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I had the opportunity to sit down recently with Rich Heimsch, director of the Americas for Super Dry-Totech, at the SMTAI show in Chicago. We discussed the specialized moisture management technology that Super Dry has developed, as well as how both the European and American markets are evolving with regard to use of the technology.
Andy Shaughnessy: Rich, thanks for speaking with me today. Why don't you give us a little background on Super Dry for those who might not be familiar with the company?
Rich Heimsch: Thanks, Andy. Super Dry specializes in moisture management, such as desiccant dry cabinets for both storing and drying moisture-sensitive materials. In this realm of electronics, components and PCBs are the most common, but molding pellets, winding paper for power transformers, and nano-fibers all have common requirements that these cabinets are very effective in handling. Its core is a lifetime desiccant that is never touched…we utilize a special crystal that is classified as a molecular sieve. Water molecules are literally sifted from the air.
An automatic regeneration process keeps the desiccant active for a lifetime. The Relative humidity that can be achieved is as low as 0.3%. That's less than .05 grams of water per cubic meter of space.
Shaughnessy: That’s impressive.
Heimsch: It is absolutely bone dry. It's pushing the ability of the sensor manufacturers to genuinely, totally accurately measure the dryness. The benefit of that is two-fold. First, once you get down below 5% you're now in a safe zone. Materials don't absorb additional moisture, which is why the 0-33C spec says you have unlimited safe storage and unlimited time; you have stopped the clock. Second, when you get down into these ultra-low RH levels, you create a “moisture vacuum” and begin to draw moisture from the components even at ambient temperature. This means you have a drying effect, which you can accelerate with really low, mild temperatures, like 40°C, that achieve what used to only be capable at 90 or 120°C, in terms of time, without the damage of oxidation, or inter-metallic buildup that those high-temperature baking processes create. That also allows you to restore floor-life more than once to a component and still have it be solderable.
Shaughnessy: You mentioned during our pre-interview that this is really taking off in some areas?
Heimsch: Well, the interesting thing is that, as a European company, RoHS legislation really first drove the demands. In a lead free process, the same component has triple the saturated vapor pressure. Overnight virtually every component in a guy’s shop had to be tracked—still less the case here in America. But the awareness of these latent field failures is increasing and being recognized as both a warranty as well as a product liability issue. Thus the need to improve is now gradually being addressed by more manufacturers in the North American market. Because of our history in Europe, we're able to bring mature products to first-time users here and a decade of specialist knowledge. We’ve delivered nearly 4,000 units in all sorts of configurations. As Industry 4.0 drives new levels of manufacturing thinking, something that is being actively implemented by operations in Europe is a very large scale, central inventory management system called the Dry Tower, which robotically handles for instance, 15,000 reels and 10,000 trays, or more. One customer was able to reposition more than 30 employees just from the installation of one of these. All the inventory in one place robotically input and output, monitored to track floor life exposure, store safely or reset floor life. Then select an entire job automatically through the MES system and deliver it directly to the line. Hands free.
Shaughnessy: As you say, it’s a different situation in America, but your market share is slowly growing here?
Heimsch: Awareness and implementation are two different things. ESD management practices were not as rigidly maintained 5 or six years ago as they are now. Different segments of electronics manufacturing have been immersed in MSD management for years. Automotive, for example, has always been highly aware for the need for this. You have warranty issues and then you have product liability issues; you have an intermittent in a hand-set, and it's not anywhere near as significant as an intermittent in an airbag, an ABS or a medical implant. So different industry segments have recognized different levels of urgency. Just remember it's not as often an end of the line defect, but more often a field failure.
Shaughnessy: Tell me about some of the changes you've seen in this market. Even 10 years ago you didn't hear about this kind of thing very often.
Heimsch: Not even in Europe. Though the cabinets have been made for many years, the interest in the electronics assembly was very superficial. Low/reduced humidity chambers are used a lot in the medical field, there are a lot of analyzers and growing numbers of testing devices. But they typically are not looking for ultra-low RH. In electronics, in a situation where we want it dry, getting down and being able to stay down and being able to access the chamber frequently and maintain that low humidity on an average over an eight-hour shift with dozens of door openings is the other important performance element.
Shaughnessy: So looking ahead, where do you see some of the bigger opportunities for Super Dry?
Heimsch: As has been the case over the last five years, the evolution of the market in Europe is a leading indicator of the evolution of the market here and increasingly comprehensive controls are in demand. We offer traceability as I described earlier for tens of thousands of components…but also software tools for shops with one cabinet’s worth of components. They still need to know when they were put into use, how much floor life has expired, and when can they be restored and integrated with their in-house manufacturing. So even at a one, two or three cabinet level and a thousand components, right on up to thirty or forty thousand, the traceability must be the same. So based on the experience of big systems, we can provide a sophisticated tool to apply to the more basic applications as well. With a quick barcode scan in and out, we know what we've got. And where it is.
Shaughnessy: That's interesting. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Heimsch: Our tagline is not a casual thought. When we say “More than just dry air,” it's one thing to make a device that creates low humidity. It's another to develop a process that can perform in the context of an application for an industry. That's the experience that we have as long-term specialists in this arena.
Shaughnessy: I appreciate you taking the time to talk to talk to us today.
Heimsch: Genuinely! Thank you very much.