A MY500 solder-jet printer from MYDATA is helping Thales, a leading developer and manufacturer of high-end electronic systems based in the Netherlands, to meet its requirements for rapid prototype production and for achieving first–time right soldering on boards that incorporate “difficult” components.
At its plant in Hengelo, Netherlands, Thales develops and manufactures its world-renowned range of naval radar systems. In addition, the company is now also undertaking high-end board assembly for selected third parties. An essential part of the work carried out at the plant is the production of prototypes and of very short production runs of complex boards. And they are almost always needed rapidly.
Thales is well equipped to respond, as it has all of the necessary facilities in house, including design, bare board manufacture, engineering, production and testing. Currently prototypes, bare board manufacturing, assembly and testing, are turned around in less than four weeks, but the goal of the company is to reduce this even further.
One of the limiting factors to achieving this reduction, however, was the time needed to obtain the stencils used for solder paste application, especially when replacement was required if design changes were needed or modifications to the solder volume was needed. In the past, this has often resulted in extensive costly and time-consuming manual reworking of boards.
For these reasons, Thales expressed an immediate interest when it was told about the MYDATA’s unique MY500 solder-jet printer, which totally eliminates the need to use stencils for solder paste application. The engineers at Thales realised that the jet printing process would allow them to commence production of boards immediately a design was completed. It would also make possible on-the-job optimisation, and accommodating design changes would be fast and straightforward.
Thales decided to carry out an extensive on-site evaluation of the MY500, which confirmed its flexibility and reliability. The trial and subsequent experience with the machine purchased by the company also revealed that solder-jet printing had other important benefits to offer.
Because it specialises in the production of high-end electronics, often for use in very demanding environments, Thales frequently has to work with unusually shaped components. With conventional solder paste application techniques, these components create problems that are difficult and often costly to address.
For example, one design calls for a special SMD coaxial connector that has to be mounted in a cavity on the printed circuit board. The cavity is almost 900 microns deep, so soldering the connector using conventional techniques is almost impossible. The MY500, however, can shoot solder paste into the cavity, and it has delivered perfect results.
Another challenge that Thales has found difficult to tackle in the past is situations where shielding and small SMD components are adjacent to each other, since the shielding typically needs 300 microns of paste, while an 0201 chip needs only 100 microns. This level of control for adjacent components is hard to achieve with a stencil, but the MY500 allows the paste volume to be adjusted on a pad-by-pad basis, irrespective of where the pads are located on the board.
QFP components with exposed pad underneath the body can also be tackled with ease by the MY500 but, because they have a stand-off between the component body and the connection pins of up to 150 microns, soldering them with stencil techniques is rarely satisfactory. With the MY500, a thin layer of paste can be applied to the board to prevent voiding and floating of the part during reflow. In addition, towers of solder paste can be deposited locally to create contact with the component body and ensure that a reliable joint is made.
Erik Hodes, manufacturing engineer at the Thales plant in Hengelo, is also impressed with how easy it now is for him to assemble boards that incorporate SMD connectors with additional through-hole pins.
“With the MY500 it’s simple to create pin-in-paste deposits without modifying the pad design,” he said. “All that’s necessary is to tell the software the thickness of the board, the through hole diameter, the pad size and the pin diameter. The machine then automatically calculates the right volume of solder to jet, and the paste is applied, with result that a perfect joint is created during reflow.”
Erik Hodes is not alone in his satisfaction with the new machine. Aart-Jan Freriks does the Thales production preparation, and is responsible for programming the MY500. He is also involved in stencil design and ordering for products where conventional paste application methods are used.
Aart-Jan comments, “I’m particularly happy with the user interface of the MY500, and with the machine’s software which allows me to carry out fine tuning adjustments quickly and easily. The time needed to program the machine for a board is, in many cases, less than the time that would be needed just to design and order a stencil. And, of course, once the programming is complete, production can start immediately, whereas if you’re using a stencil you have to wait for it to be manufactured and delivered.”
The MYDATA MY500 solder-jet printer is making a major contribution toward the ambition of the Thales production team to reduce the lead-time for prototypes. It is also allowing them to work with difficult components that would otherwise have to be mounted manually, and it is ensuring that the company meets its key objective of providing its customers with products that satisfy the most exacting standards for both performance and quality.