February 22, 2012

Advanced Component Testing: XRF Analysis

Over the past few months, my colleagues and I have written a number of blog posts to help educate our OEM and CEM customers about our in-depth quality assurance process. We even produced a video that takes viewers inside one of our inspection facilities. Now I’d like to take a deeper dive into some of the advanced component testing capabilities that Converge is able to perform in-house – specifically, what are these techniques and why are they needed? This three-part series will cover XRF analysis, X-ray testing, and decapsulation.

What Is XRF Analysis?

X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis is primarily used to verify Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) compliance. This European Union 2003 directive, designed to reduce toxic e-waste, restricts the use of six hazardous substances in electrical and electronic components equipment: Lead (Pb); Mercury (Hg); Cadmium (Cd); Hexavelent Chromium (Cr6+); Polybrominated Biphenyls (PBB); and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ether (PBDE). The maximum permitted concentrations are measured in parts-per-million (ppm) by weight of homogeneous material.

A handheld XRF “gun,” or analyzer, uses X-ray fluorescence to determine the elemental breakdown of a scanned component’s lead material. The analyzer offers material concentration results within seconds, along with a pass/fail result that indicates whether or not the component is RoHS compliant. Everything that can be identified as a homogeneous material must be below the concentration limit of 0.1% (except for Cadmium which is limited to 0.01%). In other words, if one material part of a product exceeds the maximum permitted concentrations, the entire product would fail the requirements of the directive.

This information is essential to global electronics manufacturers who need to ensure that their products meet RoHS requirements. Outside the European Union, other countries and states are developing similar hazardous substance regulations, so proving compliance that meets the strictest global regulations is becoming more critical than ever. No manufacturer wants to be held accountable if a component used in a marketed product later turns out to be noncompliant.

Alternatively, some manufacturers need leaded parts for military or aerospace builds. XRF analysis can likewise verify that the parts are indeed leaded and meet the customer’s requirements.

In either case, Converge engineers can compare our XRF analysis results to the manufacturer’s specifications (when available) or to a known good device. When the elemental breakdown doesn’t match, that’s a red flag. When combined with other advanced testing methods, XRF analysis provides an extra layer of protection in our mission to keep substandard components out of the supply chain.

As an independent electronics distributor, Converge specializes in procuring hard-to-find and obsolete electronic components for customers who desperately need to buy obsolete parts. While we carefully screen all our vendors, this is one more reason that Converge believes XRF analysis is an essential tool for every reputable independent distributor. Has your distributor made the XRF investment?

If you missed Part II-X-ray Imaging and Part III-Decapsulation of our Advanced Component Series, you can read them now.

February 8, 2012

Why a 76-Point Quality Inspection?

One question that we continually receive from customers is “Why does Converge have a 76-point quality electronic component inspection?” Not that they’re complaining about our obsession with quality – rather, they’re just curious about the number we proudly tout on our website and brochures.

Why 76?

When Converge originally created its robust multi-point quality assurance checklist (which is based on the industry-leading IDEA 1010 standard), we wanted to ensure that no portion of a shipment was overlooked in the inspection and verification process. Our quality team compiled the electronic component inspection criteria from the IDEA 1010 standard and then also incorporated the best-in-class requirements from our customers and their site inspection audits. Seventy-six actions were required to ensure that our criteria met or exceeded the highest quality requirements of ALL our global customers. We made all 76 steps mandatory, and the rest is history. Now every order processed by Converge must pass through one of our three global hubs and pass this inspection before it can be sent on to the customer.

Our multi-point quality assurance process has three phases: first, there is a visual inspection to verify that everything is exactly the way the original order says it should be, from the packaging, weight, and order numbers to the physical condition and markings of the materials. Orders that pass the first phase go on to a more in-depth inspection by a certified engineer. Here our engineers perform microscopic inspections on a large sampling of components from each order, as well as marking permanency tests, moisture level checks, and x-ray fluorescence (XRF) analysis.

Escalation points have been developed that require the use of additional advanced in-house testing methods, such as x-ray and decapsulation, when additional verification is required for questionable parts. Every step of the process is carefully documented and recorded, including numerous photographs, in order to protect both Converge and our customers.

Only after successfully completing the first two phases are parts released for shipping. This is the third and final phase: the order is inspected one last time before being packaged, photographed, weighed, and proper shipping labels are verified. Any failure within this process will result in the order being rejected, after which a discrepancy alert process is initiated and followed.

We’re not saying that 76 is a “magic number” when it comes to electronic component inspections. We’re continually working to improve our processes, and one day Converge may be talking about our 100-point quality inspection. But to date, this scrutiny and attention to detail is keeping our customers’ supply chains clear of suspect electronic parts procurement and their operations running smoothly.

So perhaps the question shouldn’t be why does Converge have a 76-point quality electronic component inspection, but rather…why doesn’t everyone else?