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The Curse of IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001

April 27, 2011
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IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 are widely believed to ensure high reliability of electronic assemblies. In fact, they drive up costs and make products less reliable.

IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001, widely believed to ensure high reliability of electronic assemblies, actually drive up costs and make products less reliable. They are causing American companies to send their work to low labor cost countries. They condition employees to accept practices like touchup and rework that increase failure rates as well as inflate labor costs. If the way in which these standards are used does not change radically, electronics manufacturing may completely disappear in this country.

Beyond the component level, electronics manufacturing consists mostly of soldering: making, evaluating and testing solder connections. Over time, electronics manufacturing companies have increasingly relied on IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 to define what soldering conditions are acceptable. And, as more and more former manufacturers turn to contract manufacturers, the customer base also has accepted these IPC documents as gospel. Too often, however, both the manufacturers and their OEM customers are deceiving themselves into accepting compromised output produced inefficiently.

IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 continue to play a large role in the demise of American electronics manufacturing. Far from helping users become more efficient producers of high-reliability products, these two directives have fostered a culture of touchup and rework that inflates costs and product failures. This must change.

The fundamental failing of both IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 stems from their origins. Basically, they grew out of defense contracting practices of the 1960s, especially the original “Zero Defects” practices born at The Martin Co. in 1961. Zero Defects (ZD) was an initiative to see if Martin could ship its missiles completely free of defects. Despite its name, ZD did not actually mean doing the job right the first time. Instead, each assembly was inspected to detect nonconformances that were then reworked. The reworked units were also inspected and any additional defects were reworked. And so on.

Reliance on inspection and rework is a highly inefficient operating methodology. Defense contracting, however, rewarded inefficiency. (In many cases, it still does.) The key is “cost-plus” contracts under which suppliers’ profits are a percentage of product cost. In the nondefense world, pay for inspectors and rework personnel comes straight off the bottom line. With a “cost-plus” contract, however, the customer reimburses the supplier not just for the costs of inspection and rework, but also a percentage of those costs. Finding and fixing defects can put a civilian company out of business, but Martin made more money by making more defects. More inspection and rework led directly to higher profits.

I am not suggesting that Martin deliberately created defects. But there was never any economic reason for pursuing efficiency and doing the job right the first time. An executive of one defense contractor in the 1980s actually told me that the company was not interested in activities that would have increased efficiency and reduced defects because that would not be good for profits. The defense industry has been reworking defects for so long that few employees believe that defects can-or should-be prevented.

The ZD mentality continues as standard operating procedure at most of the large defense and aerospace manufacturers. Time and again, I have been in plants where they might as well turn off the soldering machines because their operators rework every solder connection anyway. Often, the same connections are reworked more than once and, not infrequently, many times. Solder connections are inspected under microscopes and reworked until they resemble tiny jewels. Connections that are known to be acceptable-and meet the specification-are also reworked if the operator believes he can improve the appearance. Operators do not understand the reliability consequences of touching components with a soldering iron. They do know that their customers’ auditors often reject connections that are acceptable but not cosmetically perfect. No one gets disciplined for rejecting and reworking acceptable connections, whereas rebukes for passing a reliable but less than cosmetically perfect connection are very common.

Zero Defects was a hit with the military. The U.S. Army Missile Command presented a series of workshops and seminars about how companies could achieve ZD. Not to be outdone, the Department of Defense held seminars on the same topic. In 1964, Time magazine reported that 200 “major” U.S. companies had “adopted” ZD. But, as is so often the case by the time the mainstream press catches up with a management fad, early users of the approach were already defecting, and ZD was effectively dead before the end of the decade.

In a 1966 paper titled “Quality Problems, Remedies and Nostrums,” the dean of quality experts, J.M. Juran, lashed out at the Zero Defects mindset: “In all essential respects, the effectiveness of the ZD movement is grossly exaggerated; the unsuccessful programs have been more numerous than the successful; motivational programs have a narrow, not a broad range of application; the premises underlying the ZD programs are suspect; the main purpose behind the movement has probably been customer relations, not quality improvement.”

In modern quality terminology, ZD was quality control carried out at a fanatical level. And the modern quality professionals working in the electronics manufacturing industry are almost always quick to point out that quality control has long been supplanted by quality assurance. Quality assurance is supposed to bring about defect-free output the first time, before any inspection and certainly without rework. (Philip B. Crosby, the Martin quality engineer who ran the ZD program, would resurface in 1978 as the reinvented guru of “Quality is Free”-this time promoting the necessity of doing the job right the first time.)

IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 are about classic quality control, about finding and reworking conditions that do not conform to the largely visual requirements laid out in their pages. No distinction is made between achieving the requirements through rigorous process management without rework and arriving at the same visuals with touchup and rework. In the IPC world, still mired in Zero Defects ideology, massive inspection and rework has as much virtue as perfect output without inspection and rework.

Critics of rework usually focus on labor content because rework (and inspection, for that matter) inflates labor costs. But there’s more to the story than higher labor costs. In particular, rework in electronics assembly plays havoc with reliability. Electronics can easily be damaged by mishandling (stacking units, for example), mechanical stresses from test, poor flux chemistry, static electricity and more. The primary killer of electronics reliability, however, is almost completely unknown because it occurs inside the component where it can’t be seen. The killer is the soldering iron.

Some types of heat damage-lifted pads, delaminated circuit boards, and melted component bodies to name a few-are easily recognized. However, soldering iron heat causes serious degradation inside components such as ICs where the damage can’t be seen. The most prominent example of such damage is accelerated growth of the intermetallic (“purple plague”) between the gold wire bond and the aluminum pad on the chip substrate. As the intermetallic grows, electrical resistance inside the connection increases and switching characteristics change; depending on the sensitivity of the circuit, this change alone can be fatal. Even worse, Kirkendall voids develop in place of the pad material and breaks develop around the edges of the pad. (For more about how soldering iron heat damages IC bonds, click here.

Heat kills reliability but it is also the reason why touchup can produce an apparently reliable connection on an unsolderable part. At machine soldering temperatures, solder will flow only if the area being soldered is clean and has been deoxidized; if the flux cannot remove the oxide (i.e., the part is unsolderable), solder will not cover the surface. Soldering irons, on the other hand, operate at much higher temperatures than machines such as wave solder machines or reflow ovens. The difference in temperature between machines and soldering irons is typically more than 120°C. And at those elevated temperatures, solder will adhere to oxides and contaminants on the surface being soldered. The solder appears to have flowed but there is no wetting and no intermetallic bond is created. A cosmetically perfect but functionally flawed connection can be made in this manner. In fact, soldering operators do exactly this hour after hour, day after day, making everyone from the company’s management to unwitting customers happy.

Although solder will bond to an oxidized surface at high temperatures, the time during which the iron must be in contact with the part is much greater than would be the case if the surface was clean and had been properly deoxidized. Consequently, touchup not only subjects the part to a second round of heat, the temperature is much higher and the contact time much greater.

In a sense, touchup and rework are all about deceiving the customer who, unwittingly, receives product with higher probability of premature failure. The military soldering standards (initially MIL-STD-454, then DOD-STD-2000 and MIL-STD-2000) on which IPC-J-STD-001 and IPC-A-610 are based were the results of negotiation between the military and their suppliers. Specifically, the defense contractors were looking for rules about how much less than perfect the military customers would be required to accept. The customer was obliged to accept any unit that met the minimum acceptable conditions, even if the results were less than perfect because of deficiencies in the contractor’s processes. Outside the military, commercial contract assemblers use IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 in the same way, as licenses to ship reworked defects.

Ironically, many manufacturers are forced into adopting IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 by their customers. Other manufacturers put their employees through IPC training in the belief that certification comforts customers. This is particularly true for suppliers in the defense and aerospace industries. I have experienced cases of customers rejecting output that, without rework, met the level defined by IPC as “Target” (what normal people would call “perfect”) because the operators and inspectors were not IPC certified. This does not happen in other industries. And it should not happen in electronics manufacturing. Rational customers should be looking for suppliers on the basis of proven output reliability, not ability to put a pretty cover on a homely connection.

The fundamental truth of electronics manufacturing is that reliability varies inversely with the amount of handling. All handling-even test-degrades reliability. But some handling is worse than others, and soldering iron heat is worst of all, far worse even than electrostatic discharge. Because of the rework mentality, costs go up and the product becomes less reliable.

We are now 30 years into the quality revolution launched by Juran, Deming and Crosby. But something has gone terribly wrong. Instead of the focus on results emphasized by Deming and Juran, industry has embraced paperwork bureaucracy. No longer manufacturers themselves, companies have lost the ability to assess their suppliers’ processes. Where a customer quality engineer or purchasing agent could once walk through a supplier plant and know the reliability of the processes, purchasing departments now depend on trappings such as ISO certifications. IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 certifications fall into this category.

The tragedy of IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 is resource allocation distortion. Companies operate with limited education budgets. Money put into one training scheme is not available for other learning initiatives. Rather than learning the science that delivers defect-free output without touchup and rework and providing that knowledge to their assembly personnel, electronics manufacturers spend the money on memory drills to identify defects. But, divorced from knowledge of the forces that determine output, the drills cannot produce comprehension of what process failures the defects represent-nor the corrective actions that will prevent recurrence of the defect.

But, the IPC backers claim, these are “industry standards.” “Standards allow manufacturers, customers, and suppliers to understand one another better. Standards allow manufacturers greater efficiencies when they can set up their processes to meet industry standards, allowing them to offer their customers lower costs,” is the statement at the beginning of both IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001. But this is not the case. Neither document provides meaningful process guidance.

For that matter, there is no reason to trust “industry” standards. IPC’s “The Principles of Standardization” found at the front of these documents says that “Standards should not… Contain anything that cannot be defended with data.” However, I have never been able to unearth any data that supports the criteria; everything seems to be based on opinion and compromise. Inertia dominates; many criteria were established decades ago for reasons lost in the mists of time and never challenged. Too many criteria are simply arbitrary; the default requirement for Class 3 products, for example, is typically 75 percent of perfect, while Class 2 product requires only 50 percent of perfect. This is dogma, not science.

Perfect soldering, whether by hand or machine, is not difficult. All it takes is a firm grasp of scientific principles like surface tension, other wetting forces, solderability management, fusibility and flux. This is the same knowledge customers require to evaluate suppliers of electronic modules. Above all, it is knowledge that must be provided to operators and inspectors, the people who are best positioned to identify and implement meaningful corrective action if a defect should occur. And it is not knowledge provided by IPC-A-610 or IPC-J-STD-001.

Inefficiency and compromised reliability may be compatible with profitability in a world where labor is close to free and products are not expected to last beyond a couple of years. However, that world is not the environment in which Western manufacturers operate. Our labor is far from free, and our products are expected to be more durable. Survival here depends on doing the job right the first time, every time. Training people to expect rather than prevent defects invites misfortune. It’s time to learn how to do the job right the first time.


Editor’s note: Before “Shipulski on Design,” “Leading Lean,” and “Uncommon Sense,” there was ASSEMBLY magazine’s longest running and most controversial back-of-the-book column, “Unconventional Wisdom” by Jim Smith. A nationally known expert on electronics assembly, Smith never hesitates to question the sacred cows of manufacturing and economics. You can read more from him at his “Science of Soldering” blog http://blog.emsciences.com.
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Sir, I Object!

Fritz Byle
April 29, 2011
First, let me say that I am a process engineer with experience (since 1978) in PWB fab, thick film print/fire, through-hole and SMT processes. I currently work in the Aerospace industry. While I agree that any and all rework is potentially bad for reliability, I strongly disagree that an "IPC mentality" exists that encourages rework. All that A-610 and J-STD-001 do is provide a reference for visual inspection, whether that inspection be done by humans or machines. What we do with inspection data is a completely different thing. Speaking only for my company, we use our DPMO data (see IPC-9261, which I had a hand in writing) to improve processes, reducing defects. We use it to improve future designs, reducing defects. We use it to do root-cause analysis, allowing us to eliminate causes, reducing defects. We do *not* use it purely to "inspect in quality." That should never be anyone's primary goal, and I do not believe that it is the primary goal of any good process engineer, technician or operator. Your writing style takes an emotional approach which does little to support your views.

IPC 610

Larry Dz
April 29, 2011
IPC-610 and J-Std-001 has promoted the demise of the US electronics industry. It provides a standard reference for quality compared to the former situation where some used the Martin visual standards, propriatary standards and workmanship standards from every service that varied with contract and year. This caucophany of conflicting requirements has been reduced to several documents with wide input. With wide agreement of what good looks, contract manufacturing could grow with multiple customers. Today EMS companies can provide product that conforms to the visual requirement world wide. Some are better at this than others. Since this can be supplied from many different regions there is a race to the bottom. The work of IPC and JDEC made wide spread SMT possible by standarization. Other drivers include the low cost of transportation, Internet capable of moving data files and images quickly to where they are required and the improvement of moving items through customs in the US. The advent of lead free has reduced the amount of touch up because the joints are not shiny. What is done with a standard is upt the the user.

Industry consensus, expert knowledge represented in IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001

Dave Torp
May 4, 2011
At the foundation of any of IPC's standards are subject-matter experts and other industry volunteers who devote thousands of hours of work on standards development committees to develop industry-consensus documents. These committee members represent companies from all areas of the electronics industry, including OEMs, EMS providers, sub-assembly manufacturers, suppliers, consultants, test laboratories and governmental agencies as well as academia. In the case of IPC-A-610, there are currently more than 150 committee members. J-STD-001 has more than 100 committee members. The compendium of knowledge that is incorporated into each standard revision is astonishing. The guidance that these documents provide the electronics industry is second to none. IPC standards as well as other ANSI-approved standards in other industries can make easy targets for self-proclaimed industry experts who neither understand the process nor have volunteered. However, these standards continue to be developed in a process committed to openness, fairness, equal representation and due process, and they provide the foundation and set benchmarks for the entire electronics assembly market segment worldwide. To those IPC volunteers who have spent countless hours advancing the standards, IPC thanks you. Dave Torp, Vice President Standards and Technology, IPC

Much of Smith's information is obsolete and out of date

Mel Parrish
May 5, 2011
After reading this article, a few members of several technical committees discussed it. James Smith's opinions about IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001 seem to span from mis-information to dis-information. Many of Smith's references pertain to obsolete programs and practices from long ago. The standards committees work continuously to improve the standards with each revision and the participation and adoption are international as demonstrated by the numerous translations of IPC-A-610. The latest revisions of IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001 were published in April 2010. Acceptability ranges from the "Target" through "Process Indicator" conditions that are all acceptable and should not be reworked. "Defect" conditions are based on the concern for conditions that will or are likely to result in product failure based on the committee's experience. Smith indicates that these standards are based upon the "Zero Defects" principles and practices of the 1960s. The current revisions of IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001 have no references to zero defect practices and principles. If rework and repair operations are of great concern, then IPC-7711/21 is the document which would outline the best practices for rework and repair of circuit assemblies. Smith states that "many manufacturers are forced into adopting IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001." IPC standards are voluntary standards - no company is required to manufacture in accordance with any IPC standards except as voluntarily agreed between those companies. Smith makes many points in his article; however, many of them are simply an expression of his opinions and not based on content within the current standards. Mel Parrish, IPC Technical Activities Executive Committee Chairman.

It's only a curse if you make it one

Pete Houwen
May 6, 2011
The problem isn't the standards, it's the way a company applies the standards. Any company that has fundamental practices that allow IPC standards to drive costs up and reliability down has fundamental problems that would cause those same issues without the standards. Smith's whole argument seems to be based on using standards in a way they were never intended to be used.

anomalies should be treated as process indicators

May 6, 2011
I don’t believe that is an accurate statement. The standards do not decrease reliability. Touching up solder joints reduces reliability. If you’re doing a lot of touch up to make perfect-looking joints, therein lies your reliability problem. Many solder joint anomalies should be treated as process indicators and not reworked. The process should be adjusted to address the anomalies. Lockheed did a study back in the ’80s or ’90s, I believe. Their data showed the solder joints with 50 percent fill were more reliable than those that were completely filled. So, more is not necessarily better. Determine which defects are “majors” and require rework vs. those that are process indicators and require process attention, but not rework.

-Michael P. Sullivan, quality manager, Shaw Development, Naples, FL

produce quality the FIRST time

May 9, 2011
If you don’t create processes to produce quality the FIRST time, then you shouldn’t be in the business. Sure, nobody’s perfect, and neither is any process, but if you are producing so much rework that it is a measurable part of your process, then you should evaluate your operations much more carefully. The standards provide you with a roadmap on how to design a process to achieve good quality the first time. Not sure how you achieve any consistency without such standards.

-Doug Philbrick, operations managers, Hopewell Designs, Atlanta

We can all agree that rework is costly

May 10, 2011
This seems to be more of an indictment on the companies that the author has visited than the IPC standards.

Ultimately, IPC Standards are a guideline for quality. It is up the individual companies to train their employees the correct way, teach them what the information means, and how to fix problems properly, not only in the short term, but in the long term as well. The goal is to reduce the number of mistakes that are made. What good is information if you don’t know how to process it and improve?

We all can agree that rework is not only costly in terms of time, but also at the potential cost of product life and customer relationships. That’s an obvious statement that anyone who has been in the industry can agree on. What seems to be a stretch is that IPC soldering standards are a cause of needing to do rework, instead of placing the blame where it belongs, which is on the individual companies.

-Kip Smith, associate engineer, Aginova Inc., Columbus, OH

Read more comments on IPC technet

May 10, 2011
The experts on IPC’s Technet online forum certainly don’t agree. Check out their comments here and here.

-The Editor

two points are valid

May 12, 2011
The author's two salient points are valid:
 
* We should focus on fixing the process and minimizing defects, and not on rework.
 
* We should be less concerned with how solder joints look and more concerned about whether they function. Reworking otherwise functional assemblies to make them look pretty is not only wasteful, but can adversely affect reliability.
 
Whether IPC recommendations have anything to do with those points is a matter for debate.

No way!

May 16, 2011
There is NO way that applying IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 will decrease reliability. Your “expert” doesn’t even know that we’re on the “D” Revision of the 610 standard, and he is probably ignorant of the the fact that the J-STD is based on military specs.

He is also incredibly short-sighted when it comes to costs. It is a well-documented fact that a problem in the field will cost you 10 times the cost of repair in the factory. He has blinders on, and is only looking at the short-term costs.

-Richard Siglow, advanced lab specialist, IBM Corp., Rochester, MN

Apply standards correctly

May 20, 2011
The goal and benefit of using J-STD-001 and IPC-610 is to gain control over product quality and reliability.

J-STD-001 is referenced and required on many Department of Defense high-reliability contracts. There are three classifications-general, dedicated service, and high performance-depending on the end use of the product.

Don’t use high-performance requirements for general-use products; it will add unnecessary costs. Similarly, don’t use general requirements for high-performance products, which could lead to reliability issues.

-Djamel Chouiter, electronics professional, Toronto

Thousands use standards successfully

May 20, 2011
Of course poor manufacturing practices can lead to increased costs. That doesn’t mean that following industry standards and guidelines will lead to those increased costs. The IPC standards don’t tell you how to assemble something. If you have a bad process and have to do tons of rework, then you probably do have higher costs and lower reliability. This is a case of taking singular data points and creating sweeping conclusions.

If I look at a town that just implemented its own fire department and find that the town has more fires during the next year, I can conclude that having a fire department actually creates more fires. However, maybe the town increased in population or there were more lightning storms that year.

If you are going to make industrywide conclusions, then you need to use industrywide data. The thousands of successful electronics companies using the IPC standards should be a good starting point to suggest that this blog isn’t accurate. Can anyone get some follow-up comments from this expert in soldering?

-Tim Jensen, product manager, Indium Corp.

develop a consistent process

May 20, 2011
I asked Henkel Electronics’ expert in soldering, Richard Boyle. He comments: “The idea of the IPC standards is to develop a consistent process that in theory reduces the risk of reliability issues. However, every process is different and therefore, you have to look at all procedures to ensure that they are giving you the benefits that you need. The IPC standards give you consistent production. Consistent production reduces the risk of variation of the finished product, and reduced variation should give you a more reliable process. So, if used correctly the IPC standards should help you achieve a more reliable process.”

-Andrea Wagner, senior marketing specialist, Henkel Electronics

looking in the wrong place

May 24, 2011
Interesting article. But I will have to disagree. In my situation, we use IPC Guidelines to decrease rework. My company was manufacturing a class one product, and I found my employees were inspecting to Class 3. Thus excess rework and decreased profit. After a few days training on IPC Standards and interpretation, along with refining our process, we reduced touch up and rework considerably.

Most people forget that IPC is a guideline. It is not something set in concrete. Biggest problem I have seen over the years is how different people interpret it. This has decreased considerably with the newer revisions that are much clearer to understand.

I think the author of this article is trying to point out that electronics manufacturing is dying in the U.S.A. This is true. But he is looking in the wrong place. There are numerous reasons for this decreased manufacturing in the United States: free trade; NAFTA; government overregulation and overtaxation; corporate greed; a lack of ethical responsibility to the country, people and consumers that made them great; and the willingness of the consumer to accept cheap junk.

Up until around 2010 the products produce by the United States were of exceptional quality. I am still watching my over 30 year old Zenith Space Command solid-state TV, while I have burned through numerous televisions that were not made in the United States. Most electronics products do not last more than a few years anymore. How are we supposed to compete against manufacturers in third world countries that do not have to comply with the same government regulations that we do, that do not comply with IPC or ISO standards, and that are allowed to use child labor and pay wages as low as a few cents a day?

-Dennis O'Donnell, vice president, Precision PCB Services Inc., Chico, CA

FDA agrees, so now what?

Tom
June 28, 2011
Rework and touchup has become a serious epidemic and crippling the medical device industry. Board manufacturers believe they are immune to requirements that other manufactures must follow for "rework" and "touchup". I work in quality for a medical device company. I've responded to FDA observations that specifically state processes are not validated for board manufacturing due to an excessive amount of "touch up" or "rework". "Touchup" and "rework" that the board the manufacturer claims is part of the standard process as defined in IPC-A-610. What's standard about touchup or rework? It's a contradiction in terms. With all respect to the author, it shouldn't require a PhD in board manufacturing to point this out. Board manufacturers believe they are immune to requirements that other manufactures must follow for "rework" and "touchup". These are nonconformances to the FDA. Unlike IPC, the FDA doesn't classify nonconformance, it's a nonconformance - does not meet defined design requirements. IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 conflict with FDA cGMP regulations for medical devices as defined in 21 CFR 820. (IPC-A-610 and IPC-J-STD-001 also conflict with ISO-13485, but considering ISO auditors are paid by the auditee...) Now what? If I'm struggling with a board manufacturer who pray's to the IPC bible, how do I convince them this is a flawed approach to manufacturing? Is there another board manufacturing standard?

IPC helped us win more work

July 13, 2011
My company adopted IPC-A-610 as a default standard nearly 10 years ago and subsequently J-STD-001 and WHMA-A-620. In the intervening period, the standardization of process and terminology has allowed us to remove variation and reduce false rejects greatly increasing our process efficiencies. As a certified trainer for all three standards, I can attest to the benefits of training production staff to a suite of standards that make sense and are easily understood and applied.

In addition, being a company that actively uses and promotes IPC standards in the U.K., we have seen a significant increase in business because of this.

Understanding IPC has also allowed us to gain several accreditations for Nadcap, which has meant more work won and raised our profile especially within the aerospace market.

-Dierk Killeen, production engineering coordinator, STS Defence Ltd., Portsmouth, U.K.

IPC and the J-Standard

Jimmy Taylor
February 10, 2014
I am currently taking the IPC courses including the 610A. I am not sure which revision yo are referring to but IPC strongly DISCOURAGES rework. It is mentioned that in the past people were unsure at which levels were acceptable or high standards. However, WE ALL KNOW NOW that rework can lead to latent failures which cost the company the most amount of money to repair. I don't like to speak poorly of someone but obviously you just crawled out from under a rock or something. We need standards and as far as competing with slave labor - I DONT WANT TO!!! You go ahead.

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