Features Articles

Mike BuetowI sat with Irene Sterian at the SMTAI technical committee recognition dinner in September. (As an aside, if you’ve never had the pleasure of speaking with Irene, you really should find the time. She could make rubber chicken seem interesting.) Amid conversation on IoT, islands of St. Bernards, Quebec City, Elon Musk and cats, we got to talking about disruptive technology.

It was one of those conversations where you completely abandon the good manners your mother taught you, as you keep interrupting the other party out of excitement about the topic.

To be clear, I believe “disruption” is often an inflated term. Most of what we call disruptive is really just “painful to a certain segment of people or business.” Take ride-sharing, for instance. Type in “Uber” or “Lyft” and “disruptive,” and a Google search returns a combined 850,000 results. But what have those businesses truly changed? We still use what is essentially 100-year-old technology – cars – to get from Point A to Point B. Ride-sharing may have altered the value of the municipal taxi, but it certainly did not change the transportation industry.

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Steps for determining the root cause of peeling problems.

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Timothy O'NeillPicking the right tool for electrochemical contamination at the rework bench.

A half-dozen versions of the same scenario occurred in the past month, all having to do with materials and processes used in post-op/rework applications. This step of the production process often escapes the attention of engineers because there’s no cool machinery or any real engineering that takes place. Most hand-solder operators are highly proficient and have developed techniques that get the job done, which can lull a supervisor or production manager into a false sense of security. Electrochemical contamination doesn’t normally appear until it has become a dreaded field failure. In fact, if the issue is contamination/corrosion/leakage-related, the first place I look is the rework bench, and eight times out of 10 that’s where the trouble spots lie.

Manual soldering applications have different requirements than upstream processes, and it’s worth detailing these differences to understand the importance of materials selection and proper usage.

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Clive AshmoreAdding just enough material for a set amount of prints can ensure good outcomes.

Although no-clean solder pastes are the most prevalent materials used in electronics assembly today, water-soluble pastes are still in the game. In market sectors like aerospace, military, automotive and industrial, water-soluble materials are frequently the specified-in, legacy product – often because of the reliability requirements to remove flux residues. Printing water-soluble solder pastes, however, is quite a different process than printing no-clean materials. Assembly specialists take note!

Back in the day, no-clean pastes were the more fickle materials, with delicate operating windows and strict storage requirements. Over the years, massive amounts of development and a focus on maximizing process efficiency (i.e., eliminating an unnecessary cleaning step) put no-clean in the processability fast lane, while water-soluble material R&D got lapped. Although new water-soluble pastes have been released in recent years, they are still generally more difficult to print than no-clean pastes, and the finesse required to successfully print them isn’t always well understood. Put simply, the primary challenge with water-soluble pastes is they are hydroscopic (absorb water) in their function, making them a bit sponge-like.

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Susan MuchaAnd more important, who will it affect, and how?

It’s difficult to turn on a TV or read a major newspaper without seeing mention of Foxconn and the $10 billion flat-panel manufacturing facility targeted for southeastern Wisconsin. On one hand, it’s great to hear manufacturing jobs may be created on the scale being bandied about: 3,000 near-term, according to Foxconn’s quotes in several publications, and 13,000 (with an average pay of $53,000 plus benefits), according to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. And while I don’t relish the idea of Foxconn becoming the poster child for the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) industry, after decades of working in and consulting to participants that are rarely known outside of electronics, it is nice to see the industry get this type of national recognition.

But will it happen? Foxconn’s track record isn’t stellar. A highly touted deal in Pennsylvania that involved a $30 million investment and 500 workers didn’t happen. Previously announced investments in Indonesia, India, Vietnam and Brazil have either yet to occur or were far below original projections.

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Peter BigelowA frustrating implementation sheds new light on the value of personnel.

So what exactly is intellectual property?

Talking with an accountant is seldom a fun conversation, but I must admit that when our auditor stopped in for his periodic “kick the tires and see how things are going” meeting, the conversation did open my eyes. What started as a simple “have you invested in any assets this quarter?” morphed into a discussion about what really is value vs. just an asset.

The short answer to his question was, “Yes, we did indeed purchase some capital equipment.” My mistake was trying to anticipate his next question, which I presumed was going to be, “Then why have you not started depreciating it?” My cut-him-off-at-the-pass response was because we were going through a much-longer-than-anticipated learning-curve with the machine and had not put it online yet.

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