The End of Lead-free Exemptions – How Will Critical Electronic Systems Cope?

Ready to go lead-free?When the EU’s RoHS legislation came into force in 2006, some product categories were exempted from specific aspects such as the demand for lead-free assembly; some had doubts about reliability and there was little if any long-term reliability data. Now, almost 10 years after RoHS’ introduction, some major exemptions are being phased out. Medical devices have been required to be fully RoHS compliant since 2014, while automotive electronics must come into line by 2016 and medical systems such as implantables and defibrillators by 2021. From an engineering point of view, these deadlines are extremely close.

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3D Viewing: A Miss for Movie Producers, but a Big Hit for X-Ray Inspection

Nordson DAGE XD7600NTOur last post mentioned the importance of making the right investments in equipment to remain competitive. Today’s economic conditions mean capital purchases always need a properly calculated justification. For the best return on investment, the chosen equipment should meet the company’s needs for some significant time into the future. It takes skill to make the right decision, considering the technology available in the marketplace, the financial outlay, and the company’s future needs.

X-ray inspection has become an important capability, which leading EMS businesses must possess. OEM customers are seeking greater assurances about every aspect of their assemblies, and new packages such as LGA and QFN, in addition to BGA, mean we need to be able to “see through” a higher proportion of ICs on any given board to verify the integrity of solder joints. With these packages, X-ray is the only inspection technology that can provide positive confirmation that all the joints are good.

At Active-PCB Solutions, we have recently invested in our second generation of automatic X-ray inspection (AXI) technology, to take advantage of the latest state-of-the-art equipment. Earlier, when we installed our very first AXI machine, we became one of the first EMS businesses in the UK to have X-ray capability. Now, our new Nordson-Dage XD7600NT puts us once again at the forefront of the industry with its built-in X-Plane® Analysis 3D-imaging capability.

This cutting-edge equipment captures the subject from multiple angles and constructs a detailed 3D digital model. We can then slice through the model to analyse any plane we choose, which gives more power than ever before to inspect solder joints and check for other issues such as damaged connections or hidden shorts that would be undetected by optical inspection. This helps us develop perfect processes by identifying issues and designing-out their causes long before the project is finalised for production.

The latest 3D equipment gives us immense capabilities. Large magnification factors and high resolution provide clear images even when inspecting the latest ultra-miniaturised packages. Unlike a basic 2D X-ray, which includes information from behind and in front of the plane of interest in the same image, the latest technology allows us to ignore other planes and so concentrate only on the features we need to inspect. And at the touch of a button we can colour-code regions according to their density, which provides a clear indication of solder joint quality.

We think we got the timing of our investment just right, including training our staff to get the best from the system. Customers in sectors such as automotive, aerospace and medical frequently specify 100% X-ray inspection of hidden pads on all boards, and we are able to capture the required images and store these with the data for each assembly to aid verification and future traceability.

We are still using our first AXI system; it is more than able to meet the needs of many existing projects. So not only have we added the latest AXI to our in-house capabilities, we have also increased total X-ray inspection capacity. Our new AXI should deliver a similar long-lasting return.

Find out more about our test and inspection services.

An Inconvenient Inevitability

Managing ObsolescenceThere seems to be a classic scene for almost everything these days: cars, music, lawn mowers, home computers. Even ageing chip designs like 74 series logic and the 555 timer are still widely used by engineers after decades in the market. Some application-specific standard ICs, on the other hand, have rather shorter lifetimes and are quickly superseded as new process technologies allow more features, less power, and smaller size.

This frequent updating, accompanied by obsolescence of the replaced components, is inevitable given the way the electronics industry works. However, it can be inconvenient – and worrying Continue reading