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62 The PCB Magazine • August 2016 casionally happen, and good ones. I don't think it makes any sense to have inspection that does not discriminate between good clean materials and not-so-clean materials. Matties: How do you even go about qualifying a fabricator to be a producer? What is it that you're really looking for? Heltzel: What's important is that the qualified PCB manufacturer is committed to supply to the space industry for the long term. Then there are all kinds of technical requirements that are now written down in our standards, and for us to meet those technical requirements. Of course, some of these requirements are tech- nically challenging to meet them 100% of the time. When we face problems, the really impor- tant thing is that we don't give up. We should al- ways have the mindset of continuous improve- ment and commitment to the space project to sort out any problems if they occur. I think that is one of the most important points to ESA. Matties: Do you embed engineers from your agen- cy into fabricator shops? Heltzel: No, we do not. Matties: You rely totally on their engineering and support to solve problems? Heltzel: I audit PCB manufacturers. Also, the whole industry chain is involved with the qual- ity assurance from PCB manufacturers, but in- side those we do not have embedded engineers. Matties: What is the greatest challenge in this whole process, from design to a completed board? Heltzel: Mostly pricing, I'm afraid. Matties: Really? I thought you had all the money you needed. It's a government agency, right? Heltzel: Let's say the space project has a high budget, and it is an expensive business. But still, ESA does not buy the PCBs. It's the indus- try buying the PCBs and the industry is pushing budget and they push back on PCB fabricators to provide a reliable PCB at a low cost. That is a conflict. Matties: That sure is. The other aspect, of course, is that inspection is a standard step in almost ev- ery process for your application, I would imagine. That's expensive, but necessary. A lot of people tell me, "If you have a process that's in stable circum- stances and you're in control, you don't need in- spection." It seems like that would be a mistake in this case. Heltzel: It would be. We inspect a lot with re- gards to PCB procurement and PCB qualifica- tion. We are in the process of raising the bar in terms of the level of testing that we're requiring and the number of inspections that we're requir- ing. That work costs money but we justify that and we can quite easily convince industry that it's just a fact that those inspections will then prevent failures later in the chain in manufac- turing the product. Really, the expensive thing is when things go wrong and 20 people have to sit around the table once a week in a physical meeting to sort out the problems on schedule. Matties: When things go wrong in the finished product, it's hundreds of thousands of miles away perhaps, with no chance of repair. THE EUROPEAN SPACE AGENCY ON RELIABILITY Stan Heltzel

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