A Conversation (and Day) with Joe Fjelstad Part 4

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Occam_array.jpgFjelstad: Yes, and you're going to go through a substantial number of those thermal excursions and they're going to be relatively high, but even in operation it's going to be interesting. One of my advisors, a highly respected thermal management expert, said, "This is a really great thing from my perspective. This is the first time that you get to solve the thermal problem on the front-end rather than the back-end." And there are no restricted elements to it. If you're concerned about RoHS, you needn't be, because you are not going to be using any RoHS-restricted material. Fundamentally, it's just copper and aluminum, some insulation material, and then the components, which are a mix of different things—silicon, copper, etc. Most of the lead frames are going to be copper again. Still, concerns are registered by folks. They will ask “What about this component or that component,” which are often large legacy type devices. Or they'll go for an electrolytic capacitor and say, “It will never work with an electrolytic capacitor.” Actually, it can but you have to set about your manufacturing differently.

The other thing we were discussing earlier as one of the challenges is not necessarily the plating, but getting the imaging done effectively. With non-contact imaging, it's just amazing. I keep envisioning a machine that takes up 20 square feet of floor space that allows one to go from concept to prototype to product in a matter of hours, rather than days, weeks, or months, provided they have the full bill of materials available. You just do it all build-up, and it's beautiful, in my opinion. And it saves the most precious thing in the world… time.

Matties: It is your version of printed electronics.

Fjelstad: Yes, in a way, though there are no printed transistors. I suggested the idea seven years ago when I wrote up a description of what one could call today printed electronics. I said to myself, if you use a laser scanner, you can scan the components and put them in place on a platform, really wherever you want, even in an almost random mode, though that is probably not advisable when I think about it. Anyway, you scan them with the laser and then use that data to create a printout of the device’s mechanical outlines, and then you have the components dropped right into the cavity and they are exactly the right height. It even works with dual in-line packages, TSOPs, QFNs or any of the like devices. People say it can’t work with the dual in-line package, but there's no reason why it can't.

The nice thing, if you've done anything with printed materials or 3D printing, is that they are all essentially finite elements. You can adjust the density of it and these things can be made incredibly light with a lot of entrained air. This effectively drops the Dk of the material. All of that is part of the calculus to this thing. It is just so rich with opportunity, Barry; the opportunities are truly mind-blowing when you dig in. That's the thing that I find really frustrating, that there are just too many opportunities at the end of the day and so few of them being examined, all in deference to the status quo.

I have friends that get it, understand it, but they're not in a position to necessarily drive it. For the most part, they're quite frankly wedded to the present. This is where they get their paychecks. The two big human motivators are pain and pleasure. Between pain and pleasure, we will act much more quickly to relieve pain than we will to move ourselves towards pleasure. In fact, we even might be circumspect about issues of pleasure because of concern over prospective pain.

Matties: That it causes along the way.

Fjelstad: Exactly. It gets a little bit philosophical but quite frankly it's like the Pink Floyd song “Comfortably Numb.” We're good. We get through the day. We go through and enjoy or endure another day. I'm frustrated because I feel that a lot.

The term comfortably numb and where we are just made me think of whiskey, which can be a palliative. When I think of whiskey, especially Scotch, I often think of Werner Engelmaier, a longtime friend whom I and many others miss dearly. I say that because I noticed that they have Glenmorangie [Scotch] here where we are at the moment and that was Werner's favorite. That aside, I sent Werner the Occam “green paper” when it was finished. He was among the first because he was a friend of 30 years and a world renowned reliability expert, and I wanted his read on it because I respected his opinion so highly. After he had read it I sent him a note asking, "Werner, what do you think?" and he sent me back a note saying, "Joe, you're going to put me out of business." I said, "No, Werner, I'm going to put you into a whole new business." He understood, and he saw immediately and he said, "You're going after the heart of what the reliability problem is.”  I said, “Don't worry about it. Solder is not going to go away any time soon.”

He knew as well as I, that people aren't going to change. They don't know the term ‘turn on a dime’ in this industry. But when the right ones kick in, they'll pick up the rewards. I figure at some point in time we might get interest from some of the people that are making handsets. They're pretty good, but their concerns of reliability nowadays only extend to the next product cycle. That's it. Like I said earlier today, I’ve personally had way too many recent generation electronic products fail on me.

Matties: A phone is a year cycle, if that.

Fjelstad: Yes. We tire of products quickly, especially if it's on its last legs. The other dark side of this whole thing, and Harvey and I have been having this discussion, is Moore's law. It's fundamentally dead. You get to a point where you can't have a single transistor and we're talking about getting down to a few transistors now for these lower nodes. The thing is, the diffusion path of the materials through each other at that level is next to nothing, and the rate of diffusion is all a function of heat. One more time, the higher the exposure of heat, the faster the diffusion rate. It's all working against us—not those at the top of the world's economic pyramid, but collectively, as in all of humanity, it’s working against us. As I said earlier, seven billion people today, in another five years, eight billion.

The other thing that’s coming is the notion of Internet of Things or, as a friend of mine put it, the Internet of Everything. Everything will know what everything else is and where it is. We're on the cusp of that level of understanding and capability, and the numbers of devices will run into the trillions. 

Coming up: Part 5 of this series wraps it up with a little background information of how Joe got in the printed circuit board business and more about Occam.


Watch Joe Fjelstad's presentation given at the IEEE Aerospace Conference, in Big Sky, Montana, on March 11, 2015. 

Visit the Aliiacense website for more information on the Occam process.

Click to read the other parts of this article Part 1, Part 2, Part 3


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