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Written by Mike Buetow   
Friday, 29 February 2008 19:00
Talking Heads Nihon Superior (nihonsuperior.co.jp) didn’t start out on the common path to becoming a major solder supplier. The 42-year-old company’s beginnings are rooted not as a metals supplier, but as an importer and marketer of Superior Flux’s (superiorflux.com) products in Japan. But along the way, the company evolved from distributor to a full-fledged researcher and developer of soldering materials. Since 2004, Tetsuro Nishimura has been president of Nihon Superior. He spoke with Circuits Assembly’s Mike Buetow in late January.

ImageCA: Since its 1999 debut, Nihon Superior’s SN100C has become one of the most successful Pb-free wave soldering alloys introduced. What can you tell us about how it came about?

TN: The primary reason for its success lies in its fundamental metallurgy. That metallurgy is based on my discovery of the dramatic effect that an addition of nickel at a very specific level has on the behavior of the SnCu eutectic. With further fine-tuning by the addition of germanium, we created the solder that meets the need for a SnPb eutectic replacement.

For its potential to be realized, however, we had to get that alloy out of our laboratory in Osaka, Japan, and into the global marketplace. We achieved that first through our network of offices in Asia that has since grown to six (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan, Shanghai and Suzhou). The next step was licensing agreements with partners in Europe and North America. We now have nine such licensees, including four in Asia (DKL, Balver Zinn, FCT, AIM, Chernan, How Tsen, AIM Hong Kong, Asahi and Cobar). Parallel with those efforts, we worked at establishing a profile for Nihon Superior in the marketplace by exhibiting at trade shows, presenting papers and actively participating in industry consortia such as IPC, iNEMI, HDPUG and Soldertec. These activities, in turn, have led to opportunities to participate in important Pb-free projects such as the JGPP/JCAA Pb-free solder project (now the NASA/DoD Pb-free solder project). Through such efforts Nihon Superior is now recognized around the world and SN100C has become one of the most widely known and respected solders.

CA: What are your main criteria for selecting SN100C licensees? How important is the licensees’ ability to provide customer service, vs. simply supplying material?

They should share Nihon Superior’s belief that SN100C is the best Pb-free solder for electronics and our philosophy on customer service and environmental protection. Our objective in entering into licensing agreements is to establish long-term partnerships that will provide the basis for Nihon Superior’s future global business.

CA: Nihon has also released an SN100C paste for reflow soldering. How would you characterize its acceptance?

TN: It is widespread and for the same reasons it has proved popular in other soldering processes – in contrast to the dull grainy joints of SAC alloys, reflowed SN100C fillets are bright, smooth and similar in appearance to those of SnPb solder. Also, in reflow, SN100C offers the same attractive features as in other soldering methods: reliable joints even in situations of large accumulated strain in thermal cycling, vibration and impact loading.

CA: Recent company research includes investigating the strength of Pb-free BGA spheres in high-speed shear loading. What were the findings of this study?

TN: Our work on the impact strength of solder spheres is part of an ongoing investigation into Pb-free solder performance in demanding component packaging and semiconductor mounting applications. The key finding so far is that, because of its combination of strength and ductility with a stable interfacial intermetallic, SN100C solder spheres are tougher and, hence, more resistant to the shock loading that occurs when portable devices are dropped.

CA: The soldering materials industry, unlike many of its customers, has for the most part avoided contraction in the form of mergers or acquisitions. Does this surprise you, and would you expect this to change in the next 12 to 24 months?

TN: I’m not surprised. While there has not yet been much M&A activity, it is becoming increasingly clear that as use of Pb-containing solders declines, those companies that lack a suitable Pb-free solder to offer are going to struggle. It is widely acknowledged that in most developed countries there are more solder makers than the market can sustain, so rationalization is inevitable. That rationalization will prove to be beneficial to solder users since the remaining suppliers will be able to focus on customer service and product development to meet industry needs, rather than survival.

CA: Nihon’s product line revolves around solders and fluxes. Do you have plans to expand into polymers or coatings as some competitors have, or are you settled on maintaining your focus?

TN: Our expertise lies mainly in the field of alloy development and the chemistries needed for the application of those alloys. Addressing the opportunities for new solder alloys created by industry demands such as semiconductor, energy device, solar cells, and fuel cells will keep us very busy into the foreseeable future. However, I am always interested in the related technology of polymers and coatings in our business area.

Last Updated on Thursday, 27 March 2008 09:01


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