Trends in SMT Cleaning

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During SMTA Dallas Expo, I had the chance to interview Mike Gunderson, a solutions expert at MaRC Technologies, about the trends in cleaning, what this means for Factory 4.0, and why his company brought equipment to the show this year. 


Barry Matties: Mike, tell us why you come to the SMTA Dallas Expo? What’s special about this event?

Mike Gunderson: A lot of the people that we sell equipment to are here. Last year, we saw great attendance. We decided to bring equipment this year because we want people to see it. We had our equipment at IPC APEX EXPO, and it was a great turnout, so we brought it here and we’ll take it to the Houston show as well.

Matties: Your equipment is what caught my attention. I think that’s important in today’s world.

Gunderson: I think so too. You can search the internet, but until you actually get a look at the machine, feel it, touch it, look inside and see how it’s constructed, that’s not something that you’ll understand in an internet search.

Matties: Exactly right. Now let’s talk specifically about the type of equipment. This is cleaning equipment for the PCB assembly process, correct?

Gunderson: Yes, we have PCB cleaning equipment and stencil washers as well. There are two key features to our equipment: First, it’s a 100% closed loop. You can run it as a semi-closed loop, but it’s designed more for closed loop. That way you don’t have any discharge, and you don’t have to worry about your own DI system. You can put the boards in there, and it has separate tanks for washing and for rinsing. We have two other systems, but unfortunately, they’re larger systems and we didn’t bring them. They’re called the Super Swash and the Hyper Swash. In both instances, the cleaning technology mimics that of an inline cleaner without the footprint or the cost. You have that direct spray impingement into the boards for, let’s say, moderate- to tougher-to-clean boards that you need to make sure they’re cleaned properly. That’s for military, aerospace, or anything where the chance of it not getting cleaned is unacceptable.

Matties: The equipment does the job, but what’s the demand on cleaning in manufacturing right now?

Gunderson: I started in electronics in the 1980s and everybody went from the freon cleaning to water cleaning to no-cleans. As they got into no-cleans, they realized that they needed to clean those no-cleans because there’s a lot more reasons to clean the circuit board other than just the flux. Now, we’re seeing more of the tighter traces and spaces, and that no clean flux can cause interference in high frequency applications. With conformal coating, a lot of boards are going into areas that we haven’t seen them go before, which means humidity, corrosion, and those boards need to be conformally coated. You simply can’t conformal coat over a no-clean and have it adhere to the board.

We just started working with PBT. They’re in the Czech Republic and have been in business for 30 years. Right now, we are importing the systems and stocking them in the U.S. We have technical support here and spare parts as well. We’ve taken a great product and actually made it easy for our customers to obtain and service it.

Matties: Is this equipment newly developed, or is it just new to the U.S.?

Gunderson: It’s been in the U.S. for about six years through a couple of different distributors. For one reason or another, that relationship didn’t turn out very well, so we took on the line in July 2021, and we’re just now hitting our stride. We were at IPC APEX EXPO this year. We had a 10x20 booth and two machines, and the attendance was great. Next year we’re shooting for a 20x20 booth.

Matties: Good for you. When people are looking at a cleaning strategy, what is the most important thing to consider?

Gunderson: It’s the effectiveness of the machine itself. So often they go into it saying, “I need a washer,” rather than truly understanding what they need to clean and how difficult it is. We have four different machines, and based upon the technology, volume, and price point, we can help service any of those needs. But the big thing is asking what kind of chemistry you’re using. What kind of flux are you removing? What’s your cleanliness level requirements? What’s your throughput? What’s your technology? There are questions that we ask up front to make sure that we’re getting the right machine for the application and not just selling a cleaner.

Matties: Is the closed loop system an important component in the decision process for customers?

Gunderson: It hasn’t really been discussed because a lot of the systems out there don’t do closed loop well when it comes to chemistry. But we do. Based upon the design, we’re educating and reeducating customers as to what a true closed loop system looks like and how it works.

Matties: Once the washing is done in a closed loop system, how often do you have to replenish the chemistry or what do you do with the spent chemistry?

Gunderson: We work with both KYZEN and Zestron and they have some monitoring systems: the KYZEN Analyst and the Zestron Eye. Both of those can be incorporated into our machine. The system can monitor itself as far as the chemistry goes; the rinse water and the second rinse water has been cleaned internally in the system with a DI vessel, carbon vessels, and an array of particulate filters.

Matties: It’s all filtered and you don’t have to worry too much about it.

Gunderson: Correct.

Matties: What about this world of Factory 4.0? How does this play in that environment?

Gunderson: It seems like it’s a lot of talk. I haven’t seen too many people doing it, but everybody wants to be ready for it.

Matties: Exactly.

Gunderson: With all our systems, we have traceability capabilities. It monitors the status of the machine, what the chemistry looked like, what the temperatures were, and what the cleanliness of the water is. We collect all that data, and it’s available for anybody looking toward 4.0.

Matties: What advice would you give, generally, about cleaning?

Gunderson: Test your boards. We’re working with and educating customers about what they are cleaning today, but more importantly, what they will clean tomorrow. We’re seeing that the frequencies of designs are getting higher, which means the cleanliness requirements are higher, and the pitch of the components is getting smaller. Your typical dishwasher-style washer probably won’t be sufficient in the future. A lot of the equipment out there can last 10 or 20 years, so we’re saying to customers, “Don’t just buy what you need today, but take a look at what you need five or 10 years down the road. Look back 10 years and see what that technology was vs. what you’re doing today.” The trend is higher density components, faster circuitry, and the importance of being able to clean efficiently; that’s what will be more important from here on out.

Matties: Is operator training required with this, or is it a straightforward process?

Gunderson: It’s completely programmable. An engineer can program the recipe and then at that point, the only thing that the operator needs to do is just pull up that recipe, load the system with boards, and push the button.

Matties: That sounds straight forward. Mike, thanks for talking with us today.

Gunderson: Thank you.



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