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Filling the Gap in the Wire Bonder Market
Moderately priced versatile bonding system from Questar.
By Dennis R. Scott, Questar Products, Pleasanton, CA
Following the trend set by component and systems manufacturers of moving their operations to the Far East, the companies that build the equipment for these industries have also headed east. A case in point: Kulicke & Soffa's recent decision to relocate its headquarters to Singapore. There has been a steady migration of process and assembly equipment manufacturers leaving North America and Europe as well as Japan and Taiwan, for new centers on the Asian continent. After all, that's where the new foundries, contract assemblers, test houses and proprietary factories are located.
As wire bonding equipment production and, more importantly, its technical support, leaves North America, maintaining existing equipment, upgrading older machines and investing in newer models is becoming more difficult and costly, and the problem is multi-level.
The solutions are less than ideal. The question whether to buy expensive and new "high-tech" tools or less expensive, used equipment may not have a correct answer. There are very few choices for customers who need more than a manual bonder or a semiautomatic bonder but who aren't prepared to spend $150K to $250K for a new automatic system.
The high cost of ownership for automatic bonders with esoteric and marginally useful features can be fiscally irresponsible. This is especially true for low-to-medium-volume production houses, job shops and product development groups who are looking for automatic equipment that offers a satisfactory level of capability and accuracy. Such equipment must be affordable, easy-to-use and cost-effective in the long run.
Automation Is Needed
These users need automation, but everything available in more affordable price ranges is used or refurbished, and the uncertainty associated with used equipment is a serious downside when considering the available options.
Also, it is a fact of life in our industry that many OEMs are less than enthusiastic about supporting their used equipment, especially if they did not sell it to the current user. When these companies choose to provide support, service rates can be, and generally are, exorbitant. Pricing for spare parts can be in the stratosphere. With few exceptions, someone with a need for this mid-level capability either has to buy more than they need in an expensive new piece of equipment from an off-shore supplier, or they are forced to go to the used market and hunt for a reliable machine that will somehow keep up their production capability.
Used Machine Operating Condition
The obvious negative associated with buying used is that the customer is largely kept ignorant about what they are really getting, and any proffered warranty is going to most likely be close to worthless. For example, a company may offer a 30-day warranty on a piece of used equipment, but that warranty may only provide over-the-phone assistance for the first 30 days after purchase. This requires the customer to have his own in-house technicians to deal with any breakdowns or issues. The more advanced the machine a customer buys, the more of this kind of internal support he'll need. The opportunity for something to go wrong increases with the equipment's age, and with used equipment the new buyer can't be assured that the machinery was even properly maintained in the past.
New Machines and Overkill
When looking at the new equipment available today, the buyer is usually faced with overkill — especially for smaller and mid-volume production applications and budget. It also creates an environment where the manufacturer, in effect, now owns the user. By definition, a single-source supplier means having to go to that specific source for support, service, and parts, and that means paying premium prices and operating on the supplier's delivery schedule no matter what the user's production line requires. The opportunity, and requirement, for automatic wire bonders supporting smaller, specialty users and mid-volume production facilities has been created by the larger companies who have abandoned the market.
The impact of the suppliers' exodus off-shore is that equipment selection choices have been minimized because companies have not been designing and building new machines for this market of smaller shops, and every year that goes by, the existing equipment is another year older. Less and less support is available, and customers are buying into obsolescence from the start.
There is a solution, however. With the evolution of this niche opportunity, some companies, like Questar Products, are developing and building automatic machines that offer the required performance without the unnecessary and costly, features at a price point that is affordable to the smaller organization. This allows the customer to buy a tool to fit the specific need on a cost-effective price/performance basis.
Fine-pitch automatic wire bonders, designed to meet the needs of smaller, more agile organizations, can solve the day-to-day challenges associated with small-to-medium lot sizes, multiple product variations and frequent job changeovers. Because this new generation of machine has been simplified to carry out the core of the automated wire bonding operation, it can provide a friendlier user interface, intuitive programming, fast changeover, and near-zero maintenance, all resulting in a low cost of ownership.
Specifically Designed Equipment
Now, with the ability to buy new equipment specifically designed for their applications, customers can buy from a supplier whose intention is to support them today, and as the needs change, support them tomorrow. If a customer needs something special done, if a software modification is required, if a new application must be implemented, there is now somewhere to go. Large OEMs cannot, or choose not, to cater to smaller buyers. Clearly, used equipment sellers are completely incapable of providing customized attention. Buying new from a company like Questar offers customers the flexibility and support to evolve and move forward.
There are other factors that are equally important for the day-to-day usability of any particular tool.
Having a robust, near-zero-maintenance system is a real advantage. However, having that machine designed and built using off-the-shelf components, completely frees the user of being "owned" by the vendor. When a component does need replacing, it is reassuring to know the part is available from local distributors or other third-party suppliers — not just from the original source company. Lack of field service options is another issue affecting most small and medium users. All OEMs want to keep control of their field service business. It's a profit center they don't want to share. This poses yet another problem for the user who does not have, or cannot afford, a full-time, in-house, equipment technician. They may have a preferred local independent contractor. Most OEMs are, at best, reluctant to provide support to these contractors. Questar, on the other hand, will work with these independents contractors to support its equipment and its customers.
In addition to a very friendly GUI, operator training should be a major consideration in choosing equipment. With a point, click, bond approach based on Windows
software, a new operator with any PC experience is already well up the learning curve.
"Easy-to-use" is an often mis-used phrase, but "ease-of-use" does not cross all application boundaries. What makes an auto-bonder product dedicated, high-volume and flexible is different from what works for a machine that may do hybrid, DIPs, COBs, PGA, BGAs, and flex assemblies all in one day. Ease-of-use is defined by the end-use design.
To ensure that ease-of-use is not just a meaningless promise, the machine's work holders must be non-dedicated fixtures that provide the flexibility to quickly change out the multi-use, generic, device-specific or customizable top plates in minutes, as well as to make height adjustments to accommodate varied package thicknesses in just a few seconds. The other half of the solution is equally rapid access and loading of device programs. Once a programmed device is mounted on the workholder, in less than 30 seconds the assigned program can be located and loaded and the machine will be bonding. There is a place where performance meets affordability, and it is open for business. It's called Questar. The option of purchasing a new, application-capable, operator-friendly auto-bonder at an affordable price is now available.
Contact: Questar Products International, Inc. Santa Rita Road #270, Pleasanton, CA 94566
925-461-0100 fax: 925-461-0200 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web:
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