12 years’ successful experience motivates Norcott’s Dage X-ray inspection facility update

Since 1997, Norcott Technologies has been providing innovative electronic solutions to customers sized from small technology companies to global blue-chip organisations. With extensive investment in their CEM division, the company delivers highly complex surface mount boards, either standalone or within box build and test packages, in both prototype and production quantities. 12 years ago, Norcott purchased a XD7500 X-ray inspection system from Nordson Dage; since then, X-ray inspection has been integral to their QA production process control indicators.

A look at Norcott’s manufacturing operation and customer base reveals why they value X-ray inspection technology. With 20 years’ experience, the company has grown to a £6 million operation supplying the medical, avionic, military, industrial and commercial electronics arenas; it works to IPC-A-610 standards, with AS9100 and IS13485 accreditations. Norcott delivers to their varied customers from three SMT lines capable of handling 0201 through to 50 mm square BGAs, and anything in between, along with traditional plated through hole, wave and selective soldering capabilities.

The value of X-ray inspection

The majority of Norcott’s SMT boards have BGAs, QFNs or device packages where solder joints are not easily inspected using standard visual inspection techniques. The XD7500’s X-ray inspection allows their operators to check for correct device alignment, and that reflow of solder joints with minimal voiding has been achieved for these devices types.

Similarly, for plated through hole parts, it ensures achievement of workmanship standards that meet IPC-A-610, maintaining the correct barrel fill with minimal voiding on customer product, which can be evident on heavy copper weight multilayer boards with minimal thermal relief. It also provides a useful diagnostic tool for locating assembled board defects and component failure analysis.

Nevertheless, advances in technology, both for the inspection equipment and their products, meant that an upgrade eventually became appropriate, so Norcott decided to consider their options accordingly.

“In the 12 years since we purchased Nordson Dage’s XD7500 system, it has consistently fulfilled our expectations for X-ray inspection” comments Russ Magee, MD at Norcott Technologies, “However, we wanted to improve system performance and speed of image rendering, so we decided to initiate the move to a newer platform. Our starting point was either a like-for-like replacement for the XD7500 machine, or one that offered improved performance for a specific price.”

“We started by reviewing several offerings from various vendors, comparing their performances and capabilities according to their written specifications as supplied. We then shortlisted a couple of machines for more detailed, physical investigation. After comparing another vendor’s product with the Nordson Dage Quadra 5 and Quadra 7 – prior to the Quadra 3’s release – we decided that the best route would be to become an early adopter of the Quadra 3 as part of the Beta verification programme.”

As Cupio was providing ongoing support for Norcott’s XD7500, Norcott engaged them in discussion from the first half of 2017 concerning opportunities to upgrade to one of Dage’s Quadra products.

Benefits of Dage’s new Quadra 3

Following its purchase and delivery, the Quadra 3 was supported with commissioning and training. Dage provided an onsite engineer for one week, and a day was assigned for staff training. As experienced operators of the XD7500, staff found many of its GUI elements evident within the Quadra 3’s interface. As a result, minimal crossover training was needed before Norcott was up and running with the new machine.

Following this startup, Norcott is benefiting from the Quadra 3’s additions to the earlier machine’s attributes. In their experience, the XD7500 has always been a solid machine; one of the best on the market at the time of purchase, with good image quality. It has a large board handling area, and the rotation of the head around the board permits excellent inspection angles to be easily achieved. The Quadra 3 is expected to add quicker image rendering times, an updated software interface, and extended user interface features. Finding defects is easy thanks to over 30 advanced image enhancement filters that create clear, easy to interpret images.

Other features include Inbuilt automated tools for BGA quality analysis, bump diameter and roundness, wire sweep, solder and QFN voiding. These make quick work of finding defects, and achieving IPC-A-610 and IPC-7095 compliance. Additionally, the Quadra’s X-ray tube requires no regular maintenance or filament change, so inspection images remain clear and repeatable, while downtime is minimised.

Conclusion

The Quadra 3, like its predecessor XD7500, materially contributes to Norcott’s profitability while preserving its reputation. “As we use the Quadra as a process indicator for our production process, it gives us real time feedback to our process to ensure that we are producing the quality of product that our customers require,” comments Russ Magee, “ This in turns reduces the overall cost of ownership of the assembly process by minimising defects before they become issues later, or impact our customers as early field failures.”

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