The Plating Forum: How the Pandemic Impacted PCB Manufacturing

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on PCB manufacturing and assembly.  Thanks to its classification as an essential business associated with national security, PCB manufacturing in the U.S. was exempt from shutdowns; it was not, however, immune from supply chain disruption. Raw materials shortages set the stage for higher prices. Companies that relied on just in time (Kanban) inventory management held back product, further burdening the supply chain.

Conversely, the pandemic also had a positive impact on manufacturing in the United States. Domestic companies increased their output and new opportunities were created. In addition, the pandemic itself created demands on the electronics industry, particularly in the field of testing, where millions of single-use circuits had to be manufactured locally.  

The prolonged pandemic also forced companies to set up remote work. It quickly became apparent that high-speed internet allowed even complex tasks to be completed off-site. Today it is common for managers and technicians at all levels to work remotely. As the pandemic evolves into endemicity, working remotely is widely expected to remain an option for many.

In the electronics industry, opportunities for remote work are limited; companies must compete with the appeal and convenience of remote work, making employee retention more challenging than ever. Companies that meet this challenge do so by demonstrating a career path for those who meet expectations; they also invest in continuous training so that employees believe that management is invested in their progress. An employee who receives pay increases, learns new skills, and is given more responsibility is less likely to seek employment elsewhere.

Of course, the biggest incentive to stay with a company is the belief by the worker that he is a member of a winning team, trusted by management to make decisions that will keep the company moving forward.

For the industry to thrive, it must be able to contend with global competition. To support the electronics industry and level the playing field against foreign competitors, the Senate passed The United States Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) in June 2021. The bill provides billions of dollars to improve the domestic capacity to produce semiconductors. This bill is welcome by the electronics industry as an incentive to produce semiconductors. However, the bill limits funding to a small sector of the industry and fails to address other related links in the supply chain that are critical to America’s competitiveness.

According to Meredith Labeau, chief technology officer at Calumet Electronics, “Semiconductors don’t work alone; they are only one piece of the electronics DNA. The electronics value chain is complicated. To build advancing technologies, the system requires a wide array of moving parts: semiconductors, yes, but also organic/ceramic interposers, assembled printed circuit board and more. All these different components are critical for chips to actually do anything. And America is woefully trailing in the global competition to produce these critical products. The domestic supply chain has 1-2% of the advanced packaging economy needed to put these products together to power our technology. And these supply chains are often the most vulnerable to global shocks and disruption.”1

PCB manufacturing and assembly was not included in USICA. To bring government attention to this omission, the Printed Circuit Board Association of America (PCBAA) was established in 2021 by a consortium of major PCB manufacturers and their suppliers, who understood the need for greater support from their government to protect against unfair foreign competition.

PCBAA’s goal is to level the playing field with overseas suppliers that are frequently subsidized by their governments, and often do not have to comply with the environmental constraints that are imposed on U.S. manufacturers. For the sake of national security and stability, the domestic PCB industry needs the support required to expand its share of the world PCB market far beyond the current 4% of the total production.  

The author supports this effort. PCB manufacturing and assembly in the U.S. needs a concerted effort to propel the industry forward and regain market share. Government agencies must also support the industry by funding innovative research that will incentivize domestic suppliers and attract OEMs back to the local market.

References

  1. “Meredith LaBeau: How Congress Can Support American Electronics Manufacturing,” Calumet Electronics Corporation, Oct. 15, 2021.

This column originally appeared in the March 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2022

The Plating Forum: How the Pandemic Impacted PCB Manufacturing

03-30-2022

The coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on PCB manufacturing and assembly. Thanks to its classification as an essential business associated with national security, PCB manufacturing in the U.S. was exempt from shutdowns; it was not, however, immune from supply chain disruption. Raw materials shortages set the stage for higher prices. Companies that relied on just in time (Kanban) inventory management held back product, further burdening the supply chain.

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2021

The Plating Forum: The Significance of IPC ENIG Specification 4552 Revision B

11-24-2021

The ENIG specification 4552 was issued in 2002. Since then, it has gone through a series of amendments and revisions in an attempt to meet the everchanging industry requirements. It started as a thickness specification that did not mention lead-free soldering or “nickel corrosion” and ended in the latest performance specification 4552B where all aspects of nickel corrosion were addressed. Suppliers now have a way to evaluate the performance of products in the field. They can increase the robustness of their products and service to ensure that customers can produce acceptable ENIG finishes in different manufacturing environments.

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The Plating Forum: The IPC Surface Finish Specifications

10-06-2021

Specifications are reference documents to be called out by OEM board designers in specifying the attributes of a surface finish. Designers may take exception with one or more items in the specification to ensure that the product meets the requirements of its intended use. The term “AAUBUS” (As Agreed Upon Between User and Supplier) is part of any specification.

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The Plating Forum: An Overview of Surface Finishes

09-06-2021

Surface finishes’ research and development departments on the supplier side have been very busy coming up with new finishes to meet the everchanging demands of the electronics industry. Today, designers have wide variety of finishes to choose from. George Milad breaks it down.

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The Plating Forum: DIG—The Next Generation

06-16-2021

DIG stands for “Direct Immersion Gold.” The acronym is used to specify direct deposition of gold on copper as a surface finish. It is a metallic solderable finish. At assembly, DIG forms a Cu/Sn intermetallic with the gold layer dissipating into the bulk solder.

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The Plating Forum: RAIG (Reduction Assisted Immersion Gold) for Gold Surface Finishes

04-05-2021

RAIG was introduced a few years ago to meet the requirements of newer designs. Since its inception, more gold finishes are finding RAIG gold to be a viable alternative to standard immersion gold. RAIG gold is a mixed reaction bath that functions as an immersion gold and with the added reducing agent it also functions as an electroless (autocatalytic) bath.

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2020

The Plating Forum: Training for Plating Processes in the Electronics Industry

12-24-2020

Plating is a very old industry and has been studied for many generations. Its basic principles are well understood and documented. However, when it comes to the intricate details of plating a circuit board, there is so much to learn and apply. George Milad explains.

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The Plating Forum: Via Plating for PWBs

11-19-2020

Vias are an integral part of PWB design and manufacturing. They are the means by which different layers of a board are connected. George Milad addresses the electroplating of vias, including the three main types of vias: through-hole vias, buried vias, and blind vias.

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The Plating Forum: The Critical Role of Pretreatment for Plating

10-22-2020

Pretreatment is usually customized to the incoming substrate and the plated metal. George Milad explains how it is a critical step and must be completed before plating to achieve the desired adhesion and to enhance the quality of the deposited metal.

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The Plating Forum: Immersion Plating Reaction in Electronics Manufacturing

09-16-2020

Plating or metal deposition is a key component in the manufacturing of electronic packages (circuit boards and integrated circuits). Plating occurs when a metal ion in solution (electrolyte) is reduced to the metal. The reduction takes place when electrons are supplied to the ion. George Milad dedicates this column to the immersion reaction.

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The Plating Forum: Minimizing Signal Transmission Loss in High-Frequency Circuits

07-06-2020

All PCB materials have both conduction and dielectric RF signal losses. In this column, George Milad highlights resistive conduction losses by the copper layer used in the board.

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The Plating Forum: Can ‘Nickel Corrosion’ Occur in ENEPIG?

05-25-2020

Nickel palladium gold (ENEPIG) surface finish is being referred to as the “universal finish.” ENEPIG was also the answer to the nickel corrosion “black pad” encountered occasionally with electroless nickel/immersion gold (ENIG) deposits. In this column, George Milad answers the question, "Can 'nickel corrosion' occur in ENEPIG?"

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The Plating Forum: Eliminating Waste From Electrolytic Acid Copper Plating

03-15-2020

Acid copper plating in most shops is done in vertical plating tanks. Acid copper solutions are not dumped but are continuously used with occasional carbon treatment to remove organic build-up from the additives and from dry film leaching. George Milad explains.

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The Plating Forum: EPIG—A Nickel-free Surface Finish for Next-generation Products

01-11-2020

In recent years, electronic devices, such as smartphones and tablet PCs, have been miniaturized. Chip-size package (CSP) used inside the electronic devices have been miniaturized as well, and the spacing between the lines continues to diminish every year. Some of the latest packages have spacing as little as 15 µm or less. If electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold (ENEPIG) is used with an EN thickness of 5–6 µm, only 5 µm of spacing would be left, increasing the risk of shorts between the traces. George Milad explains.

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2019

The Plating Forum: New Developments in ENIG

12-08-2019

ENIG has been around the printed circuit industry for more than 25 years. George Milad provides an update and explains how although the occurrence of corrosion was recognized, a better understanding of the defect has led to a series of improvements over time.

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The Plating Forum: Update on IPC-4552 ENIG Specification Revisions

10-20-2019

George Milad's columns will cover PCB plating, IPC specifications, and more. In this debut installment, he gives us an update on the IPC-4552 ENIG specification, including Revision A and B.

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2014

The Plating Forum: Wire Bonding to ENIG

03-05-2014

The IPC-4552 ENIG specification was written in 2002, but the committee is currently updating and revising the document. The thickness of the immersion gold layer is being revised with the intent of reducing the minimum thickness from 2.0 µin to 1.6 µin. A series of studies were conducted to find out if this reduction is possible.

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The Plating Forum: ENIG and the Plating Process

01-07-2014

ENIG continues to gain market share due to its versatility in a wide range of component assembly methods including solder fusing, wave soldering, and wire bonding. The plating of ENIG is a complex multi-step process. Each process step is carefully designed and must be well understood and controlled to produce the desired end product. George Milad reports.

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2013

Acid Copper Plating for High Aspect Ratio and Via Fill

07-16-2013

To meet new specification requirements, board shops are forced to seek new and advanced processes in every department. Acid copper plating comes under heavy scrutiny, as it is the process that forms the traces and the through-hole connectivity that conveys the signal from end-to-end of the final device. George Milad, a new columnist for The PCB Magazine, explains.

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