Caveat Lector

Mike Buetow

Organic solderability preservatives, or, if you prefer, organic surface protectants, or OSPs, have been with us for decades. Did you know more than 60% of the world’s boards use OSPs? They are in everything from smartphones to tablets to medical devices, airbags, and engine controls.

Major OEMs like Intel, Apple, Cisco, Continental, Bosch, Denso, and Hitachi Automotive are known to use them. Yet when engineers discuss their preferred finishes, OSPs tend to be on the outside looking in.

A new IPC task group is trying to bring an added layer of credibility to OSPs for high-temperature soldering by developing a standard, along with a series of test methods.

At a glance, OSPs have ample potential. Compared to metallic finishes, they are low-cost and offer much-sought-after surface coplanarity on the coated copper pads. They emerged in the 1980s as a replacement for hot air solder leveling, which was an omnipresent but more expensive, higher maintenance process. Because of their ability to produce thin, even coatings, OSPs seemed superior for assemblers working with advanced packages, and in some cases OSPs cut the cost of the finish up to 50% over HASL and even more versus finishes containing gold or silver. Major OEMs like Lucent adopted OSPs for a large percentage of their boards.

Read more: Will OSP Spec Finally Be Finished?

Mike Buetow

Some 13 years ago, UP Media Group launched the first virtual trade show for the electronics industry. In some ways – most, probably – we were ahead of the times. People liked it because it was simple to attend, but the platform wasn’t ready for prime time.

That’s not to say it was technically subpar. You could pop in and out of booths and talk to the personnel waiting for you, and I still feel for those folks who, driven by caffeine and excitement (or just an affinity for self-abuse), kept vigil around the clock as attendees in different time zones came on line and into the show. And we held webinars and chats with high-profile experts like Dr. Eric Bogatin. But in the end, attendees seemed to prefer meeting with peers face to face.

Covid-19 is injecting itself into almost every facet of our work and home lives, however, and we have to make some concessions to the times. As such, we have made the difficult but necessary decision to make PCB West a virtual event this year. The call was made following a survey of past attendees and talks with our more than 100 exhibitors.

Read more: Living in the Virtual World

Mike Buetow

How many greenfield fabrication plants do you think have been built in the US in the past 10 years?

I can think of three, and two of them were designed and built by the same person and corporate parent. There’s Whelen Engineering, the OEM that opened a captive shop in 2015. The brains behind that, Alex Stępiński, then designed and built GreenSource Fabrication, which launched in 2018. And perhaps we can count TTM’s new plant in Chippewa Falls, built in a converted 20-year-old, 40,000-sq. ft. warehouse and officially opened last winter.
Now we can add one more to the list. More surprising, an EMS company built it.

Last month Benchmark Electronics opened the doors to its 122,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art factory in Phoenix. The company, the fifth largest EMS in the US and 18th in the world according to the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Top 50, is known for putting components on boards, not making the substrates themselves. The new venture is a leap of faith, buoyed by the desire to control the product development from end to end.

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Read more: Bench Gets Vertical

Mike Buetow

We’ve spoken at length in these pages about the virtual factory. But what about the virtual factory tour?

By this, I don’t mean the flashy, MTV-style videos found on so many company websites today. Instead, a live plant tour, executed using cameras and PCs.

I have been studying manufacturers to determine whether, in the wake of the coronavirus surge, they are noticing changes in the way customers decide where to put production, and whether that’s a permanent change or a temporary fix. According to my unscientific sample, the answers are “yes” and “we’re not sure.”

Count Teresa Huber, president and chief executive of Intervala, among those seeing changes. The EMS company, which has sites in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, is substituting video conferencing for onsite meetings and in-person audits.

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