Is It Time to Shake Up Materials Standards?


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The I-Connect007 team spoke with COO Mark Goodwin and Technology Ambassador Alun Morgan from Ventec International Group about standards. They describe how they feel current standards do not sufficiently recognize the needs of end customers today with new processes and materials being shoehorned into old standards based on dated ideas of classifications, and how this makes choosing the right material challenging for designers. They suggest implementing a simpler system that is based on performance.

Barry Matties: Mark, please start with what you see as issues around the standards.

Mark Goodwin: There are two particular areas: one is very product-specific, and the other is standard-specific. I’ll start with the product-specific one. We have an increasing global market for thermal management products, insulated metal substrates, thermally conductive laminates, and prepregs, and we have no industry standards for comparing test methods to allow an end user to adequately compare the thermal performance of those materials. It’s the Wild West out there on those products. The other area for me is IPC-4101—the slash sheets—where there is a hang-up on resin chemistry rather than functionality; there’s a whole history to that. And the world has moved so far forward, the specification has not kept up, and it needs an industry effort to reconfigure and realign that specification. Those are the starting points for me.

Alun Morgan: We consider standards from two perspectives. One is a mandatory side, so that means both fire and electrical safety, which are pretty clear and there’s very little compromise. The other is performance standards or classification standards, which Mark alluded to, such as IPC-4101 or IEC series, where the intention is to define a standard or specification that gives designers a choice within a range of performance for materials; that’s somewhat broken now. The problem with these standards is that you have a different hierarchy of standards. You have the top end with international bodies, such as IEC and ISO, and at the lower end, industry associations sitting under national standards bodies, publishing specifications developed by industry consensus, and that’s one of the problems.

Alun-Morgan-new-250.jpgIf you have a room full of suppliers of a product, for example, and you say, “Let’s write a standard that applies to all of our customers,” you end up with the lowest standard that they can all live with and that you can drive a bus through, more or less, in terms of what the real requirement is. An example I was discussing this morning was a standard about FR-4 materials, for example, which says that you have to have a dielectric constant maximum value of 5.2. If you turned up with a product that had a Dk of 5.2, virtually nobody would be able to use it because the requirements have moved on. Typically, you’d want to be looking in the low fours or even the threes now; that’s the standard.

That’s the issue that we’re faced with because the standards and specifications are generally based on the old NEMA standards, which were developed in the 1950s and 1960s based on things like simple resin chemistry, epoxy resins, phenolic resins, polyimide resins, etc. And they’ve been extended to cover a whole explosion of new materials. The industry has expanded massively, and we still shoehorn our new products into these old standards based on dated ideas of classifications. What we need is a more performance-based approach now, saying, “I’m a designer and design boards for satellites that go into orbit. These are the kind of things that I need.”

As a board designer, I’d find it very hard to know how to choose a material based on the standards that are available. And for some areas, such as IMS materials, there aren’t any agreed-upon standards either. That’s quite normal; standards usually take two to three years to go into print from the first idea.

Matties: If this approach is sensible where it’s application-specific standards, what’s the catalyst for change? How’s that going to happen?

Morgan: It’s the designer’s requirement. The designer goes to his board shop and says, “I want to build a board to go under the hood of a car; what material shall I use?” They ask the board shop, and that’s the problem; they’re not accessing all of the materials or options available to them because they don’t know, and they have no way of selecting now.

Matties: If the designers, as a body, said, “We want to change the methodology and the way that the standards are done with IPC,” and the members buy in, do you think it would happen?

Morgan: I think it would. IPC does run automotive and other specific forums now. Somebody has to recognize that this way of specifying standards doesn’t work anymore and they have to start again, but that’s a huge decision because there’s a lot of investment there. There are also a lot of people who have been fighting this stance for years, including me, since the 1980s. We’ve come to a point now where they’re not fit for purpose and need to be reimagined to meet the needs of today’s OEMs.

To read the full interview, which appeared in the September 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.

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