Lead-Free Assembly: Greatest Shake-up is Yet to Come
BY PATRICK TRIPPEL
For component producers to respond successfully to the challenges of the lead-free era, material suppliers must do more for customers than many have even considered or are able to deliver.
Out of all the groups in the supply chain, it is the component producers that shoulder the greatest burden as the industry migrates to lead-free. Historically,
the component manufacturers largely accepted the responsibility for ensuring compatibility between packaging materials and developing their own custom specifications where available off-the-shelf material compositions have not met their criteria. Some 30 years of near total stability, in terms of the relevant surface mount assembly process parameters, have allowed this to happen. As a result, material suppliers have become reactive: here is the product; take it or leave it.
Lead-free is making this state of affairs untenable. The entire industry needs to re-acquire vast quantities of data to requalify material sets for the new generation of lead-free packages. There are hundreds of man-years of effort involved in assessing the interactions between solders, fluxes, adhesives, encapsulants, overmolds, thermal materials and underfills.
As material suppliers, we must relieve our customers of the need to find the time, facilities and expertise to requalify new material sets. This simply must happen, both to meet the legal frameworks in place for lead-free assembly and to respond to the competitive pressures that demand a fast time to market. But what's spoiling the party is that most suppliers will only stand behind their own product, and do not have the capability to provide full material sets. This is no way to reassure customers of the interactions between the materials they are being asked to combine. Yet it is vital that these materials work together as a set.
There are only two solutions: the first is that we revert to the old model, forcing component assemblers to take the responsibility for testing upon themselves or commission independent consultants to characterize material sets and develop material specifications. This is a non-starter; there is far too much work to do before 2006 to make it feasible for more than a handful of dominant OEMs and outsource specialists. The other way is for material suppliers to offer complete material sets, tested, and guaranteed compatible. Most material suppliers are not capable of delivering such a service. Yet, I believe it is essential if the industry is to meet its obligations come the arrival of enforceable lead-free legislation.
Suppliers successfully integrating their customer support initiatives with applications effort and product development will be best placed to acquire and quickly disseminate the knowledge that will allow component manufacturers to have the best chance of responding to lead free. And any such effort must have truly global scope and reach, if it is to deliver the level of service the world's component industries need.
Henkel Technologies, for example, is expanding its research laboratories network, with centers in Southern California, Munich, Singapore, Seoul, Yokohama and Kaohsiung. And we are about to open another new lab in China. These centers are strategically located near important customer clusters, thereby delivering a fast and effective localized customer support service. They are also tightly integrated as an application and product development network, to create a technical capability closely coupled with customer support activities.
We are talking about changing the mindset of our customers, to have them expect materials suppliers to offer more extensive capabilities, higher levels of expertise, greater responsiveness and the ability to deliver a turnkey, fully compatible material set for each emerging requirement. In return, the manufacturers also must accept this need for closer partnerships by working with their materials partners from the earliest possible stages of package design.
Only this way can we, as materials specialists, meet the time-to-market, cost-effectiveness, productivity, efficiency and quality demands of tomorrow's markets. But only those suppliers with the capability to provide meaningful input from the beginning, with a knowledge base and data available on a global level, will be able to play their part to the full.
PATRICK TRIPPEL, president, may be contacted at Henkel Technologies Electronics Division, 15051 E. Don Julian Road, Industry, CA 91746; (626) 968-6511; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.