Quest for Reliability: Correlating COVID-19 With Reliability?

I submit this month’s column from my secure bunker while safely—and smartly, if I may say so myself—practicing social distancing. The word quarantine is more “popular” than ever in that I hear it upward of 4,562 times per day. Before COVID-19, the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard the word “quarantine” was the cages in the receiving area for non-conforming products or similar spaces for built hardware that doesn’t pass some sort of inline test. Having said that, I certainly don’t think of non-conforming products now, but I do think I can make some apt comparisons. Stay with me, though; some of this may be a stretch, but it’s not like I’m keeping you from a hot date. 
 
I am certainly not suggesting that a PCB with misaligned fiducials is the same thing as a global pandemic; again, I said some of this was a stretch. But the similarity of not being part of normal production and sheltering in place isn’t that big of a stretch. Putting yourself in quarantine is to make sure you aren’t in the general population and possibly spreading the virus. Keeping bad raw materials in the quarantine cage prohibits it from being built only to find out there is a flaw that prevents it from functioning as expected—giving a PCBA a 104°F fever, if you will. (Okay, that was yet another stretch. I’ll try to do better.)
 
Just as the states have their list of milestones that must be accomplished before lifting the quarantine, there is (or should be) a list for material disposition. Number one on many states’ lists is the need for testing, which can certainly apply to questionable material as well. Testing might be the only way to determine if a product is acceptable for use as-is or if it needs to be returned to the manufacturer for repair and/or replacement. (I do not have a comparison for that one, so feel free to insert your own.) 
 
When dealing with a non-conformance issue, you need to lay out a good testing strategy for disposition. Many companies—too many, if you ask me—rely on the material supplier to include a certificate of conformance with every shipment and never question it. This goes back to one of my biggest industry peeves: just checking a box. In the lab, we have tested many failures that were shipped with a certificate of conformance. What this tells me is that historical pass/fail criteria imposed by the customer or offered from the suppliers may not be sufficient for your product. 
 
Segregation of material from standard production normally falls into one of three buckets: releasing, reprocessing/reworking, and rejecting. I mostly think of issues around quarantine to be related to incoming raw materials as they are received and go through the standard paperwork checks. You can certainly use the same word for an assembly during the build process. 
 
Most times, the assembly in question will be segregated from the line and put into a special tray or rack for further review and disposition. When raw materials are received and don’t conform to the specs on the drawing or the purchase documents for one reason or another, that material needs to be segregated to a part of your receiving area and tagged so that it is not used in normal production until disposition is decided. 
 
This also applies to raw materials used directly for assembly like bare boards, raw components, solder paste, and fluxes, but should also apply to anything that can have an impact on your product. Often, handling materials like gloves, finger cots, pink foam, and ESD bags are overlooked when there isn’t a direct measurement for accept or reject conditions. All of these materials will most likely come into contact with your product at some point. Any material that contacts your product will always be a risk for contamination, but that isn’t what this column is about, so I digress. 
 
Releasing is easily the best of the three buckets, as the material will be reviewed by a supplier quality engineer (SQE) or someone similar and, if deemed acceptable for use, released into production. With incoming raw materials, the best-case scenario is a typo on the paperwork side where the shipping documents don’t match the purchase order. Remember, I don’t work in purchasing, which might be why I think that is the better option. When inspecting assemblies that have been deemed out of specification for some reason during the build process, it may be a more difficult call to just release it. Testing of some sort like functional or possibly more strenuous environmental exposure might need to be done before a decision can be made. 
 
The second bucket—reprocessing/rework—is normally reserved for work in progress assemblies that fail some sort of ICT, visual inspection, or other end-of-line testing. An assembly that fails some inspection during the build can be sent to a rework and repair area and brought back into spec for use. Issues are caused by conditions like insufficient solder joints or misplaced components, among others. 
 
There are many variables to consider when determining if it is acceptable or not, and many times—especially in the case of high-reliability products—rework and repair may not even be allowable. Form, fit, and function will always be the first criteria, but beyond that, it’s important to see if the customer has imposed any other metrics you need to meet. Bucket number two is normally reserved for assemblies, but it could apply to incoming raw materials too. If bare boards or components need to be cleaned before use due to some issue at the supplier, it would be considered a reprocessing/rework. This is not something I have seen on a regular basis, but we have seen it, so there’s a chance. 
 
The last bucket is rejecting the material and returning to the supplier for replacement. This is normally the worst of all buckets. Rejecting incoming materials is never fun because that can cause delays in your build schedule while you wait for new conforming material. That is a snowball that causes a lot of issues all the way downstream. 
 
When you have to reject an assembly and send it to scrap, the issues can be just as great. There is an added financial consideration since most or all of the components have already been installed, and it reduces the number of parts ready to be shipped. It is very important to perform root-cause analysis on any assemblies that have been rejected to determine if this is a one-off issue, or if it is something much more systemic. Systemic may be the easier of those two options since the failure would be more repeatable and most likely easier to correct, but the cost of getting to that point might be considerable. 
 
It seems I ran out of steam on the coronavirus/reliability comparisons, and I can only assume we are both thankful for that. The point remains that keeping suspect material away from normal production until deemed fit for use will have a gigantic impact on reliability. Now go wash your hands.

This column originally appeared in the June 2020 issue of SMT007 Magazine.

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2020

Quest for Reliability: Correlating COVID-19 With Reliability?

07-22-2020

I submit this month’s column from my secure bunker while safely—and smartly, if I may say so myself—practicing social distancing. The word quarantine is more “popular” than ever in that I hear it upward of 4,562 times per day. Before COVID-19, the first thing that popped into my mind when I heard the word “quarantine” was the cages in the receiving area for non-conforming products or similar spaces for built hardware that doesn’t pass some sort of inline test.

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Quest for Reliability: Reliability Reboot

07-01-2020

Eric Camden has revived more than a few electronic assembly processes. In this column, he details trends and tips regarding reliability and the suppliers of all the materials you use to build your assemblies.

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Quest for Reliability: New Solder, Same Old Testing

05-20-2020

Solder is inarguably one of the required building blocks for electronic assemblies and, apart from a few exotics, every assembly in the world has it. When it comes to meeting the lead-free requirement, opinions and historical reliability data are not taken into consideration. Eric Camden explores testing and reliability related to solder.

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Quest for Reliability: Improving Reliability for Free

04-14-2020

Eric Camden has seen more than a few factories make the move to use more and more automation that has indeed improved production numbers but has done very little to address cleanliness and reliability. In this column, he offers up a few easy steps you can take to reduce risks.

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Quest for Reliability: Big Trouble Comes in Tiny Packages

02-03-2020

When it comes to making consumers happy and electronic assemblers miserable, nothing achieves both quite like miniaturization. With our ever-increasing demands to house a full-size movie theater with surround sound and limitless digital storage in the palm of our hands, the only way for CMs to respond is with miniaturization (and cursing—lots of cursing). In this installment, I’ll revisit the history of shrinking packaging and lessons learned.

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Quest for Reliability: Sunshine and Circuit Boards

01-02-2020

IPC APEX EXPO may be over, but this column by Eric Camden serves as a great introduction to IPC standards. If you've been thinking about getting involved with manufacturing and assembly standards but weren't sure how to go about it, this column is a must-read for you.

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2019

Quest for Reliability: Voices Carry

12-06-2019

The title of Eric Camden’s column this month is “Voices Carry,” so not only is it a great chance to revisit the wonderfully written, top-10 hit song by ‘Til Tuesday/Aimee Mann, but it is also a good opportunity to share the voices of modern electronics and electronic assembly processes.

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Quest for Reliability: Old Dogs, New Tricks

12-02-2019

I hear two phrases way too often on a production floor: “We have always done it this way,” and its first cousin, “We have been building this board for 20 years and never had a problem.” Inevitably, these phrases are always uttered by a “seasoned” engineer in the industry that probably should know better. Don’t get me wrong, these phrases are going a long way in my effort to send two kids to college, but they aren’t very helpful regarding reliability. Times change, and technology changes even faster, and if you don’t keep up, you will be left behind. This means focusing on emerging technologies and the associated risk that may be unique to that package.

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Quest for Reliability: Artificial Reliability Over Intelligence

11-26-2019

As the industry begins to shift from standard design tools to artificial intelligence (AI), reliability might be overlooked in an effort to build “smarter.” Over the last few years, the desire to manufacture anything and everything for less has included removing humans from as many positions as possible. There are a couple of viewpoints, and I can see positives in both.

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Quest for Reliability: Reliability by the Book

11-04-2019

Having been in electronics for just shy of 20 years, I can say that the next time we work on a Class I failure analysis project, it will pretty much be the first. Class I electronics serve a different purpose in life, and if they fail, it’s normally not a big deal; instead, it’s mainly a minor inconvenience. In this month’s column, I’ll speak to specifications for Class I, II, and III products per IPC definitions as well as the IPC standards process.

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Quest for Reliability: SMTAI 2019 Thoughts

10-16-2019

Before I headed to Rosemont, I was a little skeptical if it would be worth it for me, considering the lack of task groups that had become my SMTAI/IPC APEX EXPO focus. But after three days of sessions (and a somewhat impressive third-place showing at the SMTA trivia night), I was reminded of why I went to SMTAI in the first place: to learn about the newest technology and how to address age-old problems that are ever-evolving in this era of miniaturization.

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Sealing Your Fate

08-16-2019

Coating does not always prevent failures; it is just as important to look at your cleanliness levels just as you would with an assembly that is not bound for coating. If you have a dirty assembly, you might be buying a little time, but ultimately, you've sealed your own fate.

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Quest for Reliability: The F Word

07-19-2019

The word "failure" is as nasty as it gets in our world. It goes against everything we thought we knew. All contract manufacturing facilities strive to build a reliable product, or at least they all should. The problem is too many companies hope they are building reliable products without doing the work required to ensure they are.

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Quest for Reliability: These Darn Kids/Back in My Day

04-24-2019

This month’s topic is focused on youth, both in terms of humans and technologies. I think these two topics go together since they rely on each other to a large degree. The latter has more than likely shaped or even invented by the former.

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How Smart Is Your Factory?

04-03-2019

When you plan a production facility with the mindset that connectivity and optimization will be key aspects of your operation, it will pay dividends in the form of lower production cost, better traceability, and higher reliability.

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The Cost of Quality and the Higher Cost of Failure

03-13-2019

If you are shopping a new product around to multiple contract manufacturers (CMs), and if all other things in two separate CMs are equal including price and delivery times but one offers a more comprehensive ongoing quality monitoring system, why wouldn't you go with that one? You usually pay some type of premium for the CM that has an overall quality monitoring system that goes beyond just ICT or bench level testing. Definitely, most CMs will give you some sort of assurance that the product is working as it leaves the facility, but if one has a mindset that more than basic testing is required to show reliability, you will more than likely have fewer field failures.

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2018

Does Medical Device Reliability Worry You Sick?

12-06-2018

When you are manufacturing high-reliability assemblies related to medical industry, it is critical to take a very close look at the assembly process and all other processes that can influence the end-use reliability—even seemingly unrelated processes, such as post-installation cleaning—as it really could be a matter of life or death.

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Are You Connected to Reliability?

10-30-2018

The need for communication between every operator on the manufacturing floor can be a critical difference between a reliable piece of hardware and one that presents some level of unexpected performance. This column highlights a few things happening in the shop floor, such as as touch-up soldering and third shift issue, not commonly communicated, which can cause performance issues.

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Are Megatrends Putting Your Product at Megarisk?

10-03-2018

It took 38 years for radio to get 50 million users, television made it in 13 years, Internet in four, iPod in three, and Facebook in only two years. What these numbers mean to our industry is the need to create electronics at blazing speeds that we haven’t seen before. But how will it affect reliability? Read on.

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Cleaning a No-clean Flux: The Worst Decision You’ve Ever Made?

09-04-2018

There are a few reasons to choose to clean a no-clean flux, such as when the PCB assembly requires conformal coating, or when probes are required for testing. Other than that, there seems to be no need to clean a no-clean flux. This column tells you more.

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Contamination: The Enemy of Electronics

07-18-2018

Welcome to the first installation of “Quest for Reliability.” The goal behind this column is to use my experience at an independent laboratory for over 18 years to help readers understand PCBA reliability issues, and more importantly, prevent suspect conditions in the first place. The laboratory I work in has served every sector of the electronics industry, from oil and gas equipment designed to function miles below the surface of the earth, to aerospace companies and everywhere in between.

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