The PCB Norsemen: Attacking the Loophole That Does Not Exist

Jan Pedersen.JPGWhen producing PCBs, we follow IPC standards for Qualification Performance and Acceptance from design, through production, to customer incoming inspection and acceptance. However, there is always a way of writing a standard and a different way of interpreting it.

Today I will attack a loophole that does not exist yet is still used by many. Let’s dig into the term “workmanship” as written in IPC-6012E 3.3.1, which represents the Qualification and Performance Specification for Rigid Printed Boards. You find the same section in IPC-6013 and IPC-6018. The requirement says:

IPC-6012E 3.3.10: Workmanship
Printed boards shall be processed in such a manner as to be uniform in quality and show no visual evidence of dirt, foreign matter, oil, fingerprints, tin/lead or solder smear transfer to the dielectric surface, flux residue and other contaminants that affect life, ability to assemble and serviceability. Visually dark appearances in non-plated holes, which are seen when a metallic or non-metallic semi-conductive coating is used, are not foreign material and do not affect life or function. Printed boards shall be free of non-conformances in excess of those allowed in this specification. There shall be no evidence of any lifting or separation of platings from the surface of the conductive pattern, or of the conductor from the base laminate in excess of that allowed. There shall be no loose plating slivers on the surface of the printed board.

Are We Misinterpreting the Standards?
A typical understanding of this requirement is often limited to “no visual evidence of dirt, foreign matter, oil, fingerprints, tin/lead or solder smear transfer to the dielectric surface, flux residue and other contaminants that affect life, ability to assemble and serviceability.

Also note: “There shall be no evidence of any lifting or separation of platings from the surface of the conductive pattern, or of the conductor from the base laminate in excess of that allowed. There shall be no loose plating slivers on the surface of the printed board.”

As written, there is a requirement here; not measureable, but it’s still quite clear. But, are we missing something here?

In my daily work I often discuss what is acceptable with suppliers. We read the related standards, explain, and give examples. We try to agree on how to understand the specific requirement or a combination of several requirements. Then we inspect the related boards and agree on what we observe. Some years ago, the defects we found were functional, such as open circuit, short circuit, and via hole, that will cause functional problems.

The Difference Between Cosmetic Issues and Cosmetic Failure
Today’s factories have better process control and improved functional testing, meaning that most of the claims are what can be called cosmetic. The challenge is knowing what is cosmetic, and what is purely a cosmetic issue that could lead to a failure in the application.

This leads me back to the standard, and the sentence that many PCB suppliers often overlook: “Printed boards shall be free of non-conformances in excess of those allowed in this specification.”

The last revision of the standard, and still written in IPC-6013 and IPC-6018, says: “Printed boards shall be free of defects in excess of those allowed in this specification.”

The word defect has then, if we are kind to the reader, been understood as functional:

  • What is a defect?
  • Is a cosmetic imperfection a defect?

The next revision uses the term non-conformance, and we hope that helps. Here, it must be understood as any imperfection to the PCB design.

Before we discuss this further, it is important to understand that even an up-to-date PCB factory will have some handling, and smaller cosmetic issues will occur. It is very important that the user understands and does not reject fully functional products.

For further understanding I suggest reading my April 2020 column, keeping in mind what I discussed last year that it is still important for the PCB supplier to understand the standard and have a goal to reduce such cosmetic issues.

elmatica_fig1.jpgWorkmanship: What Does the Standard Really Say?
What the standard says about workmanship is, in reality, that the PCB shall be free of any imperfection not allowed in this specification. But what are we talking about? I would say that more than 60% of customer claims are related to solder masks in one way or the other. Let me give some examples:

All of us producing and using PCBs know that handling in production will lead to scratches in the solder mask. But what is the criteria to accept a scratch? How many scratches, and how deep? The immediate answer is that IPC does not specify what is acceptable or not. The only requirement we have is the workmanship rule that says a scratch is an imperfection that is not allowed.

So, what is the solution? We need to talk together and agree upon reasonable inspection criteria.

elmatica_fig2.jpgThe processing of solder mask today is in a much cleaner environment than before. The clue is cleanroom areas that enable the factory to deliver a clean solder mask, free from unwanted particles that mostly come from the application room condition and workers' clothes. Still, we are not yet at a level where we can guarantee the solder mask will be 100% clean from unwanted particles. Such room conditions are costly and many factories trade between a defect free solder mask and the cost of such conditions.

But what are the requirements? Even though not written specifically in IPC-6012 series, an unwanted particle can in worst case lead to a defect in the application. And, with the miniaturisation of PCB designs, existing clearance rules may not be sufficient. Again, the rule is such that unwanted particles are not allowed. We know it happens, so we need an inspection criterion just like the solder mask scratch issue.

Discuss and Accept Acceptability Criteria for Both Parties
Both of these issues represent a condition not allowed according to the workmanship specification. These issues happen daily, and in most cases, the PCB supplier will handle it as a cosmetic issue and therefore the customer shall accept it. But that is not what IPC says. It is important to know the standard and understand the requirements, but even then, you will have a grey zone situation where the only solution is to talk together and discuss acceptability criteria that is satisfactory to both parties. The user should also understand that the workmanship standard may have different effects on different base materials, and between a prototype or small volume order compared to volume manufacturing.

Conclusion
What can we learn from this? The most important is to know the standard and how to use it. Most people read the measurable requirements, while a requirement like the workmanship rule is left out. It is hard to deal with because it requires at least two parties to find a solution that works for both. This, however, leads to my next article, which will focus on the term AABUS (As Agreed Between User and Supplier), meaning these open requirements shall be discussed with the supplier, be part of the article specification, or agreed in a general procurement requirement.

Until next time …

This column originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2021

The PCB Norsemen: Attacking the Loophole That Does Not Exist

02-16-2021

When producing PCBs, we follow IPC standards for Qualification Performance and Acceptance from design, through production, to customer incoming inspection and acceptance. However, there is always a way of writing a standard and a different way of interpreting it.

View Story
Back

2020

The PCB Norsemen: Leading by Going the Extra Mile

12-22-2020

This year has been far from normal. Here, Didrik Bech shares how "doing a little extra" often can change a lot, as well as his experience of how to attract new colleagues, welcome them, train them, and include them in the company's culture and style/methodology of leadership.

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The PCB Norsemen: So Much More Than Just Through Vias

11-17-2020

As most people know, component holes are still highly necessary for components that require them, and clean lead-through-holes (vias) have increased in necessity over the last 30 years. John Steinar Johnsen explains how the challenges with smaller diameter vias, perhaps depth-controlled, have increased and are, in some cases, challenging for those who produce PCBs and have to assemble and handle solder components.

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The PCB Norsemen: A Path to Successful PCB Fabrication

09-28-2020

In the PCB fabrication process, there can be multiple actors involved. How can you ensure that all these actors are cooperating to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects of the pillars of PCB fabrication? It might sound like an insurmountable task, but Didrik Bech shares a path that can increase your chances of success.

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The PCB Norsemen: Leadership Styles for Success

08-18-2020

Leadership is the foundation of a successful business. Elmatica CEO Didrik Bech looks deeper into the various styles of leadership and shares his experiences and opinions.

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PCB Norsemen: The Importance of Quality Management

06-19-2020

Most companies have a quality management system, but the important factor is not if you have one; it's about how that system is implemented in your company's values, strategies, and goals. Didrik Bech explains how you can use your QMS as a competitive advantage and shares five top reasons for having one.

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The PCB Norsemen: It’s All About Being Prepared

05-15-2020

COVID-19, known globally by now, and buzzwords like social distancing, isolation, home office, antibac, and lockdowns, are humming in every ear. Raymond Goh explores how this will impact the electronics industry and how to respond. Humans tend to stick to habits. Will the same happen to PCB production?

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The PCB Norsemen: Can Better Guidelines on Cosmetic Failures ‘Save’ Functioning PCBs?

05-05-2020

Every year, fully functional PCBs are scrapped due to cosmetic “failures” that are not approved. Is this right, or do we need to make an even more precise set of rules on how to handle this? Jan Pedersen shares his thoughts on the issue.

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The PCB Norsemen: What Are the True Benefits of Going Digital?

04-06-2020

2019 might have been the year when the trend word digitalization really kicked off and transitioned from being a buzzword to aligning with keywords and concepts as AI and IoT. Didrick Bech explores the future of digitization, which is already here.

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The PCB Norsemen: Automotive Standard Elevates the Excellence of Electronics

01-19-2020

IPC-6012DA (currently in WAM1) was the first automotive standard for printed boards; it also needs to expand to cover all types of rigid printed boards. To meet the PCB needs in the automotive industry of today and tomorrow, we have started to collect information and identify the types of printed boards not covered by the existing standard. One finding in the research is printed boards used for LED headlights and taillights, which have two requirements not covered; these are described as metal-core printed boards and high-power printed boards.

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The PCB Norsemen: New Trends in the PCB Industry at productronica 2019

01-02-2020

Working with PCB technology and standardization as I do, it is always interesting to see the new trends and where the PCB industry is moving. Changes tend to happen at a slow pace; still, I visited productronica this year for dedicated meetings and expected to learn about new processes and production equipment. What hit me was the different manufacturing focus between Asia and Europe. 5G applications and smartphones—both making an impact in the news as a high focus in Asia, where most of the production is placed—were hardly mentioned at productronica 2019. However, I picked up on other new trends in the PCB industry.

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2019

The Laminate Market: What Will the Future Bring?

11-04-2019

PCBs have been manufactured more or less the same way since we entered the industry in 1972, but the circumstances surrounding the boards have changed. The PCB Norsemen have addressed the copper situation several times in our columns as well as the component crisis affecting the PCB industry. Now, we’re experiencing external factors—such as Brexit and the trade restrictions between China and the U.S.—that are affecting the industry and causing delays due to raw material demand and prioritization by huge market players.

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The PCB Norsemen: Avoid Failures in PCB Production With Compliance Control

08-08-2019

Failures and reliability in the printed circuit industry are usually considered in the context of quality claims and non-conformity. This is a logical approach; however, there is a new context where these aspects are under close scrutiny, namely compliance—especially in the defense industry. Failing to understand import and export compliance for every country you deliver to and from will, at some point, result in challenges in your supply chain with potentially severe ramifications.

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The PCB Norsemen: From Wooden Huts to Homemade Go-karts—It All Starts With Design!

07-08-2019

Whether building the coolest go-kart or the most sophisticated electronic hardware, the story is the same: It starts with design. And for designers and manufacturers, early involvement and commitment between all the involved parties in a product development process diminish the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings.

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What Is Reliability Without Traceability?

06-27-2019

High reliability and compliance are hot topics at conferences all over the world. If you are a supplier to industries like defense, automotive, medical, and aerospace/space, high-reliability and regulatory compliance are strict demands for electronic device manufacturers. This column discusses how high-reliability demands enforce the need for traceability, and at what level the traceability should be.

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The PCB Norsemen: Merging the Best of Both Worlds—Young Superheroes and Knowledgeable Wizards!

05-29-2019

Companies that dare be true to themselves, trust their employees, and provide direction, freedom, and responsibility to their most important asset—namely, their employees—are more likely to succeed. However, we can all rattle behind these positive words and agree with these statements. The real question is, “How do you actually create and sustain an environment that motivates and attracts people—especially millennials—in the wave of Industry 4.0?"

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The PCB Norsemen: My Flexible Story—Flex Circuit Development Through the Decades

04-30-2019

Senior Technical Advisor Jan Pedersen is celebrating 26 years at Elmatica. In this column, he shares his thoughts from his long experience in this exciting industry, and talks about those things that have changed a lot in the past few decades, and the others that haven't.

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A PCB Broker’s Guide Through the Galaxy of Automation

04-05-2019

A smart factory is defined by its ability to harness manufacturing data flowing throughout the enterprise and then convert that data into intelligent information that can be used to create improvements in productivity, efficiency, savings, yields, automation, enabled traceability, compliance, and reduced risk of errors and rework. All of these items are crucial factors when manufacturing printed circuits.

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The PCB Norsemen: Technology’s Future Comes Together—A Great Slogan for Us All!

02-13-2019

“Technology’s Future Comes Together” was the theme of this year's IPC APEX EXPO, which is quite suitable during these changing times. I guess we all need to come together, especially the automotive industry.

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The PCB Norsemen: PCB Standards for Medical Device Applications—A Hard Nut to Crack!

02-04-2019

With digitalization, AI, and IoT, the traceability and transparency to how a PCB is produced will be even more important. We must rule out the PCBs that follow the standards to the ones that do not. The day will come when you or someone you know might need a medical device, and you want to make sure it does its job correctly.

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2018

Digital Specs for Automated Manufacturing: Find the Missing Link!

11-29-2018

Automation and connected smart factories are the new manufacturing trend. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of things (IoT) continue to enter PCB manufacturing. However, if we continue down the same path with specifications and requirements written on electronic papers and unintelligent production files, human interpretation is still crucial to avoid mistakes. CircuitData could solve this problem because having one language for automated smart factories is the future!

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PCB Norsemen: The Solution to the UL Challenge—Industrial Awareness

08-28-2018

Writes Jan Pedersen: The solder-limit subject has been a "hot potato" for a quite some time, with many discussions around the new requirement from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that UL’s Emma Hudson brought to attention in early 2018.

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The PCB Norsemen: Lean Challenges—Standard vs. Non-Standard Products

08-06-2018

Writes Didrick Bech: People tend to treat standard and non-standard products in the same way; however, they represent two parallel product segments and consequently different challenges for your Lean manufacturing process, especially in relation to production and logistical operations. When you fail to differentiate the processing of standard and non-standard products, not only is the Lean manufacturing process disrupted, but you also introduce a variety of production, financial and logistical challenges.

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The Velocity of Technology— What Does It Really Mean?

07-02-2018

PCB Norseman, Jan Pedersen: Driving a car is probably one of the areas where the user comes in direct touch with the technology development. And we understand the speed when we see how fast we get new versions of smartphones and other gadgets. But in what direction are we going?

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2017

Industry 4.0, AI and CircuitData

11-14-2017

PCB Norseman, Andreas Lydersen: As automation works its way onto the shop floors, it still struggles to replace humans in the supporting roles, such as designers, purchasers, brokers, and back-office staff. Where automation on the shop floor replaces humans in doing repetitive manual tasks, the supporting roles (at least some of them) require intelligence to understand and utilise information.

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