Mr. Laminate Tells All: Who Would Like a Mil-Spec Audit?
When the electronics industry transitioned from the military standards MIL-P-55110 and MIL-S-13949 to industry standards IPC-6012 and IPC-4101 respectively, there was great rejoicing in Whoville. No longer would we see the likes of George Smith, Ivan Jones, Dave Corbett or Lowell Sherman lurking at our manufacturing doors (all good guys and personable too, but with a horrible mission statement). We would no longer be testing the same properties at the same test frequency, even though there had not been a failing result in three years. No more scrapping prepreg every 400 yards for no real reason other than that was the requirement. No more mountains of test reports to be compiled for verification of performance analysis on a monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. No more fungus resistance testing. Put away the dicy crystal microscope. We were free at last—free at last.
I remember when IPC-4101 was completed and released in December 1997 and the question came up “should IPC create a policeman program to enforce it?” To a person that helped create IPC-4101, absolutely no one wanted such an audit program ever again. Including me and the IPC staff liaisons. Maybe we should have rethought that position.
Now, 18 years later, we realize that the military audits did a number of positive things for the industry. Long before there was ISO 9000, a milspec inspection was the first thing that a new factory would conduct when it opened its doors or a new product was being introduced. The military inspection included a review of the analytical and conformance test procedures, the sampling instructions, as well as any other written documents. The inspector wanted to see how non-conforming materials were isolated, re-tested and labeled. Traceability from raw materials to final lot numbers were verified. Once satisfied the product or facility was put on a QML or QPL by DSCC.
There was also a list of qualification tests that were required for a new product to be listed under MIL-S-13949. Under IPC-4101, the same list of qualification tests were required. The test results were to be available for review by any customer that made a request. However I would guess that very few new products have been qualification tested according to IPC-4101.
When I signed my name on a certificate of compliance for MIL-S-13949 as a quality manager, I could have gone to jail if anything had been less than as described in the standard. Now there seems to be a small group of manufacturers that will certify to anything that the customer wants. In some cases the test equipment is not even available on site. The supply chain is now suspect without any validation activity. OEMs have resorted to conducting audits themselves.
The IPC was approached by a number of OEMs and EMS facilities that indicated that the supply chain, if not broken, was clearly suspect, weakened, and not to be trusted. More than 85% of the OEMs and EMS businesses contacted indicated that they would like to see some kind of certification and validation process similar to what DSCC (Defense Supply Center Columbus) used to supply in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the past two years, IPC has developed a program for a Qualified Manufacturers List (QML) for the following documents:
Once a company has arranged for a validation services review, an IPC auditor will arrive with a complete checklist for the specific standard of interest. For some standards, a test coupon for the tier/class of product may need to be produced and tested. It is important to note that this is a process based audit and not a documentation audit as would be performed by an ISO-9000 type audit body. All information and all test results are completely confidential. The only time that something is published is when a company successfully completes the audit and testing. The successful company is put on the IPC Validation Services QML. The listed company is free to use the “certification and listing” in their advertising. The listing is generally for three years with follow-up audits conducted in years two and three. If coupons are required, these are also periodically submitted over the course of the listing.
In reality looking back, the milspec standards, the audits and the mountains of testing actually kept the supply chain honest. There was integrity and confidence that if you received materials with a signed certificate of analysis, that the laminates/prepregs and PCBs would actually be of a higher and more consistent quality. Sure there were still failures and some defective materials shipped, but not at the rates seen today. The new validation program from the IPC presents a significant step in providing the same confidence again to the electronics supply chain. The validation services programs are offered to companies on a worldwide basis.
Any company that is interested in the validation services program should contact Randy Cherry.
Doug Sober is the president of Essex Technologies Group and may be reached by clicking here.