AIM on RoHS Compliance for 2016 and Success with M8
On the last day of SMTAI, I had a chance to sit down with AIM Technical Marketing Manager Tim O'Neill, who brought me up to speed on what the next phase of RoHS compliance will mean for AIM’s customers, the success they’re seeing with their new solder paste, M8, and where the company is headed in terms of expansion.
Andy Shaughnessy: Good to see you, Tim. For people who aren't familiar with AIM, why don't you give us a quick background?
Tim O'Neill: AIM is a global supplier of solders and materials to the electronics assembly market. The company's been around since the '30s and in the electronics industry since the early '80s. We are based out of Montreal, Canada, the location of our world headquarters, and we have wholly owned facilities in Rhode Island, U.S.A.; Juarez, Mexico; Lodz, Poland; and Shenzhen, China. Our division, Assembly Materials, is part of a larger $2 billion organization specializing in metal recycling and trading. Despite the global downturn in metal commodities our industry continues to stay strong, which is very positive.
Shaughnessy: What are some of the recent developments you were mentioning to me during our pre-interview?
O'Neill: The most exciting thing for us right now is our latest solder paste, M8 No Clean. It was released earlier this year after extensive product development that addressed two of what we feel are the most significant challenges to the assembly: ultra-fine pitch printing and voiding on bottom-terminated devices; two very common problems. When we are called in to apply tech services to assist a customer, these are usually the two problems that we're trying to resolve. It’s all about getting the paste to last longer, print more effectively and eliminate voiding after reflow. There's no such thing as a good void.
In product development, you can only take a product so far. Eventually, you have to decide if it's marketable or not. When a new product is released, you want to understand if your lab data correlates with what's going to happen in the field. In this regard, M8 has exceed our expectations.
Shaughnessy: What has customer feedback been like with M8?
O'Neill: I've been with AIM for 20 years and seen dozens of products get released. M8 has been a superstar and feedback has been fantastic—the kind of product where once they try it, they immediately want to know where they can get more. That is not typical for the solder paste industry, but it solves a lot of problems, and it makes an engineer's job easier.
In fact, yesterday when I was working our booth, we had some clients that had come by that has demoed the product and they said, "It's just the most remarkable product we've used. It's solved a host of our problems." It’s fixing problems that it hadn’t even been engineered to solve, so we're excited about M8’s performance and looking forward to gaining market share with it while helping our clients.
Shaughnessy: What other opportunities do you see on the horizon for AIM?
O'Neill: With the scheduled phase in of RoHS II in 2016, companies and business sectors that have been exempt will have to become RoHS compliant. This transition represents an opportunity for AIM to assist them in material selection and process development. AIM will still supply leaded assembly materials, but that market is in decline and will be accelerated by RoHS II. It is the level of service that we can provide, which will ease the transition and make it as painless as possible. This time around, it's not as fraught with uncertainty as the first transition was, where nobody had done lead-free before. Now the path is well-blazed and users aren't as apprehensive to proceed. The transition to RoHS compliance is not easy, even if it is well understood. It still requires capital investment, process development, operator re-training, scrubbing the build materials, etc.
Shaughnessy: I think it still scares people, too, just to deal with lead-free.
O'Neill: Yes, the uncertainty. You have been doing something a certain way for twenty years and now you have to do something totally different. In addition to RoHS II on the horizon, we are expanding. Earlier this year, we opened our operation in Lodz, Poland to support the European market. We see that the Eastern European manufacturing environment is favorable and we want to be well-positioned to support that market. We've expanded with both capacity and personnel. We have tripled our field operation for sales and tech support in Europe, which is significant.
We have also added AIM sales and technical staff in Brazil as well as a joint venture manufacturing operation to support a growing electronics assembly industry in that region of the world. It has been challenging, but it's been very rewarding as well.
In Rhode Island, we have our Specialty Division. This division manufactures highly specialized soldering materials for a variety of industries. We have recently added 25,000 square feet to our Rhode Island operation to support this market. We have added new production capabilities as well as capacity with this expansion.
Shaughnessy: Yes, planned growth is good.
O'Neill: Fortunately, as a privately held company, we have been able to take a long-term position on where we believe the market is headed. Ownership has been very responsive to what they feel to be the best opportunities for us to grow and prosper.
Shaughnessy: Tim, thank you for speaking with me today, and enjoy the last day of the show.
O'Neill: Thank you, Andy.