Surface Finishes on Printed Circuit Boards with Mike Carano, Chemist and Expert on Surface Finishes

Judy Warner
|  Created: July 3, 2018  |  Updated: February 5, 2021


What finish should I use for my PCB Design? There’s no one single answer, it depends. Meet chemist and surface finish expert Mike Carano, the Vice President of Technology and Business Development at RBP Chemical, industry leaders in high-performance chemical technology. Mike emphasizes a key question when it comes to surface finishes, “What are the reliability requirements of the environment?” Learn about the chemistry behind different finishes, fabrication, and get tips for avoiding corrosion in unexpected environments in this episode of the OnTrack Podcast.

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Show Highlights:

  • Mike was Inducted into IPC hall of fame.
  • RBP Chemical - veteran-owned small business, based in Milwaukee, founded in 1954 as a supplier for the printing industry and over the years evolved into surface finishes and also carry product lines for Embedded Medical Devices and Semiconductor and Mining industries.
  • On using solder mask over bare copper method - prior to going out to assembly the copper needs to be made pristine.
  • What are the surface finishes and which to use when? 50% of industry using hot air solder leveling (HASL), a surface finish with a long successful history.
  • Other surface finishes: Electroless nickel immersion gold (ENIG), Electroless Nickel Electroless Palladium Immersion Gold (ENEPIG) - which is common in IC substrate, packaging industry.
  • Future of surface finishes: Tin-silver, Direct palladium copper
  • What finish should I use? There’s no one answer, it depends.
  • Are there common examples of things that can go wrong? ie. High-frequency design applications - ENIG is a well-known issue that most engineers learn about the hard way.
  • Where is the final product going to be used? Is it a domestic product or for the military?
  • Reliability first, cost last. Cost should not be the driving force.
  • The environment is what really matters i.e. Shock-drop or Brunel fracture - consider for mobile phones, ENIG - tin-nickel bond, not tin-copper, corrosion environments, temperature extremes
  • What are the reliability requirements of the environment?
  • The most high-quality board fabricators have strong process control and automation in place to ensure chemical stability.
  • Board designers are looking for electrical performance. Need to ask about the environment.
  • I would put every designer in a circuit board fabricator for a week and let them build a board they design.
  • To learn, you need to practice and get practical information on building the bare boards.
  • Creep corrosions on the mill automation machines because the OEM is specifying the finish.
  • Japanese techniques i.e. Shokuku chemical
  • Most substrate work is done in Asia; IC substrate packaging at its best is in Japan.
  • Advice for learning: IPC courses, CID and CID+ training is one way to learn more.

Links and Resources:

RBP Chemical

Trouble in Your Tank

IPC Hall of Fame Interview Video

IPC Hall of Fame induction

IPC courses

HDP Users Group (HDPUG)

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Hey everyone it's Judy Warner with Altium’s OnTrack podcast. Welcome back we are glad to have you join us again today we have a very unique topic and speaker which was actually brought about by Mark Okumura who is the Senior Principal Hardware Engineer from ETS Lindgren who reached out to me and asked me about the topic of surface finishes and lucky for you I happen to know the guy who is a chemist and expert on surface finishes. A longtime friend Mike Carano from RBP Chemical. Before Mike and I get started, I wanted to please invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn or on Twitter, I'm @AltiumJudy. Altium is on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and also please know that we're recording on YouTube in case you want to see our sunshiny faces. So Mike, welcome thanks so much we’re delighted to have you.

Thanks for inviting me.

It's good to know friends in high places right?

Well, I have friends in low places.


I don't believe it, well maybe, so Mike, I’ve got a question. First of all, let's talk about your background a little bit so as a way of introduction Mike Carano was inducted into the IPC Hall of Fame a few years ago and I had the privilege of doing the video interview that was highlighting his induction into the IPC Hall of Fame because he has served on so many committees and boards for IPC, but he really is the go-to guy on chemistry. So Mike, tell us a little bit about your background how you got into chemistry specifically related to the printed circuit board electronics industry?

Well sometimes Judy, things happen by accident really, chemistry and sciences were always a love of mine so I always liked to experiment - my parents got me the chemistry set, and everything from blowing up golf balls to me making things at home, everything from even experimenting with making wine that's chemistry - that seemed like a good thing to do right? I also realized that probably owning a vineyard would not be in the immediate future so onward and upward with chemistry, particularly the area of physical and advanced chemistry electrochemistry working on a Master's Degree, I happened to be walking up on campus one day back in 1980, 24 years old, and there's a gentleman standing outside this building and he noticed my chemistry books he says, hey come here I want to talk to you, and I thought, oh what's this about? And I noticed the sign on the door there, Youngstown Ohio City Electrochemicals, and he asked me if I wanted to interview for a position there. Well, it was perfect because graduate school was more part-time. I was doing some teaching assistance and what do you know, I interviewed for this thing on surface finishing chemistry having no idea really what I was getting into, but I did. The idea was finishing my Master's degree, and go on and do something else - maybe do this for two years - well 39 years later here I am still in the industry. In some way, shape, or form, so that's how I got into this and as the company, Electrochemicals in those days, founded primarily on the metal finishing industry - you know, surface finishing for doorknobs and bumpers and decorative plating. Well the company was just then getting into printed circuit board chemistry and a lot of people didn't even know what that was in those days because it was a fledgling industry there was mostly - remember Judy way back then was the 80% of the industry was really run by the OEM...


-So digital equipment the Adelphi’s, the Delco’s the IBM's, but pretty soon there was that switch, and then I got involved in IPC and pretty soon was formulating chemistries and technical service, traveling globally around the world was fascinating for me, and here I am today, and still in the industry in some way, shape, or form. You know you evolve, you continue to evolve matter of fact, just like surfaces they've evolved.

Yeah right.

Where we are today, I'm sure they'll continue to evolve in the very near future.

Yeah for sure, so can you give us a quick overview, I know you were Chief for many many years and now you're with RBP can you give us a quick thumb nutch of RBP?

Absolutely, great opportunity, company privately owned (veteran-owned) small business, our company is based in Milwaukee Wisconsin and was founded in 1954 and has been privately held since. The current CEO and majority owner is Mr. Mark Kannenberg, he's my immediate boss, Mark served in Vietnam, he's a West Point graduate and also a Harvard MBA, but he always wanted to kind of get in the business of owning his own company even though he had many, many opportunities. So he's now been running RBP for these last 30 years. Under his control the company has grown beautifully - initially, the company was founded as a supplier of materials and chemistries for the printing industry, newspapers, newsprint magazines, but over the years also evolved into surface finishing, surface treatment, and printed circuit board chemistry, which is the company today, because as I said it continues to evolve. Today and we have four major product lines the printed circuit board and photochemical milling chemistries. We have a great product line in the area of embedded medical devices, and we also serve the semiconductor and the mining industries with some specialty additives. A lot of people don't understand the connection but there's a connection all the way through the platforms because the chemistries are basically adapted to work in all those industries which makes working with RBP fascinating for me - the diversification but yet the continuity and the familiarity - so great opportunity and I've enjoyed it immensely.

Good, thank you for sharing that Mike, so let's jump right into surface finishes. I'm sure most of our listeners who are engineers and designers will be familiar with surface finishes but let's just go back to our ABCs for a second and just define surface finishes for us for PCBs.

Sure that is the part of the board that is really going to be used to prevent oxidation of the base metal, as you know, typically we have copper as the base metal if you're using the solder mask over bare copper method where you basically put solder mask down that nice green stuff and the copper is showing, you have to make that copper solderable, you have to preserve the solderability so typically, prior to that board going out to the assembly operation, the copper has to be basically made pristine with a finish that does not oxidize so that you can join the component leads, whatever they may be, whether they be surface mounts, through-hole, BGA, QFNS, QFPs, they have to be able to wet that surface and form a reliable joint. So the surface finish is critical for that application and for that end product.

So tell us - give us just a rundown - of what the surface finishes are and then we're gonna jump into which one to use when.

Sure well, here in North America and primarily for the military, we're still using - at least 50 or so percent of the industry - uses hot-air solder leveling. Basically, you're taking that solder mask over the bare copper board, flexing it, cleaning the copper, and then dipping it into a molten solder pot to coat the surface. But over the years, due to a lot of other constraints, one of them was to get rid of lead. And even when we have lead-free, hot air leveling, the other surface finishes have evolved, as a matter of fact, have taken center stage primarily outside of North America. With these surface finishes are we hear the term ENIG, which is Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold we also hear about Electroless Nickel Electrons Palladium Immersion Gold also known as ENAPEG, and while that may be an expensive finish, you see that used quite a bit in the packaging industry, the semiconductor packaging IC substrate industry. Then there is OSP Organic Solderability Preservatives, which is actually the only one of these to be non-metal-containing and then we have immersion silver, and immersion in tin, and again we expect that there’ll be other additions of these finishes coming up in the near future. Potentially a tin silver or direct palladium over copper to get rid of the gold altogether. There's a lot of movement in this area to enhance the surface finish reliability at the same time managing costs because you see how precious metals like gold and palladium can contribute significantly to the cost of that board. Which then makes you wonder, okay what finish should I use and when should I use it? So that's a rundown of our finishes and each one of them - I can tell you this Judy - when people ask me, and I travel all over the world, what finish should I use...


-no one finish fits all.

That's a loaded question isn't it Mike? It depends, that's the answer.

It depends right.

Well as I mentioned in the beginning, this gentleman Mark Okumura reached out to me and said, are you ever going to talk on your podcast, or do you have any information about surface finishes? Because in his particular case - and this is just one of many many high-frequency application engineers and designers - have found out the hard way that if they use ENIG the Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold, that if it's high frequency then we have the skin effect and then the signal begins moving through the nickel and the nickel is lossy, and unfortunately that's a well-known issue it's been going on forever but it seems like people have learned that the hard way, unfortunately one at a time, that's just one example. So can we talk about when we talked a few weeks ago, about the environment playing a huge role in how to make a selection on your surface finishes? So can you jump into that a little bit?

What I mean by the environment is, where is that final product going to be used, and let me just preface it this way, if you're in this industry, whether you're in the printed circuit board industry directly or you're an assembler or you're an OEM. Choosing the final finish for that product may be the most important decision you make because it is going to impact that long-term reliability of least of that solder joint now as I’m saying solder joint,  I'm using it interchangeably with lead-free as well. And compounding that, is again, where are the boards going to be used? Is it to finish in harsh use environments such as automotive under the hood, military aerospace - and that's one application. But then, what about consumer items like mobile phones, smartphones, desktop computers, smart tablets, household devices. You don't need a product or a finish that adds $9 a surface square foot of the board if you're using it in a washing machine in your house, or in a microwave, or even a desktop or laptop computer. Now military aero things like class 3, or class 3A that have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can't fail - you can't fail. You may look at that and you say, well do I need ENAPEG, do I need ENIG? Do I need to make the OSP also work? And some people really are surprised when they find out that OSP’s a very reliable finish. It's not wire bondable but in terms of reliability in forming the copper tin in a metallic, and having a reliable solder joint, it's fantastic.

So think about that, it also happens to be the lowest cost finish but I am of the opinion, and I asked somebody this, and I listed ten things I have cost of the finish at the bottom because that should not be the driving force of what you put on the board. It's the environment where the board is used and then you ask yourself other questions. Is cosmetics important? Do I have to have a shiny silvery finish or don't I need one? I'm worried about shock drop, we know for example if something I have in my hand drops a lot like a smartphone. you worry about the brittle fracture of the components - actually, fraction when that phone hits the ground - we've all dropped our phones and the mobile phone companies, the Apples of the world and the Samsung's, conduct shock drop tests all the time because that's important criteria. You don't want to spend money on a new phone, drop it and find out the components fell off. So that's why you don't see ENIG used a lot on the smartphone, you use things like something that makes it much stronger - copper tin and a metallic bond - whereas, with ENIG, your tin is formed with the nickel so it's a tin-nickel bond, not a tin copper one.

I see.

So, we all know, and there have been hundreds of papers published by many, many companies and fantastic researchers around the world, showing that the tin to copper in a metallic is much stronger than the tin to nickel in a metallic. So that's something to consider as well, not just the cost. But you might use ENIG in medical devices, we know the military is starting to look at ENIG as a final finish, but they also do some things to ensure the reliability of that component as it is attached to the surface. So there's a myriad of things to look at - oh and corrosion environment - in terms of creep corrosion, and that's an issue and silver tends to be somewhat prone to creep corrosion, but in an industrial environment kind of outside, or in a clay modeling studio or in a paper mill where sulphur is emitted.

Yeah, that's interesting.

So, if you told me, well I'm making this part because I work for General Motors and I'm modeling, I'm gonna use clay to model my next car and I'm gonna have all these computers hooked up inside that studio, I think I'll use boards with silver on them. Well, you probably don't want to, your work is gonna be lost, so that's one consideration. As I said shock drop is another, but again where are you using the final product? Industrial automation, using it outside, base stations, all of those things. Industrial controllers where we're subjected to not just environmental contaminants, but maybe significant vibration, temperature extremes, etc. So always look at the environment where you're using it and what the reliability requirements are. Can you afford the warranty, what is the warranty when you take something back? If it's inexpensive, you can use an inexpensive finish but if the cost of failure is great, you should rethink that finish which you're going to use and how you're going to use it.

That totally makes sense to me. You had mentioned that a lot of people think that OSP is generally a sort of low-tech product, but you were pushing back against that when we discussed that, why is that?

Well 25 years ago OSP was what you would call the single attachment finish - one reflow, maybe one through-hole, and that was it. It lasted four to five months whereas the other finishes, like hot air leveling - one year, two-year shelf life - that's changed. Companies have made significant improvements in the reliability. Also the ability of the OSP to reduce oxygen penetration on the copper, and that again is what you're trying to do, you're trying to prevent the underlying copper from oxidizing so that when the solder melts and spreads on the surface, it spreads and encapsulates the leads on the side on the components and solidifies and it's highly reliable. If the surface is oxidized even slightly and doesn't wet properly you've lost your reliability, but OSP has come on strong now and you see it in automotive under the hoods, major telecommunication companies using it for the reasons of getting away from brittle fracture, you see them in smartphones - a significant number of smartphones - and I have experience in those areas so, I'm talking from personal experience - the reliability is there with the right finish. Now the low-tech you find, if you buy a low-tech OSP from somebody you've never heard of, you’re taking a risk, but the companies out there - two or three that are making significant contributions to the performance of OSP - they've upped the game significantly. Many of them are fifth-generation molecules, these are synthesized organic azone molecules, that just do a fantastic job, and I would not hesitate to recommend them for numerous applications.

It's interesting how that's evolved over time, I wasn't aware of that until you mentioned it to me recently, and that's some of the magic of chemistry that just runs in the background of our industry until sometimes - it seems like - until there's a problem.

That's right.

We don't talk about it, so I'm glad to sort of have this discussion.

That’s a good point, to that point Judy, when Black Pad showed up what people will call brittle fracture...


-it set the industry back 15 years for ENIG because they didn't understand it, they wanted to blame the phosphorus content of the nickel deposit, but that turned out to be incorrect, it turned out that the cause of that was the galvanic effect. When you put immersion gold on top of nickel you're not electrolytically plating it, you're doing an immersion deposit, also known as galvanic cells, so to deposit on nickel, some nickel actually has to corrode and leave the surface, so that the gold can take its place. And that's the main difference of an immersion deposit. Well, what was happening because of the way things were being run, pH, nickel morphology, roughness, etc that galvanic effect was significantly large, causing this corrosion - significant corrosion - to take place on the nickel surface, and that would impact negatively the formation of the solder joint. And there you would get a brittle fracture, you drop something, It breaks. So, things are better now, but I still would be very careful, if you told me, I'm gonna put ENIG on my board today, I would say do the a article, make sure that the board design you have, will not end up with this issue.

That's good advice and, for people who are listening. Again - you're going to hear me say this over and over again - and I'm not going to apologize for it, is that you need to get into a board house, find the time because most really good, world-class board houses - you're going to go in and you're going to be surprised to see... and Mike can talk about this, the complexity of the labs they have in place to make sure that their chemicals are stable and doing what they're supposed to do. Mike, I imagine you've spent just more than a little bit of time inside of board houses discussing chemical balance and, if you would, jump in on what the choice of surface finish has on the fabricator and why the designer should know about that?

Right yeah, well first let's go back to your first question about these board fabricators the ones that are high-quality board fabricators and I'm looking at not just on the surface finishing side, but also other aspects of the circuit board fabrication including electroless copper, direct metallization, the amount of control that they have in place, process control automation, to keep plating and other the key ingredients within a very tight operating window. And that's not difficult if you invest the time, and you have the commitment to ensure that. I can’t tell you how many times Judy, have been in situations where I've had to troubleshoot a problem because someone said I've got this issue, I've got that issue, you go there and you find out that they were running the chemistry basically way outside the window. Well, why'd you do this? Well, we only check it once every two shifts. Well, you can't have a high volume operation like what you're doing and then check the chemistry once every two shifts and I'm telling you, 90% of these problems that I see related to process, are related to incorrect use of the chemistry and mishandling of the controls that are available to you.

Now does that mean that the fabricator needs to work much closer with the supplier, but if the supplier is already doing this for them, the fabricator needs to take some responsibility. But again, I've been with a number of companies who have complete failure analysis labs also in their facility. So, they take it to a very high level, they're basically their own qualification facility to ensure that they understand where the issues are. They categorize every defect and those are the kinds of ones you want to work with.

Absolutely, and I've worked for shops like that where they literally had PhDs in chemistry renting the lab. They were doing their own cross-section and when suddenly, there's a spike in volume - if you're not on top of it and you don't have those people and all of a sudden - whoops production went up, but we're still checking our bass at the same rate we were before. And then like, oh what happened? Well, there are all these things that need to be taken into consideration and adjust it accordingly. So, what other fabrication considerations are there that maybe designers or engineers that are designing boards would want to consider as they decide what they're going to choose?

Well good, that's a good point, and you and I know design is important because there's this conundrum in our supply chain. The fabricator is looking for a design for manufacturing and the designer is designing something to work in a certain fashion. Electrical performance, dielectric spacing, and they don't take into consideration potentially what that does, how that impacts the bare board fabrication process. That's very significant, right? What - and I'm gonna go back to this - because I find this to be an issue as well on the assembly sideboards come into the assembler, they come from somewhere, and they call me and say I have the plating is lifting from the surface when we assemble, or the solder mask is lifting well I said do you did you specify the grade of solder mask, do you even know what solder mask is being put on the board that you're bringing in to assemble? Well no. Now I find out - it's very easy for me to find out - that they’re using, the fabricator... wherever typically not here, is using a low $10 a kilo solder mask because no one specified it. And of course, that $10 a kilo or less solder mask is probably gonna work beautifully in a handheld child's toy, it's not going to work very well for your medical device. And you're gonna have all these other problems. So I think, I hope the designers would get more involved in understanding the difficulties in making a bare board and also understand: just don't specify ENAPEG because it sounds great, or sounds sexy. Because number one, you're probably not paying for it, somebody else has to pay for that ENAPEG and at $12 and $10 a square foot.   Understand - and this is where the board designers are looking for the electrical performance - do they ask where the board is going to be used? Is it going to be in a harsh-use environment, is it going to be in a benign environment clay modeling studio? These are the key questions for them. Typically what I see designers do is, say this is how the board should be built, these are the layers, these are the holes, and you should use this material with this dielectric constant. That's all great, but it's not enough.


And I've been teaching this advanced troubleshooting course with printed circuit board fabrication for years, and you'd be surprised at the number of designers that actually take that course, and they ask the craziest questions. Which tells me they haven't been outside of the board fabrication, outside of their design studio. Understand that you need to live with that a little bit I would put every designer at least in a circuit board fabricator for two weeks and have them build a board that they designed.

Yep, I agree it's hard - we encouraged that here a lot - and almost every guest on here says the same thing. Because you and I've been around the block a little while, and understand that there's time constraints for them to get out. However the long-term cost of not getting out there and not onboarding. And this is another plug - you and I've been around IPC awhile - this is another plug for CID and CID+ training, as well because there you onboard some of these things that may be outside of the obvious things that are around manufacturing and assembly. So Kelly Dack wants to start field trips on every CID course. I'm like, yes let's do it!

You know, to me that would be fantastic, and to be honest with you and being heavily involved myself in an IPC, one of the things that I've suggested that when CIDs and the CID+ students earned their certifications, they should also have to get some understanding in coursework and practical on the bare board fabrication. You should make it like you did in college, the practicals, you just didn't do the book work, you had to go into the lab...


-apply what you just learned from the book, because if you couldn't resort to practice, at the end of the day you can't practice it. You've not learned.

And as we both know, the cost of ignorance in these areas is so high, like avoidable mistakes.

Costly...  I've seen an entire clay modeling studio shut down, a paper mill shut down, because, again the paper mill folks were buying the controls from the OEM who was specifying the boards to be made but the finish... So the poor industrial automation company using these expensive controls were wondering why these inexpensive instruments are no longer doing what they're supposed to do. And they find out that there's creep corrosion in there because the OEM specified immersion silver or bought the board somewhere cheap where the individual companies decided to cut corners, like they do, to meet the cost. Like not putting enough gold on, not putting enough nickel on. You know, there are specs for a reason.

There is, absolutely.

And that's obviously a discussion for another time.

Yeah, that's a whole other podcast, and then there's everything you're doing - HDPUG - which is another podcast I'd like to get you on for as well. I want to put a pin in our conversation right now because I realized, in the beginning I failed to mention to our listeners that you may hear some background noise here. There's some... well, what I was telling our producers is, we're building a better podcast but it’s noisy in here, but really what's happening is we have some construction and of course it's overhead in the green room here in our La Jolla office, so it's directly overhead, on this day of course, so please, please excuse any background noise.

So Mike, you sit on boards for international companies as well as companies here and you are a respected and trusted advisor. You mentioned to me about things that the Japanese are doing that are very innovative and that is that they're mixing finishes and doing selective finishes can you tell us a little bit about that?

Yeah, and this is if you can see the IC substrate side in the Japanese, or the ones who really made miniaturization go. I mean they understood how to make things small, not just lawn mowers and engines like Toyota Camrys and things like in the Prius, but they figured out early on how to do it with circuit boards and putting more functionality on the chip. Matter of fact, that's where OSP was actually invented was in Japan, in those days it was called pre-flux because it was in the rudimentary 1970s day, but they pioneered the OSP and matter of fact, today the leading OSP company in the world is Shikoku Chemicals out in Japan, they continue to evolve that chemistry and I trust them immensely.

So, going back to that question what you do is, in the IC substrate market, where you've got a complex chip that has to have gold leads or gold wire bonding, you have on one side of the substrate, nickel gold, and then you bond the chip with the wires to that feature. But then on the flip side, which is going to be a BGA feature, you have bare copper which is OSP. So they have the BGA balls on the bottom side and the IC substrate - the chip actually, the die as they call it - on the top side. So you have ENIG - selectively on one side and bare copper meaning OSP - on the other and of course it's a flip chip. So with the IC substrate or the IC chip in there, you marry that BGA to the Barriss surface of the copper board meaning an OSP, and you've got this fantastic package, if you will, instead of doing it all in the nickel gold or all in ENIG and handle it selectively. And they've developed these processes, and they've also developed a selective imaging, if you will, to make that happen. but it's relatively easy to do, once you understand the ramifications and how to make it work, and make sure you don't get an OSP that doesn't say, ‘attack’ the exposed nickel gold. All these things, it's pretty pretty intricate, but it's been around for some time and with a lot of success so I've selected ENIG as they call it.

Interesting, so I was just gonna ask you, what does that do to cost and process? You're saying it's not difficult, how about cost implications?

Well, there is an additional cost of putting the second imaging step down to protect the board from plating where you don't want it to go, but instead of doing the entire IC substrate in nickel gold, you're doing just one portion of it where the wires from the chip are placed,  from the die so, that does help you significantly in the long run. It also makes the BGA perform better because you're marrying basically tin to bare copper making another opportunity there.

Do you think that will find its way here into North America?

Well, the thing is there's only a few fabricators here who do work in the substrate industry, most of the substrate work is done in Asia for the Amcor’s and the Intel's and the Samsung’s so you see a lot of the supply chain there. Some big American owned companies in Asia are doing it in volume, but again, if you want to see IC substrate packaging at its best it's the Japanese.

Yeah, that makes sense.

Yep they’re the leaders, and they've been doing that for 30 years, so they tend to be ahead of their time, but now the time has come.

Yeah well, it's interesting to get your perspective on sort of a global scale, as well this has been great. Our time is coming to a close here, but will you please share with us links to any white papers or slide decks or anything you have? Because I think how I want to wrap up is Mike, if you are a designer what would you do with all this information? And we've kind of shared it sort of anecdotally and quickly here, but if you wanted to learn more about this where would you go, and what kind of things maybe can you share with our listeners that we can throw on the show notes so they can maybe get better at this.

Well very good. I would encourage you designers who haven't taken an IDC course outside of design - I encourage you to take them - you look on the IPC website. We just had Apex where, in addition to technical papers, there were workshops on a number of different subjects including my Advanced Troubleshooting course, but there were also courses on the Basics of Bare Board Fabrication, and some of the instructors do a great job of giving you the tour, if you will, of the very basics. So you can get a feel for how the board starts with bare laminate, actually starts from the design, and actually ends with the finished product, going out to assembly from a manufacturing standpoint, and you can follow that up by taking the Advanced Troubleshooting, so you can understand where some of the problems and technical issues come from when the board is fabricated, with the various chemical steps and the mechanical steps like drilling and plating and immersion gold and silver. Whatever you need to do, that would be something you should do, and also watch for IPC Tech Ed, where they're going to be putting more and more of these courses. Standalones in different parts of the company whether it be San Jose, San Diego. We just did a course in Boston back in April which was well attended, and we just had the High Reliability Conference in Baltimore a few weeks ago, which had a high military aero content to it. But there's a webcast as well. And also, I encourage you to look at the IPC website - Go through the technical papers, look for the events that are going on there but obviously at every Apex there will be this myriad of courses to take, and I encourage you to go to your boss and say, look this is something I think will benefit me, and you're gonna send me there anyways for the other events, so why not get there on a Sunday and take this course?

Yeah, good advice.

SMTA is another good place that has a lot of technical papers and seminars and webinars related to things like surface finishes and design for reliability etc. Matter of fact, IPC actually has a Design for Manufacturing workshop that is taught by some really highly-skilled people too, so that might be something that a designer would benefit from. Again, because the designer or an actual designer is actually teaching the course from experience because he lives it...


-let me build bare boards...   I'm talking like Gary Ferrari and Susie Webb and those folks, they've actually built boards but they also design. Happy Holden and he's built boards, he designs boards, he understands - they get it.


That would be an interesting perspective for all those out there.

Okay good, that's great stuff. Well we'll make sure to attach the links to IPC and I know they're doing a lot with education right now, and so I'll make sure - and if you have anything to share with me please do - and we'll make sure we also include links to RBP Chemical.


And then we will share anything else that you want, and I'm hoping I might be able to twist Mike's arm to come teach a surface finish course at Altiumlive in October. But we'll see, he's so in demand, he’s a popular guy - but if I had my wish, that's what we would do because I think it'd be a great place again hope to have about five six hundred designers there so I think they would benefit.

So Mike thank you again, you're a dear friend, and thank you so much for always freely sharing your information. Mike also writes a column for PCB007 Magazine, called Trouble in Your Tank, and that's where I learned a lot and actually how I became friends with Mike as I was asking him if I could please take some of his content and repurpose it for blogs I was writing. So we'll also include that link to his column. So Mikey, thank you again you're a dear contributor and friend to the industry and thanks so much for taking time out of your busy day to do this with us it's been fun.

Well, thank you Judy, thanks for inviting me. I appreciate it, you have a great day.

Thanks you too again. This has been Judy Warner with Altium’s OnTrack podcast and Mike Carano of RBP Chemical. please join us again next time - until then - always stay OnTrack.

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About Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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