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Recently, we looked into electronics assembly best practices that help optimize your manufacturing processes. To provide you more insights on this, we interviewed two assembly experts: Jason Keeping of EMS firm Celestica, and Bob Willis, a renowned EMS consultant and trainer.
Keeping is a member of Celestica’s Corporate Technology department. Within Celestica, he is the subject matter expert on ruggedization, which includes all of the different processes around assembly cleaning, underfill, conformal coating, and plotting—”the stuff that you need to do to make things last in harsh environmental conditions.” He is also the chairman of the Aerospace Hub for Canada’s Education Program, as well as the president of SMTA Ontario.
Keeping recently became the chairman of the IPC 5-30 Segment, which covers most of the technologies and standards for cleaning and coating.
Willis, meanwhile, started his career as a young engineer at GEC Marconi in assembly and PCB manufacture. He then went into research with GEC Marconi, now BAE Systems, and then into contract manufacturing for a couple of years. Within these companies, Willis did failure analysis, training provider in the company, surface mount assembly and environmental testing. For about 40 years now, he has been running his own business doing training consultancy worldwide, a majority of which is now online with webinars, which he does for a lot of corporate companies as well as the technical sector such as the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), SMART Group, SMTA, and others.
Stephen Las Marias: From your perspective, Jason, what are some of the biggest challenges that you can think of in electronics assembly when it comes to the human factor, equipment, and manufacturing technology?
Jason Keeping: The biggest challenge, I think, for the human factor is a lot of global work with a transition to lower-cost geographies. The retention is not as long as a lot of our traditional higher-cost geographies, so as you try to move some of the complex or more experience-based products, this becomes a challenge because that experience is not there because individuals are not with companies.
Regarding equipment, minus some of the leading-edge applications, equipment has been pretty well on par meeting newer demands about miniaturization. Some of these lead technologies are outside of the scope of microelectronics, I’d say. We at Celestica were aware of this challenge several years back and we’ve been investing people, space and equipment, so we can get to that new advanced articles for technologies for equipment.
Now, I think the biggest challenge is manufacturing technology. Not because of similarities because the manufacturing knowledge does the same in the path as equipment both getting smaller components and higher quality targets. The trends that I see that are putting the challenge on the electronic assembly industry is one of transition from tin-lead to lead-free, electrification and miniaturization. Miniaturization, we cover really from the equipment point of view. Let’s say when we talk about transition from tin-lead to lead free, there’s a challenge that was well taken both by equipment and cross technologies, a lot of new materials developed, new placement and equipment manufacturers and new reliability curves and review.
But that last part, the new reliability curves to discuss more in recent years. What I’m referring to is tin whiskers. When we start looking at some of the high-reliability products such as satellites, radars, pace makers, nuclear power plants, some of that technology we can’t really move forward to lead free because we don’t have those reliability curves in place.
Now, the other thing around manufacturing technologies, which is more at my heart, is the challenge of electrification. It’s not that we’re not aware of how to do ruggedization. Many companies in the industry have been doing it for years, decades, even almost a century protecting components from harsh environment conditions. But, with the transition of these components into these non-historical harsh markets where you previously had no electronics or now we’re adding additional electronics that weren’t present before, this is a challenge that I see a lot more customers asking how and what to do.
Examples are products that were not previously in harsh conditions were a lot of datacenters and telecommunication switches—they were always in embedded, closed environmental structures, which now they’re opening up and going into different geographies. Then you look at other things where we’re now adding electronics to products that were already designed for harsh environments, such as new sensors in automobiles, a lot more displays in goods like washing machines and dishwashers. There’s now these added electronics that weren’t there before.
Bob Willis: Jason has highlighted a lot of the issues. My take on a lot of this is really we lack the depth of education in many different sectors. We find that in a lot of companies, you have some highly qualified people working in design and manufacturing, but we don’t have the same sort of skill sets or knowledge and there’s sometimes reluctance to pass on that information to production line personnel. They are the eyes and the ears of a factory and can solve many issues if we give them the tools.
I think that the one thing that’s missing certainly that I see in the UK and obviously in some parts of Europe is the ability for people to get that information. Of course, now there is a rich source of information online, you just have to look and decide what’s relevant and what’s not relevant. But we’ve never really had a very good education system, my opinion, for bringing those skills on board. It’s only in the last 10 years, certainly in the UK industry, that we’re going back to apprenticeships. Those didn’t exist for a decade, and now they’re becoming more popular again with companies because the companies are being told basically to do it by the government.
If you look at technology, there’s always challenges and as Jason said about lead-free technology, but boy, have we wasted a lot of money, a lot of effort in doing something that really didn’t see a benefit. You know, there’s people that promote lead-free technology and those against lead-free technology, but the reality is it never did what it’s supposed to do—which is really improve the environment. We’re using materials, and we have used materials which, theoretically, if we put them on a table we wouldn’t have wanted to use them because they are more detrimental to the environment than lead ever was, but that’s a politician discussion.
If we look at manufacturing equipment, I think that we have some incredible equipment available to us. Engineers, including process engineers, have phenomenal tools as long as they can afford them, as long as they can have access to them and implement them into their production lines. The model that contract manufacturers really took on board, by setting up centers of excellence on personnel and equipment so they can then push out the technology and information they've learned, setting standards to all their different outlets and bases, and their different geographical locations, is perfect.
But if I step back, say 40 years ago, the only company that really did that is Phillips, in Eindhoven. There was just one company that had a center there which, if they wanted a new piece of equipment, a new printer, a new dispenser, a new reflow oven, there would be a queue at the door to give them free equipment. They were then able to use that and say that’s good, that’s bad, that’s good paste, that’s good coating material, to all of their different satellite organizations.
That’s kind of what the larger contract manufacturers are able to do. I just wish that some of the smaller companies who have lots of manufacturing sites could also do it because that would improve good implementation and technology and, as this discussion is all about, good practice. I wish I had had the scope and opportunity to replicate this when I was surface mount coordinator for GEC.
To read the full article, which appeared in the July 2018 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.