss them a bit. First, let’s consider reliability.  RoHS was enacted on July 1, 2006, more than 6 ½ years ago. Each year more than $1 trillion worth of electronics are made, therefore, in this period of time, something over $3 trillion worth of consumer electronics have been manufactured. There have been no “the sky is falling”-type of reliability issues in this time. How can I say this? Well, my office at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth is across the hall from the IT (information Technology) Dept. They purchase all the millions of dollars worth of PCs, printers, displays etc. that Thayer uses. Several years ago (say early 2011) I stopped by when most of the department was in and cheerfully asked if the reliability of the equipment they purchase has gone down since lead-free assembly was enacted. They asked me in unison, “What’s lead-free assembly.” After I explained what lead-free assembly was, they confirmed that they have noticed no changes in reliability. Since RoHS, my family has purchase about 100+ electronic devices, a few have had reliability problems, about as many as in the past. Most were attributed to hard drive fails. Of the scores of friends and colleagues I have, no one has ever commented that they have noticed an increase in electronics fails. So, my conclusion is that consumer product reliability is not “practically” worse if my family and  these many  other folks haven’t noticed it.

I have made an informal study of reliability data of lead-free vis-a-vis tin-lead solders published in papers. A statement from Rockwell Collins’ JCAA/JGF-PP No Lead solder Project: -55C-125C Thermal Cycle Testing Final Report  sums up my overview conclusion nicely: “Test vehicles assembled with lead-free materials (notably tin-silver-copper) exhibited lower reliability under some test conditions.”  Naysayers might be quick to suggest that this statement says that lead-free is no good. However, the statement could be reworded to say: “In considerably more than half of the test conditions, test vehicles assembled with lead-free materials had higher reliability.” Counting the comparisons in the Rockwell-Collins paper shows lead-free better in 51 cases, tin-lead better in 31 cases, and one draw. However, it is disturbing that a small percentage of lead-free assembled test vehicles had much much worse reliability than tin-lead test vehicles. This later information makes me believe that lead-free is not yet ready for mission-critical, high-reliability, long-life products. These small numbers of much poorer reliability assemblies must be understood and corrected before lead-free is ready for mission-critical prime time. The much shorter lifecycle of today’s consumer electronics may also mask this concern.

What about cost? I don’t at all want to minimize the expense that many went through to go lead-free and RoHS compliant. In about 2007, one of our colleagues estimated that it cost the electronics industry $20 billion to become RoHS compliant. I think this number is low, but, from a consumer’s perspective, there has been no cost hardship. The price of a PC continued to go down during and after RoHS implementation, as shown in the figure below. While performing my non-scientific survey of co-workers, family, and friends on reliability, I also asked about cost. All agreed, electronics are cheaper than ever.

 

Challenges still exist, even in consumer electronics with the Head-in-Pillow, Graping, non wet opens, and other defects.  However, we can all purchase lead-free, RoHS compliant products at a reasonable cost and reliability.

 

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

The source for the image is :http://thomaslah.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/apple-and-intel-defying-gravity/

 

Best Wishes,

Dr. Ron

Unplugged

Another federal energy investment has gone South — no, make that West.

Lithium ion batteries have been in the news again following Boeing’s highly publicized Dreamliner battery difficulties. China’s Wanxiang Group has received clearance from the US Committee on Foreign Investment to acquire the assets of America’s battery maker A123 for $257 million. The bankrupt A123, which makes batteries for electric cars and grid storage, was the recipient of $130 million of clean energy federal grants. The Wanxiang Group is an auto parts conglomerate.

Shen Tsai-Sheng of one of the world’s largest PCB makers, Unimicron Technology, stated that utilization rates of Unimicron’s HDI board, PCB, and flexible PCB (FPCB) production will fall below 75% of capacity in the first quarter of 2013, down from 85% to 95% in the 4th quarter of 2012.

Huawei sold 10.8 million smart phones in the 4th quarter of 2012 to become the world’s 3rd largest seller. Samsung was first with 63.7 million and Apple was 2nd with 47.8 million. ZTE, another China maker, shipped 9.5 million units in the last quarter of 2012.

Will the “bounce” last? China’s economy has bounced back. A return to accelerating growth in the fourth quarter 2012 breaks seven straight quarters of declining growth and draws a line under concerns that the world’s second largest economy is heading for a hard landing.
To engineer the rebound, China’s government turned again to boosting credit and investment spending. But beneath the surface, there were also signs a rebalancing toward consumption may be underway.

ASL had its second best year in 2012 and forecasts sales at least as good in 2013. The number one IC lithograph projection printer supplier in the world, headquartered in Holland, has about 80% of the market for advanced exposure equipment (including for 300mm wafers).

An interesting note from the massive CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas this month was the seemingly widespread appearance of nanotechnology coatings to “moisture proof” just about anything.

Updated PWB charts showing use of build up boards and thin PWBs by application in Japan are now available. These have been created and maintained annually by Masamitsu (Matt) Aoki. Several have been published in the Printed Circuit Journal of Japan. Write to us if you would like a copy.

Back to the Future. The “Assembly Processes for Lead Free and Tin-Lead” free BUZZ session at the IPC Apex event in San Diego Feb. 19 chaired by Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame member Don DuPriest has been renamed BZ2 Hall of Famers: Roundtable Discussion. It’s format will be an “open-end” panel discussion by Hall of Fame (HoF) members related to all aspects of the electronic interconnect industry.  The panel, including Bob Neves, Dan Feinberg, Jack Fisher, Vern Solberg, and myself will field questions from the audience ranging from technology, to business, to future changes and requirements, to reshoring. Chairman DuPriest will provide surprise gifts to audience members that ask questions.

New “Kid on the Block.” Taiwan’s MediaTek, which introduced its first chipset in 2011 in a Lenovo phone, has in 18 short months captured 50% of China’s market for smartphone chips. Its chipsets are reported to have greatly reduced the cost and time for manufacturers to introduce new phones to the marketplace.  As a result, the top five producers in China during the third quarter Coolpad, Huawei, Lenovo, Samsung and ZTE. Apple was 6th with just 8% of the market. MediaTek offers guidance on hot to build a phone with its chips. as a result its chips are showing up in new brands in emerging markets in Latin America and India.

Nissan will assemble its new Leaf electric motor in the USA this year for the 2013 Nissan LEAF car to be built in Smyrna, TN. Currently all of Nissan’s electric motors are put together in Japan.

In Their Element

One of the truly fun diversions of the electronics manufacturing community has been the ongoing Friday Element Quiz on the IPC TechNet email listserv.

For nearly two years, a few clues have been posited to the TechNet members each week, who then try to guess the corresponding element. (No element was repeated.)

The quiz was the brainchild of Dave Hillman, an engineer at Rockwell Collins and one of the longtime contributors to the listserv. Each week, Hillman (with the help of a few reference manuals), poses a question to the group. For example:

This element has no biological role for humans. History shows that the mineral containing this element was encountered in silver mines in the Bohemia (Czech Republic) in the Middle Ages and was give a name that is the combination of the words “ill luck” and deceiver” because it was found to have no use. This element plays a significant role in industry today in several different industry segments and is more abundant that tin in the Earth’s crust. What element is being described?*

For those not keeping track, the first winner was Lamar Young of SCS Coatings; the most recent was Hillman’s colleague Doug Pauls. Over the 96 weeks the quiz has run, there have been several repeat winners. The leaders to date are Dr. Bev Christian of RIM, who has picked the correct answer eight times, nosing out Leland Woodall of CSTech, who has correctly named seven elements.

Given there are 112 elements, the FEQ should be winding down. By popular demand, however, Hillman has stocked up on new reference books and pledges to start over.

Let the good times roll.

*The element is Uranium (U).