Will Moisture Management Expand to the U.S. Market?
Rich Heimsch, Super Dry director, chats with Nolan Johnson about the growing demand for moisture management in North America versus its earlier adoption in Europe, and how moisture management fits into Industry 4.0 and the smart factory.
Nolan Johnson: Tell me what Super Dry does, Rich.
Heimsch: We manage moisture in sensitive devices and materials, which most people think of in terms of BGAs, but it also encompasses PCBs and even assemblies for rework. In this humidity control context, it generally applies across the board, as in it was always there, but the awareness of the need is increasing. We’re a European company. The significance of that in this moisture management context is that it’s a process that, in North America, is still perhaps five to seven years behind Europe.
Johnson: In terms of adoption by customers?
Heimsch: In terms of adoption. Let me give you an electrostatic discharge (ESD) analogy. You go into a shop today, and you don’t walk in without a heel strap and ground tags. A few years ago, maybe you wore heel straps, or maybe you didn’t. Maybe there was that scenario with the yellow tape where the floors were taped off in an ESD-protected area. You never see that anymore. That is where the moisture-sensing device (MSD) for moisture management is in this geographic market.
Johnson: That makes sense. The less moisture you have, the less likely you will have an accidental arc.
Heimsch: Managing ESD now is fundamental for assembly houses, but managing moisture is not fundamental to all assembly houses. One of the ways ESD is managed in some big assembly houses is to raise the humidity and spend a million bucks on it, especially companies in the northern Midwest where they take this 10–12% outside air in the winter, heat it up, and pump thousands of gallons of water a day into the factory air system. This is one of the additional ways in which ESD is managed. ESD can more frequently create an end-to-line failure than an MSD event. The moisture damage happens during reflow. The moisture tries to escape and must escape as the temperature rises. It exceeds the elastic limit of the encapsulant and creates a micro-crack.
The historic reference to popcorning is where you could hear popping in the reflow oven; that’s an extreme example. The reality is you don’t generally see with the naked eye the moisture damage that has occurred during the reflow process. It’s a micro-crack where the organic substrate and the encapsulation meet, or the moisture escapes at the weakest part of the encapsulant, which would be the thinnest part—for instance, the underside of the micro-BGA—and they are maybe not microscopic cracks, but close to it. That device or that assembly will pass ICT and functional tests, and away it goes into the field. It’s not until some months later when air has come and works its way up to the wire bonds at the die that you get the failure. It’s typically some kind of intermittent failure.
Johnson: God forbid if you have an intermittent in the light detection and ranging (LIDAR) system in your autonomous car.
Heimsch: Correct. Your anti-lock braking system (ABS) or heart implant are another level of liability. Certain industry segments have always been way more aware of the issues and are more motivated to control them than a company that is making a device and saying, “I can just calculate out my warranty costs, and it’s acceptable.”
Fifteen years ago, with the adoption of RoHS legislation in Europe, virtually overnight, every component in a shop now needed to be managed and tracked. Lead-free reflow profiles basically triple the saturated vapor pressure in a component. That’s the same amount of moisture inside that encapsulant, which is three times the pressure to try and escape that different reflow temperature. The RoHS legislation drove the Europeans more quickly into seeing and needing to deal with the problems.
Granted, most of the paste that is sold in this market geography is now lead-free, but there still isn’t the same view of moisture management as there is ESD management across the board. It’s increasing, but because it’s not typically an end-of-line yield problem, a manufacturing manager can say, “It’s not doing anything for me,” or, “I have this list of capital equipment requirements, and it’s on there—I understand—but we’ll need to wait until next year.”
Johnson: It seems to me that there is increased attention on-field failures, not just end-of-line inspections but in-the-field failures. And that’s being driven by automotive and medical and IoT. That’s changing the perspective. When automotive is telling us as an industry—and this was a part of the conversation at the automotive forum last year at IPC APEX EXPO—that we need to deliver about two orders of magnitude more reliability. You have to pay attention to every step.
Heimsch: That’s right.
Johnson: Now, moisture sensitivity becomes more of an issue because, as we’re paying attention to the root cause analysis on the field failure; you simply can’t have that.
Heimsch: The motivation is much higher where you have to get into that level of reliability.
Johnson: Do you see that shift when talking to your customers and your prospects?
Heimsch: People in the automotive industry have always been leaders in this awareness. On the awareness curve, they have been leaders with the medical electronics people as well. Military has always had a high level of awareness, but that, in my opinion, was driven as much by long-term storage, which is an automotive issue as well. That’s another dimension and topic of discussion. Now, when we’re talking about this geographic market, it’s still the case where; unless the EMS provider’s customer says, “You get an MSD program in place, or I’m pulling this work,” they can avoid it.
Johnson: They need a compelling event.
Heimsch: Step one, they say, “I have safe storage, but am I utilizing it properly? Do I have a process? I have a hunk of equipment.” AOI was that way, not that many years ago. That’s not the case now, but there are stages. Twenty percent of the cabinets I sold last year, roughly, were the customer’s first cabinets. We’re a European company, and other European companies asked, “Were there that many startups? Is it some phenomenon that there’s manufacturing springing up?” No, these companies have been in business for 20 years, but they haven’t addressed it until now.
Johnson: And now they do?
Heimsch: Yes, and some see a competitive advantage. I have a customer in Texas that bought their first three cabinets and uses them for three different phases of his manufacturing. He mentioned that it’s quite the centerpiece to show off to prospects when they come through. “Here’s our moisture management. We have this extra control in the process.” That gap is closing in terms of the geographic markets, which isn’t to say that the European manufacturing community isn’t continuing to get more and more sophisticated about their moisture management and associated quality control details.
Johnson: As moisture management becomes more of a factor for field failure analysis—and as manufacturers get proactive about moisture management to meet the customers’ demands, grow their business, and move into the future—it starts to beg the question: How does this fit into Industry 4.0?
Heimsch: It is definitely driving the next phase of our product development. The focus and awareness of Industry 4.0 one could argue came first in Europe, but smart factories and lights-out factories have been topics here in the U.S. forever. The way I put it when we present it is, “How are you defining your goals for achieving Industry 4.0 compliance, or what does it mean to you?” and in the context of our products, making them smarter and smarter is the product development trend. I can’t make it any drier. We are already at less than 0.3% relative humidity.
It’s not just about absolute dryness. In terms of product advancement, it’s a process enhancement, which is why our “More than just dry air” tagline was created some years ago. It’s about utilization. Once you own your first of anything, there are a lot more questions you wish you had asked before you bought it. You don’t know what you don’t know, such as how often you need to access the environment or storage space. Access is one of the key performance functions of this equipment and now traceability. This traceability means a couple of categories of meaning to different people.
I can tell you what conditions this component was in on March 19, 2018, as I’m doing this backtrack on the field event, so that’s one thing we can do: climate data tracking. How many alarm functions are there? There’s more real-time live event traceability, which would provide notifications, which is pretty much the case of any surface-mount assembly line equipment requirement. What’s it doing at a given time? Is it having a problem? Who does it notify? It notifies people automatically. Alarm states become more than just bad/good; instead, there are defined levels and a range of alarm states. There’s a variety of things about tracking the climate itself. Recording it, recording it historically, recording it in real-time, notifying personnel, preventing entry, and knowing when people accessed it.
Then, there’s the management or the traceability of the goods that are being put in and taken out. We have a set of tools for that that are continuing to be advanced and improved and changed all under the overall umbrella term of “smart storage management.” What smart means in terms of one person’s assembly line versus another, or one piece of equipment or another, is not exactly the same, though the end goals arguably are.
Johnson: Is this a space where Super Dry is doing development work?
Heimsch: That’s where we have been and have had these levels of capability. Certainly, in terms of climate data tracking, we’ve had that available for many years, as well as floor life tracking.
Johnson: You’ve had the data all along, waiting for the rest of the industry to catch up with you.
Heimsch: It takes us back to the European Union and the difference in the two markets for a European equipment manufacturing company. Everybody says their products are good and that their company is customer-driven. Product development is considered a good thing, and the customer base, or the home base, is often the most influential. As a European company, the awareness, demands, and requirements that they’ve had drove much of the leading edge of our product development, such as the replacement of traditional baking ovens with a better solution. And that improved solution has logistics and operating costs and process functionality dimensions to it.
Johnson: IPC APEX EXPO is a global show, generally speaking, and you clearly have a lot of dynamics going on.
Heimsch: What’s most global about it today are the exhibitors.
Johnson: True. You have a lot of influence from your European customers, and you’re a European company, but what do you want the North American prospects and customers to know? What’s the message for them?
Heimsch: We want them to know what state-of-the-art is. From a business standpoint, we want them to know that they can buy leading-edge technology without the bleeding edge usually associated with it. We’ve been building automated moisture management warehouses tracking the floor life exposure, resetting the floor life, when it’s in, and when it’s out. For five or six years, we’ve been building these, which is a software-intensive control system. We’ve brought that software out to the low-volume, high-mix manufacturer who doesn’t have 50,000 reels and trays to manage. Maybe they have a few dozen or a few hundred, but that doesn’t mean that those devices don’t need to be managed. There are certain things that are the same, and that’s where we get into the tracking component floor life, keeping real-time tracking of the floor life. How much has expired? What’s the real state of this device?
For a high-mix company that’s not going to go through an entire reel, they’re going to pull that off and put it back on, pull that off, and put it back on, and that reel is going to take six months for them to use up with devices that have—for instance, 168-hour floor life or less. They must do something with them, and they can’t bake them in the traditional high-temperature way more than once because of solderability. We take management tools that have been running these big automated warehouses for five to seven years and bring them to high-mix, low-volume manufacturers. We have been doing that the same way with low-temperature, low-humidity floor life reset for many years, as well as providing climate tracking and that level of traceability for many years.
When it comes to the awareness, “Okay, I need to know the state of these parts. I realize I’ve been cutting corners, and maybe it’s time to get to another level. How do I do that? People have to be involved because I don’t have a big enough overall volume to robotically automate it.” We’ve introduced operator checks. The same way the input conveyor reads a barcode, knows what this card is, what batch it’s from, what its MSL is, how much floor life has been expired, we also know the size so that the system automatically finds the best place to store it. Instead of an operator simply taking this card, looking at a reference, and putting it in a storage area, they barcode it and manually scan it in and out. That’s a significant step, and it provides a process check. Have they taken the right thing out? And where have they put it? Where is it now? We’ve taken on from the full, high-end automation to semi-automation, and both have basically the same final quality objectives. All of those are in the Industry 4.0 realm.
Johnson: Now, a facility manager who thought, “Maybe we’re not big enough or sophisticated enough,” can start to make use of what you’re offering. And they need to do so anyway if they’re moving forward.
Heimsch: The key element of control, in this case, is knowing how much floor life the device still has. We have ways of resetting the clock, resetting the floor life, and turning back the clock so that you know that part is safe and still solderable. There’s stopping the clock and resetting it.
Johnson: Rich, any parting perspective?
Heimsch: We see a continuing increase in the awareness of the significance of moisture management as a dimension of quality, and the pace of doing something about it is picking up. A curve is occurring.
Johnson: You’re starting to see the hockey stick.
Johnson: Rich, thank you for the time. It has been very informative.
Heimsch: Good. It was fun.