U.S. 2Q GDP Well Below Expectations

July 29, 2016 in News

iconnect007 :U.S. 2Q GDP Well Below Expectations     July 29, 2016 | The Conference Board

This article paints a very different picture of the U.S. economy than what we’ve heard recently. The growth rate in GDP of 1.2% is very dismal indeed. Read more below.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis today reported 1.2 percent annualized growth in real Gross Domestic Product for the second quarter of 2016. This is the third quarter in a row that growth is close to one percent, showing that the growth trend of the American economy seems on a path of dropping off significantly from its assumed 2 percent growth trend.

Second quarter growth came in well below expectations and provides more evidence that the economy has weakened so far this year. The economy continues to operate at two speeds, with businesses feeling some uneasiness while consumers remain buoyant. Businesses, though, continue to show more wariness about the strength of the economy which is reflected in the largest quarterly drop in non-residential investment numbers since the beginning of the expansion. There are several factors driving this deteriorating investment environment. Aggregate corporate profits have been declining since the end of 2014 as a combination of weak inflation and rising wages have narrowed margins. Brexit and market volatility related to a perception of increased geopolitical risk may cause businesses to delay some elective investment despite low borrowing costs.

In contrast, personal consumption continues to grow at a strong pace. A tight labor market has produced steady wage growth and boosted consumption. Though residential investment declined sharply this quarter, its general trend remains positive as low mortgage rates have kept the housing market strong. Trade was also a bright spot as a strong dollar did not dent export growth this quarter. The divergence between consumer and business behavior will persist in the second half of the year with growth likely remaining below 2 percent.

Though the price index for Personal Consumption Expenditures rose nearer to the Federal Reserve’s 2 percent target, today’s report means that a rate hike before the end of the year is unlikely unless growth strengthens considerably in the coming months.

Custom assembly creates ideal flexible heater solution

July 19, 2016 in Case Study

Custom assembly created for flexible heater application

One of our customers in the biotechnology industry contacted us about a set of simple flexible heaters. The designs were very straightforward, with a heater element and a set of wires for power and temperature control. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like a very standard project.

However, as the prototypes were tested in the application, the customer immediately recognized multiple challenges.

The application required the heaters to be sandwiched between two aluminum blocks, which posed a set of issues. The solder joints didn’t allow the blocks to be fully seated on the heaters (see figure 1) because they were higher than the pocket designed to capture them. Also, the adhesive on the bottom of the heaters did not stick well to the aluminum under the solder joints (see figure 2). This created hot spots in the application, recognized by the fused heater element, and wouldn’t allow accurate operation of the apparatus (see figure 3).

fig1

Figure 1

fig2

Figure 2

fig3

Figure 3

Challenge:

 There were two identified challenges: The solder joints were too high and the heater didn’t adhere well under the solder joints. Both of these issues had to be fixed for the project to be successful.

Solution:

 Tramonto designs for application, which means we build the best solution based on how it will be used. Sometimes, that means rethinking the manufacturing process.

The heaters were made with a unique nickel/copper alloy that requires more heat and time than normal soldering procedures to ensure a robust joint. The current joints were soldered according to industry standards and covered with flexible epoxy so that they wouldn’t fracture during normal handling in the assembly process.

Given our customer’s feedback, we analyzed the height of the solder joints first and found that if we spread the strands of wire out like a handheld fan, we could make the solder joint much flatter than the original. This out-of-the-ordinary cable assembly required additional effort, but was necessary to solve the problem.

To ensure full attachment of the cable, we tinned the wire strands in a solder pot, then used only the solder on the strands to attach the wires to the power contact pads. This resulted in a very flat solder joint with full attachment that took less time and heat than the previous operation. We applied the epoxy to the flat joints and constricted the height of the epoxy to the height of the wire’s insulation as a maximum. This created a robust solder joint that allowed both plates to mate solidly with the heaters and remain intact after handling.

Our next and final challenge was to examine the special pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) that was used under the solder joints. This PSA was on the bottom of the heater to allow adherence to the aluminum plates. Standard processes apply the PSA to the circuit during manufacturing so that when the circuit is removed from the panel, the PSA is aligned perfectly with the circuit edges.

Because of the conductor material used and the amount of heat required to solder the cables, the PSA was being compromised under the contact pads. We had to revisit the industry standard to create a better solution that would stand up to the solder process.

We decided to manufacture the adhesive separately and apply it after the assembly and cleaning processes, requiring a custom fixture to align the adhesive accurately and consistently. This additional step resolved the problem so the heater adhered well under the solder joints.

Result:

 By changing the manufacturing process and providing a non-standard assembly, Tramonto created a very flat heater that adhered well to the aluminum plates. The new design also ensured that the customer didn’t have to change their housings or machined parts, saving them both time and expense.

Normal industry standards do not work for 100% of electronic assemblies being designed by today’s innovative engineers. By creating custom processes when everyday procedures don’t work, Tramonto’s experienced engineers help solve the problems our customers encounter.

Product development engineers add value to your circuit supplier team

June 13, 2016 in Design Tips

It’s time to go to your circuit supplier for quotes on your newest, greatest product. You’re anxious to hear back so an order can be placed and testing can begin.
But when you hear back from your supplier, the answer is, “This can’t be built the way it is designed. We must submit a no bid.”
You call, and find that the salesperson on the phone can’t help when you ask why it can’t be built. But they’ll follow up with the engineer and let you know tomorrow.
A day goes by, then another, then another. So you call again. The salesperson informs you that there isn’t anything that can be changed. We can’t build this circuit. Thank you for thinking of us.
Now what?
You call other suppliers and the answer is the same. It can’t be built!
This is a common and frustrating struggle for design engineers when a product development engineer isn’t part of the supplier team.
Product development engineers ask intelligent questions about your application and what you are trying to accomplish with this new design. They understand your lingo and standard electronic principles, and the challenge that you face. They suggest subtle changes to the design that will allow the circuit to be fabricated reliably and continue to solve your challenge.
That is the value of a circuit supplier having product development engineers on their staff.
Traditional circuit suppliers have engineers on staff – production engineers, quality engineers, manufacturing engineers, etc. But product development engineers have been in your shoes, designing hardware and software, and dealing with the same issues you do. They are a valuable asset in taking products to market.
You’ll know there’s a product development engineer available to help when you’re talking to someone that truly understands your application and can offer intelligent solutions to the challenges that you face.
They will speak your language and understand the difference between a U.L. approved circuit and a U.L. approved product.
A supplier with a product development engineer on staff will ask about the application up front. For example, you may have a high vibration application that requires special treatment of the assembly. Most times the problems won’t show up until after the first prototypes have been built and failed. Having expertise from your supplier saves your company time and money by suggesting a solution to the vibration concern for the first prototypes.
There are many advantages for your company and its budget when you have a circuit supplier that employs product development engineers. They won’t look at your project only from the circuit design point of view, but as a complete product design. You’ll truly feel like you have another member of the team!
If you would like to learn more about the advantages of circuits supplied by development engineers, please click here or call (651) 777-7665.

Flexible circuits power today’s popular wearable devices

Flexible circuits power today’s popular wearable devices

March 30, 2016 in Industry News

Wearable devices are no longer a fad. Device research and development is growing along with the overall wearables market, as investor support flows into new and established companies.

Wearables must be comfortable and affordable, and add value to one’s life in order to be successful. Flexible circuitry provides the electronics and assists in the comfort of the devices because they can carry all of the functionality on a lightweight circuit. Flex circuits can be formed into any shape and handle the rigors of a dynamic electronic product for reliable performance.

The most popular wearables fall into three categories: fitness, sports and health care. They are being used by fitness-minded people, athletes and professionals in the medical and assisted care fields, and the numbers are growing.

Fitness devices

Fitness devices provided by companies like Fitbit, Garmin, Misfit and Jawbone lead the pack with useful functions that include step counting, sleep tracking and heart rate monitors. Fitness buffs can track and keep history of their daily activity times, heart rate and sleep patterns.

They are also being worn as fashion statements, such as necklaces and bracelets from Swarovski, or bracelets from Tory Burch, to track fitness goals as well as look great.

Flexible circuits act as a strong, reliable core to fitness devices. With the help of an experienced manufacturer, flex circuits can withstand the shock and vibration that these products must endure and provide years of service to the wearer.

Sports wearables

Sports devices are available for golf, baseball, running and more. There are products to measure distance to the pin in golf, swing analyzers for golf and baseball, and distance and heart rate monitors for runners.

There are even yoga pants that include sensors to monitor movement and offer suggestions via a smart phone app. It’s like having your very own yoga coach for every session. Thin, light flex circuit electronics can be sewn into the pants and remain unnoticed. The functionality and ability to be protected from moisture, whether perspiration or while being laundered, creates a truly useful product.

Wearables in health care

Flexible circuits have been used in the medical field for decades. Their use in surgical tools and equipment provide surgeons with uncompromised reliability. Now their role has been extended.

Health care wearables have functions that perform electrocardiogram (ECG) and rhythm monitoring, track physical location and alert you to take your medications. These are valuable tools for those that are aging and living alone. Circuits are also being trusted in products that allow the patient to go home earlier to their families and still be monitored closely by their medical professional.

Looking ahead, the future of wearable devices will depend heavily on the flexible circuit market. As products get smaller and lighter, flexible circuits will provide the robust electronic core that powers them.

Create robust, durable overlap ZIF connections on flexible circuits in four steps

Create robust, durable overlap ZIF connections on flexible circuits in four steps

November 17, 2015 in Design Tips

Because their design withstands the demands of flexible circuits, Zero Insertion Force (ZIF) connectors are a popular choice for attaching these circuits to other electronics.

A ZIF connector is similar to a card edge connector for printed circuit boards (PCBs), but takes into account the specific connection needs of flexible circuits. The most common connector accepts a 0.3 mm thick circuit and is held in place by friction or a clamp down strain relief. The principals of overlap ZIF design apply to circuits with typical 1.0 mm and 0.5 mm pitches, as well as smaller, denser patterns.

At Tramonto Circuits, we’ve designed a four-step process that can guide any overlap ZIF design. It starts with knowing the application.

Step 1: Understand the application

Before designing a ZIF connection, it’s critical to understand the application. Will the circuit route directly into the connector? Will it make a slow, soft bend into the connector? Or will it make a hard, sharp bend due to the lack of physical space? These questions help designers identify any unique connection challenges that might occur or affect performance.

Step 2: Follow manufacturer specifications for width and tolerance

Following the connector manufacturer’s specifications for width and tolerance is a key part of ZIF design. Don’t compromise here, because width and its tolerance are the first things that will cause trouble in any ZIF design. Any difference in tolerance will allow the circuit to slide around in the connector, causing intermittent shorts or a cable that doesn’t fit into the connector at all.

Step 3: Design to thickness specifications

Once the pitch and width are designed properly, the overall thickness is the next essential specification. The most common thickness specification for ZIF connectors is 0.3 mm (0.0118”). This does not match a common thickness of flexible circuits, which is .006” – .010”. To create the proper thickness, it’s typical to add a polyimide or polyester “stiffener” under the connector pattern. See image 1-1.

ZIF Stack-up

Image 1-1

In the image, the thickness of the polyimide ZIF stiffener was left off purposely. This allows the thickness to be adjusted to the construction of the circuit, whether it’s a single-sided circuit as is depicted above, or a double-sided or multi-layered circuit. The thickness requirement of ZIF connectors forces us to do some calculation in order to meet the specification with the materials available. The thickness of the polyimide stiffener would need to be either 0.007” or 0.008” to meet the thickness requirement of 0.0118” +/-.001”. Another option, not shown in the image, would be to adjust the adhesive thickness.

Step 4: Employ overlap for the most robust design

Once the specifications, width and thickness have been met within the required tolerance range, the final step in ZIF design is to make the connection as robust as possible. The orientation of the copper traces relative to the bend areas of the circuit are an important detail.

Robust design goes beyond simply lining up edges on top of each other. Instead, it uses a coverlay opening to expose the copper fingers for the ZIF connector, and a stiffener to create the proper thickness. If we line up the stiffener edge with the coverlay edge with the trace to pad junction, we will almost certainly see fractures of the trace at the pad junction. The most robust design calls for the pad to overlap the coverlay opening, and the ZIF stiffener to overlap the pad/trace junction. This allows the circuit to be inserted without fear of broken traces during insertion. It also protects the circuit in dynamic applications or those times when a sharp bend is necessary to insert the flex into the connector. See image 1-2.

 ZIF Stiffener Overlap

Image 1-2

With these four steps, designers can build a robust, durable ZIF connection for flexible circuits. For more about how Tramonto Circuits designs to application, click here.

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