We are now one week out from Japan's worst earthquake and the problems that effect the electronics supply chain are starting to appear.
Something that most of us have never heard of, Bismaleimide Triazine (BT) resin, is about to impact our electronic production lives. Mitsubishi Gas Chemical Company, Inc. (MGC) seems to be the major supplier of this material to the world. This was posted on their website on March 14th, 2011:
Recovery Working of MGC's Electronic Materials Subsidiary
This is a brief report on the most recent status of recovery operations at Electrotechno Co.,
Ltd. (Nishishirakawa-gun, Fukushima), the MGC electronic materials production subsidiary affected by the major earthquake that struck off the cost of Eastern Japan on March 11,
The earthquake has caused damage to part of the interior of the Electrotechno buildings and to some equipment; however, power and gas supplies have now been restored.
Since Monday, March 14, Electrotechno management and staff have been working with construction experts to conduct a close inspection of its buildings and equipment, while at the same time making every effort to restore operations. On the basis of information obtained during this inspection, MGC will announce its outlook for the restoration of Electrotechno on Friday, March 18. [None was posted today, Saturday March 19th.]
At present, MGC estimates that product supply from Electrotechno will be hindered for the immediate future, but is committed to making every effort to restore production as soon as possible. Further reports will be provided as soon as more information becomes available.
Where is BT used? It is the 'glue' that holds together the glass yarn fibers, which is also now in short supply due to damage to a different factory, that make up FR4 PCB laminates that almost all of us build our products on.
BT is also used to hold the chip dies in place on the packaging substrate material. So even if we have the printed circuit board itself, we still might not be able to get the chips from ICs to FETs, to put on it. Blank wafers will also be in short supply from damage to yet other factories.
Alternates suppliers for BT exists but unless the that maternal has already been qualified it can lead to cracking of the body of the part when exposed to heat, as no two manufacturer's process is exactly alike. It can take a long time to qualify new material.
The cracking can lead to moisture ingress that can damage ICs when they go through the soldering process. A single tiny, relative to the size of the IC, drop of water can produce enough steam to fracture the die from the sudden pressure change when the water transitions from liquid to gas.
Moisture Sensitivity Level (MLS) is one of those obscure items found on data sheets, if it can be found at all, that most designers ignore thinking it has no relevancy to them. Sometimes the MLS ratings are not even on the data sheets, but in separate reliability documents that few look at. MLS is a number from one to six indicating how long an IC can be exposed to room air before it would be damaged by the soldering process due to moisture ingress. ICs don't come in those big nitrogen filled silver bags just for the fun of it. They are in the nitrogen to keep the moisture out.
An IC with a MLS of one, can be exposed to air indefinitely, a MLS of six can not be exposed at all, it must be baked, at a low to moderate temperature before it can be exposed to the high temperatures of the soldering process, to drive the moisture out, then soldered while still warm.
We can only hope that those at the top have learned their lessons in relying on single suppliers in a single location. Maybe it is time to bring manufacturing back home? Anyone know of any second sourced modern Micros anymore? Companies don't like second sourcing as there is little profit to be had. Once again greed corrupts all. The hording, "Stockpiling for Q311", and gouging has already started; DigiKey raised the prices on some capacitors this week by fifty percent. Also these problems are only going to make the counterfeit parts problem worse.
In the end lets not get so self-absorbed that we lose sight of those in Japan that have lost literally everything, and do what we can to help them.