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Backend processes such as routing and coating can be optimized for cost savings. 

There is no question a number of countries have manufacturing costs lower than the US. At first glance, the cost differential may make outsourcing in those regions the best solution. When the total costs of logistics, transit time, flexibility and quality of communication are considered, however, the cost differential of a Made in USA solution vs. an offshore or nearshore solution can be small. The engineering team at Electronic Design & Manufacturing, a regional electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider in Lynchburg, VA, has worked to level that playing field even more.

The engineering analysis starts by mapping the process flow and evaluating the cost drivers in the assembly process. While this level of analysis is routine for high-volume, dedicated line projects within the EMS industry, it isn’t always done thoroughly in midrange projects. This typically happens because companies building those projects lack the engineering resources necessary to develop cost-effective custom automation solutions.

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Solving “track and trace” problems, even in reverse.

To get a sense for how blockchain can address issues in the electronics industry, it may help to start with a story about an earlier technology. A young electrical engineer in 1980 had a job interview with an industry veteran who asked if he had ever heard of a thing called a “vacuum tube.” The young engineer admitted his semiconductor class had included a one-hour lecture demonstrating how field-effect transistors worked like vacuum tubes.

“When I was in college, they made us take a semester of tube theory because they thought it might be useful some day!” the veteran exclaimed. His outburst highlighted a common theme in emerging technology. More than 50 years later, it was easy for the next generation of engineers to see the number of new products enabled by vacuum tubes, even though by that time solid-state devices had already largely replaced them. But during the 1920s, when vacuum tubes represented the latest innovation in technology, it was difficult to see they would lead to radar, FM stereo, television, and rock concerts. In the same way, it’s doubtful the creators of the internet anticipated using it to watch videos, hail rides, or monitor a newborn baby in the crib.  Even those of us lucky enough to apply the latest advancements in technology are unlikely to foresee all the ways new technology will be applied.  

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Updates in silicon and electronics technology.

Ed.: This is a special feature courtesy of Binghamton University.

IMEC and Intel researchers develop spintronic logic device. Spintronics is a budding path in the quest for a future beyond CMOS. Devices use much less power than their CMOS counterparts and keep their data unpowered. IMEC and Intel researchers have created a spintronic logic device that can be fully controlled with electric current rather than magnetic fields. An electron’s spin generates a magnetic moment, and when many electrons with identical spins are close together, their magnetic moments can align and join forces to form a larger magnetic field. Such a region is called a magnetic domain, and the boundaries between domains are called domain walls. A material can consist of many such domains and domain walls, assembled like a magnetized mosaic. (IEEC file #12091, Semiconductor Digest, 1/21/21)

Plasmonics: A new way to link processors with light. Plasmonic transceivers transfer large amounts of data between processors. Fiberoptic links are the main method of slinging data between computers in data centers. Silicon photonics components are large in comparison to their electronic counterparts because optical wavelengths are much larger than transistors and copper interconnects. University of Toronto and Arm researchers have developed new silicon transceiver components that rely on plasmonics instead of photonics. The results have transceivers capable of at least double the bandwidth, while consuming 33% of the energy and 20% of the area, and could be built atop the processor. (IEEC file #12097, IEEE Spectrum, 1/21/21)

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A lower cost, highly accurate way to integrate passive devices.

Photosensitive glass was invented in November 1937 by Dr. Donald Stookey of the Corning Glass Works. It was made public 10 years later, on June 1, 1947, and patented in 1950. Most will know glass ceramics from their glass stove top or the iPhone 12 Corning Ceramic Shield screen.

Glass is amorphous, meaning it has no crystalline structure. It’s just a random assortment of molecules in a solid matrix. Ceramics, on the other hand, are crystalline structures of various types and compositions. Glass ceramics can exist in both the amorphous glassy phase and the crystalline ceramic phase. Glass ceramics are used in either one of those two states: 100% glass or 100% ceramic. For example, a Brown stove top is 100% ceramic, and the Samsung Gorilla Glass screen is 100% glass.

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As lead times recall the Y2K fiasco, EMS firms and OEMs must share the risks

The ongoing IC lead-time crisis is pushing the margins of EMS companies and leaving their OEM customers scrambling. As of this writing, production scheduling under the conditions of withering lead times calls for unprecedented measures riddled with hunches and diminishing hope for acceptable recoveries. For now, production planning is all over the map, with EMS companies working closely with their customers to get through this period without major damage to OEMs’ brands and customer loyalty.

Today, lead times for ICs are snowballing up to 25 weeks on average, with some of the harder-to-source components such as tantalum capacitors hitting the 40-week mark (FIGURE 1). TSMC, one of the largest IC manufacturers in the industry, forecasts the global shortages of semiconductors could linger into next year.1 The ringing note stamped on all lead-time quotes is “subject to change,” and in many cases lead times are downgraded to “TBD,” leaving manufacturers spinning for short-term solutions.

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Machine and operational costs have shrunk over the past decade.

For years, the word in the electronics industry has been laser depaneling is expensive. This may have been true for investments in laser machines a decade or more ago, but the situation looks different once operating expenses are accounted for, especially with newer systems. In fact, according to our data, depaneling with laser systems is the most efficient method for a range of applications, and the cutting results are excellent, which means quality standards are also met.

The trend in the price-to-performance ratio for current laser systems, especially with respect to production of rigid PCBs, is obvious: The cost of depaneling based on the effective cutting speed has fallen to approximately one-tenth of what it was a decade ago (FIGURE 1). This dramatic shift is based on three major factors, all based on the rapid advances in laser technology. First, capex cost for laser depaneling systems has decreased to almost 30% of what it used to be a decade ago. Second, overall throughput has improved more than seven times. Finally, the operational costs for energy and maintenance have noticeably decreased.

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