Vapor-Phase-Photo-750K

Vapor Phase: Enhancing the Reflow Process to Yield Consistent, High Quality Results

Vapor-Phase-Photo-750KVapor Phase (VP) reflow process continues to soar to new heights, with advancements in the overall technology of the equipment and software, creating new capabilities, reliable yields, and high quality results. With a growing demand for higher reflow temperatures for lead free soldering, miniaturization of the PCBA and the components, and an increasing mix of different thermal mass components on the same board, there has been a resurgence in the need for VP systems.

Use the Advantages to Improve Your Product

VP provides optimal heat transfer capabilities, offering an excellent tool for easy and gentle reflow soldering for lead free and leaded product. When using conventional reflow systems for lead free products, the board temperature is required to rise up to 30-35°C higher than the solder’s melting point. In the VP system, this same process can be done with only 5-10°C over the melting point of the solder paste. This advantage becomes a must on ATE and other large mass boards with high density components.

VP technology has evolved over time, and now there is a great deal of control on the profiles. The latest evolution of these machines offers user-controlled soldering with freely adjustable temperature gradients and profiles. It can heat large masses evenly and quickly while the peak temperature is controlled, making it a great fit for assemblies with a large variable of thermal mass components on one board.

The Vapor in the VP systems, like all gases, equally fills out a given sphere. The equal temperature distribution over the boards automatically provides this physical effect, while in a convection oven, the cross profile can vary in temperature. The physical limitation of the maximum temperature in a VP system does not require further controlling mechanisms to avoid overheating. These quality features provide the highest benefits in long-term reliability of the PCBA and produces great results for lead free solder processing.

Get the Best Results with an Experienced Team

Despite the great advancements in VP systems for both control and profiling, just like any other tool or technology, it requires knowledge and experience to efficiently use the equipment, know when to make the appropriate adjustments, and to yield the highest quality results. For these reasons, VP reflow processing is not widely used in the industry and not many companies can readily offer this solution.

Streamline Electronics Manufacturing, Inc. (SEM) has been invested in VP technologies for many years, processing a range of complex boards through VP on a daily basis. The SEM Team is committed to the constant education and improvement in the use of this equipment to better serve our customers and the ever changing requirements they have. SEM is ready and prepared to tackle any type of board that will require Vapor Phase. Our customers can have confidence in our experience and proven track record to ensure top quality and yield every time.

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ATE Load Board

Ensure Speed and Quality from Your CM in ATE/ Load Board Manufacturing

ATE Load BoardDesigning, fabricating, and assembling Automated Test Equipment (ATE)/Load boards is a specialized industry requiring an experienced team in all areas of planning, engineering, production, and quality. Many suppliers may claim an ability to produce this type of product, but in reality, most are unprepared for the complex designs and the special process requirements needed to successfully build these boards. Selecting the right partner for processing ATE products is a key to successful execution of your projects.

Apples to Oranges Manufacturing

Not everyone can design a load board, they must have experience and in-depth knowledge of the industry and product; the same goes for the fabrication and assembly of these boards. For example, designers with vast experience with telecom products might have extensive experience, but it may not transfer for a board intended for a pacemaker. Likewise, a manufacturer of cellphone PCBA may not have the required tools for the assembly of load boards. When vetting your Contract Manufacturer (CM), ask for apples to apples examples of their work. Be very clear about your expectations,and request examples illustrating that they can accommodate the details of your project and timeline. Typically, you supply a large amount of documentation for a project once you choose a CM, but during initial conversations, be sure to share key details of your project to choose the right CM for the right project.

Troubleshooting with Ease

Load boards used in the semiconductor chip testing process on ATE are heavy, large, and thick boards with an average layer count of over 40 layers and include complex packages with high component counts. The design of load boards is a complex process in which the scope of the design is comprehensive, but with many process limitations. Due to the multitude of challenges, the design engineers often end up compromising Design for Manufacturing (DFM) rules for both Printed Circuit Board (PCB) fabrication and assembly in order to achieve their desired end results. If not addressed prior to fabrication, DFM compliance issues can result in boards that need rework, fail testing, don’t function properly in the end product, or require a design change.

Ultimately, DFM rules compromised by the designer may mean an unavoidable delay in the manufacturing process and the overall schedule. Too often these errors are not discovered until fabrication, assembly, or testing, at which point, time must be added for rework or even re-design.

While it’s impossible to plan for every set back, by inquiring about your CM’s experience with manufacturing load boards, addressing design challenges, and how they minimize the impact of a potential error, you will have a better understanding of their comfort level with your project. Each CM is different, and there is a clear difference between a reactive and proactive error resolution workflow.

Asking questions to vet your next CM can make the difference between a high quality, successful product or DOA boards. CMs committed to their customers will be happy to answer your questions and ensure that their partnership with you will be a productive one.

About the Author

Shahab Jafri is the President and CEO of Streamline Electronics Manufacturing, Inc. (SEM). SEM has been building load boards for the largest leaders in the industry for over 10 years and has been a reliable CM in the Silicon Valley for more than 23 years. SEM’s team processes hundreds of load boards per month on one, two, and three day turns, while maintaining superb quality and reliability of all products. Shahab is the key innovator at SEM in the area of process development and quality management, and in this role regularly evaluates the equipment, personnel and software used to achieve the most efficient, cost effective, high yield outcomes for SEM’s clients.

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Female electronic engineer checking electronic circuit in laboratory

Reducing DFA Review Time & Maximizing NPI Daily Output

Female electronic engineer checking electronic circuit in laboratory

SEM team members trained on one simple environment with Valor Process Preparation. This ensures that, no matter who is available for the shift, all elements of the line programming and delivery are adequately covered.

SEM incorporates Valor to enhance control of data in manufacturing processes.

Shahab Jafri, President of Streamline Electronics Manufacturing (SEM), and his team work under high pressure and at a breakneck pace—this is the environment that a company endures when processing multiple new product introductions (NPIs) every day. SEM is a strategic manufacturing partner of Harbor Electronics who contracts with semiconductor companies to build load boards that are designed and used to test chips on automated testing equipment (ATE). Each load board is unique to the particular chip being tested—a new product every time—and the chip engineers want the boards ready to go, with 100% yield and no “dead-on-arrivals,” in just a few days. The time spent using equipment to test the chips is expensive, and ATEs are in high demand.

SEM faced multiple challenges in their quest to deliver high-quality, zero-defect load boards with this short turn-around time. Shahab’s team runs multiple NPI projects daily. Beginning with the raw PCB data from their customer, SEM engineers must perform a thorough design for assembly (DFA), program the SMT lines, including assembly, test, and inspection and then ship the finished high quality product to the customer in just two to three days.

Because SEM’s customers need such a quick turnaround with high yield for their test boards, early detection of issues is the only way to prevent costly delays. Previously, with limited early detection, assembly issues caused by designs that did not take the manufacturing process into account were found and resolved while the boards were in the process of being built, adding to the cost of the board and impacting delivery schedules. Design of the load boards is a complex process in which scope of the design is comprehensive but with many process limitations. Design engineers often compromise DFA rules for both PCB fabrication and assembly processes to achieve their desired design requirements. Because of the lack of proper design-for-assembly (DFA) analysis during the design process, manufacturing issues commonly crop up during the assembly process.

Additionally, the SEM team receives CAD and BOM data from their customers in a multitude of formats. They then use the data they received from their customers to perform DFA, write programs for the SMT, inspection, and test equipment, create electronic work instructions, and produce stencils. All of these processes have their own file formats and programming methods, so the process of going from multiple data input formats to multiple data output formats was daunting. In addition, the process of managing engineering change orders (ECOs) was a challenge because the SEM team had to constantly double-check that all changes on the input correctly propagated downstream to all the various output systems and formats.

“Communication, quick response, high quality, and support of our customers is critical to our business. The Valor solution has allowed us to become more responsive to our customers’ needs as well as to increase the quality of the product we deliver, driving toward the ultimate goal of zero-defects, ever.

Valor’s solution has helped us to work smarter, quicker, more efficiently, and with greater control by automating and consolidating a multitude of processes that were previously managed with less efficiency. The result of all this effort with Valor is time saved, money saved, quality improved, and ultimately a much more satisfied customer.”

Shahab Jafri, President, SEM Inc.

The SEM team realized they needed a better solution. They evaluated various solutions, but it was only until they evaluated the Valor Process Preparation suite for PCB assembly that they found a complete solution. The Valor Process Preparation solution allowed SEM to implement a single process for customer data consolidation and validation, DFA analysis, SMT/inspection/test programming, electronic work instruction generation, stencil design, and ECO management, all within a single environment.

Within a short time of installing and using the Valor Process Preparation solution, SEM realized a significant return on their investment in not only tangible cost savings but also with the intangible increase in quality and confidence in delivering a superior product to their customers. With Valor’s Process Preparation solution, the SEM team is able to receive any data format regardless of the CAD tool used for design. With Valor’s DFA tool, they are able to catch potential assembly problems before even starting the assembly process. In two instances, SEM found and remedied major assembly issues that would have been detected two weeks down the road. This saved both SEM and their customer a substantial amount of time and money and avoided product delays. Previously, the only way to find these issues would have been to build the boards and find the errors through testing and/or failure in the field.

The Valor Process Preparation suite also allows SEM to use one software solution to program all of their SMT, inspection, and test equipment reducing the number of separate third-party applications from four to one. The realized benefit is a reduction in SMT line programming and elimination of errors caused by the synching of revised program generation from multiple systems for ECO changes. Also, using the Process Preparation solution, in conjunction with the Valor Parts Library (VPL), allows SEM to automatically generate new shapes for their SMT equipment for new parts they receive in NPI’s saving hours of hand creation per NPI.

All in all, SEM has been able to drastically reduce the time required starting from receiving customer data all the way to starting the assembly process. This is a substantial saving in time and effort previously experienced by SEM before implementing the Valor solution.

The input to Valor Process Preparation includes most commercially offered CAD formats as well as Gerber, IPC2581, and ODB++. The ability to bring in any CAD format and automatically generate ODB++ is a plus for SEM and the fabrication team; the test platform they use prefers the ODB++ format and this helps to normalize the process with other entities, reducing time and eliminating errors.

SEM was able to replace multiple systems for programming SMT, inspection, test, creating work instructions, and stencil management with one system that has a simple user interface and flow. This not only allows for a significant reduction in time spent on these tasks but also ensures that all processes can be performed by multiple people. Previously, specific personnel were assigned to the specific programming or data generation tasks in the process. If a person was out sick or, worse, if there was attrition in the company, then that left a big gap in their ability to move a customer’s product through the assembly-line. Now, SEM has all of the team members trained on one simple environment with Valor Process Preparation. This ensures that, no matter who is available for the shift, all elements of the line programming and delivery are adequately covered.

After a month and a half of implementing Valor Process Preparation, the SEM team was able to quickly review upcoming assemblies and detect possible issues ahead of time, which is absolutely critical for their fast turn-around NPI environment. Managing data through one tool makes it not only easier and faster to process assemblies but also enables more effective management of ECOs throughout the process. SEM has also modified their workflow with their customers to receive data one to two weeks ahead of time so that the team can perform a more detailed DFA analysis and allow the customer to make the required changes to the design with no delay in the NPI process. SEM is now able to implement central data generation through Valor, from solder paste inspection to surface mount technology (SMT) assembly to automated X-ray and optical inspection and to test, as well as work instructions and stencil.

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