Nolan’s Notes: Changing Expectations

What are the common challenges to high-density board assembly?

For example, while it seems that non-electrical components are moving closer to the board assembly process, this skill set requires more expertise than just solder. What about fluid cooling? Both applications have strong ties to high-end data center applications, of course.

Heat management, signal integrity, and crosstalk issues are other possible challenges, but these aren’t really within the scope of the assembly house. Sure, these issues may raise their heads during testing, but the solution is an OEM redesign concern.

Can we find new efficiencies or higher yields if we break some old rules to make new ones? It’s certainly an intriguing question, hearkening back to continuous improvement thinking. Where are the increased efficiencies, the better margins, the faster build times, and the resulting increases in capacity? Can the build steps be reduced? How does or doesn’t automation help? Can the machinery keep up with the shrinking component sizes?

Pondering these questions led me back to thinking about my undergraduate days. While pursuing my computer science degree at Oregon State University, my academic advisor recommended a “soft science” course. So, I enrolled in Sociology 201, your typical survey course. “Soft science” is a term used for scientific study which is generally understandable without needing the rigors of mathematics. Categories include sociology, psychology, political science, and the like. But is it really science? Is it science if it’s the study of, say, interpersonal relationships or societal dynamics, or are the soft sciences more closely aligned with philosophy? This was on my mind as I recalled that course.

At the time I started the course, I thought sociology was more akin to philosophy. But as the professor’s lectures set up the methods and objectives of social science, I learned to accept the value of the soft sciences; the process of going through that course tore down my inadvertent elitism about science in general. I went in with assumptions that I treated as beliefs and came out better able to recognize when I was using an assumption as a truth. I don’t remember much about the material in the lectures, but the process of surveying the social sciences did change my critical thinking. Maybe that was why my advisor pointed me in that direction. My perspective had been changed and I looked at other questions in front of me in a different way.

As a result, I added some other soft science, specifically psychology courses. One of those, “Behavioral Psychology,” was commonly known on campus as “Rat Lab.” If any of you have heard Happy Holden speak about his career, he often includes the story of designing interface cards for a PDP 8 computer while a student at Oregon State. These interface cards were to enable the PDP to operate a series of “Skinner boxes” for the Rat Lab and were still in use when I took the course 20+ years later. After a handful of introductory lectures, we were assigned a lab rat, which was to be kept slightly dehydrated, creating motivation to learn. Each day, we had to care for our rat, and teach it to push a lever in the Skinner box to deliver a small amount of water. The behaviors that the rat had to learn became increasingly complex and involved. But the basic tenets of positive and negative reinforcement were made quite clear during the course. When confronted with challenges, we find a way to make things work.

So, as we sought answers to our current questions about high mix, low volume, we asked how many of these topics are making life difficult for EMS firms, and how they are coping with all these challenges. What we learned was that the high-density challenges were actually few and far between. Like my sociology class, we went in with one set of expectations and came out with a different understanding than we anticipated. And like my psychology class, we found ourselves documenting the pressures that are motivating new thinking and potential new methods on the shop floor.

Specifically, as the requirements for assembly continue to move toward smaller components and higher densities, the most common challenges are with supply chain, inventory management, and part feeder technologies. Most of the issues we thought we’d be talking about weren’t the pain points we thought they would be. At least, not right at this very moment. So, what did we learn?

In the May 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, you’ll find two interviews with Axiom, one exploring high density issues, and the other the data format effect on business costs. You’ll see how some of Axiom’s concerns likely line up with your own. Duane Benson of Screaming Circuits shares the challenges of quoting because of the instability of the supply chain, and I-Connect007 columnist Emmalee Gagnon helps us understand the unique ability of your machines to optimize throughput in a high-mix, low-volume environment.

Like the rats I mentioned in my psychology class, building high-density boards in today’s post-pandemic world makes us “thirsty” for stability and accuracy. See the obstacle as the way and use this issue to recognize and overcome your own challenges.

What will be your takeaways from what you read here? I’d love to hear from you.

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Nolan’s Notes: Changing Expectations


For our May 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, we wanted to learn more about the challenges for high-mix, low-volume EMS firms building high density boards, and how they’re coping with those challenges. What we learned was that the high-density challenges, per se, were actually few and far between. What has been causing new headaches, however, is component packaging because of the unpredictability in the supply chain.

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Nolan’s Notes: What Are We Waiting For?


The future, ladies and gentlemen, is now. The Factory of the Future is a reality in some parts of the globe. So, if you and your facility aren’t already migrating to Industry 4.0, you’re at risk of being left behind. That’s the message in our detailed interview with IPC Chief Technologist Matt Kelly, who follows up on his IPC APEX EXPO comments. Make your plan and implement it. Do what you need to do; it does not require buying all new equipment. There are other ways to get the data you need. But start to capture the data and then use it to optimize your business practices. What are you waiting for?

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Nolan’s Notes: The Legislative Chokepoint


This month our topic for SMT007 Magazine is: The State of the Industry. There's no getting around having to send chips overseas for packaging. But how many trips around the globe does a chip need to make before it’s ready? And can our defense suppliers rely on such supply chain methods?

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Nolan’s Notes: Materials & Technology


Now more than ever, material performance, availability and pricing are key factors in the specification of materials in the design phase. This month we explore how new technology is driving materials R&D which in turn drives technology to innovate.

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Nolan’s Notes: Feeling the Heat of Rising Input Costs


Rising input costs are causing EMS companies to rethink pricing, suppliers and supply chains, labor, and how all those interrelationships function. In this issue we report on the current status of increased input costs and explore strategies to help reduce the risk and cost associated with today's marketplace.

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Nolan’s Notes:What’s Driving Europe?


It’s not breaking news that Europe is central to much of the automotive electronics development in the world economy, but what are the actual numbers?

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Nolan’s Notes: The Bottom Line on Cybersecurity and Counterfeiting


In the January 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, we bring you several articles on cybersecurity and counterfeiting and we share our “man on the street” interviews with industry representatives, discussing their take on the challenges and opportunities.

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