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74 SMT Magazine • March 2017 by Michael Jones, MICROCARE CORP., and Sally Stone, HART MARKETING Most people are not good at predicting the future, but here's one forecast that's cer- tain: Electronics are going to get smaller, smart- er, denser, and hotter. This puts more comput- ing power and snappy features into the mobile devices we all love, which is a good thing. But it also puts pressure on PCB manufacturers as they deploy ever more complex miniature com- ponents with ever tighter tolerances. Smaller, more densely populated circuit boards make the issue of managing faults, qual- ity and product longevity highly challenging. This is why so many companies consider their PCB cleaning as a mission-critical process. If the cleaning is not effective the device simply will not function reliably for the required life of the product. Manufacturers also need a cleaning pro- cess that's flexible, because today's components won't be used in next year's designs. Speed is important, but so is the ability to clean new shapes or unusual contamination. A large, rig- id, inflexible cleaning process may be very cost- effective today, but how will it handle the parts and fluxes five years from now? To future-proof any investment in cleaning, a company needs to understand the complexi- ties of cleaning. But that's truly difficult because the trade-offs are not always obvious; many di- verse factors crowd the equation. So the ques- tion is, which critical cleaning process takes into account all the important requirements, whilst still cleaning components today and tomorrow? The answer, in my mind, is solvent cleaning. A Time for Change At the turn of the century, the trend in clean- ing leaned towards the use of water-based prod- ucts. Water was cheap, the boards were big and the stand-offs high. The cleaning systems grew to enormous size, able to spit out hundreds or even thousands of clean PCBs an hour. But as the dinosaurs found, bigger may not always be better. Aqueous cleaning may no longer be optimal simply because the systems are so large and complex, which ossifies them. Companies with rigid cleaning processes have difficulty adapting to new component designs and new contaminates. They run the risk of be- ing left behind, especially as smaller compo- nents are making cleaning processes increasing- ly more difficult to implement. Many manufac- turers now are opting for solvent cleaning be- Miniature Components on PCBs Requires Flexible Cleaning Methods ARTICLE

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