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Insituware Interview with Michael Frederickson, CEO

Founded over a year ago, Insituware is an integrated technology that enables rapid assessments of materials during use. The technology combines advanced analytical sensors, smart devices and intelligent cloud-based information with innovative packaging methods to enable nonintrusive sensing. We recently spoke with Michael Frederickson, co-founder, to find out more about the company and how its technology may be the industry game-changer we have been waiting for.

Michael, we understand that the technology used in the Vision MARK-1 is a first in the industry. Can you briefly explain to our readers how it works and why it is so revolutionary?

The Insituware Vision MARK-1 materials process control tool is the complete solution for electronics manufacturing. Insituware’s Vision MARK-1 is a handheld diagnostic tool that measures material changes in process materials such as solder paste, underfills, and conformal coatings. Additionally, it analyzes residue on your printed circuit boards. These tests are done with test modules (called “Insight” modules that are expandable for future design) that insert into the handheld unit. The system uses machine learning technology to provide adaptive material control solutions right in your hand. It detects problems with your materials in minutes – before you start – instead of downstream where problems are much more costly to fix.

Do you believe that controlling materials in real-time will be the next major leap to integrating a fully functional Industry 4.0 capability? How so?

With the current trends in industry 4.0, you will have machines talking to one another and dynamically changing process parameters to improve yields. However, even after equipment talks to one another, you still have not controlled variations in the performance of materials in use. When your solder paste inspection (SPI) equipment talks to your printer, you can respond by changing printing parameters in an attempt to respond to materials changes, but you cannot prevent the problem from occurring in the first place by monitoring the performance of materials. Insituware’s technology allows you to be proactive in preventing defects from occurring and in ultimately tightening process parameters through better materials control. Measuring and controlling materials in a factory environment will be the next major step in improving yield and reducing defects.

Is the Vision MARK-1 compatible with other technologies?

While there has never been a tool capable of testing materials directly on the production floor (as opposed to in an expensive lab), the test modules cover many processes that take place daily in the manufacturing environment. 

The modular design integrates industry-standard analytical methods and provides a simple way for you to control the materials in your facility. For example, the first Insight module is for solder paste. It measures paste changes over time, from lot-to-lot and even measures paste as it comes in the door. Your paste may have been delayed during shipping. How can you tell if it is still fit for use when you put it on the board? The Vision MARK-1 measures the paste as it sits on the board. What if your line goes down? Is the paste on the stencil still good? Can an EMS provider prove that assembled boards were built with viable materials? What if they only use a tiny amount of paste out of a container and the rest is refrigerated? Is it still good a week later? Do you throw it out? 

Now, with the Vision MARK-1, you can test it to be sure. What if paste has expired by one day or is two days past its expiration date? Is it still fit for use? The Vision MARK-1 gives you these answers and more. It takes into consideration the temperature and humidity in your factory environment and what effect these have on your materials. Being able to say you can produce perfect boards and having the test results every step of the way gives an EMS company a real competitive edge when dealing with critical jobs such as those in automotive, military, aerospace, and medical where failure is not an option.

Another module for the Vision MARK-1 tests for residues that you might find on a board. Is this white spot something to worry about? Is it corrosive? Is it just cosmetic? The Vision MARK-1 will tell you in minutes if it is just cosmetic or something worrisome. Reports that you have tested the board are stored in the cloud for any job. If you have multiple facilities, the data for any of the tests performed on the unit can be stored for use in any of your facilities.

How do the design and performance of the tool add to its overall success?

The Vision MARK-1’s modular design is made to expand its testing abilities with the addition of new Insight modules. Every new test capability added increases the integrity and value of the base unit. It is user friendly and the test parameters can be set up individually according to the tolerance levels set by the manufacturer. The unit can be as simple as a red or green screen for pass or fail or as detailed as you want. The information collected on every test is stored in a cloud-based platform that can be accessed at any time. If a product fails, it is so important to prove that your boards were built to the highest standards. How would you prove the boards were built to these standards without this valuable data? This tool becomes your failproof insurance policy.

The easy-to-use platform and the plug-and-play design ensure that the operator will find this tool very simple to use. The cloud-based information system, which is the core to the unit, reports usage and test data from anywhere in the world. It tracks changes in materials due to environmental changes. Being able to access global data on any test will improve your process significantly.

What applications can the tool be used for?

The tool can be used in many different places and for many different materials. Specifically, it can be used at incoming and receiving of materials, prior to use after internal storage, or while in use on the factory floor. Additionally, the Vision MARK-1 is invaluable in troubleshooting factory-related defects where materials can shift, and changes can be the root cause of the defect. A couple of examples related to solder paste are (1) measuring solder paste prior to use to determine the impact of shipping and/or after internal storage and (2) measuring solder paste during use to determine how it is performing in your factory environment. If your factory environment changes, such as humidity, this can impact the stencil life of the solder paste significantly. The Vision MARK-1 can measure and track solder paste properties that relate directly to the degraded stencil life.

The materials we are have and are designing into the Vision MARK-1 include solder paste, conformal coatings, cleanliness, adhesives, and others. The plan is to develop and deliver a new material every three months, providing continual enhancements and upgrades to the Vision MARK-1.

How does the Insitucloud come into play?

The Insitucloud gives you incredible power to understand how your materials are behaving. It gives you the ability to compare how materials are behaving over time, between different manufacturing lines in the same facilities or between different facilities. It also allows the manufacturer and OEM to compare how the materials are behaving against the global averages. Using the power of the Insitucloud’s AI enables the manufacturer to benchmark their materials and to better optimize the use of materials in their factory.  

As an example, suppose the stencil life of your solder paste is around six hours in your factory environment. When you look at the global trends of the same material in similar environments, you see the average stencil hours is around 8 hours. This offers you areas for improvement to get more value and save money using the same material in your factory. Another example might be a specific material or a lot of material has changed from the supplier. The Insitucloud’s global trend reporting will notify you of the change similar to how you receive product change notifications for components.

We’ve seen in the news that Insituware has increased its representative/distributor partnerships significantly in 2020. What is the reasoning behind this? 

Insituware is proud to partner with the best representatives, distributors and agents in the electronics manufacturing industry. Our partnerships enable us to effectively develop materials characterization tools and bring them to the local markets efficiently. Insituware’s partners communicate key insights about the needs of their customers, which is critical in developing the right tools for the industry.  Ultimately, these partnerships give the manufacturer control over their materials that consequently reduce defects, improve yield and lower the cost of manufacturing.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Insituware negatively? 

I would like to first thank all of the essential people required to work day-in, day-out during these challenging times. Whether it is in the electronics industry or not, they provide key services that make these unprecedented times better and our lives safer. 

Insituware is a unique blend of industry leaders, scientists, engineers, and designers motivated to bring real change to the electronics industry. Our Insituware family is the essence of this company. Our core values are centered around family and taking care of them.

Insituware is a capable, nimble company that allows us to navigate the consequences of COVID-19 while still delivering solutions that improve customers’ processes. As a result, we are taking this time to develop new material characterization methods so that when manufacturing companies ramp up, we will enable them to control more of their processes. 

Do you think the pandemic will change the way we do business moving forward? How so? How will Insituware adapt?

The electronics industry has experienced many challenges including economic downturns, shifting manufacturing geographies, pandemics, material bans such as CFCs and lead, etc. Each time the industry finds solutions to overcome the impact and does so with increased efficiency and novel, nontrivial solutions. As we look to this pandemic and its long-term impact, at Insituware we believe that material characterization and material control will be critical to optimizing the process. Real-time understanding of the materials used during the manufacturing process for any given product is the only way to provide objective evidence, complete traceability, and achieve improved efficiencies and quality with minimal resources.  

What would you most like the industry to know about Insituware today?

Insituware enables the manufacturer, the OEM, and the supply chain to instantly make critical, quality affecting decisions at the manufacturing line. We are able to deliver these solutions by taking complex analytical tools that historically were found in labs, operated by scientists requiring lengthy time periods, and making these quantitative techniques completely accessible to the operator who will determine if the materials are fit for use. For the first time, electronics manufacturing will have insitu means to directly measure materials. We are always listening to the needs of the industry and welcome your input and perspective for material characterization.