Chemicals & consumables: Aqueous based chemicals are the latest craze

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Chemicals and consumables have an indispensable role to play in the electronics industry. Besides being a vital part of manufacturing, particularly PCBs and components, it is an essential part for industries such as information, telecommunication, flat panel display (FPD), computer, etc. The market potential of the Indian chemical sector, therefore, seems to be enormous as the performance and growth of the electronics industry has a direct impact on the growth potential of electronic chemicals. This also means that the quality, supply and price of electronic chemicals and materials affect the competitiveness of the electronic industry.

By Himanshu Yadav

Thursday, March 10, 2011: India had been a net importer of chemicals in the 1990s, but with technological changes and increase in demand, a few categories like solder paste, adhesives, solder fluxes and cleaning materials are being exported.

Demand and growth rate

With the increase in processing power and the trend toward smaller and more compact electronic modules, the need for chemicals and consumables is growing in India. Chemicals and consumables market is a burgeoning one with the major demand coming from industries like electronics, aerospace, automobiles, EMS, solar and SMT. Says Pankaj Saxena, partner, Mectronics Marketing Services, a distributor of Zestron, Germany, “We are concentrating only on the EMS and solar sectors as both these sectors are growing fast. Our major focus is on precision cleaning, mainly required in these sectors.”

Mukesh Rajput, chief technical office, Max Technology & Co., states, “The maximum demand for chemicals and consumables comes from the segments that use SMT reflow machines. The demand for soldering flux is, therefore, growing fast with the demand in India itself being 48,000 litres last year. This year the demand would be approximately 72,000 litres. The growth rate in soldering flux market was approximately 35 per cent and it is poised to grow more with the adaptation of SMT machines by the industry.” According to Saxena, stencil cleaning, underside stencil cleaning, mis-print PCB cleaning, PCB de-fluxing/cleaning, maintenance cleaning, reflow/wave soldering cleaning are some of the others that have good demand in India.

According to S K Jain, CEO, Sumitron Exports, fluxes, cleaners, lubricants and aerosol items are doing good business in the Indian market. Sumitron is a major distributor of chemicals and consumables manufactured by Electrolube, ITW Chemtronics, ACL Inc, etc. Says Jain, “With increasing growth in sectors like electronics, medical, pharma and automobiles, market for chemicals is poised to witness a steady growth in the coming years.” According to Sunil Abhyankar, business manager, India, Ciba Specialty Chemicals (I) Ltd, UV curing chemicals and photo initiators/pigments have also good demand in the market.

Local production vs imports

Local production of chemicals is limited, hence, the Indian industry is mostly dependent on imports. They are mostly imported from European and Chinese markets. However, few items like solder paste, adhesives, solder fluxes and cleaning materials are manufactured in India but all raw materials are imported. As Rajput shares, “Almost 65 per cent of the flux consumed by the industry is sourced from the local manufacturers.”

A small percentage of electronic chemicals being produced locally is primarily used for local semiconductor, PCB and FPD industries. Multinationals like Henkel Corporation, Zestron, Kuraray, Ciba Specialty Chemicals are doing good business in the Indian market either through direct presence or through a dealer distributor network.

Latest types & innovations

Today, customers mostly demand water based (aqueous based) chemicals as they are environmental friendly; they have no flash point and do not foam. They can, therefore, be applied in all spray-in-air equipment, such as inline or batch systems. These chemicals are also biodegradable and free of halogenated compounds, explains Saxena. “As circuits are becoming smaller, cleaning them is a challenge. Hence, cleaning chemicals must be modified and designed in such a way that low standoff components can also be cleaned without any problem,” adds Saxena.

According to Rajput, silicon liquid flux is among the latest types of soldering flux available in the market. “We manufacture silicon liquid flux and paste like rosin flux, no clean flux, water soluble flux and acidic flux. It leaves no residue on the board, does not give out any foul smell or smoke, and requires almost no cleaning. It is absolutely environment friendly. The ignition temperature of silicon flux is also very high, approximately 400 degrees. This is much higher than other flux available that normally have ignition temperature close to 280 degrees,” he says. “However, due to low awareness among the suppliers, the raw materials used in the manufacturing silicon flux are not easily available in the local market. Even if they are available, the prices are very prohibitive,” he adds.

Although the R&D scenario is bleak in India, the situation in the chemical industry is no better. “Since very less is being manufactured in India and the majority amount of chemicals and consumables used in the electronics industry are being imported, R&D is done by the foreign principal companies to maintain quality, keep pace with the fast changes in technology and match the requirements of the Indian industry,” says Saxena. This indicates that little innovation has gone into the ones manufactured in India.

While Cookson Electronics has a well structured R&D unit in Bengaluru, Henkel has a small team in India. “Keeping up with electronics customers means heavy spending in R&D. Customers are now demanding clean and good quality chemicals and materials,” points out Rohit Soni, proprietor, Soni Alloy Industries. “Different chemicals have come in the market which are in crystalline and powder form. Some chemicals are now available in spray bottles as well, for clean and easy usage,” adds Soni.

Zestron has developed a water based cleaning technology—micro phase cleaning (MPC) chemical, which is being patented. “A lot of R&D has gone into developing this innovative technology as it combines the advantages of traditional solvents and surfactants without their drawbacks. The combination of polar and non-polar compounds allow MPC cleaning agents to clean various organic and inorganic residues,” says Saxena. MPC is not only non-flammable, it is extremely low in volatile organic compound (VOC) content, and is environment friendly, cost effective and has excellent material compatibility.

Another latest technology by Zestron is the FAST technology. It is a surfactant based technology using a completely new generation of surfactants. “This new cleaning technology features shorter and more agile surfactant structures which allows it to move faster on the surface than traditional surfactants. This results in an extremely high wetting ability so that all residues from no clean lead free and tin lead based solder pastes are removed efficiently. FAST technology, therefore, guarantees excellent cleaning performance especially in spray-in-air applications,” points out Saxena.

R&D investments don’t always pay off. Dow Corning spent millions of dollars to develop SiLK, a polymeric dielectric material that is applied as a liquid, unlike conventional dielectrics, which is usually applied by chemical vapour deposition. Although technically impressive, SiLK has so far failed to catch on except for some niche applications.

Still, chemical makers keep at it. BASF’s electronic materials business unit director Claus Poppe acknowledges that competition in the semiconductor industry is fierce and prices are volatile. “This industry is moving toward more sophisticated chemicals and materials and it needs more and more innovative ones,” he says.

“Dow Corning has developed an innovative range of specialised thermally conductive materials and heat transfer materials in the form of adhesives, encapsulants, compounds, gels and pads, that help prolong the life of electronic devices by protecting their sensitive circuits and components and enabling the excess heat to be carried off and dissipated,” says Jeroen Bloemhard, Dow Corning’s global executive director for Electronics.

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

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