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Adhesives, Sealants and Horseshoe Nails

By James DiBurro, Michael Platts, and Timothy Walsh


ASI Magazine

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the rider was lost.
For want of a rider, the message was lost.
For want of a message, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In today’s advanced electronics applications, adhesives, encapsulants, sealants, and other chemistries can be the “horseshoe nails” of mission-critical electronics systems. These chemical formulations play an increasingly important role in assuring not only that the assemblies function as intended, but that they will remain functional in highly adverse conditions for their intended life. In medical, defense, aerospace, industrial or transportation electronics applications that support high-reliability or mission-critical functions, the failure of an adhesive, coating or encapsulant can have dire consequences.

Historically, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of high-reliability products have taken one of two paths. The first path was to develop their own application-specific formulations and produce those internally, typically in frequent, small batches. This option required substantial investment in engineering and technical labor, production and test personnel, capital equipment, and facility space. This option also required a strong focus on chemical management, quality management and verification systems, regulatory compliance costs, and waste stream management costs.

The second option, which has emerged more rapidly over the past 20 years, is collaboration with specialty adhesives manufacturers and chemicals management providers. These collaborations can range from simple “down packaging” of industry-standard formulations into smaller-sized, ready-to-use formats to the modification of standard formulations or even the ground-up customization of materials. Increasingly, OEMs are establishing true partnerships with specialized chemical formulators and manufacturers to co-develop custom formulations, or to fully outsource materials development, fabrication, testing, and packaging of highly advanced application-specific formulations.


An interesting manifestation of this evolution has been the emergence of precision-mixed and frozen (PMF) formulations in ready-to-use syringes and cartridges. PMF products are typically multi-part chemical formulations that are specifically engineered for high-reliability electronic applications. PMF producers usually assume full responsibility for the sourcing of raw materials, materials management and storage, materials mixing and processing, full quality testing and verification, and final packaging of a ready-to-use formulation in either a handheld syringe or cartridge format suitable for higher-volume automated or semi-automated applications. In addition, premier PMF providers often provide post-manufacturing product verification services, whereby product samples of all shipped materials are retained for their usable shelf lives in safe storage at the PMF provider. Further, witness samples of cured PMF materials can be retained for up to 10 years in the event that post-application analysis is required. These services are valuable in many mission-critical applications to assure that PMF materials comply with specifications from the date of shipment and up to 10 years into the future.


Over the past 30 years, the majority of manufacturers have moved away from vertical manufacturing strategies in which they source, manufacture and internally control all components of their end products. Similar to the trend that has seen manufacturers outsource circuit board assemblies, metal and plastics fabrication, as well as many other subassemblies, the use of PMF products offers manufacturers multiple advantages over in-house processing and packaging. Today’s manufacturers overwhelmingly favor investing their limited capital and personnel on areas they view as core competencies. Very few large equipment OEMs today view chemical formulation and processing as internal core competencies. Further supporting this trend is the fact that the majority of today’s OEM manufacturers, and contract manufacturers to OEMs, have a relatively sophisticated understanding of total cost management. Thirty years ago, a purchasing leader would compare the cost of raw materials to the cost of a pre-processed material, and recommend internal fabrication. In today’s environment, the case is far more often made for leveraging the capabilities of specialized suppliers in the supply chain. Specialized chemical manufacturers offering PMF formulations are actually providing OEMs with significant savings related to product quality and repeatability, process time savings, and dramatically reduced overhead and compliance costs. This is particularly true in the manufacture of highly complex products supporting mission-critical functions. As chemicals such as adhesives, conformal coatings, encapsulants and thermal transfer materials are typically applied at the end of a manufacturing process, any errors associated with poor material quality can result in expensive rework, scrap expenses, or—worse yet—product liability exposure due to product failure in the field.

Another distinct advantage of PMF materials is the ability to ensure continuity of supply. In many cases, the PMF provider will offer manufacturers some level of “safety stock” in their own fault-tolerant freezer facilities to allow for unforeseen events such as processing errors, power outages, or spikes in demand. Lead times for raw materials can be many weeks, while PMF products managed under a safety stock program can be procured in hours or days.

PMF materials manufacturers offer OEMs a wide range of benefits, such as extreme blending and processing accuracy, material degassing, raw material and finished materials verification testing, application repeatability, and product genealogy (traceability), to ensure every batch and nanoliter of material within each batch is identical in nature. All of this is accomplished in a manner that provides for maximum pot-life retention.


PMF formulations are used in a variety of applications, ranging from automated bonding processes, staking of materials for secondary assembly processes, high shear strength bonding, hermetic encapsulation, thermal management, electrical and/or thermal conductivity or isolation, and many others. As electronics and packaging engineers continue to develop ever-more densely packaged electronic assemblies, the need for highly engineered adhesives, encapsulants and coatings becomes critical to the function of the finished assemblies.

These highly engineered formulations are often custom-developed materials that consist of two, three or more discrete chemical materials that must be precisely measured, processed, blended, and packaged prior to use. Precision-mixed and frozen materials that are formulated and compounded by specialized providers offer manufacturers a reliable source of “known-good” materials that can be sourced and cryogenically stored and dispensed for a year or more.


As shown in Table 1, a variety of materials and chemistries can be provided in a precision mixed and frozen format, ranging from simple mixing, packaging and cryogenic processing of widely used industry standard materials (e.g., 3M 2216 epoxy), to custom-formulated, application-specific materials engineered for an exact application or a specific range of properties. Between those two extremes lies a wide range of modified or semi-custom materials that offer modest alterations to well-known, commonly used materials.

One example of a semi-custom material that is optimally suited for PMF format is the many variants of the aforementioned 3M 2216. This ubiquitous, epoxy-based material supports a wide range of high-reliability bonding requirements, but in some cases has characteristics that are not perfectly suited to a specific application.

The addition of functional fillers often adds to the number of mixed components and thus the complexity of the compounding process. Some of the characteristics that are fairly easily engineered for application-specific properties include:

  • Controlled flow—increase or decrease of material flowability
  • Pot life—extension of in-process working life of the material
  • Material cure rate/mechanism—ambient or elevated temperature, UV exposure
  • Color—visual customization for process optimization
  • Visual verification/traceability—use of UV tracer materials, torque striping, calibration
  • Conductivity and resistivity—electrical and/or thermal

Additional critical factors when considering material options are the base chemistries used within the formulations and the method used for dispensing. Table 2 outlines a few common examples and the general benefits and drawbacks of each family of materials.

PMF materials that are prepackaged in ready-to-use formats offer a distinct quality and reliability advantage over competing formats, such as dual-cartridges or injection cartridge kits, due to fact that PMF materials are precisely measured, integrated and tested as a mixed material prior to packaging. Every nanoliter is exactly the same in PMF, while the opportunity exists for small amounts of unmixed or improperly mixed materials being inadvertently applied in dual-cartridge and injection cartridge packaging.


As manufacturers of high-reliability or mission-critical technology products focus on improved quality, reduced risk and the lowest total cost solutions, PMF materials are playing a more prominent role in the electronics manufacturing supply chain. Premier PMF providers have the ability to custom develop materials for applications that require precisely engineered characteristics. High-reliability applications that involve harsh environments (e.g., heat, humidity, radiation or chemical exposure), exceptional bond strength, and thermal or electrical conductivity or isolation are ideally suited for the use of precision mixed and frozen materials. Although PMF products can sometimes be slightly more expensive per application due to their higher investment in processing and packaging in ready-to-use formats, the advantages of PMF materials’ ease of use, quality and repeatability far outweighs the cost savings that might be derived from internal materials processing. In fact, the majority of technology OEMs that once mixed and processed their own materials have transitioned to PMF materials as their lowest total cost, highest value solution.



Can US Manufacturing be Saved?

September 27, 2011

When technology OEMs began to outsource the manufacturing of their products to specialized contract manufacturers over 30 years ago, there were a number of critics that suggested that outsourcing a core activity such as manufacturing would eventually harm the OEMs who would lose the ability and knowledge associated with hardware manufacturing, and eventually be at the mercy of the contract manufacturers. Up until recently those critics were treated like Chicken Little…the sky didn’t fall on technology manufacturing in the US. Outsourcing manufacturing to Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) providers, (the updated term for contract manufacturers) enabled OEMs to substantially reduce fixed cost investments, reduce risk, and improve cash flow and corporate margins. But as is so often the case, what started out as a more efficient business model evolved into a model that now threatens the very fabric of our capitalist society...the US economy.

In the last 10 years or so the economic dynamics have dramatically changed with regard to the importance of domestic manufacturing.            10 years ago the largest EMS companies were predominantly North America-based providers, manufacturing the majority of their products in NA factories. Today the largest EMS providers are Asia-based providers, and the vast majority of technology manufacturing now occurs on foreign soil, in lower cost regions such as China, Malaysia, Vietnam, India, Mexico, and Eastern Europe, with even lower wage African nations waiting in the on deck circle.

According to the US Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics this unprecedented strategic shift has resulted in a loss of over 6 MILLION manufacturing jobs in the US alone since 2000. From a standpoint of keeping our economy strong and passing along a strong economic foundation for our children, I view this as completely unacceptable. Paraphrasing a quote made famous by Ross Perot, one has to ask the question: “Why has this “great sucking sound” of manufacturing jobs draining away from the US been allowed to continue? I believe the answer can be summed up in two simple words: Ignorance and Greed.

In chasing ever lower product costs and higher earnings, most major hardware manufacturers wasted no time in closing higher wage cost factories in the US and Canada in favor of low wage nations such as Mexico, and China. In just the years between 2002 and 2006, China added 11 million manufacturing jobs to its rolls, which is coincidentally nearly the same number of manufacturing jobs the US has lost since 1980.

In an op-ed article published on The Huffington Post, Leo Hindery, Chairman of the Smart Globalization Initiative at the New America Foundation, explains the dilemma we are facing:

“Structurally speaking, no economy as large, complex and geographically far-flung as ours can prosper over the long term with less than 20-25% of its workers being in manufacturing and without the sector contributing a similar percentage of GDP. Yet as it is, only around 9% of Americans now work in manufacturing, and as a percent of our GDP, the sector provides just 11% of the total."

The proof of this conclusion is found in history, starting with the forty years leading up to the Second World War, when the percent of U.S. employment in manufacturing was a fairly consistent 30% or so, and followed by the three decades thereafter, when, despite the introduction of new service sector jobs as post-War manufacturing incomes rose, such percent still consistently hovered at around 25%. These seventy years of robust manufacturing were -- it's no coincidence -- generally robust years for the middle class as well, hallmarked by wide-scale new home construction and new car ownership, quality public school education for the nation's youth, and fair salaries with relatively little income inequality.

Hindery says the U.S. must focus on its approach to trade, particularly toward China, if it is to rebuild its manufacturing capabilities and compete globally. The first step is to create a strong U.S. manufacturing policy. He points out that 19 members of the G-20 have very precise national manufacturing and industrial policies. America alone does not.

“By not having our own manufacturing and industrial policy and by persisting with corporate tax policies that are in conflict with the objective of having a robust domestic manufacturing sector, between 1998 and 2010 we lost approximately six million manufacturing jobs overseas, with more than two million of these occurring from 2007-2009,” said Hindery. “In just the years between 2002 and 2006, China added 11 million manufacturing jobs to its rolls, which are as many manufacturing jobs as we now have left in total in America.”

China’s manufacturing policy – though very much illegal – has been highly effective, says Hindery. The country has surpassed Japan in becoming the world’s second-largest economy, passed Germany as the world’s biggest exporter, and will likely knock the U.S. off its top spot as the world’s biggest economy by 2030.

“We have benignly and actively neglected this sector for far too long,” writes Hindery. “And regardless of who wins the 2012 election, we need to focus on these manufacturing, trade and education-related issues if we want to have a healthy, vibrant, ethically sound nation moving forward.”

The bottom-line: More product development and manufacturing jobs need to be repatriated to the United States and Canada immediately to turn this economy around. If you agree, please provide your feedback and comments here, and make your opinion known to your political leaders. Nothing less than the fate of our economy and our children’s futures rests on our ability to act now before it is too late.


The Marketing and Branding Gap in ODM and EMS

By : Jim DiBurro President, Round Rock Consulting LLC

To see the full article published in VentureOutsource: Please go to: The Marketing and Branding Gap in Electronics Manufacturing Services

In comparison to other multi-national technology giants, ODM and EMS providers appear to be in a continuous state of stealth mode. As someone who has worked in the top tier of the EMS Industry for nearly two decades, I've confused friends, families, and airplane seatmates countless times by trying to explain who I worked for and what my company does. So why is it that as large and impactful as ODM and EMS providers are to virtually everyone who comes in contact with a TV, cellphone, (or virtually anything sold by Apple), nobody knows who they are?  The answer: With rare exceptions EMS and ODM providers are remarkably poor at Marketing and Branding.

To read the full article on why EMS and ODMs are lacking in this area, and what can be done to improve in this area, please click the above link.

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