Quest for Reliability: Here We Go (Virtual) Again

It seems Santa was unable to bring me the one thing I asked for this Christmas: in-person conferences. Maybe what I really wanted was just for safe travels again, but the conference thing kind of rolls up under that umbrella. IPC APEX EXPO was the last conference I attended in person in 2020. I know asking to have it in person again is a lot to ask for (and we will get there), but for now, IPC APEX EXPO 2021 is going virtual.

For some reason, during most of 2020 I wasn’t the least bit interested in virtual conferences. I’ve sat in on many webinars over the years and didn’t think twice about the format, but conferences seem a lot different. How can I see the latest and greatest equipment? I remember, years ago, being in awe as I watched a pick-and-place placing 01005s by the thousands; sitting in meeting rooms discussing acceptance criteria; and learning about other companies’ test results looking into failure analysis. How can all of that be recreated over a Zoom call? As you well know by now, it can’t; but we can work with it this time around and hopefully we will all be back together for SMTAI in the fall. I’m buying the first round up in Minnesota come November. 

So how does the virtual IPC APEX EXPO tie in with reliability? It does by recommending we all get registered and sign up for the same technical sessions and professional development courses that you would if we were meeting in-person. One good thing about data is it stays the same no matter how it is presented.

Look at the IPC APEX EXPO 2021 website and you will see every aspect of PCBA manufacturing being covered by an industry expert. Review your process and see where you could make improvements, and then sign up for a related class. Everyone knows that it is quicker and cheaper to learn from someone else’s experience, and a conference like this is full of people who have experience with failure. That is a very valuable resource because they tend to write papers about what happened and how they fixed it.

There is no shortage of material combinations when you consider all the options, but in general, I would say the vast majority are pulling from a smaller pool. That increases the likelihood that someone will be discussing some way to improve your current process and quite possibly without adding any cost (outside the registration fee). This all speaks to the topic of reliability because with all the transferrable knowledge available you can take something you learn, apply it to your process, and see immediate results. It might not be some gigantic revelation that saves the product, but even minor tweaks to a process that is currently acceptable can further improve reliability—even for your product that “hasn’t ever had a problem,” but especially for those that “have always done it this way” and don’t see the failure coming.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial for IPC, I just wanted to highlight some of the seminars I see as having tremendous potential for value. Keep in mind the differences between Professional Development courses and Technical Conference Sessions, and how each are beneficial.

Professional Development
These courses are very in-depth, and last three to six hours. They are presented by well-known experts on the topic at hand and offer experience you never had an opportunity with. There are also options within the PD courses based on your level of experience. Some of these range from a thorough explanation of some of the basics of manufacturing up to the advanced level with detailed content and high-level discussion.

Technical Sessions
The tech sessions will normally have three speakers addressing the same topic from different angles. They don’t always go in depth, like the PD courses do, but there is almost always an opportunity after the sessions to communicate directly with the author for more information. In fact, this year there will still be live Q&A for all tech sessions. This gives you the chance to ask questions in real time with the presenter instead of trying to remember everything and follow up from an on-demand webinar situation. The schedule is packed so you will need to schedule your time wisely to take in everything you would like to. The “hallways” between session rooms are a lot shorter this year so it will be easier to go from one to the next. Based on what we see here in the lab, I would suggest PD courses that look at assembly challenges with bottom-terminated components, or BTCs. Even after about a decade we see many assembly issues related to BTCs. If you look for presentations on these components you’re likely to find just about as many as you would have found on transitioning to lead-free a week before July 2006.

On the other side of the assembly coin is a class on the topic of design for reliability. I have often thought that every designer should have hands on experience with assembling the hardware. When designers and assemblers work together with shared experience there should be fewer assembly challenges, which in turn, creates a more reliable product. I recommend the course on creating objective evidence related to J-STD-001 Section 8. This relatively new section of J-STD-001 is a hot topic within the industry because it essentially removes the acceptance criteria of ROSE testing for any new product. We get a lot of questions about this here as cleanliness testing is a big part of what we do. The course instructor is Doug Pauls, who, along with the help of an experienced and knowledgeable group of experts, wrote the section. If you have any questions, this course is a great opportunity to better explain the why and how related to those changes within the J-STD-001.

There is simply no shortage of topics when it comes to the tech sessions. You can learn about everything from raw components, printed circuit boards, and solder paste/flux all the way up to final packaging. With these being 90 minutes in length you have a chance to take in many topics and speakers in a short period of time.

IPC Task Group
There will still be IPC Task Group meetings but instead of packing 25 meetings into three days they will all take place virtually during March. While I would still prefer to take breaks from the meetings on that big veranda overlooking the San Diego Bay, the format this year will allow you more time to get involved in different types of groups. I have discussed these in the past as a great way to get involved with shaping guidance documents from the IPC that may directly impact your business. Group members have extensive experience with the document subject material and with each revision there is discussion about requirements, and a determination on whether the revision needs to be adjusted to reflect changes in the industry. If you are interested in joining one of these task groups simply reach out to the IPC and they can get you added.

My point is that while going virtual won’t be the same as being in San Diego this year, there are still so many opportunities to learn information that can increase reliability in your assembly. The internet will never replace seeing everyone in person, shaking hands, drinking adequate coffee for six hours, and hoping the next class has a cookie break, but we will just have to double up in Minnesota. Remember, I’m buying the first round.

This column originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine.

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2021

Quest for Reliability: Here We Go (Virtual) Again

02-05-2021

Santa Claus may not have granted a Christmas wish of in-person conferences, but there's still much to be gained from a virtual format. Eric Camden explains.

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2020

Quest for Reliability: Put Your Operators in the Driver’s Seat

12-15-2020

There are countless ways to optimize equipment and material to increase the quality and reliability of electronics. One part of the process that should receive an equal amount of time and attention is staffing and training, which is this month’s topic. Eric Camden examines the impact of operator proficiency and hiring people who are naturally inquisitive.

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Quest for Reliability: What’s Lurking in the Shadows?

10-05-2020

This month, Eric Camden focuses on contamination relocation—a term he mostly uses when testing a PCBA that has gone through some sort of localized cleaning process after a manual or selective soldering operation. He also highlights localized cleaning that is performed correctly and incorrectly and the impact on cleanliness and reliability.

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Quest for Reliability: Reliability Starts at the Bottom

09-02-2020

It is much cheaper to perform product-specific reliability testing before the product goes into the field. Eric Camden shares some testing recommendations based on failure analysis, as well as lessons learned from a few of our customers over the years using case studies and data on failed units.

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Quest for Reliability: Correlating COVID-19 With Reliability?

06-01-2020

I submit this month’s column from my secure bunker while safely—and smartly, if I may say so myself—practicing social distancing. The word quarantine is more “popular” than ever in that I hear it upward of 4,562 times per day. Before COVID-19, the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard the word “quarantine” was the cages in the receiving area for non-conforming products or similar spaces for built hardware that doesn’t pass some sort of inline test.

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Quest for Reliability: New Solder, Same Old Testing

05-20-2020

Solder is inarguably one of the required building blocks for electronic assemblies and, apart from a few exotics, every assembly in the world has it. When it comes to meeting the lead-free requirement, opinions and historical reliability data are not taken into consideration. Eric Camden explores testing and reliability related to solder.

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Quest for Reliability: Improving Reliability for Free

04-14-2020

Eric Camden has seen more than a few factories make the move to use more and more automation that has indeed improved production numbers but has done very little to address cleanliness and reliability. In this column, he offers up a few easy steps you can take to reduce risks.

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Quest for Reliability: Big Trouble Comes in Tiny Packages

02-03-2020

When it comes to making consumers happy and electronic assemblers miserable, nothing achieves both quite like miniaturization. With our ever-increasing demands to house a full-size movie theater with surround sound and limitless digital storage in the palm of our hands, the only way for CMs to respond is with miniaturization (and cursing—lots of cursing). In this installment, I’ll revisit the history of shrinking packaging and lessons learned.

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Quest for Reliability: Sunshine and Circuit Boards

01-02-2020

IPC APEX EXPO may be over, but this column by Eric Camden serves as a great introduction to IPC standards. If you've been thinking about getting involved with manufacturing and assembly standards but weren't sure how to go about it, this column is a must-read for you.

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2019

Quest for Reliability: Voices Carry

12-06-2019

The title of Eric Camden’s column this month is “Voices Carry,” so not only is it a great chance to revisit the wonderfully written, top-10 hit song by ‘Til Tuesday/Aimee Mann, but it is also a good opportunity to share the voices of modern electronics and electronic assembly processes.

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Quest for Reliability: Old Dogs, New Tricks

12-02-2019

I hear two phrases way too often on a production floor: “We have always done it this way,” and its first cousin, “We have been building this board for 20 years and never had a problem.” Inevitably, these phrases are always uttered by a “seasoned” engineer in the industry that probably should know better. Don’t get me wrong, these phrases are going a long way in my effort to send two kids to college, but they aren’t very helpful regarding reliability. Times change, and technology changes even faster, and if you don’t keep up, you will be left behind. This means focusing on emerging technologies and the associated risk that may be unique to that package.

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Quest for Reliability: Artificial Reliability Over Intelligence

11-26-2019

As the industry begins to shift from standard design tools to artificial intelligence (AI), reliability might be overlooked in an effort to build “smarter.” Over the last few years, the desire to manufacture anything and everything for less has included removing humans from as many positions as possible. There are a couple of viewpoints, and I can see positives in both.

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Quest for Reliability: Reliability by the Book

11-04-2019

Having been in electronics for just shy of 20 years, I can say that the next time we work on a Class I failure analysis project, it will pretty much be the first. Class I electronics serve a different purpose in life, and if they fail, it’s normally not a big deal; instead, it’s mainly a minor inconvenience. In this month’s column, I’ll speak to specifications for Class I, II, and III products per IPC definitions as well as the IPC standards process.

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Quest for Reliability: SMTAI 2019 Thoughts

10-16-2019

Before I headed to Rosemont, I was a little skeptical if it would be worth it for me, considering the lack of task groups that had become my SMTAI/IPC APEX EXPO focus. But after three days of sessions (and a somewhat impressive third-place showing at the SMTA trivia night), I was reminded of why I went to SMTAI in the first place: to learn about the newest technology and how to address age-old problems that are ever-evolving in this era of miniaturization.

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Sealing Your Fate

08-16-2019

Coating does not always prevent failures; it is just as important to look at your cleanliness levels just as you would with an assembly that is not bound for coating. If you have a dirty assembly, you might be buying a little time, but ultimately, you've sealed your own fate.

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Quest for Reliability: The F Word

07-19-2019

The word "failure" is as nasty as it gets in our world. It goes against everything we thought we knew. All contract manufacturing facilities strive to build a reliable product, or at least they all should. The problem is too many companies hope they are building reliable products without doing the work required to ensure they are.

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Quest for Reliability: These Darn Kids/Back in My Day

04-24-2019

This month’s topic is focused on youth, both in terms of humans and technologies. I think these two topics go together since they rely on each other to a large degree. The latter has more than likely shaped or even invented by the former.

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How Smart Is Your Factory?

04-03-2019

When you plan a production facility with the mindset that connectivity and optimization will be key aspects of your operation, it will pay dividends in the form of lower production cost, better traceability, and higher reliability.

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The Cost of Quality and the Higher Cost of Failure

03-13-2019

If you are shopping a new product around to multiple contract manufacturers (CMs), and if all other things in two separate CMs are equal including price and delivery times but one offers a more comprehensive ongoing quality monitoring system, why wouldn't you go with that one? You usually pay some type of premium for the CM that has an overall quality monitoring system that goes beyond just ICT or bench level testing. Definitely, most CMs will give you some sort of assurance that the product is working as it leaves the facility, but if one has a mindset that more than basic testing is required to show reliability, you will more than likely have fewer field failures.

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2018

Does Medical Device Reliability Worry You Sick?

12-06-2018

When you are manufacturing high-reliability assemblies related to medical industry, it is critical to take a very close look at the assembly process and all other processes that can influence the end-use reliability—even seemingly unrelated processes, such as post-installation cleaning—as it really could be a matter of life or death.

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Are You Connected to Reliability?

10-30-2018

The need for communication between every operator on the manufacturing floor can be a critical difference between a reliable piece of hardware and one that presents some level of unexpected performance. This column highlights a few things happening in the shop floor, such as as touch-up soldering and third shift issue, not commonly communicated, which can cause performance issues.

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Are Megatrends Putting Your Product at Megarisk?

10-03-2018

It took 38 years for radio to get 50 million users, television made it in 13 years, Internet in four, iPod in three, and Facebook in only two years. What these numbers mean to our industry is the need to create electronics at blazing speeds that we haven’t seen before. But how will it affect reliability? Read on.

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Cleaning a No-clean Flux: The Worst Decision You’ve Ever Made?

09-04-2018

There are a few reasons to choose to clean a no-clean flux, such as when the PCB assembly requires conformal coating, or when probes are required for testing. Other than that, there seems to be no need to clean a no-clean flux. This column tells you more.

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Contamination: The Enemy of Electronics

07-18-2018

Welcome to the first installation of “Quest for Reliability.” The goal behind this column is to use my experience at an independent laboratory for over 18 years to help readers understand PCBA reliability issues, and more importantly, prevent suspect conditions in the first place. The laboratory I work in has served every sector of the electronics industry, from oil and gas equipment designed to function miles below the surface of the earth, to aerospace companies and everywhere in between.

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