Solderless Assembly for Electronics (SAFE): The Book Project


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Happy New Year and welcome to the first part of a new series of articles on the important emerging area of solderless assembly technology.

This new effort is a bit of an experiment in information dissemination. In an industry as fast paced as the electronics industry, one often finds himself reading technology texts that are more akin to history books. Traditional texts will always have a vital roll to play in information transfer, but real-time examination of rapidly evolving technologies cannot be carried out in such a manner. This effort will be a first attempt at offering a near real-time text on an emerging technology. When complete, the various parts of the series will be collected and organized into chapters and a more traditional book comprised of all of the these open series parts will also be made available free to future readers or for those who might want to have all the information under one cover. The length of this journey is unknown as I set out, but the plan is to provide new parts on various aspects of solderless assembly technology at, hopefully, somewhat regular intervals over the coming months--until the subject has been sufficiently examined and to give the reader a good understanding of what solderless assembly is and what is needed to take advantage of its many benefits.   

The book’s title, Solderless Assembly For Electronics (SAFE), is perhaps a bit provocative, but SAFE is believed to be an accurate summary word for products made without solder. The term SAFE was first used in a paper delivered at an IPC conference on lead-free solder a few years ago and was resurrected for this effort because only a relatively few people were in attendance at the conference. Other terms and titles were suggested or considered around the same SAFE acronym, “solder alloy free electronics” was one, but the prime consideration was given to the idea of making of solderless electronic assemblies and that the result of such products would, in fact, be safer and, ultimately, more reliable than traditional soldered assemblies.

Some may recall the fanfare than surrounded the introduction of the Occam Process a few year ago. (For those interested in reading a bit more, visit www.verdantelectronics.com/) The Occam Process concept is still alive and well and the IP surrounding the concept continues to grow. However, the path that Occam has followed pretty much matches a descriptive model that was developed and has been used by analysts at Gartner. The model can be graphed in the form of a curve which charts expectations against time for new technologies. When charted, the curve graphically illustrates how new or promising technologies often ride up a steep curve of heightened expectations and excitement early on to a high level of interest. Typically, this is followed by a precipitous descent into disillusionment when the promise is not immediately delivered. At this point, the only way out is up and disappointment can only be overcome by a long, slow learning climb to enlightenment. Once the industry has achieved enlightenment and understanding, progress and productivity kick in and the earlier promise is delivered. This book represents an effort at shedding light on solderless technologies in general to build understanding of them, not excitement for them. With such understanding, the industry can cooperatively work to build a path to real progress for a highly-promising area of electronic interconnection design and fabrication.

To be candid, any effort to get acceptance of a new technology in such trying times as we have all just endured is a significant challenge, no matter how promising that technology might be, but persistence is key. However, the simple truth about solderless assembly technology is that it is possible and it will take its place among the various assembly methods in use today. Even though solderless assembly may not be the best solution for every problem, it should prove a good solution for a great many challenges. However, as is always the case, there is need to overcome the chicken/egg conundrum and there is need to fully prove the new manufacturing paradigm. Designers might like the idea, but not if there are no manufacturers to build such products; manufacturers might have some interest in building such products, but they need to have customers to make sure they can justify investment in learning something new. Both groups worry about risk, but risk is a double-edged sword. There is the risk of doing something and getting too far ahead and the risk of doing nothing and getting left behind. There is no in between. As one sage put it: “One is either busy growing (changing) or they are busy dying.”   

The book will hopefully help the readers from both sectors make a choice. It will be looking at the history of solderless technology and show how it has actually been in use for many years, but not fully recognized. It will compare and contrast solderless technologies being developed and offered in different locations around the world with those of traditional solder-based processes and, as well, will explore and discuss the benefits and limitations of both.

There will also be discussions showing some of the many unique constructions that are possible only with solderless assembly. Design guides will be provided for the designers and processing guides will be given for the process engineers to help them understand all of the many variations to assist them in determining which structure might be best for their particular applications. In addition, the book will provide references and Web links to materials and processing equipment that is either being used or appears well-suited to the task of soldlerless assembly (and there are a great many prospective solutions out there).   

As stated earlier, this is a work in progress--an experiment--and, as is the case with any experiment, accurate observations are required. The scientific method also demands reproducibility. To satisfy the mandates of science, the observations of the reader are sought. Any and all thoughts or comments on any related technologies are welcomed, as are questions. A well-formed question is a time-tested way of both teaching and learning. 

My sincere thanks go to the reader for your interest. I look forward to sharing the SAFE road ahead with you. I hope to offer something of value and, equally, I fully expect to learn a great deal from you, the reader, along the way.Joe Fjelstad Verdant Electronics

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