Two Different Worlds in Our Industry

I had not appreciated the huge differences in our electronic packaging/interconnection technology industry—and perhaps there are many others that are in the same boat as I. I originally came from the commercial electronics world; I recently had the opportunity to do some work on space electronics.

In the commercial world, the time between design and product implementation is very short, frequently not allowing sufficient time for any kind of reliability testing, and often even ignoring simple ‘Design-for Reliability’ procedures as per IPC-D-279. The designs utilize the latest technologies and components; cost of the electronic assemblies is kept as low as possible and the time from start of manufacturing to operational use is often measured in days. The numbers of identical assemblies can run into the millions, and thus, changes involving things like ‘White-Wire’ repairs or any other rework involving manual individual operations need to be avoided almost at any cost.

For space flight electronics, units are built in very limited numbers and they are designed and even built many years prior to actual use. That means that they are built using ‘yesterday’s’ technologies and contain components that are often obsolete and/or unavailable before the electronics is even delivered to the customer. They see many test conditions at subcontractor and contractor levels that are significantly more severe than are the actual use conditions, and that can consume sizable portions of the life of the assemblies. They undergo many design changes because of (1) changes in their use or changes in the mission, (2) necessary component changes, (3) other reasons. The cost of these assemblies is very high running into the $100,000 range; this is not so much because they are that expensive to built, but because the number of a given component and assembly that actually is found fight-worthy is a fraction of the total and because all the value added through the years of testing. Thus, ‘White-Wire’ alterations are very common with lots of manual soldering operations.

Having sat in many IPC committees during their deliberations, these totally different perspectives have been often very apparent without a full understanding of the “Why” on my part.


IPC Note: Werner will be teaching a series of webcasts on lead-free reliability in September. More details are available here.

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