Advanced Packaging Methods: Overcoming Connector Packaging Challenges with Leading-Edge Design Options

Introduction

As the semiconductor industry continuously advances and grows, manufacturing systems persistently evolve to achieve the challenging technical and business requirements of the industry. Major electrical manufacturing solutions (EMS) providers are leaning toward complete automation to serve customers better and faster. One of the major challenges for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and EMS providers is packing semiconductor components without causing damage to the products. These companies are increasingly using technology to aid their manufacturing methods—from using robots for unpacking the electronic components to assembling them in their PC boards.

Molex is meeting these changing industry demands by offering more options for current packaging methods. Recently developed surface-mount compatible (SMC) connectors can now be obtained for different packaging methods, fitted for direct use in automated placement equipment. Our manufacturing flexibility and engineering excellence in packaging has also allowed us to develop custom packaging options for our OEM/EMS customers to meet their automation needs.

Advantages of Automation Packaging

Sophisticated packaging design is important for any product-based industry to maintain the quality of their products. In the connector industry, precision packaging design supports easy handling by human workers and forklift transportation. The advantages in automation include:

  • Limits the risk of strain injuries as the manpower input is reduced
  • Automates the packaging process, leading to improved production speeds. Often when there is a manual packaging process, the machine producing the product is not able to run at full capacity
  • Helps to reduce machine downtime
  • Improves customer service by increasing sales and reducing overall production cost

Types of Packaging

The traditional packaging of connectors mostly includes different bags and pallets. While headers are easier to pack and ship, there is also risk of damage during transportation and increased downtime during the assembly process at customers’ facilities. The newer packaging methods are faster to unpack, easier to handle and configurable to different customer needs, and they aid in different automation techniques. Some of the commonly used advanced packaging methods are as follows:

1. Tape-and-Reel Packaging

Tape and reel is a packing process mainly for surface-mount devices to load connectors into individual pockets within pocket tape or carrier tape. In the tape and reel method, the connectors are kept in accurately designed pockets embossed in a plastic carrier tape. The cover tape is sealed to the carrier tape to protect these components in their correct position. A row of sprocket holes
is provided along one edge of the embossed tape to facilitate positive indexing.

The tape is then wound onto a rigid plastic reel that provides mechanical protection during handling and storage. These reels are dust-free and compatible with a clean environment. Finally, the reel is enclosed in a reel box before being shipped to the customer.

Factors Affecting Tape Design
There are two primary factors to be considered when designing the tape:

  • The first factor to consider is what picking mechanism will function best when using a robotic arm. To use a pick-and-place operation, components have either a pick-and-place
    cap or a Kapton tape. The robotic arm with vacuum suction mechanism can directly pick the component from the flat surface or use the Kapton tape. Kapton tape is made of polyimide film material, coated with adhesive. It has high pressure-resistant and heat-resistant properties. The tape is added to the top side of the connector to help easily pick-and-place by using vacuum heads, which is a faster and more cost effective option.
  • Tape-and-reel can also be designed to satisfy automation that uses suction and/or grippers. Molex engineers leave cut-out sections in the tape-and- reel side pocket to allow room for grippers.
  • The second factor to consider is the overall dimension of the connector. The packaging pocket is designed based on the length, height and width of the component for proper seating. Pocket slots are designed to enhance the “ease-of-pick” and to avoid component damage.”

2. Tray Packaging

Tray packaging styles allow for the safe storage and transport of larger parts that do not fit comfortably in tape- and-reel packaging. Unique in design compared to bulk packaging, where the connectors are kept loose in a bag or box, tray packaging is often selected to improve security throughout transportation. Tray packaging styles also provide more efficient placing on PC boards.

Design Requirements
Trays are constructed of carbon-powder or fiber materials that are selected according to the maximum temperature rating of the specific tray. Trays are designed for use with components that are subjected to high temperatures (moisture-sensitive components), with temperature ratings up to 150°C. Trays are blow-molded into rectangular joint electron device engineering council (JEDEC) standard outlines, containing matrices of uniformly spaced pockets. The pockets maintain the connector in its proper position throughout transportation.

The spacing provides accurate locations for standard industry-automated-assembly equipment used for pick-and- place in board-assembly processes.

Trays are packed and shipped in multiples and are stacked and tightly bound together for secure support. Customers can receive units in single or multiple stacks, depending on individual specifications.

3. Hard Tray

The thermoformed tray is not suitable in some cases as it is less durable and can allow for tray damage. Soft trays sometimes may not withstand the weight of the pick- and-place robotic arm. In these cases, hard trays that are injection molded are used. This type of packaging method adds high manufacturing costs and is recommended only in cases where soft trays fail.

4. Tube Packaging

A hollow and cylindrical packing container that is made of paperboard, plastic or aluminum is called a tube container. Tube packaging is similar to tape and reel and allows for safe storage and transportation of larger parts that do not fit comfortably in tape-and-reel packaging. In this method, sets of components are arranged in tubes isolated from the environment.

Advantages of Tube Packaging

  • Tube packaging offers an advantage for customers dealing with bags of parts in the lab on a day-to- day basis, and the added protection of a plastic shield can add an extra measure of durability for components during shipping and receiving
  • This added durability could mean lower levels of production loss, resulting in fewer components purchased for the same number of finished PC boards. This does not happen in every case due to drop testing and verifying other packaging methods.

Conclusion

Increasing demand for electronic components in the manufacturing sector, including automotive, consumer electronics, medical devices and industrial automation, is expected to boost market growth in the near future.

Furthermore, increasing preference for electric vehicles in major economies, including Germany and China— because of rising concerns about harmful emissions—is expected to fuel the demand for passive components, thereby augmenting market growth.

Molex offers different types of packaging, such as anti- static bulk packaging, tube packaging, tray packaging, and tape-and-reel versions, to help with automation and cost-reduction techniques. This helps global electronics manufacturers receive the components they need in suitable packaging, simplifying their assembly procedures.