Gene Weiner

Auditors can help improve processes, but certifying quality is another story.

Writing in the August issue of PCD&F, Peter Bigelow says quality programs should ensure quality, not hamstring ingenuity. “Micromanaging a supplier by approving or certifying processes the customer is not familiar with will ultimately hamstring their supply base and add unnecessary cost and time, thus defeating the purpose of the approval or certification,” he concludes.

I believe outside auditors or consultants can help improve yields, lower costs, shorten cycle times, and so on.

I believe in a single/periodic audit of a vendor by a customer with the goal of continuous improvement and making sure the vendor can produce the required parts well and consistently.

I do not believe in independent agency certification to grant a “badge of honor” or create the false impression that a company is “certified” to produce parts for any particular customer’s needs. It can certify that a facility has the necessary equipment, controls, manufacturing process and quality program needed to produce certain parts at the time of certification.

Let’s take the process of copper plating.

  • Start with a 1,000 gal. plating solution.
  • Analyze its contents and plating deposit properties, solution content for acid, copper, acid, additive, etc.
  • Measure plating thicknesses across panels through holes, deposit elongation (ductility), etc.
  • Divide the solution into 500 gal. plating solutions in two separate tanks. Check anode placement, current distribution, agitation, filtration, etc.
  • Plate 1.0+ mils onto each of 4,300 large panels (18 x 24") with identical dry-film resist patterns on every part through each tank (200/day) over a period of one month.
  • Maintain each tank as required for ingredients.
  • Make sure every plating rack is identical as possible.
  • Retest everything.

I “guarantee” there will be a difference in the two tanks and their performance. They may still be within operating specifications, but they will not be identical. Each plating line will then have to be maintained based on its individual performance and maintenance.

The bottom line is that the plating line will change with use. Some actually change when dormant.

How does an independent agency’s “certification” “guarantee” anyone that a company’s boards produced with its “certified process” is good?

Are we back to Trusted Supplier as the key to dependability? Do we trust the supplier to produce boards that meet spec? We do not micromanage their plating line and its maintenance (or, as Bigelow says, their drills). Do we certify their drill bits and thus prevent them from trying a new source?

There is another question to be answered.

Many of the fabricators that produce HDI and other advanced substrates have had their own engineers develop, at great expense, proprietary processes, intellectual property, and in some cases equipment and modified chemistries to provide higher yields and lower costs. They would not want to share these with the “outside world” (certification team or competitor). They would share the results (finished parts).

How would an “independent” certifying agency handle this?

Furthermore, starting with the design, how important is timely communication throughout the process between customer and vendor? Isn’t that critical to product that meets customer expectations? And if so, could any auditor truly certify those lines are in place?

Finally, the pursuit of world-class processes is the realization that keeping up means marrying capability and quality.

We asked Jack Fisher, the interconnect industry veteran, who has seen it all in his 40-plus years in the industry, for his opinion. He concurs with Shane Whiteside from Summit Interconnect, who says, “Some of the most advanced printed circuit board technology being produced in the world today is not produced in the United States.” To that Fisher adds, “TTM China, Fujitsu Japan, and other fabricators in Japan, Taiwan and China produce world-class product.

“However,” he says, “Whiteside’s assumption that the US could not produce smartphone technology for military if needed may be incorrect. Sanmina and i3 and TTM Forest Grove have very high technical capability. They may not be Mil-certified, but they can produce HDI.”

And that’s the point, isn’t it? Being able to build things (capability), and build them well (quality)? Ultimately, the best judge of that is the amount of repeat business a company gets.

Gene Weiner is president of Weiner International Associates (weiner-intl.com), which provides C-level advice to grow businesses by way of guidance on new trends and technologies; geneweiner@earthlink.net.

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