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Q: what changes in board level-assembly made the biggest impact in 2013?

Cliff Ortmeyer, Technical Marketing Manager for Newark element14

I believe one of the major advances in the realm of board level assembly has been in the promotion and accessibility of PCB assembly services available to the lower order tier segment. Many of us started making through-hole boards using blank copper boards with some etching solution and drilling our own holes. From there we progressed to surface mount components and the world of 0603 capacitors and resistors. As the packages have become smaller and leadless, the ability to spin our own boards has become increasingly difficult and expensive. On the other hand, I have seen more schematic/layout packages incorporate features that make the board fabrication and assembly processes more streamlined. As many of these packages are low or no cost, this has once again opened up the market for makers, hobbyists or engineers to begin making personal boards. The remaining hurdle has been cost and ease of fabrication and assembly. Many assembly houses now have lines dedicated to one-off or low-volume assembly. As a result, the cost of these services has come down to where the market has opened up dramatically. In turn, designers interested in making or marketing their own boards can now use crowdsourcing sites where users can post their ideas, get others to fund the assembly, and in turn, get circuits that are not currently available from any of the mainstream board/development kit sources. Even semiconductor suppliers have begun promoting self-made design and assembled boards. For instance, an initiative by one company encourages people to submit design ideas and make their own assembled boards. They have even gone as far as to use partner suppliers to showcase a step-by-step process where users can discuss ideas, get designs costed out, generate crowd sourced funding, and have boards built while sharing the cost. This model seems to work judging by the number of designs and web-based outlets that have grown over the last year.

Gijs Werner, Strategic Marketing Manager for TE Industrial's Automation & Control business unit

Machine assembly technology for all size orders (especially small sizes) and related advances in stencil printing capability significantly impacted board level assembly in 2013. The auto assembly field has benefitted tremendously from this progress. A major driver for these auto assembly changes came from advances in board packaging from active components like semiconductors--which we know have decreased in size significantly over the years, and which are being applied extensively now--meaning board packaging became smaller and required advances in auto-processing. Furthermore, advances in stencil printing capability allowed for smaller packages to be properly processed. With these developments process engineering became more important at the design stages, which yielded great results. From the beginning, auto assembly was aimed at high-volume production. However major advances have been made in efficient machines being able to handle low-volume production, which represents the majority of the high-mix, low-volume industrial market.

This has uncapped significant potential for second and third-tier OEMs who wanted to keep up with cost reductions, time to market, and higher density parts that are more accurate. This is supported by data from showing a steady increase in small runs and higher demand for smaller quantities in PCB assembly. Furthermore, auto assembly is now extensively being used for prototypes and very low-volume PCBs, which is essential to win in the current business environment.

Products and parts are getting smaller and more efficient, which is maximizing the potential of today's OEMs and their ability to develop more sophisticated boards. By extension, this improves margins in the industrial market. This can be attributed in large part to improvements in the manufacturing process, which has improved quality, reduced production costs and, by extension, improved the playing field and position for many smaller firms in the industrial world.

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Author:Panetta, Kasey
Publication:ECN-Electronic Component News
Article Type:Interview
Date:Dec 1, 2013
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