We see it all the time, someone has a great idea of how to implement emerging technologies, such as interposer integration, 3D IC, or even high density interconnect (HDI) printed circuit boards, (PCBs) and invests lots of money to develop complex products, only to fail because they chose the wrong supplier, don’t really understand their needs, or worst of all, were sold a bill of goods. We call it the emerging technology start up dilemma.

In an upcoming presentation at the Silicon Valley IEEE CMPT Chapter Luncheon titled, How Well Do you Know your local SMT, EMS and IC package suppliers?, Tom Clifford and I will offer solutions to a typical emerging technology start-up team’s dilemma: the startup has an idea and rudimentary design for a great new product, but no clue how to manufacture it. Typically, the product embodies new technology (2.5-3D, HDI PCBs, etc). Volumes are low, time is short, and surprises can doom the enterprise. These startups can spring from labs or garages, innocent of manufacturing or process development resources; or can be maverick R&D elements arising within a big corporation sporting rigid high-volume forecast-driven procurement protocols, entrenched off-shore suppliers with fixed infrastructure, and zero adaptability, all hostile to innovation.

These startups need guidance, but they might not realize that. They need to know what they don’t know, what processes and expertise they require, what resources are available. They may need full-service partners offering integrated design/manufacturability software, new-technology procurement experience, a suite of process equipment expertise, testing capability, QC systems, full box-build capability, and the capacity to expand to high volume. In contrast, the start-up team might have a simple task, a basket-full of nicely kitted-out boards and components, and need only a board-stuffing shop or the next-gen equivalent. In any case, a ”back to the drawing board” or “we gotta find another supplier” can spell disaster for the enterprise: money is lost, backing evaporates, and the market escapes. Tom and I will discuss these issues and offer some guidance, based on many years experience on both sides of the counter, some successes, and a few scars and burnt knuckles.

First, the startup’s situation must be explored: business structure, time frame, volume now and anticipated future; maturity of design and process; incoming components’ qualification; just boards or full box-build and test; special systems required (clean-room, ESD, environmental control); industry or customer spec compliance; engineering experience available or needed, etc. The next step is to survey (phone calls, internet, etc) potential supplier partners, to identify candidates, to narrow the field.

Typically the follow-on step, based a well-crafted RFQ, is a detailed audit of the selected candidate shops. This typically starts with an executive sit-down to ascertain: business structure? size? executive/professional staffing? facilities? typical customers/markets, quality status (ISO 9001 or equivalent)? capacity now and future? capital requirements to comply with the required process capability and testing … especially 2.5 D to 3D packaging? tech resources deployable for this job? availability of design assistance with integrated manufacturability software? and other top-level and contract-language elements.

Next comes a walk-through of the shop, more detailed, conducted with staff engineers and/or supervisors. This will include review of the operators’ and techs’ experience/ training/ certifications, especially the newest assembly processes; testing protocols: incoming components, in-process after each operation, final (functional, X-ray, acoustic, sacrificial x-section/destruct); isolation of different customers’ components, WIP, and final product; separation of in-test, reject and MRB items, ESD protocols (wrist straps, conductive booties and flooring); clean-room and HEPA filtering; personnel access control; need for dummy components, etc.

We will wrap this all up with recommended investigative steps, an offer of detailed shop floor check-lists, and guidance on suitability decisions. You won’t want to miss this informative luncheon. Register here. ~ P.M.

Phil Marcoux

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