Cleaning Trends: The Challenges of Miniaturization and Proximity
I met up with KYZEN VP of Global Technology Ram Wissel, at the recent SMTA International conference and show. Our discussion focused on cleaning.
Patty Goldman: Ram, thanks for joining me today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your company?
Ram Wissel: I'm the vice president of global technology with KYZEN. We supply cleaning products for the electronics assembly industry. What I want to talk about is a couple of industry trends that we're seeing. Number one is in electronics. We're seeing a continued drive towards miniaturization, and as parts get smaller they become more difficult to clean, but with that residue, they become more sensitive to the residue as well. If you have a little bit of material left under a bottom termination component, it's more likely to cause an issue down the road than on a tall through-hole component that might have been on a board say 5, 10, or 15 years ago.
Goldman: Components and so forth are closer together, too, so that must be a cleaning concern as well.
Wissel: Right. LGAs, QFNs, and other densely populated devices are very sensitive to residues left behind. Besides that, engineers are also being tasked with many different priorities today. Their companies are trying to do more with fewer engineers, or less staff, and there's always a fight for attention with them. So, cleaning is becoming more critical, but the resource pool is becoming smaller. I had an old mentor friend tell me, "You know, Ram, to say ‘if I only had more money, or I only had more time or more resources’ is kind of a fool's errand, because you're never going to have enough. If you had an extra 10 people or a million dollars, then you'd find a way to consume those resources and then you'd be complaining about the same thing.”
Goldman: You just have to make do with what you have.
Wissel: In a way, yes. It’s about setting priorities and focusing on what’s most important. What we're seeing with industry 4.0 and the IoT is really empowering people to be more efficient and focused.
An example that I like to use is our dogs at home. A few years back my wife and I got a Nest camera. The selling point was that she could check in on the dogs while we are off at work. However the real value came when we’re gone on vacation. You’ve probably seen the commercials on TV, if someone comes to the driveway or the front door, you can get a picture or an email notification. That's peace of mind. My wife is now focused on vacation or whatever the trip may be and is confident knowing that, "If the house catches on fire or somebody comes to the door, we’ll immediately get notified."
What we think is very empowering is bringing that same type of technology with Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things to our world of cleaning and assembly. As I mentioned before an engineer or process technician may have their attention spread across several tasks or responsibilities. Now you can configure your cleaning process with certain parameters, and say, "Okay, I don't want my concentration to go 1% above or below my setpoint," then it will send you an alert, a text or email notification if that threshold is crossed. So now, that engineer or technician can be more focused on their other responsibilities until they get that email or text warning that the cleaning process needs attention. Just like the house hasn't caught fire, you know the oven wasn’t left on and everything is okay.
Goldman: How reliable is that? Is it foolproof? Is it engineer-proof? (Laughs)
Wissel: Nothing is engineer-proof! But as Industry 4.0, it's as reliable as the Internet. There have been process monitoring tools almost like an SAP system for the entire production plant available for years, however, those are extremely complicated to implement and very expensive. The technology need is there, so we figured out how to bring that technology to help the smaller manufacturers.
Goldman: There are a lot of them out there.
Wissel: Exactly. So those businesses are going to be the ones that I think will be most benefited by the exciting things that are going on with Industry 4.0 and the internet of things.
Goldman: So KYZEN is all about cleaning products, am I correct?
Wissel: Yes, you're correct but we’re also process consultants. We provide precision cleaning agents and process solutions primarily for the electronics, semiconductor, and industrial metal finishing markets. We have a broad portfolio. We also have an array of lab services, because one of the things that's changing now with the J-STD-001 and general industry guidelines is trying to measure how clean is clean.
Goldman: Oh yes, and there's the whole issue about no-clean. It's not really no-residue. It's low-residue. People think that no-clean means there's nothing there but that’s not quite true.
Wissel: Precisely. No-clean is a wonderful marketing tool or name because it's really not a “no residue,” rather it leaves a small amount of residue behind. That may be fine for your toaster, but when I’m flying on an airplane, I'd rather the components be clean. Or if I were going to get a pacemaker I would absolutely want to know it was cleaned. So, we have products that fill those needs where a “no clean” needs to be removed.
In Southeast Asia, in China, and in Europe as well as North America, we have applications labs to prove out processes where it's challenging for a customer who wants to perform testing or implement changes that may interrupt production. We have an array of tools that allow customers to send in parts or, better yet, bring them in person to participate in the evaluation. It's kind of like a playground where they can develop and refine the process and say, "Alright, I've got this widget, I know it needs to be cleaned for reliability. What's the best way?” And then we have various analytical techniques to measure how clean is clean so that they can verify and define the process.
Goldman: That's great. I would think that's very successful, and an excellent way of engaging the customer.
Wissel: It's very customer-forward. We sell chemistry, but we really are process experts. We have a global team of experienced technical support and process engineers that have a lot of manufacturing, chemical and machine background. The other analogy I like to use is that some of these machines look very much like a common dishwasher, right?
Goldman: Yes, that is very true.
Wissel: So when your dishes at home aren't coming out clean today, but they were yesterday, do you go out and buy a new dishwasher?
Goldman: No, you look at the detergent or you clean out the machine.
Wissel: Right, the most common answer is to change soap. We take a very customer-focused, hands-on approach to understand the concern and say, “Okay, if this is a process that has worked for a long period of time and suddenly it's not, something has changed. What is it and how can we find a solution together.”
Goldman: So, you get in to a lot troubleshooting? And you have to know the machines pretty well then, all the different types of cleaning machines that are in use?
Wissel: We absolutely do. We have an excellent support team that has well over a hundred years’ combined experience on machines—in-lines, batch washers, etc.—and this is all over the world.
Goldman: That's good, because the chemistry always gets blamed…
Wissel: What's really funny is, let's say you go out and you wash your car, and you find a scratch. Now was that scratch there before you washed it or because you washed it? Sometimes cleaning may reveal something that was already there, but you just didn’t notice it until the dirt was out of the way.
Goldman: So, it partly falls to you to sort that out.
Wissel: Well, it often falls to us to help the customer. Sometimes it really is a cleaning-related issue, such as a compatibility concern with a certain component or label, or other times the issue stems from something upstream.
Goldman: But your team sees many shops and manufacturers and you must have quite an overall picture that one manufacturer doesn't see. So, you could bring a whole lot to the party.
Wissel: Absolutely. We have a global team of seasoned experts in chemistry and machine process-related issues. Our goal is to retain customers for life.
Goldman: You have to look beyond the one episode or the one problem. I always say you have to help your customers succeed. Your customers need to succeed for you to succeed.
Wissel: Very true. Our business model is simple. It's about working side by side with our customers overcoming whatever challenges are presented. By providing products that work every time and unmatched technical support, we’ve achieved mutually successful partnerships for nearly 30 years.
Goldman: And you have been helping those customers to succeed. Having all that technical background, you can say, "Oh, I saw that somewhere else and here’s the solution," that an individual shop with their limited resources may not see or may not know about.
Wissel: As I mentioned, industry miniaturization is driving things and creating new cleaning challenges for assemblers. KYZEN has been involved in the semiconductor and advanced packaging market for decades. As assembly is driving towards smaller and smaller devices with higher densities, our experience in the advanced packaging world gives us a great perspective and insight to addressing these evolving needs.
Goldman: You can teach your customers as well.
Wissel: We like to think of ourselves as “consultants that get paid by the blue drum.” So, really being able to help that customer develop their process and have reliable production is our priority. This allows them to focus on other parts of their business. Cleaning may be a necessity, but it's not something that everybody wants to do or be a champion of.
Goldman: They expect it to just work, period.
Wissel: Yes, they expect it to just work. If the cleaning process isn’t successful, then their finished product may not achieve their standards as well. We all brush our teeth and take showers or do dishes every day. Cleaning isn’t new and it’s not elegant, however it is often a necessity that must work. For example, Class III manufacturers building medical, military or automotive devices can have life and death ramifications if they fail. It's important that we take a lot of pride in making quality products that support those industries.
Goldman: Tell me a little bit about no-clean versus clean types of fluxes. Do you have different products for each, or how does it that work?
Wissel: Excellent question. No-clean presents certain solubility challenges compared with traditional flux formulations, however product selection is often about process and customer equipment. Our R&D department continuously evaluates our products with the latest soldering materials.
Goldman: And the users figured they didn't need you for no-clean, right? (Laughs)
Wissel: People were a little worried about that. But it's amazing now how many users are discovering that they need to remove a “no clean” residue. Again, as components shrink in size and complexity of the devices increase, even seemingly benign residues can be problematic. The challenge increases because most no-clean materials are designed not to be cleaned.
Goldman: Is the cleaning of them more difficult?
Wissel: It requires continuous R&D and testing. It's always this chicken or egg scenario with the flux manufacturers, and we partner with all of them to assist with feedback in developing more cleanable no-cleans. If they have a paste that's very difficult to clean, and a high-reliability customer needs to remove it, then it creates real challenges for the user, the solder manufacturer and the cleaning agent company. So, there's a lot of industry collaboration trying to make more cleanable no-clean fluxes.
There is continuous evolution and product development on the soldering materials (fluxes), which drives innovation in the cleaning agents (chemistry). We’re also seeing more diversity in board surface finish. Whether it be an OSP coating, ENIG or other type, you want a cleaning agent that works on everything. Historically, compatibility was focused on a tin-lead HASL surface. Precious metals are now more common on the surface and because they're precious, they're plated very thinly, often only angstroms thick. Customers demand an effective cleaning agent that removes something that may not be designed to be removed without harming any of the precious, delicate materials on the surface. It’s a true balancing act.
Goldman: Now how about getting underneath the components and cleaning. Is that challenging?
Wissel: It is. Dr. Mike Bixenman will refer to it as the Z-axis. Five years ago, it was not uncommon to have something with a 3-, 4-, 5-mil gap, where the cleaner could easily penetrate underneath. Now components are often flush to the surface with only a half a mil standoff for LGAs or QFNs. QFNs are especially challenging packages because they have a large ground plane underneath which obstructs fluid from flushing under the package from one side to the other.
Goldman: How can it get in there where you need it—and then get the cleaner out again. Another challenge.
Wissel: Again, it comes back to collaboration. For a successful cleaning process, I use the analogy of a three-legged stool. The machine maker must be involved, along with the solder paste company and the cleaning agent company. Because between those three things, the customer has to have a soldering material that they can build a reliable part with. Then they have to have a cleaning agent that will remove the flux, and a process that successfully implements that cleaning agent. Without all three of those things working together, success is unlikely.
There is continuous R&D on all fronts: solder paste material sets, on cleaning material agent material sets, and innovation in the machines to deliver that cleaning agent to where the soil is. It’s a fun industry, and no day is ever the same. No day is dull.
Goldman: Very interesting! Ram, thanks again for speaking with me today.
Wissel: You are welcome.