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January 21, 2019

Environment Impact on Assembly, Printing and Reflow

At our SMT facility we currently control ambient temperature (20-30 C), relative humidity (40-60%) and particle count (0.5 um not to exceed 100,000 particles, ISO Class 8). Is particle count a good parameter to control? How can having high particle concentrations affect our PCB assembly process, printing process or reflow process?

J.P.

Expert Panel Responses

Particlecount is usually used to indicate good housekeeping practices in the "cleanroom" area. The size of the airborne particles measured by a particlecounter are usually too small to do any real harm to a typical electronicassembly. The particles that are of concern are the much larger oneslingering around on equipment, tables, etc. The damage that these largerparticles could do are generally related to their size and conductivity. If the particles are large and conductive, then a short could conceivably becreated.

Acount of airborne particles is useful to indicate general cleanliness of thearea. In general, low particle counts indicate good housekeepingpractices which can eliminate the danger associated with larger particles.

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Tony Lentz
Field Applications
FCT Assembly
Tony has worked in the electronics industry since 1994. He worked as a process engineer at a circuit board manufacturer for 5 years. Since 1999, Tony has worked for FCT Companies as a laboratory manager, facility manager, and most recently a field application engineer. He has extensive experience doing research and development, quality control, and technical service with products used to manufacture and assemble printed circuit boards. He holds B.S. and M.B.S. degrees in Chemistry.

Themajority of SMT assembly areas are not formally controlled to a particulatecount. That said, the particulate levels in most world-class facilities willprobably meet the Class 8 specification, or at least closely approach it. ForSMT, it is often very hard to show that maintaining a low particulate count hasa measurable, direct impact on defects. As feature pitches and sizes aredecreased, however, it does become important. You would not see a flip-chipattach process for component assembly being run in an environment notcontrolled for particulates.

Controlof particulates does have another important plus: it limits the effect of duston equipment, which over time can be significant, and can even lead to wear andtear that will lead to defects. This alone may be justification for maintainingcontrol and monitoring. Also, the positive pressure required for particulatecontrol is a huge help in temperature & humidity control.

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Fritz Byle
Process Engineer
Astronautics
Fritz's career in electronics manufacturing has included diverse engineering roles including PWB fabrication, thick film print & fire, SMT and wave/selective solder process engineering, and electronics materials development and marketing. Fritz's educational background is in mechanical engineering with an emphasis on materials science. Design of Experiments (DoE) techniques have been an area of independent study. Fritz has published over a dozen papers at various industry conferences.

I am not aware of any SMT houses that are that concerned aboutthe air quality in the factory. If there are other assembly processes going onsuch as wire bonding or flip chip attach the air quality could be an issue. Butsimple PCB assembly with a solder paste is not that likely to be affected byair quality. The only issues that I have ever encountered are situations wherepaint may be chipping and falling off of the ceiling over the SMT assemblyline. In such cases, a gross particle like a paint chip would be an issue.

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Kay Parker
Technical Support Engineer
Indium Corporation
Kay Parker is a Technical Support Engineer based at Indium Corporation's headquarters in Clinton, N.Y. In this role she provides guidance and recommendations to customers related to process steps, equipment, techniques, and materials. She is also responsible for servicing the company's existing accounts and retaining new business.

Ifyou have an open tray of paste or flux, used for a package on packageapplication, particle build up would seem to not be a good thing. Usuallythe longest period of time that solder paste spend prior to reflow is in thecomponent placement process. I've never heard of an issue with particlecontamination in my 20 years in the industry, and a quick data search of 5,000+technical service call reports we have on file.

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Mitch Holtzer
Global Director of Customer Technical Support
Alpha Assembly Solutions
As the Global Director of Customer Technical Service (CTS) for Alpha, Mitch sets direction and provides coordination for the Alpha CTS group in a global capacity. A major focus of this position is to provide strategic support to OEM, CEM and Automotive customers and target accounts. Mitch joined Alpha in 1998 and has progressed through positions of increasing responsibilities in Marketing, Product Management and R&D. He is a graduate of Purdue University with a degree in Chemistry and holds an MBA from Temple University.

From the data provided I takethat your particle count is 100,000 per cubic meter. If this is the case,this value will be very hard to control since an ISO Class 8 system is ratedfor a maximum of 3,520,000 particles per cubic meter when particle size isequal or greater than 0.5 micrometers. The value of 3,520,000 particleper cubic meter is considered to be standard for a regular HVAC system. This should not have any effects on your printing, PCB assembly process, orreflow.

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Edithel Marietti
Senior Manufacturing Engineer
Northrop Grumman
Edithel is a chemical engineer with 20 year experience in manufacturing & process development for electronic contract manufacturers in US as well as some major OEM's. Involved in SMT, Reflow, Wave and other assembly operations entailing conformal coating and robotics.