Kennewick’s Manufacturing Services makes the circulatory system of electronics — circuit boards.
Those circuit boards are designed and manufactured in a way to move electricity so that electronics ultimately can do what their makers intend.
Manufacturing Services doesn’t have its own product. Instead, it is a subcontractor for other companies, manufacturing the circuit boards they need, said Mike Brown, the manufacturer’s president and owner. The company also builds entire products for some customers.
Most of the work Manufacturing Services does is for local companies, such as Esteem Wireless Modems, Cadwell Laboratories, Bruker Elemental and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
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Each circuit board is customized based on what the customer needs. They are used in a variety of applications, including industrial, medical, military and communications.
“Every board is different, ” said Brown, whose father, Bud, started the company in 1979.
Once, much of the work done by Manufacturing Services was by hand. But while some dexterous workers still hand-assemble and solder circuit board, much of the work is done by machines and robotics, directed by people.
Brown has continued to add machines to keep up with the demand he sees from other electronics manufacturers.
“We are adding every year,” he said. “I keep thinking enough is going to be enough.”
Manufacturing Services is seeing its clients grow, and is gaining work from new clients as well. The company employs about 42 workers, with about 12 of those added in the last year.
Exactly what machines are used depends on the circuit board.
With the wave solder machine, solder will fill any holes in a circuit board. Solder is either a mix of tin and lead or a lead-free version with tin, copper and maybe some silver, Brown said. It’s used to form connections between electrical components and copper pads on a circuit board. The copper pads are connected by copper traces.
When the circuit board comes out of the wave solder machine, the solder already has hardened. Sometimes, those circuit boards will need additional work, but even if they don’t, they still need to be cleaned.
A selective solder machine will put the solder only where it is needed. Before getting that machine about two years ago, Brown said all of that kind of work had to be done by hand. The machine can do the same work in about 10 percent of the time while making more consistent solder joints.
The pick and place machines are programmed to place the components in the correct arrangement on a printed circuit board. The machine chooses components from preloaded containers that look like those that held film reels. Those components are placed on the gray solder paste on copper pads on the circuit board.
The circuit boards then are inspected before they go through an oven that heats them to 465 to 480 degrees Fahrenheit, Brown said. That melts the solder, which hardens as it cools and becomes shiny. Then the connection is finished.
Some simple boards and prototypes still are built entirely by hand, Brown said. But others already have been assembled by machines before a worker does the finishing touches by hand.
They use machines and people to inspect each circuit board. And it’s not all saved for the end. By the time a circuit board is finished, it’s been inspected at least three times.
With the automated optical inspection machine, a worker takes a circuit board that is known to be good and scans that into the system to be used as a baseline. The machine will make any locations where the circuit board doesn’t match the master board flash on a screen so a worker can check and see if the difference is actually a problem.
Manufacturing Services also uses an X-ray machine so workers can inspect hidden solder joints, Brown said.
Manufacturing Services processes more than 10 million mechanical components a year, working on about 80,000 assemblies, Brown said. Most of them are circuit board assemblies, but some are mechanical.
That’s a challenge, because it also means there are around 40 million chances to make a defect, since components have an average of about four solder joints. Brown said that’s why he makes quality the top priority.