Chemicals & consumables: Undergoing innovation to match fast technological changes

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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 printed circuit boards (PCBs) and components, electronic chemicals and materials are the foundation of information technology, telecommunication, flat panel display (FPD), computer and related industries as well. The market potential of the Indian chemical sector, therefore, seems to be enormous as the high 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 electronics industry.

By Srabani Sen

Wednesday, December 16, 2009: Electronic chemicals and materials usually need to meet the requirements of product/component design specifications. Rapid changes in technology lead to innovation and high entry of new electronic chemicals and materials in the market. However, India produces only a small percentage of electronic chemicals and materials for the booming local semiconductor, PCB and FPD industries, giving opportunity to the imported ones to fill the vacuum. “A few like solar paste, adhesives, solar fluxes and cleaning materials, are manufactured in India—about 60-70 per cent—but all raw materials are imported,” says Manoj Kumar, national sales manager, Henkel Adhesive Technologies India Pvt Ltd. The Indian chemical and consumable manufacturers also belong to an unorganised sector, making it difficult to ascertain its growth and the challenges they face.

The global economic slowdown and the monetary tightening measures adopted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) have caused a dip in the domestic demand for the Indian chemical industry. So much so that the industry, which had registered a growth of 14.9 per cent in 2007, declined by 4.7 per cent in 2008. Although RBI eased its monetary policies in Q2 2008, the global economic slowdown and volatility in raw material prices exacerbated the industry condition. However, this situation is expected to improve in the coming years.

Various government initiatives, such as 2 per cent cuts in excise duty and service tax that favour production, are expected to restore balance in the industry. The government has also increased the foreign direct investment (FDI) in various sectors, giving a boost to the stock market, and thereby, the economy. In the coming years, rise in R&D investments will prove to be a major driver for the industry, say industry analysts. Government policies, such as 100 per cent FDI, customs and excise duty cuts, establishment of export promotion zones and special duty-free zones, are also driving the industry. These developments support domestic demand in many sectors, including the chemical industry. However, the electronic chemical and material market growth in Asia is expected to be around 10 per cent per annum through 2010.
A large number of chemicals and consumables and their innumerous types in the market confuse the buyers. Through this article we would attempt to guide the buyers to take a fair purchase decision introducing the major players in this domain along with their swelling portfolios.

Chemicals that are doing good business

“Long-term, reliable protection of sensitive circuits and components is important in today’s delicate electronic applications. With the increase in processing power and the emerging trend of smaller and more compact electronic modules, the need for chemicals and consumables is growing fast,” states Dow Corning’s spokesperson. A global leader in silicones and silicon based technology, Dow Corning offers more than 7,000 products and services via the company’s Dow Corning and Xiameter brands.

According to S K Jain, CEO, Sumitron Exports, Fluxes, cleaners, lubricants and aerosol items are doing good business in the Indian market. The company is a major distributor of chemicals and consumables manufactured by Electrolube, ITW Chemtronics, ACL Inc, etc. “Chemicals and consumables also undergo innovation to keep pace with technological changes. Conformal coatings, flux cleaners, heat transfer compounds, universal acrylic thinner, aerosol, epoxy are a few new ones in the market,” says Jain.

Mectronics Marketing Services, a solution provider for PCB assembly floor consumables and PCB assembly support equipment, is a leading supplier of cleaning chemicals from Zestron, Germany. “Stencil cleaning, underside stencil cleaning, mis-print PCB cleaning, PCB de-fluxing/cleaning, maintenance cleaning and reflow/wave soldering cleaning chemicals are the ones which are selling well in India,” points out Pankaj Saxena, partner, Mectronics.

Mectronics evaluates the needs of its customers and suggests appropriate cleaning materials. “Every chemical can be tested before buying, hence, our customers are 100 per cent sure that Zestron chemicals will work for them,” says Saxena. “Our cleaning chemicals are categorised into three parts—Zestron: solvent based cleaning chemicals; Vigon: water based chemicals; and Atron: surfactant based cleaning chemicals,” he adds.

Electrolube is a leading manufacturer of electro-chemicals for electronics and industrial manufacturing. It manufactures and supplies specialist lubricants and its products are widely used for the manufacture and maintenance of electrical and electronic components and assemblies in segments like automotive, military, aerospace, transport, marine, telecommunications, medical, consumer electronics, industrial electronics, traction, utilities, education, service, repair and maintenance.

Kuraray, one of the leading manufacturers and suppliers of polyvinyl alcohol (PVA) in the world, has announced its foray into the Indian market starting with supplying PVA. water solubility is its most particular characteristic, even though PVA is one of the synthetic high polymers. It has a variety of characteristics such as adhesiveness, film formation property, emulsifying property and oil resistant ability. With all its unique traits, PVA finds wide applications in industries like textiles, automobile, glass and electronics.

Soni Alloy Industries, an SGS, URS, UKAS, and ISO 9001-2000 and 14001-2004 certified company, manufactures solder wires, solder bars of various types, solder fluxes, bolls, etc, which are needed for machines in the solder industry. According to Rohit Soni, proprietor, water soluble liquid fluxes, lacquer and PCB chemicals are selling the most in the Indian market as they are in high demand.

A German based company, Henkel, is well represented in India. It manufactures adhesives, sealants and surface treatments that are applied in sectors such as electronics, consumer goods, maintenance and repairs, packaging, etc. “Demand for adhesives in the electronics sector continue to grow as the underlying demand for semiconductors remains buoyant and conductive adhesives replace solder in electronic applications,” says Kumar.

According to Sunil Abhyankar, business manager-India, Ciba Specialty Chemicals (I) Ltd, UV curing chemicals and photo initiators/pigments from CFT have good demand in the market. “Presently, Indian industry is mostly dependent on imports. But the prices hardly get affected with the fluctuation of dollar price as they are not quoted in INR. They are billed directly in USD,” says Abhyankar. Ciba Specialty Chemicals produces high value effects—plastic additives, coating effects, water and paper treatment and textile effects—and serve several major markets, including electronics, automotive, packaging, etc. “Indian electronic chemical and consumable industry is not yet developed but few products like PCB coatings are being manufactured locally,” he adds.

Innovations that are taking place

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.

While Cookson Electronics has a well structured R&D unit in Bengaluru, Henkel has a small team in India. “Keeping up with customers means heavy spending in R&D. Customers are now demanding clean and good quality chemicals and materials,” points out Soni. “Various chemicals have come into the market in crystalline and powder form. Some chemicals are now available in spray bottles for clean and easy usage,” says 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 but it is extremely low in volatile organic compound (VOC) content, and is environment friendly, cost effective and has excellent material compatibility.

However, R&D investments don’t always pay off. Dow Corning spent millions of dollars to develop SiLK, a polymeric dielectric material that is applied in liquid form, 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 towards more sophisticated chemicals and materials and it needs more and more innovative ones,” he says.

As electronics companies try to meet consumer demand for smaller and more compact laptops, MP3 players, cameras and gaming consoles, they are also working hard on overheating solutions. “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. These help to prolong the life of electronic devices by protecting their sensitive circuits and components and enabling the excess heat to be carried off and dissipate,” says Jeroen Bloemhard, Dow Corning’s global executive director for electronics. These silicones function as heat transfer media, provide thermal conductivity, electrical insulation, moisture and UV resistance and protect the most sensitive electronic assemblies from corrosion, environmental contamination and external vibrations.

“Dow Corning has also developed an innovative silicone technology that makes home appliances safer, durable and reliable,” adds Bloemhard. Silicone based sealants can be used in a range of home appliances such as steam irons, coffee makers, microwave ovens, washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers and others. “These materials last longer, function better under harsh environments and help lower costs by improving performance, thus providing many advantages over the traditionally used organic polymer materials,” points out Bloemhard. However, Indian chemical companies need to invest more on R&D to offer value added products to customers.

Different types and applications

According to Jain, chemicals can be broadly divided into wet cleaners, solder pastes, anti-static protection products, stencils, safewash range, solvents, low VOC, conformal coatings, lubricants, resins, etc.

Wet process cleaner: Wet process cleaning technologies account for about 89 per cent of the total microelectronics cleaning, while dry cleaning technologies’ share is 11 per cent. “These chemicals are thermosetting single-component, solvent-free polymer adhesive, developed especially for the surface mounting of SMT components on to PCBs and for use on bare substrates. The rheology is especially adapted for high speed dispensing and it allows very low Z-height returns,” points out Jain. Wet process cleaners are used for PCBs, memory disk, electronic packaging and finishing and in photovoltaic industries.

Solder paste is a ready-to-use homogeneous mixture with low odour, consisting of metal powder, binders, solvents, fluxes and thixotropic agents, and is particularly used as an SMT consumable. Its flux is optimised to increase its wetting capability, decrease the odour of the paste, avoid solder balls (on chip resistors and capacitors) and increase tack time and stencil life. This paste is insensitive to temperature and humidity.

“India manufactures about 70 per cent of the solder pastes being used in the electronics industry, with Henkel and Cookson being the two major manufacturers,” says Kumar. “But all raw materials for solder paste manufacturing are imported,” he adds. Cookson also produces fluxes, adhesives and PCB fabrication chemicals.

Solder pastes have very high green strength and are suitable for machines with high accelerations/decelerations. Moreover, they have very long stencil life and can be used in printers with temperature control unit. If the paste is properly stored, its composition prevents crusting and ensures excellent printability and stable viscosity.

Fluxes: About 70 per cent of solar fluxes are also locally manufactured. Henkel, Cookson and Khanna Traders are the major players in this domain.

Anti-static protection products are specifically designed to create more cost effective and safer working surroundings as static can cost companies millions each year. “Static discharge can be the cause of several defects and problems including damage to sensitive electronic components during manufacture and test; sophisticated computer and electronic equipment data errors, memory loss or system failures; jamming or slipping of materials on production line; irregularities in quality and accuracy; and attraction of dirt and dust onto surfaces and products,” explains Jain.

Static occurs when electricity accumulates and cannot ‘flow’. The movement of people and materials through an environment causes separation and generates an electrostatic charge. When this charge is transferred from the material that carries it to an electrostatic sensitive device, it is discharged in the form of a spark. Electrolube offers a wide range of anti-static products for application on floors, walls, porous and non-porous surfaces. Anti-static protection products are typically used during production and assembling of electronics.

Stencil cleaning chemicals: Cleaning of PCBs, stencils and electronic assemblies is vital to ensure long-term performance. These are used for removing fluxes, solder paste, grease and other contaminants. Zestron is a global leader for stencil cleaning chemicals.

Solvents are used in nearly every phase of electronics manufacturing. They are used primarily for cleaning and degreasing and for thinning plastics, resins, glues, inks, paints and waxes. There is a wide range of organic solvents, some very toxic and others only mildly.

“Solvent based cleaners are used when PCBs or assembly contains unsealed components or water sensitive devices. Solvents generally require specialist equipment for their use in high volume manufacturing to prevent toxicity, and these specialist equipment are relatively expensive and their running costs are high,” points out Soni.

Conformal coatings are specially formulated lacquers designed to protect PCBs and related equipment from their environment. This improves their life and ensures security and reliability of performance. They protect circuitry from hazards such as chemicals, vibration, moisture, salt spray, humidity, etc. “Our principal company—Electrolube—is one of the world’s foremost expert in the formulation and application of conformal coatings designed to meet international standards. The range of products currently available comprises acrylics, silicones, polyurethanes and water-based coatings,” says Jain.

Thermally conductive materials, manufactured by Dow Corning, provide thermal management options. Thermally conductive silicones have heat transfer dielectric properties, durable dielectric insulation, barrier against environmental contaminants and absorbs shock and vibration. “Dow Corning’s line of thermal management materials include adhesives, encapsulants, compounds and gels,” says its spokesperson.

Resins: The two most commonly used resin types in the electronics industry are epoxy and polyurethane. Electrolube designs and manufactures a wide range of resins for circuit and component protection.

Selection criteria

Ill-chosen consumables can have an adverse effect on running costs. “With such a wide range of chemicals and consumables with various features and benefits, it is important that the right chemical is chosen for the right application. The working environment; surface type sensitivity of devices being handled; method of application, etc, should be taken into consideration while buying these consumables,” says Kumar.

“Solvents are easy to handle as a process because they evaporate fast. But overall, the process is complicated because moving the chemical from one place to another is difficult as these chemicals are dangerous,” points out Saxena. “One can go for water based chemicals as they have no storage problem,” he adds. “Buyers should go for quality and choose a supplier who has better support system and delivers on time,” says Soni. “While buyers demand safe, effective and easy to use chemicals and consumables, they should choose chemicals that are RoHS compliant. Biodegradable ones are also a good option,” points out Saxena.

As Jain puts it, “An optimal consumable is one that provides the best quality and the longest life. The better the consumable quality is, the less post-weld work is needed and the less downtime is incurred. Also, the longer the consumable lasts, the less time is spent on replacing it. Time is money and whether we are choosing a large power source or a small consumable, choosing the right equipment is essential to maximise productivity.”
Hazardous chemicals and implications

  • Hazardous chemicals such as brominated flame retardants are particularly used in phones and computers. These dangerous substances cause serious pollution and put workers at risk of exposure when the products are produced or disposed of
  • Some brominated flame retardants, used in circuit boards and plastic casings, do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions
  • Brominated flame retardant called TBBPA is used for manufacturing mobile phones. This chemical is linked to neurotoxicity
  • Cathode ray tubes in monitors contain lead. Exposure to lead can cause intellectual impairment in children and can damage the nervous, blood and reproductive systems in adults
  • Cadmium, used in rechargeable computer batteries, contacts and switches and in older CRTs, can bioaccumulate in the environment and is highly toxic, primarily affecting the kidneys and bones
  • Mercury, used in lighting devices for flat screen displays can damage the brain and central nervous system, particularly during early development
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration (or simply burning). These chemicals are highly persistent in the environment and many are toxic even in very low concentrations

Source: Greenpeace

Apple, Sony move away from hazardous chemicals
Apple and Sony Ericsson are among the leaders in the electronics industry to move away from using chemicals that can lead to health and environmental problems, according to a report—Greening Consumer Electronics: Moving Away from Bromine and Chlorine (PDF). Apple established a programme that restricts the use of nearly all bromine and chlorine compounds across all its product lines. The company now offers a wide range of PVC and BFR-free consumer products including iPhones and iPods, as well as computers that are free of BFRs and most uses of PVC.  Sony Ericsson is removing substances of concern from its products, and is establishing full chemical inventories for all its product lines. The company’s products are now almost BFR-free and will have no PVC components by 2009 end.

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

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