Interview – Rick Ertmann


Alpha Assembly Solutions

rick-ertmann2Miniaturisation, increasing automotive electronics and the market for silver are just some of the topics discussed in this in-depth interview with Trevor Galbraith, Editor-in-Chief and Rick Ertmann, President, Alpha Assembly Solutions.

What trends do you see emerging with modern interconnection materials?

There is definitely a shift away from high-lead solders in favor of ultra-high thermal conductive die attach materials, specifically for use in the power semiconductor and power module package sector. Modern interconnection materials are essential for use in the high volume manufacturing automotive electronics market. Our Alpha Advanced Materials business (AAM) manufactures products specifically for this segment, ALPHA Atrox and ALPHA Argomax, that can meet HVM demands. Another trend is the constant push for miniaturization. This is where we think Alpha is also well positioned with our solder paste and preform product lines.

In recent years we had significant spikes in the cost of silver and other precious metals. The price has stabilized, but do you foresee a time when it could be prohibitive to use precious metals in interconnection materials?

We believe the industry will need silver bearing alloys for the foreseeable future. Many silver bearing alloys provide reliability that silver-free alloys cannot. But we also recognize that there are many applications where silver-free alloys, or even low-melting point alloys, are perfectly acceptable. That’s why we’ve launched our SnCX silver-free alloys and several solder pastes with low-melting point alloys.

What is driving the trend towards sintered materials?

The technology is leading toward smaller packages with higher power, which requires better heat dissipation. Sintering technologies allow components to meet these challenges with overall increased reliability. For instance, with die interconnection we can eliminate wire bonding and replace with a clip attach process (i.e. no wire connections) for a longer shelf-life. Through a die attach process, we see higher thermal conductivity and increased reliability. The ALPHA Argomax product line was developed as a solution for this technology trend.

How cost effective is the process?

The overall value of sintering is very good, even in comparison to high-lead solder alloys. This is a high throughput process, easy to implement and extremely compact in terms of floor space in a production environment. And, you gain higher reliability from the products.

Cars have recently been labelled :”the newest consumer electronics accessory”! How much of your research is geared towards the increasing amount of electronics found ‘under the hood’?

We have dedicated resources to focus on the complexity of material selection for automotive electronics. The requirements and applications of these electronics is continually expanding and Alpha is in a leading position and has developed some groundbreaking programs over the last decade which have re-defined the capabilities of automotive electronics to survive in high temperature, high vibration environments. This covers interconnect materials at the semiconductor die level, through to the solders used at PCB assembly.

Are there any specific challenges that automotive manufacturers are having with the increased amount of electronics in cars?

There are many, but specifically weight and space has become a key challenge. A lot of weight is added due to the amount of cabling in a car to join the mass of electronics and sensors. These cables can reach 100Kgs in a large sedan for example. To address this issue, Alpha has been working on product technologies that will enable a significant reduction in automotive cabling weight.

In the past the automotive industry experienced serious issues with electronic migration and tin whiskers. With the new era of driverless cars on the horizon, how big a concern is electro-migration, solder creep and tin whiskers?

It’s certainly a concern, but with the right material this can be avoided. The key is engagement. Our technical support engineers work closely with customers to ensure that our products chemistry is relevant to the application and meets or exceeds reliability requirements. In terms of products, ALPHA CVP-390 solder paste has leading electrochemical reliability and works with a suite of alloys to meet the most stringent creep resistance requirements.

Our new organization provides enhanced innovation and service structure for customers around the world and at every step of the supply chain. With this recent acquisition, Platform created a new division, MacDermid Performance Solutions, that combines the initial MacDermid operations with the newly acquired businesses, which include Enthone and OMG in addition to Alpha. With our combined resources, we are one of the largest technological and service oriented forces in the industry. We have started doing business as Alpha Assembly Solutions to indicate our position as the leader in the electronics assembly solutions within the new organization. The core of the Alpha brand will remain. As always, we aim to be the industry’s preferred supplier of high performance materials and chemistry by delivering leading technology…represented by our innovative products, processes and people.