AIM Solder Talks Innovations to Address Assembly, Reliability Issues

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Las Marias: On that front, what are some of the latest developments in your solder products to address those flux risk issues?

Suraski: Safety is a very important concern, in terms of reliability and SIR. There are different ways to measure the reliability of a flux. I'll give you one example. We developed a liquid flux recently that is called NC280. It's very good for selective soldering. The selective soldering application is different than other applications where everything gets heated up. With selective soldering, not every part of the board is necessarily going to be heated. You may have some flux on the board that hasn't seen a heat cycle. Traditionally, a flux needs to see a heat cycle in order to become inert, so to speak. This particular flux is safe, even when not heated up. That's kind of a unique breakthrough and the industry is trying to move in that direction.

Las Marias: Is there a trend to remove silver from the solder?

Suraski: When solder alloys transitioned from tin lead to lead free—which is still happening, by the way—the default alloys in the industry were SAC alloys—tin, silver, and copper. From there, we came to land on SAC 305, so 3% silver. It's costly, because of the silver content in it, so there was a push for several years, starting in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, to try to get the silver out, if possible.

It's taken years, but there are several silver-free alloys on the market now. We sell several of them, and our competitors sell several of them as well. Generally, they work quite well. For wave soldering, it's the trend. Most of the silver has been taken out of the wave soldering process already. People are using alloys like low SAC alloys with very small silver contents, like .7%. We sell an alloy call SN100C that is completely silver free. Fluxes have been developed to work with these alloys so that it's a robust, reliable process. It’s not for everyone. There are still some people that still use silver in their process for one reason or another.

Now what we see is that this movement is transitioning to SMT. Solder paste users are saying to themselves, “Well, I took the silver out of wave soldering years ago, maybe I can do it with SMT and have a cost benefit, or maybe even a technical benefit.” For instance, maybe it will result in more reliability or a better process. We're in the midst of that happening right now. What that means for us is we're continuing to develop different and better silver-free alloys; we have to develop the fluxes to go along with them, to make sure that the process is robust and that everything works.

Matties: Circuit design plays a big role in the quality of the solder joints as well, right?

Suraski: That's right. We try to work as early as possible with the designers. It's not just the purchasing people. It's not just the engineers that we're working with. We're forming relationships with designers at companies throughout the world, which does two things. It enables us to help them design a product that's going to be practical from a production standpoint, and that is also reliable. It also gives us good insight as to what's coming down the pipe maybe two, five or 10 years from now, and allows us to feed that information back to R&D, or just have R&D in that meeting, to develop products accordingly.

Matties: It almost seems like there could be an AIM design guideline on solder joints, which could create real value for you guys in the marketplace.

Suraski: There is, in a way. It's probably trapped in people's heads.

Matties: Isn’t the placement of a heavy component on the bottom of the board going through a problem also?

Suraski: That's right, and the geometry of the circuit board, and the joint itself.

Matties: You have such a vast amount of knowledge that you can carry, where a designer is limited to the hundred boards that they’ve designed.

Suraski: That's the advantage that we have, that our technical support people offer, too. They're not just seeing one application; they're seeing all of them.

Matties: Is there anything else that we should talk about that we haven't?

Suraski: Our focus is on customer support. There are a lot of people that do things similar to how we do them. They have a global footprint for selling solders. They have good, aggressive pricing. They have good products. Where we really do differentiate ourselves is with support, as I mentioned. Whether it be a last-second shipment because they forgot to order, or because their production jumped up and they weren't expecting it, or technical support on a 24/7 basis. That’s really how we try to differentiate ourselves, and why we've enjoyed some good growth the past several years.

Matties: How does your technical support work for a user? Do they call into a call center, or a local distributor?

Suraski: Normally, our technical support people proactively will contact our customer base. There are two ways it works: One is through regular visits. Some customers we're visiting weekly, some we're visiting monthly, not to solve any issues. Just to know what's going on and if there is anything that we can do or that we should know about. In an emergency basis, since they've formed that relationship already, customers may reach out directly to us if something arises. They can reach out to our tech support people, a call center, a salesperson, a distributor, and it's all going to get funneled back to the appropriate technical support people, who can then attack the issue.

Matties: Do you have an online FAQ for people to access?

Suraski: Yes, including a lot of interesting technical articles. So there is more than an FAQ; they can find an article or white paper on certain issues. Of course, for additional information, we want people to contact us.

Las Marias: Thank you very much.

Suraski: Great, thank you.


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