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Why We Need to Near Source Electronic Components

Why we need to Near Source Electronic Components

The past two years have offered some harsh lessons to all in the PCBA industry on the value of inputs. For a long time, the cost paid was the only consideration. The supplier might be located on the other side of the world, but if the cost was marginally lower, the choice was clear. But the pandemic changed all that. The cost of logistics / transport that used to be negligible ballooned beyond expectations. And for some parts – no matter what cost we were willing to pay – the availability just did not exist.

PCB Assembly

PCB Assembly

In India, we import more than 90 percent of the components required for assembling PCBs locally. These imports come from 4 countries – China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Malaysia. A break down at one source country, as we saw in 2020 and 2021, drives up the cost of doing business for all.

Here’s our experience with supply trends for some of our major inputs:

Bare PCBs:  

Bare PCBs are the stronger point in our supply chain. We have seen reliable suppliers of Bare PCBs based in Tamil Nadu and in Gujarat. We (and many of our customers) have been able to source Bare PCBs in the past 18 months with no major issues. Supply lead times have remained consistent and price increases have stayed within tolerable limits.

Assembly Machinery: 

Machinery needed for PCBA is mostly manufactured outside India by majors like Yamaha, Fuji, Panasonic, and Siemens. While prices have stayed stable, lead times have increased considerably. What used to be available in 4 weeks now takes 4 months to get delivered. We’ve had to plan and order earlier than ever before for any capacity enhancements or repairs and replacements.

Other Components / Services: 

Integrated Circuits (IC’s), their component resistors, capacitors et al, solder paste etc. are mostly imported and have all seen prices and lead times zoom up. 52 weeks is now the new normal! Companies like Micron, TI, Cypress, Infineon, Latis, NXP have factories based in China, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. When supply and manufacturing centers were shut and major ports slowed down, component shortages have visibly hit every industry from automotive to computers and mobile phones. Even stocks held by major distributors Avnet, Future, Arrow, or online suppliers like Digikey, and Mouser could not tide the industry over for long.

This is the area where India needs to attract investment and build manufacturing capacity. 

What Next:

The government has already recognised the need for building an electronics components manufacturing ecosystem. It is doing its part by offering Production Linked Incentive programs and other sops to encourage manufacture of components in India. It is now up to us in Industry to pick up the challenge and partner in building a strong local eco-system for components. 

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complex assemblies

Metal BGA

Electronics have become essential to daily life. Everything from refrigerators to military aircraft contains electronics. Today’s critical advanced assembly challenges mainly fall into three categories: performance, usability and productivity. To build and visualise product designs quickly and economically, engineers must address all these challenges.

On the other hand, manufacturing techniques are becoming more advanced and aesthetics are increasingly in demand. Project lifecycles and budgets are constrained. Sometimes, these constraints mean that DFM standards are overlooked in PCB design. For example, if the PCB has to fit in a box of fixed dimensions, the PCB design has to be tweaked accordingly. Or, components with different reflow profiles may be used on the same sid

Newer design houses or inexperienced engineers and designers may be prone to these mistakes. But not validating designs with tool and industry standards is bad practice. Here are just a few examples:

Pad mismatch

 If the copper termination pad separates partially or completely from the board, it can be hard to identify the fault; the pad may look intact as the solder usually remains attached to the component. The cause is usually mechanical strain that begins during testing, manufacturing, vibration while being transported or even when connectors are attached. PCB performance is impaired and performance is inconsistent. Extensive or even destructive testing may be required to positively identify the cause. Podrain follows a painstaking process to minimise the risk of damage from pad mismatch at each step.

No silkscreen. 

The silkscreen does not impact the electrical functionality of a PCB, but it is still extremely valuable as it provides essential information when assembling the PCB. It provides simple visual feedback that helps to catch deeper problems. It is not merely for aesthetic purposes. It is information that should not be separated from the board. Unique ID numbers, warning symbols, certifications etc. should be displayed on the board. At Podrain, we treat correct and comprehensive silkscreens as an integral part of the PCB.

THT vs. SMT components. 

When SMTs were developed in the 1980s they were expected to completely replace THTs. But THTs and SMTs are not always interchangeable. THTs offer reliable and useful in test and prototyping applications where frequent manual adjustments and replacements are needed. But SMTs are almost always more efficient and cost-effective. Podrain’s extensive experience in a wide range of applications gives us the expertise to know which type of components to use for a given project.

Incorrect polarity marking. 

To prevent polarised component packages from being inverted during assembly machine setup or manual soldering, accurate polarity marking is critical. It is only necessary for land patterns that have a specific rotation during assembly. Incorrect polarity markings can cause equipment damage, short-circuiting, serious injury, fires or even explosions. Podrain follows stringent Post Assembly Inspection Process protocols to visually validate that assembly insertion is done correctly

Incorrect component separation. 

Most designers are used to PCB clearance rules for spacing between traces in a single layer. However, many design houses overlook PCB clearance between layers. Today’s circuit designs often involve a single PCB with power and controls on the same substrate. This may put high-voltage traces close to low-voltage signals, creating a risk of arcing. The resulting sparks can permanently damage the port of the low-voltage component. Podrain designers and engineers keep ourselves up to date on the latest IPC-2221B design standards to ensure optimum manufacturability with minimum risk.

Podrain’s customers have brought us some interesting design challenges.

A top manufacturer of electric vehicle charging stations found that the PCBA yield was below 90%, lower than expected. The company approached Podrain to investigate. The issue was all the more challenging because the assembly was ROHS. Planning and finding the right profile, especially on a PCB that uses BGA + LGA, is an art.  By devoting our experienced people to solve this, we iterated through a range of 11 temperature profiles in a reflow oven within just 2 days to find the solution.

Another customer set us the challenge of setting the right profile for a board designed with a heavy BGA connector having multiple ceramic BGAs, including micro BGAs, on a 2mm thick PCB. The issue is these kind of connectors use very high temperature for soldering. 265 degree Celsius plus is needed for soldering but a normal BGA can tolerate only 245 to 255 degree Celsius. We designed and conducted multiple trials by changing the solder paste for each profile. After 15-20 trials supported by some fixtures, we were able to determine the best profile for the customer’s board.

Podrain has solved many such complex assembly design challenges for our customers.

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Access to capital: the Msme money maze

Capital Access that looks easy on paper is difficult in practice

The government’s Make in India strategy demonstrates how important MSMEs are to India’s growth story, but capital is still hard to get. If you are considering launching a startup, here are some things to keep in mind:

KEEP FRIENDS, FAMILY AND FOREIGN FUNDS CLOSE

Most credit schemes are aimed at MSMEs that are at least three years old. If your company is newer, informal sources like family and friends must be part of your fundraising strategy. Quite often, this means looking abroad for help. Even if you are looking at a VC / PE funding, the Indian ecosystem is in its infancy and you are likely to go beyond India’s borders. But this can lead to a problem. Indian financial institutions need at least 75% Indian ownership to qualify you for most of their loan products. This is intended to encourage Indian entrepreneurs, but as a startup that might be considering all options for support – make sure foreign investors hold less than 25%.

CAUTION: COLLATERAL AHEAD!

Typically, financial institutions ask for collateral that equals (or exceeds) the loan amount. This can be a term deposit or a mortgage on your home. Indian financial organizations are very cautious about lending. Read the loan terms carefully and include all supporting documentation with your application. 

PLEASE MIND THE GAP

The Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) was established to bring MSMEs and capital together. This is excellent news for MSMEs but the execution is not perfect. Rules can be unclear and confusing. Decision-making does not always follow the on-paper criteria. If your application is rejected, you may not know why.

Government schemes to support MSMEs working on Covid-19-related projects face similar challenges. Companies that qualify for credit on paper may still be rejected without an explanation.

WHAT CAN CHANGE

Podrain’s experience has taught us that patience is key. It also helps to have an experienced, trusted financial advisor or mentor who understands the options and provides guidance on processes and documentation. Some signposts and directions from financial institutions will make navigating easier.

MSMEs should be able to quickly and easily understand what each regulator is responsible for. Clearly stated eligibility rules for each scheme and a simple explanation of the risks and benefits of each option will help entrepreneurs who are not always financial experts make the right choice. A single-window approach to clearances will make MSMEs’ search for capital much easier. Regulators can also help to match MSMEs with the right funding source for their needs. We can then rely on financial institutions and their lending officers for guidance on the right capital products and schemes. 

Financial institutions also need to look beyond traditional collateral-based criteria. Very often these show only the borrower’s existing financial strength and not the intent to repay. To help new MSMEs get started, lenders may consider performance-based criteria to approve loans. For example, whether a startup pays its employees’ salaries, its taxes, and its statutory dues (GST, PF, etc.) on time is a good indication of its intent to pay. Market-based criteria used by PE/VC funds may also be used with modifications that reflect the lower risk appetite of the lender. These forward-looking strategies are consistent with the idea of financial institutions as partners in the Indian MSME growth story.

By adopting a partnership mindset, financial institutions can make capital more easily accessible to MSMEs who want to Make in India.

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Shyam and Rajesh

SiliconIndia Article

SiliconIndia

Printed Circuit Boards (PCB) constitute an integral part of many (expensive) electronic devices. The costs of failure of undertaking a full production run without adequate testing of the PCB are

very high. The ideal answer is a strong prototyping process which can help in identifying any design or performance issues. However, finding the right Electronic Manufacturing Service (EMS) partner for this early stage where volumes are small and the turnaround needs to be quick can be challenging.

Podrain Electronics, unlike other EMS providers ca- ters to this niche market of prototyping on small volume. Having high-end machines to build and test PCBA’s, Podrain caters to the complete needs and requirements of the customer. The company specializes in the supply of products with a fast turnaround without compromising on the rigor of testing. The typical customers for Podrain’s prototyping services are Start-ups and hardware design companies. “Prototyping needs us to be very flexible,” explains Shyam Chandran, CEO of Podrain Electronics. “We work most Sundays. There was one occasion when a client came in at 8 PM in the evening, wanting some- thing to be ready for a VC presentation the next day. We worked overnight. While we charge a higher price for such a quick ask, the result for our client can be priceless”, adds Shyam. The company has expertise in delivering complex assembly – BGA, PoP, LGA and other new modules that are introduced in the market. Podrain has the capability to assemble thin as well as flexible PCBs.

“Podrain Electronics caters to the niche market of prototyping on small volume.”

Rajesh Rajagopal, Director of Operations says, “We are seeing a trend for slimmer devices overall. One of our builds was for a smartwatch prototype for a leading Indi- an brand determined to deliver a world class product. We had to assemble a PCB of 0.4 mm thickness with a 0.2 mm BGA package. We constantly invest in keeping up our learning so that we can deliver the type of cutting edge products our clients design. We love this challenge

Shyam and Rajesh have both been in the EMS space for over 20 years with different organizations. They met while working for an EMS company in 2013. They put together the idea of Podrain Electronics specifically to cater to a gap they saw – an engaged EMS willing to work in the prototyping space using the type of high-end machines that the final manufacturing process will involve. In the past 3 years they have found many takers for these services. Shyam takes care of the business side, while Rajesh manages the technical and operations aspects.

The duo has big plans. Podrain is ISO 9001:2015 certified. The company has continued to invest in new- er machines including an X-Ray inspection machine. In addition to PCB assembly, Podrain does complete box build assembly. A set of reliable partners supply the plas- tic enclosures, sheet metal and cable harnesses which are then assembled, tested and packed out of Podrain. They are also doing evaluation kits for silicon chips for leading semi-conductor manufacturers.

The prototypes the company has partnered on are maturing into higher volumes and clients are requesting pro- duction support. The current location in Bommanahalli is just off the ORR and close to the start-up hubs of Koramangala, HSR Layout, Indiranagar, Jayanagar etc. But it’s pretty full. “We need to grow to keep up with our clients. We hope to start a bigger production facility in the near future. Perhaps in Electronic City, Bengaluru”, says Shy- am. And what about the original prototyping idea? Shyam further adds, “We will continue with this and start more prototype friendly units”. Rajesh continues, “Perhaps even one in Austin, Texas. The future is bright for us”.

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India

Is India Poised for an electronic manufacturing services boom?

PODRAIN ELECTRONICS: PROTOTYPE PCBAS WITHOUT COMPROMISING ON QUALITY.

India’s Electronics Manufacturing Services Industry is poised to grow six-fold to $152 Billion in the next 5 years according to some industry body estimates. Podrain certainly believes this growth forecast is possible.

Our increasing participation is being driven by a few factors. 

We have a large market within India for electronics in different sectors. Whether it is cars and tyres, electronic vehicles and their charging stations or medical equipment, products from all of these industries are set to have high-end electronics embedded in them. Products that were previously electrical or mechanical are being upgraded with the addition of electronics. Intended for both the global and local markets, India’s 700+ electronics manufacturing services companies can all grow and there will be room for more players too. The speed with which Ola Electric has ramped up its manufacturing capacity or the success that Dixon Technologies has seen in contract manufacturing are examples that have been making the news in recent times. 

At Podrain, we have witnessed this potential over the past 4 years. We’ve worked with traditional companies looking to move into the new digital age. Can adding electronics help a tyre manufacturer offer new business models? Can a traditional watch manufacturer move into the digital wearables business? Can a UPS perform better, delivering uninterrupted up time despite frequent power failures? 

We’ve also worked with startups building products that are completely new and innovative – a medical testing device smaller than your set top box. Or an under the pillow device that can revolutionise healthcare. Or a monitoring system that allows parents to safely track their children. The possibilities imagined by our clients promise an exciting future. 

Besides the push by private companies there is increased government focus on improving indigenous manufacturing capabilities in defence and aerospace. 

Apart from demand side drivers, there are supply side factors influencing India’s position in the Electronics Manufacturing space. COVID 19 disrupted supply chains globally and many  players, who had never looked past China are now looking at other countries to base manufacturing operations. Major global manufacturers such as Hon Hai, Electroplast, Wistron are setting up facilities in India. The government has also been incentivising manufacture of electronics products with tax breaks, more attractive labour laws, SEZ creation etc. 

The future looks bright for the Electronics Manufacturing Sector globally and for India in particular.

 
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