Diving Deep Into Dummies

Dummy components (or mechanical samples) are used when only mechanical characteristics are required. Practical dummy components can be used instead of live, functioning components, and since there is no expensive die inside the package, the cost for performing mechanical testing is significantly lower.

Practical Components is an international distributor of mechanical IC samples also known as dummy components. The company is the exclusive distributor of mechanical samples for Amkor Technology and distributes components from many leading SMD manufacturers.

Practical has a worldwide distribution network and in-stock availability of most popular package types. In the latest PD&D Fireside Chat, I had a chance to catch up with Practical Components’ President Kevin Laphen to learn more about what exactly dummy components are and why design engineers would want delve deeper into dummies.

PD&D: What is a dummy component distributor?

Kevin Laphen: As a dummy component distributor, we occupy multiple, unique positions in the electronics production cycle. 

We are involved in almost every aspect of design and production from research and learning institutions to material science and design engineers. We also service pick-and-place manufacturers, assist in real world production machine setup, qualification, six sigma and process traceability studies, solder and rework training.

At the heart of both design and production of electronic circuits lies one single decision point, where the component is attached to the circuit board. 

The age of miniaturization coupled with environmental concerns have changed the basic processes of assembly that were used for decades in consumer electronics. We now have resistors as small as 0.01” x 0.005” increasingly in production as well as ball grids with pitches as small as 0.3 mm.

Dummy components (or mechanical samples) are used when only mechanical characteristics are required. Practical dummy components can be used instead of live, functioning components, and since there is no expensive die inside the package, the cost for performing mechanical testing is significantly lower.

A dummy component is the exact mechanical equivalent of a live component used only when the physical properties of the components are required. They are ideal for testing of solder processes, machine setup lead-free conversion, thermal profiling, solder training and other process evaluations where only the mechanical characteristics not the functioning components are required.

PD&D: What is the point of having dummy components available to design engineers?

Laphen: Design engineers always use their imaginations in the design all the way from the live die inside the packages all the way to circuit and product design.

In the end, these are some of the final questions that are in the practical realm:

  • How do the components utilize the assembly real estate?
  • What are the component and the circuit board substrates and how do they interact with each other?
  • What are the solder ball and interconnects compositions and what is the board finish and how will they work together in production?
  • What solder/flux/dip works with these choices?
  • What is the yield on your production and how can it be reworked?

An example is seen in 3-D packaging. This high-density technology is a solution to the decreasing available board real estate. By stacking logic and memory devices over a single PCB land pattern, designers can realize dramatically increased design density and increase circuit performance. 

But how do you actually produce a product that has as many as 561 interconnects on board real estate that is only 12 x 12 mm? Our Amkor PoP (PSvfBGA) triple stack makes the design and production planning more manageable and affordable. The practical dummy of this component is made with the same soldering characteristics, substrates, solder balls and thermal characteristics and is made on the same assembly lines as the live component. 

That’s why design engineers look to dummy components to develop, qualify, and monitor their advanced assembly processes.

PD&D: What is the market demand for dummy components test boards and practice kits?

Laphen: Practical Components has a worldwide sales network with distributors in more than 30 countries and works in all segments of the industry. We market a complete array of PCB boards and kits including all the dummy components necessary to complete the required process. 

Our evaluation test boards do things such as help test process cleanliness and residue, thermal cycle, drop tests and placement accuracy — and they even can assist in establishing factory traceability. 

Our hand solder training kits offer complete solutions to solder training for the whole supply chain from education and factory skills training to IPC standard certification and rework with both tin-lead and lead-free kits.    

PD&D: How does the company find partners to work with?

Laphen: We work closely with leading component manufacturers, designers in aerospace, medical and consumer products as well as universities, trainers, pick-and-place machine manufacturers and OEMs. We are always looking for people and companies to partner with. Word of mouth, our knowledgeable distributor network and the web are also vital links to find partners.   

PD&D: While dummy components could save a substantial amount, does the development cycle suffer any setbacks from using non-live components?

Laphen: We only see up side in the proposition as long as the products are used as they are intended. That is why qualified and professional representatives are used. We try to understand and recommend the right approach to particular problems and goals.

PD&D: Have you had any new products launch that have been particularly successful?

Laphen: In 2006, we launched our first lineup of 3-D stacked components. That component line continues to expand and recently we introduced the TMV (through mold via). 

In the last few months, we added a 0.3 mm CVBGA and WLP (wafer-level package) that all have been very successful launches.

PD&D: From a state of the industry perspective, what keeps you up at night?

Laphen: Market growth is very important not only to our company, but to the industry as a whole. For example, internationally, our distributors have fared unevenly depending on their particular country’s situation. The developed economies continue to face risks that could dampen future growth while the U.S market, though not quite at pre-2007 strength, has seen vigorous expansion. We have grown in several markets worldwide where we had little penetration in the past, including southern Europe and North Africa, but our largest increase has come from the U.S. markets. We expect that trend to continue, but we also want to see our international presence grow consistently.

For more information, visit http://www.practicalcomponents.com/.