Custom Interconnect Ltd, (CIL), based in Andover, Hampshire, is a long-established electronics manufacturer engaged in producing some of the most technically challenging electronic assemblies in the UK. This capability allows them to meet the functional, environmental and dimensional demands of high-reliability, mission-critical applications in sectors like medical, aerospace, oil & gas and others.
This obviously calls for long experience and great expertise, but, as components shrink and boards become ever more densely populated, it also depends on having the most advanced manufacturing equipment available – backed in turn by the best inspection test and diagnostic tools on the market. It’s possible to build advanced-technology PCB assemblies, and then not be equipped to find fault sites and root causes if things go wrong in the field. In fact, CIL sometimes rescues customers in these situations, by having the resources to identify faults on equipment that other suppliers have built, yet have been unable to troubleshoot successfully.
However, these resources must evolve and be updated constantly, to keep pace with continuous development in component technology. For example, after 14 years’ successful experience with a Dage XD7600 X-ray machine, CIL decided to update to a Nordson Dage Quadra 5 system that is better-equipped to inspect the boards they now produce.
CIL’s decision was driven both by the Quadra 5’s advanced technical capabilities and by the quality of support that they have enjoyed from Nordson Dage and their UK suppliers, Cupio.
A key advantage of the Quadra 5 is its computerised tomography (CT) capability. X-Plane builds X-ray 3D images comprising up to 1000 distinct slices or image planes of the component being inspected. A slice will remove obstructions above or below the plane of focus so that only the regions of interest remain. Defects such as interfacial voids, cracks, HIP and other solder defects can be found and measured easily. CT image cross-sections can be generated from anywhere on the sample tray without need for manual alignment. The addition of the CT sample stage provided with the CIL Quadra 5 adds additional full CT capability for small samples that require 3D reconstruction for detailed analysis.
The system produces ultra-high quality images using Nordson Dage’s latest generation QuadraNT™ X-ray source, which is 10 times brighter and intrinsically more stable than conventional X-ray tubes. This is complemented by an Aspire flat panel detector, which combines 16-bit contrast with 3 megapixel resolution. Feature recognition down to 350nm and magnification up to 45,000 times allow visibility of the finest details and quick identification of defects.
These advantages over the earlier machine help CIL to meet the inspection demands posed by today’s densely-packed PCBs and miniaturised components. However, the benefits extend beyond this; CIL’s assemblies find their way into extreme environments characteristic of their target markets. For example, Oil & Gas applications can expose equipment to temperatures up to 175°C – and this can create some unusual failure modes , many of which may not previously have been seen. CT scanning gives CIL a new ability to find these failures and their root causes.
Once they’re found and understood, CIL can check for their presence in other products that are not necessarily exposed to the same environmental extremes. This pre-empts problems that could arise from a latent failure mechanism; one that slumbers for a considerable period until an unusually elevated stress level eventually triggers it. This may never happen for some products, but overall quality has nevertheless been further improved at an invisible as well as a visible level.
Accordingly, the system will support CIL’s current complement of six SMT lines placing down to 01005 and all current IC package styles including BGA, LGA, QFN & CSP and associated inspection and test equipment including AOI and flying probe test as well as the X-ray inspection resource. They also have lead-free selective soldering as well as both lead-free and leaded wave soldering using the industry standard CMS400 / CMS400LF machines. All manufacturing is under CIL’s Quality Management System, which is accredited to ISO9001:2015, AS9100 Rev D for Aerospace & Defence and ISO 13485:2016 for medical device manufacturing.
The Quadra 5 is used on low-volume and prototyping projects as well as ongoing production runs. In these cases, it is often used before as well as after the reflow stage to provide extra opportunities for design modification.
As previously mentioned, support provided by Cupio and Nordson Dage played a significant role in CIL’s considerations and decision. This had always been readily available throughout CIL’s 14-year ownership of the earlier machine, but it became especially critical when the company was involved in a challenging investigation into one particularly complex fault condition. According to John Boston, Managing Director at CIL, Cupio and Nordson Dage’s contribution at the time was instrumental in finding a successful solution.
After the new system’s installation, Cupio provided on-site training in the new system features while updating the operators in the new inspection techniques. This mainly concerned the new CT scan and X-Plane technology; for the more conventional scanning modes, the user interface was very similar to the earlier machine’s, so the learning curve was reduced accordingly.
“Automatic inspection is fundamental to the integrity of the process, and, as much of our production uses ICs with under-package pinouts, an X-Ray system remains essential. For this, we trusted Cupio to provide the right solution” comments John Boston, “Yet this is just part of an extensive new capital investment programme designed to ensure we maintain the most advanced manufacturing capability in the UK. As TV business trouble-shooter Sir John Harvey-Jones once said, “If you buy second-hand, you’re immediately out of date”. By contrast, our policy is to continually invest in new equipment to retain our competitive edge and our insight into fault mechanisms, no matter how complex and highly-populated future board designs become.
“Ultimately, this investment allows us to live our 24/7 service culture; we believe in committing ‘whatever it takes’ to deliver reliable, timely and cost-effective solutions. Visitors to our manufacturing facility in Andover will be able to see for themselves our ability to deliver on our promise.”