Disparity reigns at small Taiwanese vendors

In a recent trip to Taiwan, I visited a handful of small manufacturing companies. One minute, I was impressed to see they were at the leading edge of technology. The next, I was surprised to see they were in the middle of the pack.
E-Lead is a perfect example. The company makes radio head units, navigation systems and many other products that it sells directly to the vehicle OEMs. It’s difficult to crack into the automotive OEM market, which puts much emphasis on long-term reliability and quality.
E-Lead, which holds over 500 patents, measures up on reliability. It claims to be hitting zero ppm levels routinely, beating the single-digit requirements set by the likes of Ford and Toyota.
Those levels are for lead-free boards. Quality levels dropped a couple years ago when E-Lead first made the transition from lead solder. But its lead-free boards now match the quality levels of the good old days of electronics manufacturing.
These quality levels are achieved on some dense but still fairly mundane boards. Though some of its end products are quite sophisticated, E-Lead manufactures only boards with leaded packages. The company uses 32-bit chips in many systems, but it hasn’t yet advanced its production to utilize ball grid arrays.
“When we need to use BGAs, we go to outside companies,” said Mark Su, marketing vice president. At a higher level, E-Lead is still struggling to develop networked products using the CAN technology that’s been ubiquitous on cars for at least a decade.
That smaller Taiwanese companies focus on low-cost products, not high tech production, is not particularly startling. But that BGAs and CAN networking are considered new, leading edge technology definitely surprised me.

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