Material Sets: The Next Outsourcing Trend
The never-ending quest to reduce manufacturing costs while still maintaining fast product development cycles and delivering reliable products is a dilemma that faces all electronics manufacturers. This conundrum is even more prevalent as semiconductor packaging and PCB assembly companies move into the “green” and lead-free-compliant manufacturing models, which generally come at a higher price.
To maintain a competitive advantage, semiconductor packaging companies are dealing with an average time-to-market window of approximately 8 months. In this short product development cycle, packaging specialists must design, prototype, test, and build new products with guaranteed materials compatibility and long-term reliability.
Consider this scenario: an engineer has to design a new package, and three different materials on the package must be compatible. Typically, samples for each of those materials would be sourced from two or three different suppliers, giving the engineer more than nine different sets of materials requiring various levels of reliability testing. As time and cost pressures continue to squeeze manufacturers’ bottom lines, the resources for all of the equipment, testing, and manpower needed to run and analyze these parts create costly overhead - overhead that is slowly being eliminated.
Packaging companies continue to reduce their internal engineering staff responsible for proving out the reliability of various component packages. With diminished manpower, the question is how these top manufacturers are maintaining their competitive edge in new product development. The answer is outsourcing - they are looking to suppliers who can provide the technical expertise, facilities, and time to qualify, test, and guarantee compatible material sets for use in these next-generation packages.
While outsourcing product design and manufacturing has been well-established for many years, companies are also beginning to consider the benefits of minimizing the internal effort required to select, evaluate, and qualify materials used for semiconductor packaging and PCB assembly. Many electronic device manufacturers are partnering with electronics materials suppliers who can provide them with products designed to work together as a reliable material set; supported by a unified global applications group. This eliminates the need for significant and multiple vendor and product evaluations.
The value of this approach must also be analyzed carefully, as the benefit of one vendor supplying multiple materials is only useful if that supplier can provide true cost reduction through engineering expertise, compatible materials-set testing, reliability testing, state-of-the-art facilities, and complete global support. Having all of these factors in place can ensure the customer of the desired end-result: reduced product development cycles of robust, reliable products at a significantly lower cost.
Generally speaking, most materials companies are driven by one core technology, rather than the diverse needs within a set of assembly processes. For example, a company may have a large presence in organic die-attach, but not in any other closely related, semiconductor component-assembly segment, such as mold compound or liquid underfill. This can present significant challenges to the end-user, as it is critical for these materials to function as set of adhesives or encapsulants. Without that knowledge, the value of the supplier to the customer is limited. It is imperative that the materials supplier not only offer a full range of materials - from die-attach and mold compound to underfills, adhesives, and soldering materials - but can also provide global support and robust material-set development capabilities for particular product priorities.
Suppliers that can successfully integrate customer support initiatives with applications, effort, and product development will be in the best position to fully support the growing materials set outsourcing trend of semiconductor and electronics assembly companies. Customers should expect their materials suppliers to offer more extensive capabilities, high levels of expertise, and the ability to deliver fully compatible materials sets for each emerging package requirement.
Only those suppliers with the capability to partner with customers from the very beginning of product development cycles, and deliver cost-effective technology and full product support on a global level, will be able to succeed as the industry transitions to more challenging technologies.
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.