Multek in July announced it would open a major tech center in the Silicon Valley, performing critical research on everything from new materials and manufacturing processes to signal integrity. Multek president Franck Lize and CTO Dr. Bill Beckenbaugh discussed the Innovation Technology Center with PCD&F editor in chief Mike Buetow via phone.

MB: Has the ITC been in the works internally for some time?
FL: So the new center is very interesting. We spent the past four months with customers to understand what their requirements were for the next-generation products. With the telecom market, with the 4G and 5G, and even the consumer business with flexible products like wearables and the flexible phones that we hear about in the news, there’s a change (coming) in the PCB industry because there are different requirements for those PCBs.

Our customers need many more solutions now than ever in the past 20 years. Multek wants to be a pioneer here. The ITC is part of the solution that Multek is putting together.

MB: Is it a standalone entity?
FL: It’s part of a full system. We are co-located next to the big NPI center that Flextronics has in the Bay Area. We needed a place for knowledge and engineering, and we wanted to be in the best location in the world for electronics. But the ITC is  much more than that. We are leveraging on our network of field applications engineers, which we have all over the world. Thanks to this extended network, our customers have direct access to this great capital of PCB and flexible circuit knowledge, no matter where in the world they are. It fits into the full Multek solution. Whether it’s a field application engineer or our top engineers in the Silicon Valley, we are working to provide early engagement for new materials, signal integrity issues, and new flexible designs. For any new challenges that our customers have, Multek helps them make the bridge between concept and actual manufacturing.

MB: We are seeing companies such as Agilent and IBM change their paradigms so that their design kickoff meetings involve everyone from the SI engineer to the hardware engineer, the firmware guy, the fabricator and the assembly process engineer. The DfM rules are hard-coded at that time, so that there are no changes down the line. What are you seeing insofar as this, and did it play into your decision about the ITC?
BB: This is the trend we are seeing over the past several years, and it’s why we wanted to move past our internal paradigm and turn it around so that the requirements and cost of the functions are designed in early, because if we don’t participate in it, we won’t be able to help the customer do a better job, but also because they might be doing something using an older technology than they need to, one that might cost them money or be less efficient.

We wanted to make it customer-focused and not limited, an open-ended ability to create a team and bring the right people with the right answers to the right problem set. It also helps us define our future capacity and technology requirements better.

MB: To what degree will ITC be involved in blue sky research outside of what’s directly needed by customers?
BB: Blue sky for us is defined for something that’s been coming, but traditionally we have put it in terms of the optimum solution for copper-based interconnects. At some point we will move to other ways to move to signal propagation. The future will be very different.

This industry has only gone through two or three revolutions in the past 25 years. We feel the next one is coming in the next few years. I don’t want to give too much about that because of the proprietary nature of it, but it is something we are working on.

MB: Bill, what are you seeing in terms of 3D packaging?
BB: Being located with the Product Innovation Center, we are able to provide the interconnect part to accelerate our Flextronics corporate roadmap, and provide a Multek interconnect solution for MEMs packaging. We are in mass production on product with package-driven interconnect pitches and component densities and assembly requirements. We see sensor integration and integration of MEMS devices is a key driver of the next generation of interconnect solutions. I’ve been in advanced packaging as part of my career and am very sensitive to it driving the next generation of electronics and PCB boards. It’s the key to the future of electronics growth.

MB: From the assembly viewpoint, we see issues where the tolerances for SMT assembly require bare board yields in the 98%, 99% range, and not just by visual inspection, or there are problems with printing. These problems will be even more severe with smaller components such as metric 0201s.
You’re touching on the area that is exactly why we are co-located with our Flextronics Assembly Engineering Lab. Regardless of whether it’s a module, or a chip on a package, all require flawless assembly. From a Six Sigma standpoint, it’s necessary to fully control all the aspects of the process.

Ed.: For the full interview, visit

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