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RPC Electronics Inc
Electronic Manufacturing and Supply Chain Services
Electronic Manufacturing and Supply Chain Services


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Circuit Materials Help Build 5G from the Ground Up

These PTFE-based, ceramic-filled, glass-reinforced circuit materials provide cost-effective stable mechanical and electrical properties needed for mm-wave circuits

Large amounts of bandwidth will be needed for transferring the huge volumes of data projected to be part of 5G wireless networks, and millimeter-wave frequencies offer the amounts of bandwidth needed. Of course, to make use of that bandwidth at frequencies such as 60 GHz, practical circuits including transceivers, antennas, and amplifiers must be designed and implemented, and the foundation of those circuits is the printed-circuit-board (PCB) material. For effective use at millimeter-wave frequencies, a PCB material must fulfill a set of requirements that can be unique to that frequency range (above about 30 GHz). Fortunately, the latest high-frequency circuit material from Rogers Corp., CLTE-MW laminates, features the characteristics uniquely suited to millimeter-wave applications.

CLTE-MW circuit materials (see figure) are based on low-loss polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), loaded with ceramic filler and reinforced with spread glass fabric. Offered in thicknesses of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 10 mils, CLTE-MW materials are well suited for circuits requiring thin laminates, such as millimeter-wave circuits with extremely short signal wavelengths that require tightly controlled dielectric constant and signal-to-ground spacing.

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Should You Choose Hard or Soft PCB Materials?

These materials differ in their rigidity and various other characteristics, resulting in differences in how readily they can be transformed into high-frequency circuits.

Materials for printed circuit boards (PCBs) can contribute a great deal to the success or failure of a final circuit design, since those materials affect thermal behavior as well as the electrical and mechanical characteristics of the circuit. At one time, the choice in RF/microwave circuit-board materials was simply between a “hard” or rigid circuit material, typically based on some form of ceramic material, and a “soft” or flexible type of circuit material, often based on Teflon or polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) with some form of filler.

The number of circuit material choices has grown with time—with circuit materials now available optimized for specific types of designs, such as

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3 Reasons To Use PCB Panel Routing Techniques

Most PCBs are individually routed—meaning they’re not panelized. That doesn't mean that, sometimes, sending them to a PCB assembler in a panel isn't a good idea or even required. Generally assemblers don't require panels—sometimes called a pallet—but there are some cases when they do.

If the individual PC board, destined for Full Proto service, is smaller than 0.75" x 0.75", it needs to be panelized. If a PC board needing Short Run production service is less than 16 square inches, it needs to be in a panel of at least 16 square inches to qualify for Short Run.

Why else might you want to panelize PC boards?

1. Protection

If you've got a lot of small boards, it's easier to handle and protect then when they're in a panel. A few panels can be more safely packed coming and going from your company to an assembler.

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Anatomy of ATE PCB Assembly

An automatic test equipment (ATE) PCB (a.k.a. a test board) is at the heart of all major test activities targeted at verifying a specific semiconductor chip's functionality.

Semiconductor chip technology has become so advanced that testing these highly complex devices must be performed effectively to ensure high reliability and functionality. This allows chipmakers to convey to their OEM customers their highest confidences that their products are of the foremost quality and have been verified to operate according to their specifications.

An automatic test equipment printed circuit board, or ATE PCB -- serving as an interface to a large test system -- is at the heart of all major test activities to verify a specific chip's functionality.

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6 Effective Ways to Cut PCB Assembly Cost Without Sacrificing Quality

Abiding by these rules of thumb can help shape decisions on how to approach printed-circuit-board manufacture, with the “PCB assembler” playing a vital role.

Many engineers, especially those just starting out, ask questions like “Where can I find the cheapest PCB assembly service?” or “How can I reduce my PCB assembly cost?” To tell the truth, there’s never any “cheapest” PCB assembly service. For those who only strive for low prices while neglecting PCB assembly quality, their projects may very likely fail due to low-quality circuit boards.

Although PCB assemblers are constantly trying to find ways to reduce circuit-board assembly cost to attract more business and ultimately gain more profit, price varies from one assembler to another. We strongly recommend you find a balance between assembly quality, customer service, and cost. The priority is to adjust your circuit design to reduce the assembly cost, and pinpoint the right PCB Assembler with the best overall service within your budget.

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Widespread Component Shortages Expected Through 2H 2017

The first half of 2017 is shaping up as the perfect storm for electronics suppliers as capacity constraints, merger and acquisition, obsolescence and higher-than-expected demand is creating component shortages across the supply chain. The risk of double booking has been cited in at least two research reports, indicating the 2001 inventory glut may be fading from the supply chain’s memory.

It’s an environment that the world’s largest electronics distributor, Arrow Electronics Inc., hasn’t seen in a decade. “Entering the second quarter, the percentage of customers saying they did not have enough inventory was at the highest level since 2010,” Arrow CEO Mike Long told analysts during a conference call. “The percentage of customers saying they had too much inventory was at the lowest level in over 10 years. We've taken all appropriate steps, including taking on inventory, to assure our customers get the parts they need.”

Leadtimes for some products are stretching to late in the third quarter (Q3) and into Q4, according to research and industry sources. AVX, Murata, Kemet, Fairchild/ON Semi and Diodes Inc. are all quoting lead times/deliveries out into late Q3 or Q4 on some lines. “At Avnet, we are seeing lead times stretch across the board,” said Phil Gallagher, president of Avnet Inc.’s Core Distribution Business. “Using semiconductors as an overall market proxy, we are seeing extended lead times across the following product types: analog, in interface, op amps, V-regs; discretes, in power, IGBT, mosfets, TVS (circuit protection), zeners, thyristors, bipolar; memory, across the board for DRAM, NOR, NAND, EEPROM, EPROM; logic, in standard logic; opto, in high, mid and low power LEDs; MCU/DSP, in 8, 16 and 32 bit MCUs both ARM and proprietary architectures.”

Michael Knight, TTI
Michael Knight, TTI

“In commodity passives, we have been watching leadtimes crank out in some cases to the second half of the year,” said Michael Knight, senior vice president, Americas, for TTI Inc. “We are anticipating this summer things will get even tighter, particularly in resistor chips, inductors, and MLCC; it’s also evident in tantalum.”

Panic buying, or underlying demand?

Underlying demand is driving the market, Knight said. “The demand picture has been improving, and we have been commenting on that for a number of years as the electronics content in everything continues to increase.” Demand through May has been better than expected, market research confirms, with upside in the channel and into the industrial, automotive, and wireline communications markets. China, however, is experiencing some weakness in smartphones and some pockets of consumer and auto.

Distributors have been careful not to use the “A”-word—allocation. However, supply in the spot market has been tightening as component makers warn their partners against selling parts to independent distributors. Suppliers want to make sure their largest customers are first in line for in-demand parts. A second, less publicized reason is price: prices rise and fall in the spot market based on supply and demand. Component makers and authorized distributors can't control prices in the open market.

“Since the glut of 2000, nobody is using the word ‘allocation,’” said John McKay, president of sales for independent distributor Freedom. “What I can tell you is that parts that a customer paid $3 for are up to $7.” Customers have become accustomed to shopping in the spot market for lower prices; that has drastically changed. “Customers still aren’t willing to pull the trigger on higher prices even if they can get a quote,” McKay added. “But prices we were citing last week are even higher today.”

McKay noted that Freedom has been reading market signals and shoring up its inventory for awhile. “We are in a position where we can be the calm during the storm. If you are a distributor and not having fun in the market today, then you’re probably not in the right job.”

What about capacity?

Typically, when demand spikes, component manufacturers ramp up capacity. At least two component manufacturers, AVX and TDK, have made capacity-related announcements. AVX told analysts it was adding capacity in August; and in a letter to its customers TDK said it was restructuring its MLCC business. The restructuring includes integrating manufacturing sites, and improving technology processes to ensure production efficiency and quality, TDK said.

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Printed Electronics in Perspective

Printed electronics have garnered a significant amount of press coverage over the last several years. What appears to have precipitated the explosion of interest in the middle of the last decade was a report that suggested that printed electronics would dominate electronic production by the mid-2020s with an annual market of over $300 billion. $300 billion is a big number and it not surprisingly captured a lot of attention. Since that announcement there has been a significant paring down of the market expectations to a number closer to one quarter the one projected earlier. It is, one can perhaps safely assume, an acknowledgement of the persistence of incumbent technologies. It seems clear to many knowledgeable observers that the potential of printed electronics was much more modest than early projections, but as Yogi Berra observed and has been often quoted, “Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future.”

The hyperbole surrounding the reports released in 2007 was met with some bemusement by those such as this writer, who having been first been involved in what would be called direct write printed electronics startup (using today’s broader definition) in 1990 had a different perception of the technology’s “newness.” Moreover, as one seeking to give credit where credit is due, it should be evident (if one puts in a bit of effort and does a little digging) that printed electronics is a technology that is arguably more than six decades old, thus predating my earlier company’s efforts by some 35 years.

The very first printed electronic circuits were called printed circuits because they were exactly that…printed, using conductive and resistive inks. Moreover, Xerox’s technology (then called the Haloid-Xerox Company) was applied to printing etch-resistant films for circuit production in the mid-1950s and more than 45 years ago, there was demonstration of a printed transistor in roll-to-roll fashion by Westinghouse.

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Three types of IoT PCBs: Class I, Class II and Class III

So, in essence, Class I IoT PCBs don’t require the extra design, fabrication and assembly considerations that Class II and III IoT PCBs demand. For example, a Class I wearable product could be a sensor-based health-monitoring device that measures your heart beat, number of consumed calories or number of walking steps taken.

Let’s now look at Class II. These are mostly for industrial and commercial applications, meaning that these IoT devices aren’t as rigorously designed or tested as Class III IoT circuit boards. IoT devices are made acceptable under the standards of Class II by assuring good and reliable solder joints are in place and are making connections within the rigid-flex or flex circuitry.

Home automation is one major application that comes to mind. In home automation devices can connect through the internet to your iPhone or handheld device. The best thing is that home automation doesn’t incur vibration shocks or mechanical or thermal shocks.

All home appliances, from refrigerators to televisions to microwaves, are connected to home automation software through the internet. You can switch these devices on and off, and you can change the different programs or modules. You can also increase or decrease the flow rate of these devices. You can keep an eye on what’s happening inside the house through the home automation devices (for example, cameras or locks), and you can remotely turn on or off locks or cameras using your handheld device. That handheld device is another IoT product that doesn’t require extremely high reliability because environments they operate in aren’t harsh and don’t pose harm to their operation.

On the other hand, requirements for Class III IoT devices are very specific. IoT applications falling into this category include military/aerospace and medical electronics. In the assembly process for any type of printed circuit board, either surface mount technology or through hole is used to place components onto an IoT’s rigid-flex or flex circuit.

As the name implies, surface mount is just that — components and devices are placed with their connections on the surface of the circuit board. Through hole means tiny holes are drilled into the circuit board to insert component leads through them, thereby making electrical connections throughout the circuit board. If through hole components are used for an IoT device’s circuit board, a major Class III requirement, for example, is to have the barrel of each through hole to be filled with at least 75% or more solder. This is required so that the IoT device can sustain harsh environments and keep joints intact in all kinds of conditions. This Class III requirement is also known as the J Standard applied in military/aerospace and similar demanding applications. In particular, IoT targeted at aerospace applications must be extremely reliable. You not only have to prove through hole barrels are filled, but you also must have 100% verification using x-ray or similar inspection and verification system. Here, there’s no human intervention, guessing or judgment calls.

Also, it’s important to note the assembly process for Class III IoT rigid-flex or flex circuit boards becomes considerably more challenging than that for conventional PCBs. That’s because IoT PCBs are mainly based on rigid-flex or flex circuits that demand a host of critical considerations.

Here are some: You have to know how and where to place vias in the bend areas of the flex circuitry, or better yet, avoid putting them in if at all possible. You also have to assure stiffeners are kept at the right places; stiffeners are used to keep flex circuitry stable at certain locations.

Also, IoT rigid-flex or flex circuits have growing numbers of layers. In some cases, there are 12 or 14 layer flex circuits. These become exceedingly difficult during assembly and manufacture because different materials are involved. All are bending and twisting at different ratios, levels and angles. Each layer has different electrical characteristics associated with it, along with different thermal traits.

Further, inspections are vital for Class III with the J Standard applied to military IoT devices. It’s a good idea for assembled IoT devices to go to a third party for verification dealing with environmental testing, thermal shock and temperature cycling. The latter refers to subjecting the IoT device from -100° to +125° in a very short period of time. This ages the product; cracks and weaknesses start showing up in the weaker areas of the circuitry, especially when the flex circuitry is merging into the rigid circuitry.

The third party performing this important inspection should be without any bias and not interested in trying to meet shipping deadlines. Inspection companies like these are unbiased judges for testing your product; assuring there aren’t any flaws or issues that prevent them from meeting Class III standards is critical.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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Three Hot Trends in Printed and Flexible

1. Flexibility is a stronger driver than cost reduction

Many set out in printed electronics with the expectation that they can make cheaper devices using the technology, due to the lower manufacturing cost and (potentially) lower material cost. In reality, in the short term R&D efforts require pharmaceutical-like pricing to recoup initial investment in new materials and equipment. The performance is also varied - in some areas the technology outperforms the incumbent technology, such as evaporated OLEDs versus LCDs, in other areas that is not the case such as printed transistors. Generally speaking, today printed electronics can offer more performance for more money or same performance for more money.

Competing on cost as the only differential can be difficult, as the incumbent has more leverage to reduce cost. Rising from this has been the focus to create value beyond cost reduction including thinness, light weighting, robustness, stretch ability, larger area, wider substrate compatibility and flexibility.

It is these parameters that have resulted in billions of dollars being poured into flexible display development - whether OLED, LCD or other reflective display technologies. The battle is mainly in differentiating consumer electronics products with thinner, curved displays. Covering these innovations on flexible displays and lighting include Sharp, OSRAM, ITRI, OLED Works, Clearink, Etulipa, Folium Optics and FlexEnable at the event on 10-11 May. Others cover the latest progress with flexible sensors, e-textiles, batteries and devices including PragmatIC Printing, Interlink Electronics, ISORG, Flex, Holst Center, Joanneum Research.

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5 Proven Strategies for Reducing PCB Prototype Spins

It’s the old adage of the tortoise and the hare. In the race to complete a working development project that includes a printed-circuit board (PCB), the temptation often is to concentrate on the design exclusively until finished. Like the hare, it’s blast ahead full-speed into the creation of a design file that works like you want it to in the circuit simulator. The tortoise, on the other hand, handles the project by doing some additional research even before starting the physical layout.

The approach to solving the problem of designing a PCB-based product can vary greatly. But which method is fastest? Which is most effective? Which consumes the least project resources? All are good questions that have a strong influence on the success of your project, but they don’t necessarily provide a clear path to success from the beginning. One can hear the head designer planning out the project approach: “Do we do what we think we need to do with the design, then hope somebody can build it without busting our budget, or do we pick a fabricator first, even if it means potentially limiting our freedom of design?”

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