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SMT Perspectives and Prospects
By Dr. Jennie Hwang
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SMT Perspectives and Prospects: Ebullient Trade Events Going Virtual
In the first quarter of recent years, we have looked to two information-rich events in the electronics industry arena—IPC APEX EXPO and CES (formerly Consumer Electronics Show)—to learn, observe, contribute, and enjoy. I have attended and participated in both events for several years, something I have relished.
This year, both events will be unprecedentedly different as they go virtual. We have been on this virtual platform for the past 10 months, and by now, perhaps we are all “trained” to conduct business virtually. IPC officials have indicated that IPC is committed to providing a digital platform that will allow the attendees to easily navigate more than 100 technical conference sessions and to view product demonstrations, as well as to advance by attending professional development courses.
As stated in the CES official site, CES is owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), and is the most influential tech event in the world. It is the proving ground for breakthrough technologies and global innovators. This is where the world's biggest brands do business and meet new partners, and the sharpest innovators hit the stage. CES features every aspect of the tech sector.
Indeed, CES has been the venue for leading electronics companies to showcase their cutting-edge products and services, as well as a platform for business leaders and innovators to share their vision and views on prevailing issue.
Certainly, there is nothing short of innovation in products and of inspiring and informative presentations and speeches. I recall that my very first in-person speech by Bill Gates (then CEO of Microsoft) was at CES. Without exception, I have been dazzled every year by the extent and the breadth of new products and lively demonstrations. The exciting products displayed at the show are mind-boggling in terms of the ingenuity, creativity, innovation, and the phenomenal functionalities of end-use products.
IPC APEX EXPO, on the other hand, focuses on the packaging and assembly of the electronic circuit board that is the critical “brain” behind the electronic products that are used across all industry sectors, be it consumer, industrial, commercial, military, telecommunication, computing, or medical and health care sectors. The IPC APEX EXPO conference and exposition address real-world problems related to printed circuit boards.
According to the IPC APEX EXPO 2021 website:
- Attendees at all career stages can expect to access new material- and process-related research and best practices
- Learn more about trending materials, applications and processes to prepare for the Factory of the Future
- Interface with the collection of top suppliers
- Learn from new product demos
- Learn technical advances in technical sessions and professional development courses
- Network with colleagues
Over the years, countless professionals, engineers, managers and business-decision makers have unequivocally benefited by attending and participating in the IPC APEX EXPO. At IPC APEX EXPO 2021, there will be a comprehensive slate of professional development course offerings, ranging from circuit design and component technologies to PCB fabrication/materials and assembly processes to quality/test/inspection and reliability. Here, I would like to introduce two professional development courses I will be presenting that focus on preventing production defects and enhancing product reliability.
First Course: Preventing Manufacturing Defects and Product Failure
This course focuses on preventing the most prevailing production defects and product reliability issues that affect yield, cost and performance through an understanding of potential causes and plausible solutions. I will provide a holistic overview of product reliability, including the roles of materials, processes, testing/service conditions, and crucial principles behind the product reliability.
I will discuss two selected areas related to product failure:
- Tin whiskers
and five selected defects:
- PCB pad cratering vs. pad lifting
- BGA head-on-pillow
- Open or insufficient solder joints
- Copper dissolution issue
- Lead-free through-hole barrel filling
Specific defects associated with the reliability of BTC, PoP and BGA assembly will be highlighted. The role of intermetallics at-interface and in-bulk, and the difference between SnPb and Pb-free solder joint in terms of intermetallic compounds, will be concisely summarized.
From practical perspectives, tin whiskers with emphasis on risk mitigation through understanding the factors that affect tin whisker growth and its testing challenges will be outlined. The practical tin whisker criteria for reliability implications in the lead-free environment and the relative effectiveness of mitigating measures will be ranked.
Second Course: Reliability of Electronics—Role of Intermetallic Compounds
As intermetallic compounds (IMCs) play an increasingly critical role in the performance and reliability of solder interconnections in the chip level, package level and board level of lead-free electronics, the second course expands the content coverage on the role of intermetallic compounds in the reliability of electronic products.
This course covers the relevant and important aspects of intermetallic compounds ranging from scientific fundamentals to practical application scenarios. I will examine IMCs before solder joint formation, during solder joint formation and after solder joint formation in storage and during service. Intermetallics at-interface and in-bulk, as well as the role of PCB surface finish/component coating in relation to intermetallics, in turn, to reliability will be discussed. The difference between SnPb and Pb-free solder joints in terms of intermetallic compounds, which affects production-floor phenomena and the actual field failure, will be outlined. The course will also address the relevant aspects of newer lead-free alloys that were recently introduced to the market.
The virtual setting of the APEX EXPO 2021 will be unique. However, it is the intent to make my courses interactive and lively. More importantly, attendees are encouraged to bring their own issues relevant to the topics for deliberation; questions and comments are warmly welcomed.
On a lighter note, in this virtual environment, one unintended “fringe benefit” is that the sore feet caused by walking for many hours a day on the expansive and enticing show floor will be spared, while we still can see, learn, observe the exhibits, and interact with the exhibitors on the show floor through the virtual platform.
As I sifted through my previous writings related to IPC APEX EXPO, I want to share what I wrote in March 2001:
“Reflections from APEX 2001, “… As I strolled on the exhibit floor, Siemens proudly and confidently demonstrated their newest equipment that offers the capability and precision in handling 0201 components. With the robust market demand in wireless products, this is indeed the year to actually implement the ‘tiny’ 0201s—be prepared... Another real progress is the keen interest in the alloy selection, technology and applications of lead-free systems as vividly demonstrated across the industry. Actual operation of lead-free assembly production finally extends to the U.S. from the foreign market. A slow yet steady progress in this area is expected… There were many other examples on the show floor that are evidence of the continued technology advancement. At APEX my time ran out unnoticeably and I wish I could have spent more time on the floor…”
It's been 20 years since that column, and the “tiny” passive components such as 0201 and 01005 have been implemented successfully and continue the path on miniaturization, integration and embedded system. Lead-free alloys, having gone through converging to SAC alloy and then diverging to application-specific alloys, continue to advance and evolve.
This year, without reservation, I expect a variety of new products and frontier technologies to be exhibited; and I look forward to an exuberant, invigorating and enriching experience at IPC APEX EXPO and CES. (Note: This column was written just before CES, scheduled for Jan. 11-14.)
IPC APEX EXPO Presentations
- “Preventing Manufacturing Defects and Product Failure,” by Dr. Jennie S. Hwang, 9 a.m.-noon CST March 8.
- “Reliability of Electronics—Role of Intermetallic Compounds,” by Dr. Jennie S. Hwang, 2-5 p.m. CST March 8.
This column originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine.
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