Printed Circuit Design & Fab Circuits Assembly January 2023 cover
January 2023
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December 2022 • VOL. 39 • NO. 12
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First Person
AI takes on the future of PCBs.
Mike Buetow
money matters
Keep calm and focus on the basics of business.
Peter Bigelow
Get the best prices from vendors in the new year.
Greg Papandrew
Tech Talk
PCB design has seen another shift thanks to the pandemic.
John Burkhert, Jr.
Going green will take more than electric cars.
Alun Morgan
Enhancing customer communication to solve defects.
Jorge Pena
Accurate quoting takes more than a simple spreadsheet.
Robert Boguski
January 2023 • VOL. 40 • NO. 1
Printed Circuit Design and Fab Circuits Assembly logo
When it comes to PCB assembly and producibility, many details need to be accounted for, and if some of those details are not considered early in the design process, they turn into a nightmare when it comes time for manufacturing.
by Stephen Chavez, MIT, CID+, CPCD
Wet Processing
Sustainability has become a buzzword in the printed circuit board industry – along with every other industry – and customers are looking for process changes that can reduce their impact on the environment. A comparison of energy, water and chemical use for electroless copper plating and direct metallization.
by Lenora Clark
Solder Materials
High-power LEDs provide much higher levels of light output and performance compared to traditional LEDs, but they also generate a large amount of heat in a small area, meaning high-melting and high-reliable solders are necessary for assembly. A look at the characteristics of different flux vehicles to determine the best 80Au20Sn paste offerings for high-power LEDs.
by Jenny Gallery and Thuy Nguyen
EMS Company of the year
With the ink barely dry on its merger with Firstronic, the CIRCUITS ASSEMLY Service Excellence Award winner opens a new factory in France that – it hopes – will be a model for sustainable volume manufacturing in higher-labor-cost regions.
by Mike Buetow
Printed Circuit Design & Fab Circuits Assembly January 2023 cover
Industry 4.0: What It Is, and What It’s NoT
ECAD Collaboration Tools
SMT Assembly Equipment for Low-Volume Applications
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Tara Dunn, vice chairman
Justin Fleming, secretary
Gary Ferrari, chairman emeritus

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Tomas Chester
Michael Creeden
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Keep an Eye on AI


Y NOW YOU probably have heard of ChatGPT. This new artificial intelligence program mimics conversations and language in a way the general public has never seen. Per its website, its developers trained an initial model using “supervised fine-tuning”; in other words, humans provided conversations in which they acted as both user and AI “assistant.” Model-written suggestions were used to help compose their responses.

After several iterations and refinements, ChatGPT was rolled out in November and has, as they say, gone viral.

Because I’m curious that way, I had to see for myself how this worked. So I logged in at and waited patiently for my turn – it is often at capacity. After a few hours, a slot opened and I fired my first shot: What is the future of printed circuit boards?

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Around the World

PCDF People

Garmin promoted Aaron Parker to senior printed circuit board designer.

Google named Brian Riley PCB design engine at its Augmented Reality division.

Lockheed Martin promoted Steven Bowles to associate fellow.

Around the World

Simmtech to Fast-Track Penang Production Line Expansion
BATU KAWAN, MALAYSIA – Simmtech Holdings is set to expand its production line in Penang, Malaysia through its Malaysia-based subsidiary, Sustio. The $50 million expansion is expected to be completed this quarter, and will double the facility’s HDI PCB production capacity while creating an additional 400 full-time jobs.

Simmtech opened its $120 million Penang factory earlier this year, and the decision to expand the facility earlier than originally planned shows the company’s management team’s determination to invest in Malaysia, said Simmtech SE Asia Managing Director Jeffery Chun.

Around the World
Icape Group Acquires MMAB Group
FONTENAY-AUX-ROSES, FRANCE – Icape Group, a global distributor of printed circuit boards, has acquired 100% of the shares in the Sweden-based MMAB Group.

MMAB Group is a manufacturer and distributor of PCB for small quantities and prototypes on an express delivery basis, with activities mainly focused on Scandinavia. In addition to its Northern European operations – consisting of a production factory and headquarters – the group has two subsidiaries in Eastern Europe – one in Hungary and the other in the Czech Republic – as well as a sourcing and logistics facility in China.

With more than 200 active customers in the automotive, railway, defense and medical industries, MMAB Group saw revenues of SEK 132 million ($12.7 million) and an EBITDA of nearly SEK 20 million ($1.9 million) over the past year.

Around the World

ECIA Publishes Publishes China Tariff Avoidance and Recovery Process Document

ATLANTA – The ECIA’s Global Industry Practices Committee (GIPC) has published a document to update members on best practices as companies in the electronic components industry respond to the shifting political landscape regarding China tariffs.

The China Tariff Avoidance and Recovery Process Update document offers an outline of what the GIPC recommends to members about current practices in this arena. The document explains several pathways for tariff avoidance and recovery, with specific suggestions for how to evaluate this complex issue. The intent is to enable companies to compare their current processes with identified best practices and make adjustments as required.

“Four years ago, this Committee collected input from ECIA component manufacturer and distributor members with the goal of identifying and sharing the most efficient processes for Tariff Avoidance and Recovery based on the previous administration’s tariff policies,” explained Don Elario, vice president of Industry Practices, ECIA. “With the Biden administration currently reviewing the tariffs, we revisited that document and updated it with best practices learned over the last four years.”

The updated China Tariff Avoidance and Recovery Process document is available only to ECIA members.

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CA People

Benchmark named Chris Lentz senior director of supply chain.

Michael Pliska Headshot

ECD hired Michael Pliska as director of engineering. He has a master’s in physics and an MBA from Portland State University and extensive electronics experience.

Claire Hotvedt Headshot

Indium promoted Claire Hotvedt to senior product development specialist. She joined Indium in 2018 as a research technologist, and later became product development specialist.

Raj Kumar Headshot

Northrup Grumman named Raj Kumar senior staff engineer, Materials & Process, PCB SME. He spent the previous seven years at TTM Technologies as vice president, technology solutions, and previously was vice president of technology at Viasystems.

Jeff Mogensen Headshot

Panasonic North America named Jeff Mogensen regional sales manager. He has held high-level sales management positions at Saki, Parmi, Speedline Technologies and Amistar, among others, during his career.

Around the World
TechSearch Highlights Thermal Challenges in Advanced Packaging Report
AUSTIN, TX – TechSearch International’s latest Advanced Packaging Update describes some of the thermal challenges facing the industry from mobile to high-performance computing. With increased power dissipation, companies are moving to higher performance thermal interface materials and adopting new cooling methods including liquid immersion.

The report discusses these developments and describes thermal interface materials offered by suppliers. The report includes OSAT financials and examines economic trends impacting the industry. China’s Covid lockdowns, new US exports controls, continued inflation, and the war in Ukraine are discussed. The report also examines the trends in EV charging with examples of the packages used for charging stations. Companies offering charging equipment and services are listed.

Around the World

SEMI Europe, Eur. Commission Recommend Actions to Tackle Chip Industry Skills Shortage

BRUSSELS – SEMI in December announced key actions proposed by SEMI Europe and European Commission (EC) representatives in consultation with semiconductor industry stakeholders to overcome the skills shortage in Europe’s microelectronics industry. The actions resulted from a Dec. 2 workshop held in Brussels to support the European Chips Act and address challenges and future opportunities for developing skills critical to Europe’s semiconductor ecosystem.

The workshop marked the first meeting of SEMI Europe representatives, Lucilla Sioli, director of Artificial Intelligence and Digital Industry in Directorate-General CONNECT at the European Commission, and more than 80 semiconductor industry stakeholders including representatives from SEMI Europe member companies to discuss key projects under the Pact for Skills for Microelectronics.

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Around the World

Katek to Acquire EMS Firm Nextek

MUNICH – Katek SE has signed a purchase agreement with the owners of Nextek to acquire all shares in the company, with the closing of the sale expected in the first quarter of 2023.

Nextek is a US-based supplier of high-tech and high-value electronics located in Madison, AL, and the agreement to acquire the company is Katek’s second transaction in North America in the past year after the acquisition of the Canadian SigmaPoint Technologies last August.

According to a release from Katek, the acquisition is intended to expand the group’s presence in North America and strengthen its access in the fast-growing Homeland Security & Defense, Medical, Energy, Highend Industrial and Aerospace sectors, which are new to Katek. Nextek generated profitable annual sales of $37 million last fiscal year with approximately 170 employees.

Around the World
EC Electronics Buys Swan EMS

BASINGSTOKE, UK – EC Electronics, a UK EMS provider, in December announced the purchase of Swan EMS. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Based in Abertillery, UK, Swan EMS will continue operating as an independent business from its existing premises under its current management team.

“I believe that the EC group is the perfect home for Swan,” said Phil Simmonds, CEO, EC Electronics. “We are wholly dedicated to our electronics manufacturing services (EMS), and the addition of Swan will allow us to increase our cable assembly and box build capacity.

“At EC Electronics, we believe there is excellent potential for the growth of mid-sized cable assembly and electronics box build specialists in the UK and mainland Europe,” he added. “Adding Swan to the EC group will significantly strengthen its UK capabilities.”


PCEA Issues Call for Abstracts for PCB West 2023
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PEACHTREE CITY, GA – PCEA seeks abstracts for its annual PCB West technical conference coming in 2023.

PCB West will be held Sept. 19-22, 2023, at the Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center. The event includes a four-day technical conference and one-day exhibition.

Presentations of the following durations are sought for the technical conference: one-hour lectures and presentations; two-hour workshops; and half-day (3.5 hour) and full-day seminars.

Preference is given to presentations of two hours in length or more, and no presentations of less than one hour will be considered.

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PCEA Current Events
Community News

Membership. In early December, Mike Creeden led a leadership session for existing and startup chapters. He gave updates on the association, strategic plan and education committees, and events planned for 2023. The sessions were recorded for chapter leaders who could not make the live call.

Education. We have received more than 50 abstracts for PCB East 2023. The Conference Task Group is led again by Rick Hartley. A PCEA Conference Abstract Selection Process will be used for the first time for this event. The target date for releasing the three-day technical program is Jan. 3, and PCB East takes place May 9-11 in Boxborough, MA.

PCEA Current Events
Chapter News

Ontario, Canada. We held a virtual Lunch’ n’ Learn on Nov. 24 featuring Ata Syed, field application engineer at PFC Flexible Circuits. Syed is starting a multipart series on flex circuits. In this first session, he covered the five “W’s” of flex technology:

– What is flex?
– Why use flex?
– Who should know flex?
– When to use flex.
– Where to use flex.

To view the presentation, visit

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Market Watch

US, Mexico Advance Corporate ‘Asian Migration’ Plan

WASHINGTON – Top Mexican and US officials in December agreed on the outline of a plan to attract manufacturing supply chains to migrate to North America, in particular from Asia.

Mexico Economy Minister Raquel Buenrostro and US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo indicated a specific emphasis on printed circuit boards and semiconductors, which are seen as integral to national security and economic development.

The officials hope to have a joint presentation in place in early 2023 to convince businesses of the economic advantages of producing onshore.

IPC: Manufacturers Report Rising Material, Labor Costs

BANNOCKBURN, IL – Eighty percent of electronics manufacturers are experiencing rising material costs, while 77% indicate that labor costs are on the rise, according to the IPC’s November Sentiment of the Global Electronics Manufacturing Supply Chain report. At the same time, ease of recruitment, profit margins, and inventory from suppliers are presently declining.

“Over the next six months, manufacturers expect to see increases in both labor and material costs, although somewhat to a lesser extent,” said Shawn DuBravac, IPC chief economist. “While supplier inventory is expected to improve, ease of recruiting and finding skilled talent and profit margins are likely to remain challenging.”

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Remembering the Basics
Look past the scary headlines and stay focused on business plan fundamentals.
WELCOME TO 2023 As ready as we all try to be when beginning the annual cycle of booking orders, scheduling resources, shipping product, and oh yes, collecting payment, this year many are still tweaking their annual budgets. The effects of rising inflation and a prolonged unstable supply chain are causing many to rethink how they must operate their business to maintain margin and profitability.

Business plans always require some degree of forecasting and estimating, as well as a list of assumptions that underpin the metrics used when budgeting. In (relatively) normal years, some of these prove inaccurate, yet the majority are reliable. It could easily be argued, however, that the times we are in are not necessarily “normal” and few of the business leaders of today were around 40 years ago when inflation last escalated and was a serious economic concern. In such times as these, it is normal to find yourself rethinking basic operating assumptions and adjusting the business plan frequently to stay in step with the ever-changing cost structure and supply availability.

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What is Your 2023 PCB Procurement Strategy?
Don’t be afraid to stir the pot to get the best prices from vendors.
PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD buyers face a challenging environment in 2023, with rising prices for raw materials and freight, along with the continuation of tariffs. A solid board-buying strategy is going to be more important than ever. Does your firm have one?

PCB buyers who do not routinely review the performance of their vendor base are perhaps too comfortable in their jobs. It’s a core buyer responsibility to keep vendors competitive in pricing, and it is management’s job to ensure buyers are not so overwhelmed with other responsibilities they neglect that core duty. Management should also ensure that buyers and PCB salespeople are incentivized to bring prices down.

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Designer’s Notebook
Home Design
The quarantine may have created the biggest shift in how PCB design works.
As a career PCB designer, I’ve seen a lot of waves break over the electronics industry, but not since the very foundation of electronic computer aided design (ECAD) have I seen such a significant paradigm shift in our work practices. From the mid-20th century onward, computers have become involved with our design efforts. Aerospace and automotive industries led the way along with universities; about the only places where computers were available in those days.

I went to school for this in 1988, the year the telephone system moved from Alexander Graham Bell’s analog technology to a digital system. Four years prior, the US Congress used antitrust law to break up AT&T into numerous regional “Baby Bells.” This set off the telecom revolution that led us to today’s information saturation.

The first wave of PCs. Back then, the “Big Three” service providers were Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL. Prior to that were so-called Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) where my primitive computer could connect over the old phone system at baud rates that would be laughable in today’s world. Let’s just say that 56K dialup would have been crazy talk.

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The Largest Conference and Exhibition for Printed Circuit Board Design, Fabrication and Assembly in the Silicon Valley
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September 19 – 22
Wednesday, September 20


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The Green Movement Has Some Caution Lights Ahead
Switching to electric vehicles may save the planet, but there are challenges along the road.
THE TREND TOWARD automotive electrification has established car makers and tier ones among the electronics industry’s biggest customers. We all continue to see a significant proportion of our activities and sales revenues associated with the drive for safer, cleaner, more reliable, and more entertaining vehicles.

Among the most interesting technologies is autonomous driving, which is bringing vast quantities of sensors on board – radar, lidar, infrared, camera modules – not to mention the signal processing and software needed to turn that data into real-time driving instructions. Then, of course, there is the transition to all-electric drivetrains, slated to become mandatory in several major markets by about 2030. With that, our takeover of the automobile will be complete!

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DfM: The Devil is in the Design Details
A design can look good on paper, but has it been vetted for manufacturing? by Stephen Chavez, MIT, CID+, CPCD
Printed circuit board assembly: What comes to mind when you hear, read, or think that term? What does or should this mean to a printed circuit board designer or a printed circuit engineer? Is it an afterthought within the overall process of designing and manufacturing your product in the rush to get your product to market the fastest while trying to minimize your cost?

For me, what pops into my head is design for manufacturability or excellence (DfM or DfX), which includes fabrication and assembly – but let’s not forget producibility as well.

Let’s first understand what is meant by design for manufacturing. It is a design technique for accounting for all the constraints of the assortment of parts that constitute the final product after assembly. DfM focuses on minimizing the complexities involved in manufacturing operations as well as reducing the overall part production cost.

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Wednesday, May 10

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A comparison of energy, water and chemical use for two common processes. by Lenora Clark

“We will make decisions based on sustainability, Lenora.” I heard the words clearly. I understood the tone in his voice and the impact it would mean for the industry moving forward. Interestingly, it was not the only time I would hear that same statement within a few weeks.

Over the past years, the term “sustainability” had been something of a buzzword. We see it in our everyday lives and, honestly, I don’t always understand it. We have eliminated plastic bags at many stores, but now I’m collecting reusable bags by the handful. What are customers supposed to do with all these bags? Many end up in the trash, especially when they are being handed out similarly to a disposable product. Is it better that they are not plastic, or is it just as bad because we are creating the same level of waste?

This makes my head hurt. I need to see things in a basic form to make sense of it and determine if it is an improvement – or not.

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Solder Materials
Voiding Characteristics of AuSn Solder Paste Flux Vehicles Applied in High-Power LED Module Array Applications
Narrowing the choices of the best flux vehicle.
by Jenny Gallery and Thuy Nguyen
A high-power LED (light-emitting diode) is defined as an LED package that operates at 1W of power or higher. LEDs are semiconductor-based diodes that emit light when a forward voltage is applied. This permits a small form factor to produce a lot of light while maintaining fantastic efficiency, permitting a single LED to pump out hundreds, or even thousands, of lumens. The high-power LED market thrives on the widening application base of LEDs, specifically in the automotive industry, due to an increasing number of government initiatives that promote energy conservation and efficiency. Other factors that contribute to their use include small size; long life and continuous usage; less power consumption and low voltage; and an increasing number of high-brightness applications.
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EMS Company of the Year

Bravo, Lacroix!

Buoyed by acquisitions and a resplendent new flagship manufacturing center, the French EMS is prepping for a sustainable future. by Mike Buetow

In October 2021, France President Emmanuel Macron unveiled “France 2030,” the nation’s strategy to reinvent several key domestic sectors, including automotive, aerospace and green industry.

On a smaller scale, European-headquartered businesses are adopting measures similar to those in the US, India, Vietnam and elsewhere to ensure a strong domestic manufacturing base. The ability to build products sustainably and at scale undergirds the trend.

Lacroix is a perfect example of one of those businesses. Based in France, with operations worldwide, the conglomerate is perhaps best known for its electronics manufacturing services, although its history dates to 1945.

And while Europe has a history of supporting its nations economically, even industrial powerhouses like France have not been immune to the call of lower-cost regions.

A new chapter is beginning, however, and Lacroix is intent on writing its place in electronics manufacturing history.

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Teaming with Customers in Continuous Improvement
Deep dives on defect resolution, one at a time.
Most medium-to-high volume electronics manufacturing services (EMS) providers design their new product introduction (NPI) process to identify issues in printed circuit board (PCB) layout, overall product design or process flow that create defect opportunities. Unfortunately, a key challenge in the EMS industry is convincing customers to adopt those recommendations. Additionally, some design or process issues escape NPI or pilot production, not becoming evident until a product is running at full volume. SigmaTron International’s team in its Acuña, Mexico, facility is working to change those dynamics one customer at a time.

The NPI process does include design for manufacturability (DfM) recommendations. The pilot run of 10 to 30 pieces is reviewed by the facility’s engineering team to determine any issues. When issues are identified, they are communicated to the customer in a document that includes photos along with recommendations on how best to improve the process. Not all customers respond to these recommendations, however.

The PCB Industry Matrix
A one-size-fits-all approach leaves no room for life’s uncertainties.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that some prefer deference to authority, as opposed to independently determining a course of action, making responsible decisions on their own and accepting the consequences. It’s so much easier when others call the shots; all one must do is acquire marching orders and execute accordingly. No muss, no fuss. One sleeps through the night unburdened by what-ifs. The shot-callers are the only ones who are sleep-deprived.

“In order for you to recertify in 2023 as our valued supplier-partner, you must complete the attached RFQ, which requests a firm, fixed-price estimate for the following services: flying probe testing; in-circuit testing; boundary scan/JTAG testing; cross-section services; CT scanning services; x-ray inspection and failure analysis services; dye-and-pry services; and reports for all the aforementioned. You will find quantities on the x-axis, with services above listed on the y-axis. Please insert pricing in US dollars in the intersecting cells. Pricing will be valid through December 31, 2023, inclusive, and will be the unchanging basis for awarding all purchase orders for those services throughout 2023. There will be no exceptions, and no revisions allowed, during the applicable period.”

Off The Shelf typography
Off The Shelf typography
Machines Materials Tools Systems Software
Avishtech Gauss Sustainability Tool
Gauss Sustainability software assesses design-specific CO2-equivalent emissions for printed circuit board designs. Assessment includes the full set of raw materials as well as all process steps and yield losses. Enables lifecycle analysis and lifecycle impact analysis to comply with standards like Greenhouse Gas Protocol, ISO 14404, ISO 14064 (-1 and -2), and ISO 14067, and carbon emissions reduction initiatives. Analysis includes full impact of stackup and BoM, impact of different energy grid choices for each constituent of the stackup and panel size and panelization scrap. Available as a standalone or an add-on to Gauss Stack.
Aven OptiVue LED Magnification Lamp
Aven OptiVue LED Magnification Lamp
OptiVue LED Magnification Desk Lamp fits on a desk while being powerful and efficient in handling assembly, workshop or inspection applications. Features flexible 11″ gooseneck arm; 4″, 5-diopter (2.25x magnification) round glass lens; 36 ultra-bright SMD LEDs; and weighted base for added stability. Includes removable fixing ring for easy lens replacement.
Nordson Select Synchro<br />
Selective Soldering System
Nordson Select Synchro Selective Soldering System
Select Synchro selective soldering system uses a unique, synchronous motion increase throughput, improve cost-of-ownership, and provide flexibility for high-volume PCB assembly applications. Is said to reduce the time spent conveying boards as much as 25% while boosting throughput 20-40% for most applications.

In Case You Missed It

3D Printed Electronics
“3D Printed Electronic Circuits from Fusible Alloys”

Author: Bartłomiej Podsiadły, et al.

Abstract: This work aims to evaluate the possibility of fabricating conductive paths for printed circuit boards from low-temperature melting metal alloys on low-temperature 3D-printed substrates and mounting through-hole electronic components using the fused deposition modeling for metals (FDMm) for structural electronics applications. The conductive materials are flux-cored solder wires Sn60Pb40 and Sn99Ag0.3Cu0.7. The deposition was achieved with a specially adapted nozzle. A comparison of solder wires with and without flux cores is discussed to determine whether the solder alloys exhibit adequate wettability and adhesion to the polymer substrate. The symmetrical astable multivibrator circuit based on bipolar junction transistors (BJT) was fabricated to demonstrate the possibility of simultaneous production of conductive tracks and through-hole mountings with this additive technique. Additional perspectives for applying this technique to 3D-printed structural electronic circuits are also discussed. (Electronics, November 2022;

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Thanks for reading our January 2023 issue!