Mike BuetowWith every Apex comes an outpouring of new standards, and this year’s conference was no exception.

As the demands of PCBs for automotive applications assert themselves as a unique class, the industry standards are being adapted in sync. To that end, IPC-6012, the longstanding bare board qualification spec, now has an automotive supplement, reflecting the “superclass” of reliability for that sector above and beyond Class 2.

Given that auto electronics are shrinking, the IPC task group has eliminated visual inspection in favor of AOI on all layers and recommends use of AVI (automated visual inspection) of the finished PCB.

The cleanliness testing requirement has also been rewritten. The automotive addendum includes a recommendation of tests to be used in Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) documentation.

“The test requirements for cleanliness or ionic contamination used today are from the 1970s and, in reality, were only meant for process control,” explained task group chairman Jan Pedersen, in announcing the changes.

Understanding contamination is a big deal, of course. Last fall, the product qualification requirement of the assembly corollary to IPC-6012 underwent a major revision as well. IPC J-STD-001G, Am. 1 redlined the 25-year-old contamination value of 1.56µg/NaCl equivalence/cm2 as generated from ROSE (Resistivity of Solvent Extract) testing. For many assemblies, ROSE testing has been deemed insufficient to predict acceptable levels of ionic residues. As noted last fall in these pages by Rockwell engineer and longtime IPC Cleaning Committee chairman Doug Pauls, “ROSE testing, as the only measure of ionic contamination, should be considered an obsolete practice.”

There’s a big shakeup going on in the science of inspection and analysis, including the formation of a new company (with a new machine) that hopes to modernize surface insulation resistance (SIR) electrical testing. For more on this, see our Apex coverage, which begins on page 73.

‘Flex-ability’. Speaking of change, perhaps the biggest in the past month took place at Flex, where a new chief executive was named. That in itself is a big deal; the company has only had two CEOs over the past 22 years.

Even more exciting is the person who was selected. Revathi Advaithi is an engineer with an MBA, and was wooed to Flex from Eaton Corp., where she headed the largest division of the $20-billion company. She is now the only woman to lead one of the Circuits Assembly Top 50 EMS companies. And no woman has occupied the top spot at a major EMS since Gayla Delly Benchmark suddenly and unceremoniously parted ways with in fall 2016.

Flex has all sorts of incentive to go after a rising star like Advaithi. Its big bet on the consumer market with Nike cratered, and the company’s valuation went with it.
The stock price dropped about 46% in the past year, much worse than the industry average (8% loss). Flex has wound down its Nike manufacturing operations in Guadalajara, taking at least a $30 million hit.

Industrial, on the other hand, is a growth market. Based on the most recent quarter, it represents a $6.6 billion a year business for Flex, and is growing in double-digits. Moreover, as an end-market it remains stubbornly captive, with estimates of just 20% EMS penetration. Advaithi could help unlock that potential. Her standing as a director with defense giant BAE, another mostly untapped market by Flex, couldn’t hurt either.

It’s refreshing and overdue to see a woman on top in our industry. According to Fortune, only about 5% of the Fortune 500 companies have female chief executives. Notably, those firms include GM, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Oracle and General Dynamics – all major customers of the electronics industry. If we are serious about opening the door to the next generation of engineers, we need role models with all kinds of backgrounds. When a woman looks for her future in the crystal ball, it’s only right to see a woman looking back.

P.S. See us at PCB2Day in Seattle in April!

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