To Clean or No Clean?


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Matties: Are you seeing more and more requirements from the OEM’s buyers to require testing on their jobs? It just seems like an easy answer.

Konrad: It's a funny thing. While OEMs will embrace cleaning. Its more common that OEMs come up with a cleaning standard once they use a contract manufacturer. An OEM may not have a cleaning process in-house and the moment they job out that particular assembly to a contract manufacturer they also provide a cleaning standard that the contract manufacturer needs to meet. Contract manufacturers have to clean to a variety of different standards using a variety of different processes using a variety of different chemicals as outlined by their customers, which presents a challenge for the equipment manufacturers. It's more common now to seek equipment that can run a variety of chemicals under a variety of conditions and clean to a variety of standards because of the wide ranging requirements of OEMs.

Matties: Is there a possibility of a universal standard that just applies?

Konrad: We have one, right now. We have a universal standard. It was originally in WS6536 developed out in China Lake, California out in the desert and then it kind of morphed into Mil Standard 2000A and then it made its way into some IPC specifications. That level of cleanliness is determined by a ROSE tester (resistivity of solvent extract tester), and it's expressed in micrograms of sodium equivalent per square inch and the current standard or acceptable industry limit is 10 micrograms of sodium per square inch. We have that already. The problem is that standard was developed in the 1970s.

Matties: It needs to be updated.

Konrad: It needs to be updated for sure, and IPC has been for many, many years trying to update it. I'm not speaking for IPC here, but the problem I can see that IPC would have, or any standards agency would have, is: How can I tell you how clean your board needs to be? If you're NASA or if you're United Airlines or if you're Boeing or Airbus, I'm going to tell you a really low number because I might fly on your airplane one day and I want to make sure it's reliable. Would I tell makers of electronic flea collars the same cleanliness value even though their cost of failure if far different than Boeing’s?

Matties: Is the cost of process dramatically different between the dog collar and a spaceship?

Konrad: No, the cost of cleaning a circuit board is about five to six cents a board.

Matties: So, why wouldn't the higher standard just apply?

Konrad: One would assume that would be the case, however right now we have Class 1, Class 2, Class 3 and Space standards. All different standards. The industry is set up to say, “If it's going in a personal computer it can have this type of solderability standard, and if it's going into an aircraft it has to have that type of solderability standard.” One could ask why we just don't we have one great standard for everything. Well, because consumer goods are made by the millions, and while I say six cents in assembly for cleaning is a really low price, if Apple were to tell Foxconn, "Clean every assembly it's only six cents apiece,” that would cost them millions of dollars annually. The economy of scale sometimes rules out value-added processes.

Matties: Will we stop buying a dog collar or iPhone because it costs six cents more?

Konrad: We wouldn't. There’s a story, probably a little bit of an old wives’ tale, of how United Airlines took the olives out of the Martinis several years ago and they saved several million dollars a year. Now, I would have gladly paid 15 cents extra to have an olive in my martini while I'm flying first class from here to Tokyo.

Matties: They just didn't ask you.

Konrad: Exactly. It's not what the customer is willing to accept, but it's the savings that the manufacturer can pocket. In consumer electronics, or any high-volume electronics, it's not a question of how much will the customer be willing to add on; it's a question of how much can the manufacturer save and invest in other areas of the company.

Matties: Now, when you say it's five cents, that's just the hard costs. There are all the soft costs of real estate, operators and cycle time. So the cost is obviously more than five cents.

Konrad: That's right. The five cents includes the cost of the electricity, the chemical, the water, the DI tanks and things like that. Someone has got to stand in front of a machine, someone has to dedicate 4 by five feet of footprint, someone has to amortize the machine over seven years and depreciate it and all that. That's certainly added on.

Matties: So in terms of true cost...

Konrad: That's a few more cents. Cleaning is not an expensive process.

Matties: But the cost of failure is so big. For a dog collar maybe it’s no big deal, your dog scratches a bit more.

Konrad: In fact, in one of our workshop presentations we show the cost of failure. We show the cost of failure of an implantable defibrillator and we show a picture of an ambulance. In our workshop, we show the cost of failure of an electronic flea collar and we show a dog scratching himself. Clearly the cost of failure is quite different.

The challenge the cleaning industry has is most of our customers are coming to us as first-time buyers of cleaners. A customer will approach us and they’ll have one of two engineer types. They’ll either have the old engineer, the old sage that's near retirement that remembers cleaning from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He's been told or she's been told it's time to buy a cleaner. The first thing they do is they look through one of your SMT Magazine’s resource guides and they look up DuPont, because they want to buy Freon TMS or they look up sources for trichloroethylene and they realize it's not sold anymore. They look up Baron Blakeslee and Unique Industries and other manufacturers of vapor degreasers and they find out that either they're not around anymore or they are doing other things now. They have knowledge of cleaning but it's all obsolete.

Alternative to that, we have engineers that approach us that say, "I don't understand why I'm even looking at a cleaner because the jar on this paste says ‘no clean.’” It might as well say to them "don't clean." It's an oxymoron to clean a "no clean" in their mind. Potential customers come to us with either old obsolete information or zero information.

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