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Caveat Lector

Mike Buetow

The Designers Council is dead. Long live the Designers Council!

As the calendar turned to January, IPC and the entity formerly known as the Designers Council amicably parted ways.

The event, which happened quietly after months of discussions, ended a long and productive chapter in the printed circuit design industry history.

As detailed in our 25-year retrospective on the organization in 2017 (https://pcdandf.com/pcdesign/index.php/editorial/menu-features/12246-designer-council-1712), the Designers Council began as an independent grassroots movement in locales across the US and Europe. Originally a confederacy of like-minded individuals who somehow found the energy and time to commit to bringing their colleagues together, it quickly spun into a top-down organization under the auspices of IPC.

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Mike Buetow

This year marks the start of my fourth decade in the electronics industry, and if you find that hard to believe, well, so do I.

I was reminiscing with a couple of other “old-timers” in recent weeks over the changes that have occurred since I first stepped foot in a factory. I was a graduate of the University of Illinois, and recently relocated to Chicago, when I joined a few others on a tour of the just-revamped Allen-Bradley plant on Second St. in Milwaukee.

Who remembers any of these names: deHaart. HTI. Conceptronic. Dynapert. Sensbey. Celmacs. Those were some of the bigger names in assembly equipment at the time. Many key suppliers then were subsidiaries of end-product OEMs. Kester was owned by Litton. Dynapert was a unit of Black & Decker.

Forget “lights-out” manufacturing. Even “hands-free” was more theory than reality. Semiautomatic machines, including printers and even placement, were common. DEK had just launched the programmable automatic printer it called the 265. What we now call solder paste was in some circles referred to as solder cream. In those days, as many equipment vendors made IR reflow as forced convention.

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Mike Buetow

FPGAs are a multibillion-dollar business, characterized by suppliers like Xilinx, MicroChip, Texas Instruments and Cypress Semiconductor. So why are they reliant on a single source for copper-wrapped solder column attachment?

And not just any source. Six Sigma is a small, founder-run Silicon Valley-based company. For more than 30 years, it has performed a variety of third-party services, including solder dipping, BGA reballing, and solderability testing. It also happens to be the sole supplier of copper-wrapped solder column attachment services to the major FPGA vendors. And according to industry watchers, that leaves the supply chain in something of a pickle.

The risk with any sole source is something happens that affects their ability to make deliveries. Such an outcome would spell disaster for the high-rel companies that use column grid arrays (CGAs). And loss of access to the unique copper-wrapped columns used in key programs, including military and space, would put those applications at severe risk.

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