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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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What PCB designers need to know to bring AI hardware to the device level.

A few buzzwords dominated headlines in 2020, many centered around Covid-19 and politics. Those who follow trends in technology probably noticed one area saw an explosion of growth: artificial intelligence. Unfortunately for the hardware developer, the tech world’s interest always seems to be drawn to the software side of AI.

The software industry has quickly embraced AI to the point where many software-driven services incorporate some element of AI to provide a meaningful user experience. As of the first quarter of 2021, it’s getting difficult to find a SaaS platform that doesn’t use AI for some specialized task. SaaS-ification is fine, and it’s creating a wealth of productivity tools that businesses can mix and match to make their processes more intelligent. And there are the big players like Facebook, whose AI models run quietly in the background, determining which advertisements and inflammatory memes you’re most likely to click.

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Updates in silicon and electronics technology.

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

Breakthrough quantum-dot transistors create a flexible alternative to conventional electronics. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory have created fundamental electronic building blocks out of tiny structures known as quantum dots and used them to assemble functional logic circuits. This development provides a low-cost and manufacturing-friendly approach to complex electronic devices. The building blocks can be fabricated in a laboratory with simple, solution-based techniques, and provide these components for a host of innovative devices. Potential applications of the new approach to electronic devices based on non-toxic quantum dots include printable circuits, flexible displays, lab-on-a-chip, wearable devices, medical testing, smart implants, and biometrics. (IEEC file #11971, Science Daily, 10/29/20)

This flexible and rechargeable battery is 10 times more powerful than state-of-the-art. University of California researchers working with ZPower have developed a flexible, rechargeable silver oxide-zinc battery that provides five to 10 times greater energy density than current state-of-the-art. The battery also is easier to manufacture, as it can be screen-printed in normal lab conditions. The areal capacity for this innovative battery is 50ma/cm2 at room temperature, which is 10 to 20 times greater than the areal capacity of a typical lithium-ion battery. The device can be used in flexible, stretchable electronics for wearables as well as soft robotics. (IEEC file #12027, Science Daily, 12/7/20)

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One year in, Covid-19 has shifted priorities in the industry – or has it?

One year in, has Covid-19 shifted priorities in the industry? To find out, CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY reached out in January to experts for insights on how the pandemic has impacted everything from inside the factory to the business decisions we make. Then, for good measure, we asked how the semiconductor industry might change in the wake of Intel’s proposed sale of some manufacturing assets, a move that could have lasting impacts on the IC. We spoke with a range of leaders covering various segments of the electronics manufacturing supply chain. Their responses, lightly edited for clarity and length, follow. After reading their thoughts, share your own on our LinkedIn page (https://www.linkedin.com/groups/2847418).

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How a new trade group is aiding the DoD’s desire for a trusted supply chain.

For decades the printed circuit industry has asserted the lack of government support has a deleterious effect on the supply chain’s ability to properly supply the US military. Attempts to correct this over the years have been numerous but largely unsuccessful.

Led by IPC, industry has lobbied the US Congress since the early 1990s to reduce barriers to winning military contracts, and, as margins were slashed beginning in the early 2000s, to fund research and development that could be shared among Defense Department suppliers to help their competitiveness.

IPC, for its part, has threaded the needle in terms of trying to support its domestic constituents and meet the needs of the DoD while not alienating other members that are foreign-based. It has provided support and advocacy to the Executive Agent for Printed Circuit Boards and Interconnect Technology, a position funded by Congress in the annual National Defense Authorization Act and assigned to the Navy. The EA’s role is to help the DoD access reliable, trusted and affordable PCB fabrication and assembly products, and facilitate R&D collaboration. In practice, it’s a politically intense position that comes with unwritten but very real limits on how hard the EA can push for funding and priorities. The results are clear: The US industry remains behind several geographical competitors in terms of capabilities and capacity. Moreover, as new edicts were handed down to promote greater security of IP, smaller companies, especially fabricators, have found it financially treacherous to remain on the DoD’s acquisition list.

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A case study characterizes solder joint integrity of different BTC constructions in an accelerated lifetime test.

The electronics industry has extensively documented the influence of component construction on solder joint integrity. Materials used in the construction of a component package body result in a composite coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) for the package that may result in the degradation of the package solder joint integrity. The industry discovered in the 2000s the construction design of ball grid array (BGA) packages had a significant influence on solder joint integrity. BGA solder balls located directly beneath and sometimes adjacent to the package internal die-to-package transition region (i.e., the die shadow region) failed first due to the CTE mismatch forces.1-3 Extensive finite element modeling, combined with use environment experiences and test data4-5 resulted in package redesign protocols that for the most part eliminated die shadow solder ball failure in BGA packages.

This paper documents an investigation of the impact of bottom-terminated component (BTC) package construction on solder joint integrity using thermal cycle testing (-55° to +125°C) in accordance with IPC-9701.

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