Features Articles

Bob Willis

Solder joint corrosion causes.

This month we illustrate dendrites and corrosion on board assemblies. The example in FIGURE 1 is straightforward. Saltwater was found on the surface of the metal board. It caused intermittent operation of the LED before failure at 25 meters. Yes, you guessed it: My underwater light leaked due to a rubber gasket failure. The rubber had been out in the sun too long and hardened, then cracked. The image shows chemical reaction with dendrite formation on the surface of the joints and some green verdigris.




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Clive Ashmore

An RFID tag can log everything from storage location to print strokes.

Outside of sheer printing machine capability, the stencil is arguably the next most important element of the printing process. Stencil material, thickness, aperture integrity, sidewall smoothness (or lack thereof), and tension all play a role in the quality of the solder paste deposit. And, like all consumables, metal stencils have a lifetime: They do not last forever. Unless a stencil is damaged, tension loss is the factor that most often determines when a stencil has run its course. A properly tensioned stencil enables a good, solid release of the paste deposits onto the board. Alternatively, a stencil that has lost tension and has begun to “sag” may result in defects such as “dog ears”1, bridges, or insufficient paste on pad, to name a few.

Today, stencil tension is more important than ever. Historically, when stencil thicknesses averaged 200µm, one was far more likely to retire a stencil from damage than from wear. Now, however, with the exceptionally thin 60µm foils required for miniaturized designs, tension loss can occur sooner, as repeated stencil pressure during the print stroke eventually reduces stencil elasticity. As has been addressed in this column, there is a proven correlation to changing tension and the output of the printing process.2

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Greg Papandrew

American manufacturers are throwing away business opportunities. Are you?

According to a recent statement by US Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord, national electronics procurement is at a crossroads.

“[America] can no longer clearly identify the pedigree of its microelectronics,” she said. “Therefore, we can no longer ensure that backdoors, malicious code, or data exfiltration commands aren’t embedded in our code.”

According to Lord, a variety of price pressures – ranging from government regulations to labor costs – have driven manufacturing of electronics offshore and created not only an economic imbalance but a security threat as well. “That’s what we need to reverse,” she said.

Like the Defense Department, American consumers also support bringing manufacturing back onshore. They believe the “Made in USA” slogan means saving American jobs and, often, superior quality of goods. They support “reshoring” – bringing the manufacturing and assembly of goods – back to the US.

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Sue Mucha

The big lesson from this unpredictable year is infrastructure planning pays.

“Hindsight is 20:20” refers to a vision measurement, not this crazy year. But from a planning standpoint, the year “2020” has rewarded electronics manufacturing services (EMS) companies that built resilience into their operational plans. As I write this, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to spur an era of new normal. The introduction of vaccines will hopefully drive a return to something close to the old normal. While this challenge is ongoing, however, it is important to look at some of the operational investments that have proved most beneficial.
Here are five areas that stand out to me:

IT. Companies that were already supporting employees working remotely as a result of business travel, remote home offices or a need to work in multiple time zones more comfortably had an edge in converting a larger portion of the workforce to work-at-home scenarios. VPNs, internal systems capable of supporting secure and fast access to remote users, videoconferencing tools, seamless transfer of work phones to mobile phones, and existing policies/training on maintaining security in home office environments are all key elements enabling employees to effectively work at home. Companies with these in place simply had to scale up to accommodate a larger user base. Systems strategy has also been integral in managing the supply chain and forecasting disruption driven by Covid-19. Companies with systems that can quickly assess inventory levels, material availability and production status globally were better off than those with facility-specific systems or systems that required much manual interpretation to gather that information.

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Peter Bigelow

As communication shifts online, time management becomes a group effort.

Time management, the operative word being management, is never easy to master. Scores of books and lectures elaborate on how to stop the interruptions, focus on the important, and liberate one’s ability to get things done. Even so, the challenge has become even more elusive over the past year.

Until recently, time management focused on how to reduce interruptions from various activities and events, such as unwanted phone calls, perpetual cubicle chats, and the length and focus of conference room meetings. Historically, those were leading contributors to inefficiency and wasted time. That was then; this is now.

Communication has become email-centric. Phone tag is no longer the corporate sport. A typical workday commences by sorting the email inbox, vetting the important ones, and then doing the same in the spam folder filled with six zillion missives, many from finance ministers of countries no one has ever heard of. Face-to-face interaction, however, has remained tied to the corporate conference room, where at any time different combinations of coworkers, customers and suppliers meet to solve some problem or communicate about new or changing opportunities.

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Mike Buetow

If there is one takeaway from the Symposium on Counterfeit Parts and Materials sponsored by SMTA and CALCE that took place in August, it is that the problem is getting worse. This should be alarming, given the amount of attention that has been paid to the presence of “fake” parts in the supply chain.

Discussion of counterfeits in the supply chain usually starts with the military. It’s the one sector that has both the budget and the concentration of sourcing to effect change.

It was less than a decade ago that the US found fake electronic parts in military aircraft. The discovery spurred a yearlong investigation resulting in bipartisan legislation (remember what that is?) establishing new policies and practices for counterfeit avoidance.

Today, the annual US defense budget bills contain language requiring the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security and their contractors monitor supply-chain risks for counterfeit parts, although previous language requiring buyers to “detect and avoid counterfeit parts in the military supply chain” has been softened.

Still, we’ve been battling the problem for at least two decades now, yet most experts feel 1) the volume of fake parts has increased, and 2) the counterfeiters are better than ever.

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