Designing for Movement

What is the difference between electronics in a robot vs., say, a stationary temperature monitor and control device? For one, if the temperature controller goes haywire, you can pull it off the wall and stomp on it, while you might have to chase the robot (or be chased) to deactivate it if it’s gone into world domination mode. More relevant, though, is vibration.

Fixed embedded electronics generally don’t need to worry about vibration induced reliability issues. Mobile robots, however, do. Unsecured connectors can work their way loose. Bolts can back off. wires can brush against stuff. A lot of practices that don’t cause problems in a fixed installation can bite in a mobile setting.

For example, a simple board-to-board ribbon cable. On the left is a common friction-retention cable connector. Fine for a development board, but not for an environment subject to vibration. Instead, use a mechanically captive connector, as shown on the right.

 

 

 

 

Free hanging cables are also a “no” for mobile devices. Cables hanging loose can get caught on edges, or tall or hot components. That can lead to worn or melted insulation and shorts. Instead, use cable ties, insulating grommets, and careful routing.

There are plenty of other considerations, but these are two of the biggest traps to avoid when movement is called for.

Duane Benson
Klaatu barada nikto. Translation: “Spaceman says what”

Surface Mount Power Component Footprints

There was a time when the bison ran free on the plains and power components were easy to design with. Everything, with the exception of an exotic few, used either the TO-220 or TO-3 packages. Even when surface mount came along and cut the bison off from their grazing lands, most power components came in some derivative of the TO-220, with bent leads.

That’s no longer the case. Today, power components come in those TO-220 derivatives, SO-8 packages, QFNs, and down to 0.3 mm pitch wafer scale micro-BGAs. It’s madness.

The advantage of all of that chaos is that it gives more flexibility for sourcing and sizing of components. Which, of course, brings in a few more potential issues. Take the example below:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The footprints were originally created for a package with four 1.27 mm (0.05″) pitch leads on one side and a big heat slug on the other. The component selected is a variant in an SO-8 package. It’s not an uncommon occurrence.

As long as pins 5 – 8 all share the same internal connection, there isn’t anything electrically wrong here. However, with that large open copper pad on top, it’s going to be very difficult to get a good solder joint.

The fix is pretty easy. Just add solder mask to separate the pins. Make the mask openings the same size as you would if the pins were on individual pads. You don’t need to cover the whole pad with solder mask — just surround the pins so solder will stay where it’s needed. The mock-up below illustrates what it would look like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do the same with your solder paste layer. Unless the component has a heat slug underneath, make the paste layer block the big open area.

Duane Benson
Would a bisontennial be a 100 year old, large grazing animal?

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

SC4And some trivia. You may have noticed that the soldermask used on most PC boards is green, as is the paint used on most steel truss bridges. Why is that? And what do the two things have in common? Why green PCBs and why green bridges?

To answer, I brought in color expert expert Patty O’Patrick O’Dell, who stated: “Many bridges and PCBs are green because they absorb red and blue light, only reflecting the green.”

That wasn’t quite what I was getting at, but close enough. The important thing, is that, generally, in commercial products, the PC boards are hidden, so the color doesn’t matter that much. With prototypes and a lot of the hobby or development boards, that is not the case, so many companies have chosen to use a different color as a part of their identity.

Arduino products are blue, as are most boards from Adafruit. SparkFun makes theirs red. Ti Launchpads are red as well. The Beaglebone uses color, essentially, as a model number; Beaglebone black, Beaglebone green. This is possible because major PC board fab houses have made different colors more economical than they used to be.

I’ve been asked if the color makes any difference electrically. In general, no. If you’re dealing with super high speeds, RF, or other exotic conditions, it’s always best to ask your board house. In those fringe areas, a lot of things have the potential to make a difference. Other than that, if you can afford it, and want to make a statement, go for it. You can often get different color silk screen legend too. Just make sure there’s contrast between the two. White silkscreen on white soldermask would not be the best choice.

Duane Benson
Beware the monsters from Id

blog.screamingcircuits.com

Proper PCB Storage — The Top 3 Hazards

It’s late. Do you know where your printed circuit boards are? Let me rephrase that: Can unused PCBs be stored for future use?

Yes, they can – if stored properly. Keep them wrapped up, or sealed in a bag. Anti-static isn’t necessary in this case, but it won’t hurt. Keep them in a cool, dark place. Keep them clean. Do your best to avoid dropping them on the floor and stepping on them.

The board in this photo was left out on a desk for a while, and then shoved into a desk drawer. The environment took its toll on the immersion sliver finish, making it very much unusable.

PCBstorage

What can go wrong:

1. Fingerprints. The oils on your finger can etch fingerprints into ENIG or immersion silver board surfaces. If you plan on committing a crime go ahead and do this so we can catch you. If you aren’t going to start a life of crime be careful to not get your fingerprints on the board surface. Handle on the edges, or at least, don’t touch any exposed metal.

2. Moisture. Moisture is good for your skin but not for your PCBs. Over time, PCBs can absorb moisture, especially in a humid location, or the ocean. If thrown into a reflow oven they then might laminate. Store boards in a dry environment. If stored for a long time, you may want to pre-bake them prior to use.

3. Atmosphere. Sometimes dirty air can contribute to tarnish or corrosion on the exposed land pads. Dust can settle onto the boards as well. Tarnish and dust can usually be cleaned off, but corrosion can’t. Wrap up your boards for long-term storage.

Treat your boards well and you can likely use them at a later date. Don’t treat them well and you may need to replace them, wasting a bunch of money. Often, the damage isn’t as clear as in the above photo, but could still lead to poor solderability.

Duane Benson
Don’t surf on your silver

http://blog.screamingcircuits.com/

Comings and Goings

Big news: IBM will “sell” its chip operations to GlobalFoundries according to a joint statement by the companies. IBM will pay “the buyer,” owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, a reported $1.5 billion over the next three years to take the chip manufacturing business “off its hands.”

The world’s dozen or so leading chip foundries that account for more than 90% of global production (including IBM) will all be foreign-owned when this deal is completed.

Who benefits the most? Who will protect the innocent (chip users)? Is leaving America “foundry-less” good for the United States?

Back to the future. Lockheed is reported to have three captive PWB shops in the US. Northrup Grumman has an in-house board operation. Whelan is establishing a new highly automated in-house PWB operation. Intel is said to be planning a new captive board facility in Arizona and said to be offering a bounty for “successful” job referrals. Is it to develop new technology that independent shops cannot afford? Is it for secrecy? Is it to shorten supply lines? Is it to gain time to market or some other competitive advantage? Is it the start of a trend?

Is it still just the price? After visiting the Design-2-Part Show  (D2P) we revisited the concept of using value propositions to offset cheaper prices. We were astounded at the number of people that effectively stated that they would the cheapest system rather than the lowest cost equipment. Yes, there is a difference, and sometimes the added cost of using the cheapest system is substantial. We also found that those that bought the newer system with greater productivity, ease of use, updated software, and smaller footprint often ordered more of the units of the newer system after a short (several months) of running production along side of the “older” competitive models who tried to protect their business by simply lowering the price and promising future improvements.

Some things just never seem to change. When one visits some of the leading board makers making advanced substrates and assemblies in Asia today, one usually sees the latest production equipment. Then I thought of the New Jersey manufacturer that I met at D2P show, and wondered what I will see when I visit a new “highly automated” board maker in the U.S. next month.

Move over Amazon. Dragon Circuits in Texas announced that it successfully completed 14 test runs of delivery by drone of packages weighing up to several pounds. It did not state the range of the drones used in the test runs. Dragon has a drone division that builds a wide variety of these systems.

We need more industry participation and on campuses collaborations like the new Raytheon-UMass Lowell Research Institute (RURI). Plans for the center were announced in August. It officially opened on the campus on Oct. 10 in the school’s Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, the school’s new $80 million research center.

Kyle Homan, a doctoral student in electrical engineering, gave a presentation on printable electronics and nanotechnology at the opening. Raytheon has already embedded employees on site and plans to commit $3 to $5 million over 10 years to support the collaborative operation. It’s a great way to move critical technology forward while simultaneously training candidates for the company.*

Have you seen the TPCA’s (Taiwan Printed Circuit Association) first class promotional video on its interconnect industry? Take nine minutes and watch the video on the following link. ??????? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w_jIpYu54A

 

*Raytheon currently employs about 1,000 UMass Lowell alumni.

 

The End of the Viasystems Era

At long last, the hunter became the hunted.

TTM Technologies today announced its pending acquisition of Viasystems. The deal, expected to close in early 2015, will vault TTM to second place among the world’s largest PCB fabricators.

No matter how the deal turns out for TTM, Viasystems will remain one of the most talked about PCB companies in the industry’s history, held in awe for its audacity and blamed on multiple continents for nearly single-handedly devastating local supply chains.

For the entirety of its 18 years, Viasystems was worth 10 times its revenue in industry controversy and chatter. It sprung on the scene in fall 1996, the brainchild of New York investment firm Hicks, Muse, which in quick order bought up AT&T’s board shop in Virginia, Circo Craft, Kalex, Forward Group, ISL, Mommers and Zinocelere, plus several EMS and peripheral businesses. They were the Yankees of the PCB world, albeit without the same level of success.

Then came the Tech Recession of 2001, and Viasystems’ debt ballooned to over $1 billion. Two Chapter 11 restructurings and countless lawsuits later, the company stabilized and managed to spend the better part of the rest of the decade simply managing the business.

In 2010 the veil was lifted. Viasystems resumed its buying ways, snatching up Merix and then, two years later acquiring DDi (which in turn had gobbled up Coretec). Yet consolidation didn’t bring happiness. Over the years Viasystems found it nearly impossible to turn a consistent profit. Debt, a persistent problem dating to its Hicks, Muse days, now sits at $561 million.

TTM is getting Viasystems for $16.46 per share, or about 6.8 times adjusted EBITDA. You tell me if that’s worth it.

I would expect TTM will sell off Viasystems’ wire harness business, which is small ($174.6 million in 2013) relative to the rest of the business and has shown operating losses in five of the past seven quarters. Viasystems has already consolidated its China manufacturing base, so I would not expect much change there. TTM is running at 75% capacity in China but only 60% in North America. TTM has seven sites in North America and Viasystems has nine, including a combined three in the Silicon Valley and two in Orange County. Perhaps they will seek to consolidate here in order to boost rates.

Viasystems changed the way the world viewed the industry. It forced Wall Street to take notice. It laid waste to the regional landscape, ultimately closing millions of sq. ft. of some of the once-best shops in the world. Some will say this was inevitable. Viasystems bought plants that were obsolete or quickly headed that way, whose workforces could not change even while the technology was quickly shifting away from them. And the firm tied up enormous amounts of capital in dubious debt deals that may have enriched a few but certainly did not leave their business units with the balance sheets necessary to operate in such a cyclical market.

There’s still time for the deal to fall through, and it took about 18 seconds before shareholder lawsuits began piling up. No matter what happens on the ground, come next spring, Viasystems will again occupy the rarest air of the PCB world. It just won’t be as Viasystems.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Looking Forward

The Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA) announced at a press conference attended by nearly 100 members of the government, industry, research institutes, academia and the media that it will publish a white paper in September to address the future Taiwan PCB industry challenges – both in Taiwan as well as China. It will take on production constraints, labor shortages (including skilled and semi-skilled), and end-of-market changes.

TPCA is calling for its government to lead the country’s PCB industry to develop next-generation products and to promote (sponsor?) industry upgrades. Taiwan’s PCB makers have lost its momentum and are likely to generate a CAGR of only 1.2% in the 2010-2014 period. The targeted goal for 2014-2020 was said to be 6% to 7%. Sales of Taiwan owned production at home and abroad (including China) is forecast to be $18.3 billion this year.

Dateline July 23, 2014 5:40PM EST: It is with great sadness and deep regret that I must inform you of the passing this morning of Dieter Bergman, Global Industry Icon of the printed circuit industry, colleague, and friend of the past half century. He worked selflessly and tirelessly with great charm and wit his entire life in behalf of the industry, enabling the impossible to become the possible. The accolades that are sure to follow will be dwarfed by his actual accomplishments.

Do Not Penalize! – Motivate! Incentivize! Negotiate!  License!
Renewable energy is the way of the future. Make no mistake about it. Achieving a cost-effective path is the challenge. Slamming China and Taiwan with enormous duties on assembled solar PV panels shipped to the US is the wrong approach. We should be grateful for the support of China’s  and Taiwan’s governments to their industry that allows us to buy them cheaply. The whole industry is based on government subsidies. The net effect of this new DOC action is to increase prices to the American consumer. The  US government has thrown away hundreds of millions of dollars by investing in unproven, doomed-to-fail companies during the past few years. It should have been providing job creating tax incentives for the manufacture of such panels in America.

Let’s see if the USA will be the first to commercialize (in high volume) the very efficient multi-juncture PV solar panel technology shown at the recent SemiCon West in San Francisco.

Wake up America! It has been 5 years since we have been the world’s leading innovator!

Report: The United States not even close to being top global innovator. By Pam Tobey July 23 at 5:39 AM – Source: The Washington Post

Switzerland is a four-time champ when it comes to global innovation. The United States? Not so much lately — the country last achieved that spot in 2009. The United Kingdom jumped ahead of Sweden to claim the No. 2 spot behind Switzerland in the recently released Global Innovation Index 2014, put out jointly by the business school INSEAD, the World Intellectual Property Organization and Cornell University. The index covers many variables that contribute to innovation, including institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market and business sophistication, knowledge and technology and creativity. It gathers data for 81 different indicators in 143 economies to come up with rankings. In 2007, the United States was at the top of the list. In 2010, it plummeted to 11th place, partially due to the battering of the economy by the financial crisis. Among the regions in the report, Europe holds the top spot, followed by North America.