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Conductive Epoxy vs. Solder and the Semiconductor Shortage

Fireside Chat - Ed Knutson -7.1

For this week’s Fireside Chat with the Xprets, Dr. Bill Cardoso is joined by newly minted co-host Megan Bergsma and their guest, Dimation CEO, Ed Knutson.  Comradery and mutual respect shine in this conversation, as Mr. Knutson shares some unique and truly valuable insight.

“Dimation is a leading provider of Quick-Turn prototype, Low to Mid volume Production assembly of High-Mix assemblies, Design/Layout for the EMS industry as well as providing miniaturization thru its Microelectronics division called Die Level services,” and when asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr. Knutson seems every bit as focused on the positive lessons as any downside.  He also shares a really important lesson regarding differentiating between components designed for use with solder versus those for conductive epoxy; something to watch out for as many scramble to secure parts during the semiconductor shortage.

Enjoy this one, please reach out with any questions, and register for upcoming Fireside Chats with the Xperts and view our archives here.

 

Transcript:

Megan Bergsma:
All right. So let’s get this party started. Welcome to another fireside chat. As you can tell, I am not David. I am taking over as cohost while David is on vacation. So I hope you all bear with me. I’m Megan Bergsma, I’m the social media manager and we have a really great roll over going on over here with two CEOs talking about their companies, how they are able to go through the challenges of last year and pick up where it is now. So, we have a wonderful guest speaker Ed Knutson from Dimation, his company has engineering services, proto assembly, production assembly, and dye-level services. And we have, are ever so grateful Dr. Bill Cardoso from the Creative Electrons. So, take on over.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
You know, David never introduces me Megan. So you’ve made a mistake right there. David, he usually just ignores me. We have a great guest and Ed is the only guy who is always here.

Megan Bergsma:
You got to be able to say who’s the host and who’s the guest. So, that’s a difference between me and David.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
There you go, along with the beard of course. So, Ed’s is a great friend, we’ve been brothers from another mother. So, Ed why don’t you give us a quick introduction to a Dimation and how you guys have been able to stay alive and kicking and relevant and pushing forward despite all the issues you had in the past few years.

Edward Knutson:
Oh yeah. We have those, we call them bumps in the road.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Bumps in the road.

Edward Knutson:
It helps develop the personality of the person too, right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Well, builds character, right? There you go.

Edward Knutson:
Yep. So, I’m the owner of Dimation. I created the company. I was laid off from a job and needed to do something. And I was in a pickle because I just got remarried to a beautiful girl from Brazil and no job, no insurance.

Edward Knutson:
And so I created Dimation as a provider of a service that was customized to the customer itself. So, it was the one to place. I wanted to have that ability to provide the electronic services at a very customizable type format. So we have, obviously we do prototypes, we do production and we do dye-level services, which is getting into the microelectronics world. So we’ve created that and built a good base from it. So, and obviously the key is fast, quick turn. So, you got Jimmy John’s right there. Dimation is so fast we flip for you. That ties to the BGAs and flip chips.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah, and what I like about what you guys do is that not only you customize the service, but you customize the process, right? To what the customer needs. So it’s a real a one-stop shop, right?

Edward Knutson:
And it’s involving processes that maybe don’t even exist yet.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly.

Edward Knutson:
I mean, kind of like going to Las Vegas and seeing Chris Angel and talk about levitation, we’ve had an opportunity where a customer wanted us to develop a process to dye-attach a dye to a board, but it was levitated. So it was basically suspended in air and that’s an impossible thing, right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
But you did it anyway.

Edward Knutson:
Nothing’s ever impossible. You just got to do what you got to do. If a person wants to give you money to develop something, develop it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly. My grandpaused to say that with enough thrust even pigs fly.

Edward Knutson:
That right. You got a boatload of money and you want to put it into something to make something new, when we do it, it’s a pretty big thing.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. You’re the guy to call. I remember many times you told me how you get a job Friday, six o’clock in the afternoon and it’s done by Saturday morning, right? You get it delivered and you get it done. And you know, I have so many questions too. In this world of COVID, right? Going back to last year where everything got held up, how did your business model got changed or got improved because of this new reality we live in?

Edward Knutson:
Well, I think the interesting part was we already provide that services very customized to the individual. COVID was a nasty reality check because when you were used to being able to serve something very quickly, because you can, now all of a sudden you can’t get the parts and when you can’t get the parts, now it’s more of an excruciating experience because what you could use to do really quickly now, you, you got all stop and you got to find out where you’re going to get them.

Edward Knutson:
And then when you do get them, are the parts real or are they counterfeit. So, I mean, I think the negative part is it was a disaster trying to do what you normally would do, the benefit of it was it actually, there was other things that came from it that made it even better because when you did something and you completed it quicker than you’d normally could because you have the delays in getting something that customers are rejuvenated, they’re like, “Wow, this is really cool. We couldn’t do this, but you actually took a dye and put it in the package and circumvented me having to get it packaged over in Asia.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Are you dusting off some technologies and services that you hadn’t done in a while because now people are asking for it.

Edward Knutson:
Right. Well, the technology has been there for a long time, but you know, we’ve got so accustom here in the United States to sending it overseas. Now it’s not being done here, but I’m fortunate that I’ve got back the background with it, that we were able to provide that. And that was like, “Oh my God, can we do this more?” Will it be more, so that’s the big question.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
You touched on the counterfeit problem and supply chain disruptions that we’re all experiencing, I mean, if you interview out there, I mean, we’re recording this, we’re live and recording and July 1st, 2021, right? A piece of plywood at Home Depot right now, four by eight is about 120 bucks. Right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
It’s insane, right? So are you experiencing, the whole supply chain is been disrupted, you have delays and other issues. With that you have the counterfeits, right? The criminal entities coming in and filling up those supply chain gaps with fake components. We have a guest on Fireside Chats a couple of episodes ago, we had ERAI and we have Andrea Olivera to talk about supply chain issues. From your shop, how are you experiencing those things where you have the order and you just can’t fulfill it.

Edward Knutson:
We haven’t a lot. I mean, I’ll give you another problem that we have that nobody’s really talking about. And I don’t know if you’ve heard about it either, but it’s basically that epoxy syndrome.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly. What is the epoxy syndrome? Because I know that’s the term you coined. So, what’s the imposter syndrome?

Edward Knutson:
So I’ve termed it “the epoxy syndrome” because back many years ago, microelectronics and we did that here in the United States. A lot of those components were mounted using conductive epoxy. Now you have the automotive industry using a lot of this technology, but you can’t get the plastics really hot because it melts. So now they’re using these components that have to be mounted with epoxy.

Edward Knutson:
And that part is the same part is another part that gets soldered onto a board. Problem is, is that you can’t solder down an epoxy part.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
The metals you use and how those surfaces are treated to wet to low temp epoxy or a proper reflow cycle with solder right.

Edward Knutson:
Exactly. Terminations. The construction of that is highly critical. And a normal person doesn’t know what it is. He just says, “Oh, they have it available. I’m going to grab it.” Not knowing they can’t use it. So that’s another injection of “oh my” into a reality of where we’re at, where we’re going to go.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
In the progress how do you find out right? You have a stack of 47 Picofarad caps. You put them in your boards. You think they’re perfectly fine, right?

Edward Knutson:
They look just like a normal cap.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
They look just like a normal cap, right? Same color, same shape, same size. So how do you find out?

Edward Knutson:
So when I found out what happens, we had five companies that come in during that week, four of them were consigning, where they provide the parts. One was a turnkey. We had one part that was actually not available and the customer gave us the alternate. So, now we bought the alternate. We went to build the board and we have internally a video that’s basically a visual check of the collapse of the BGA. So every single board that we built that has a BGA, we X-ray it. And then we actually take a look at a side view of it to see what the collapse looks like.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Look at the filler to make sure everything is good.

Edward Knutson:
The user basically was saying, “Oh my God, this looks weird. There’s a line kind of like a midline on the component.” And I went and looked at it and I’m going, “Yeah, it looks like it’s flowing, but it doesn’t look like it’s connected.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Oh I see.

Edward Knutson:
Then I zoom up and I’m looking going yeah, it’s like a separation and it’s not actually touching. And inter-metallically bonding to that termination and therefore it’s not working, but when you look at it through a AOI system, it looks like it’s flowing. Can’t really see that it’s disconnected. And then when I saw that, that’s when I went and I found the data sheet and the data sheet says this cannot be used in a solder process.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Of course, that warning is in big red letters. Right on the first page.

Edward Knutson:
Nope. There was nothing much really, except for a Digi had nothing. And it just said it was used for the surface mount process. I called it out, but it didn’t say anything big warning letters until I called a meeting with them. And then I showed it to them and it was like, oh my moment. So they basically put epoxy use only right by the picture of it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
So, and we’re going to put a link to that. If you don’t mind, I know you wrote a white paper about it. We’re going to put a link on this video to how to access the white paper.

Edward Knutson:
Actually, IPC is in the process of reviewing that.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Awesome.

Edward Knutson:
So I’m hoping to get the blessing so we can actually get it posted because I mean, that’s, it’s still there. It’s still an issue and not too many know about it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
And that’s a warning for buyers out there, right? Who are going to, doing a scavenging hunt, looking for components online. Then if you find it, just make sure that you are buying, I mean, if you need an epoxy mount, or if you need a solder, a reflow process, that you’re buying the right components for the entire process.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
For counterfeits, it’s very easy to just swap them right and get you the wrong one. So, it’s another warning sign. If you see something wrong, that might be what you are experiencing, right? That you put down some epoxy only components and it’s just not going to perform right.

Edward Knutson:
That’s right.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Because the solver is not going to wax to that metallic surface that’s designed for.

Edward Knutson:
It just looks like it’s flowing but it doesn’t connect.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
There’s a shield, right? Protecting the component from adding to the solder. That’s a huge deal. And, and I know all these are happening, right? And this pandemic happened right when you guys were in expansion mode, right. You had a ribbon cutting ceremony, like five minutes before shutdown right.

Edward Knutson:
You go to Brazil and then you get a phone call, “Hey Ed, you better come back.”

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Oh, but wait, first, you got to be screened and tested and put in quarantine for a while.

Edward Knutson:
That’s right. Yeah. I got a beautiful picture in front of my, when you walk into the office of a boat that was what I saw on the night that I was put in quarantine. Made a good thing out of a bad thing, right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Yeah. You have to. Tell us about the check up on the expansion.

Edward Knutson:
Yeah. So what happened is I was actually in Brazil and I got a text message from a guy saying, “Hey Ed, one of your relationships is laying off some people. And I know you like to call those.” I called them poor lost souls because when you lose a job, nobody knows what that feeling is unless you’ve been through it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly.

Edward Knutson:
And I’ve done it. I’ve been there several times and obviously it’s not fun. So I thought, well, if there’s something that I can do to help people try to find another place to be, I would like to do that. So when I got this text message saying, “Hey, one of your relationships and laying off 63 people.” I reached out to the vice president of that company. And I told them, I said, “Hey, I said, I hear you’re laying off.” I said, if there’s anything I can do to help out, I would love to bring in my HR person to have them interview anybody that would like to be interviewed.

Edward Knutson:
And it’s informal interview, but we just want to know who it is, who they are and what we can do to maybe help. And so I said, is that something we can do? And he says, “Well, sure, can you come in tomorrow?” And I said, well, I said, “Unfortunately, I’m in Brazil. It’s going to be a couple days before I get back, but I’d love to do it when I get back.” So I essentially, I did. And when I did get back, I got the tour of the facility. And not only did they get the tour of the facility, but I also got to meet the people that were getting let go. And that was kind of the hard moment.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Did they know they were going to be laid off?

Edward Knutson:
Yes, that was the thing about it. So the VP of the company was very transparent. And he said that what I have is I got three groups of people that are going to be let go, it’s going to be the tier one, tier two and tier three. And so, essentially three separate layoffs. And obviously the ones that are the last ones are the most concerning ones because that’s going to make or break the business. And so obviously the whole idea was, get rid of the equipment, retain the ones that can do the other work. So what was the date that were going to phase the equipment out? And then once that happened, then you’re going to have 20 some people let go. So when we were talking, it was a kind of a heartfelt moment because the guy was really close to these people.

Edward Knutson:
Some of them were there for 30 years and now he’s had to go and lay them off. And he knew himself what that feels like, because he went through a big layoff very similar many years before. So now he’s talking to this guy that’s come back from Brazil with a nice dark tan and he’s saying, “Hey, anything you can do, that would be great.” And I looked at him and I said, so you’re showing me all these people. And then you’re walking me by all this equipment. So what’s going on with the equipment? He says, well, what we’re doing is we’re already have somebody that’s interested in. They put in their interest towards buying it. So we have actually one company that wants to buy it. And then anything he doesn’t want to buy, we have another company that wants to buy that. Whatever the residuals is, so none of that is open for discussion. It’s just the people.

Edward Knutson:
And then I said to him, I said, well, is the company that’s buying the equipment, are they taking any employee? And he said, no. He said, they’re not interested in that. And I said, well, what if he had a company that would buy the equipment, hire the employees that work the equipment and then oh, by the way, you’re not moving out of this building, right? No. Well, what if that company sublease that equipment, that’d be a great thing. And he says, yeah, well who would do that? And I said, well, I would.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Who is crazy enough to do that?

Edward Knutson:
That was an interesting time. So, we bought the equipment and we hired, well, we actually interviewed, I think 25 people that wanted to look at going to this other company. And I think the number that we finally gotten was 23 that finally accepted.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Wow.

Edward Knutson:
So, we actually bought the equipment. We got the ability to do production work because now we have the equipment, we have the people that ran the equipment. So, we instantly bought a company in the box because we got the production equipment, the production people, the box build people, the cable people, and then the consultant coding people. And so that gave me an instant opportunity to service more customers with another level of opportunity. And so we were successful with doing that transaction. And then we were in that building for a year. And then the next year they did the same thing where they started to lay off another bunch of people. This time they said that we weren’t going to renew your lease.

Edward Knutson:
So that was a bad thing. Now I have Burnsville and I have Eaton Prairie and my lease is going to be due at the end of March. And guests only noticed by March 1st.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
March 1st?

Edward Knutson:
March 1st, now I’m being told that I’m not going to be able to lease the building anymore and my lease for my Burnsville facility was due at the end of March. So I wasn’t able to bring in the Eden Prairie office because it was too big. I didn’t have any space. So now I’m forced with trying to find a building to put both parts of the business together. And that’s when we came to Shakopee and I walked in the building. I was just like, it was a gift just laid there. I mean, it was exactly what we wanted. It didn’t have to do hardly anything other than a little bit of a buildup in the back.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
But other than that plug and play.

Edward Knutson:
Yeah. I mean, they just, we put in the back, the front office with nothing changed. None of the offices in front, the conference rooms, all that stuff, the kitchen, everything was all perfect. The only thing we did is we added in a room for the die-level services, and then we put in an conformal coat area and then we put in an office area for the supervisors in the back and then another, and that was it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Let’s be clear here when people are watching this, that we’re not talking about setting up shop in San Jose or New York or places where there are thousands of millions of jobs, right? These are cities where you are making a huge impact, right. Bringing technology and bring those jobs. I mean, it’s a huge impact, right?

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
20 jobs, 30 jobs, 50 jobs. That’s a significant portion of that community and you should multiply that over the entire community . This shockwave of impact, right? 20 jobs lost in that community, you feel it right.

Edward Knutson:
You brought in jobs and then you brought technology. I mean, we have a company called Seagate here in Shakopee, but some of the things that we do at this company and my company, they don’t do over there and we do for them. So now you have this huge big company here, but even some of that technology that they’re doing, they’re not doing it there, they’re outsourcing it. And now they have a local partner right down the street.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Down the street, instead of having to offshore it or outsource it from outside the country. It’s this huge value. And that’s something we deeply believe in, which is engagement with the local community. Right. And to give back. That’s why I knew we don’t have, I mean, we’ll be talking for five hours like we usually do, Ed, but I want to talk about something and I know you don’t, but I want to make sure people know how amazing you are giving back, right. At being incredibly generous of your time and volunteering way beyond what a business CEO like you are usually do.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Talk to us about SMTA for example, the time you put in, the events you promote in your local chapter, the education push you do and internships. Tell us about that and how Dimation is engaged and how you add.

Edward Knutson:
Sure. Yeah. Well, SMTA has been another segment of Ed’s life where dreams come true. Obviously, when I was asked to be the president of the Upper Midwest Chapter, it was a total honor. It was something that I never thought that I would ever be asked to do that when it happened, it was like, oh my God, this is great. So now what can I do with it? And what can we do with the community and try to promote opportunities for others. Obviously, the Young Professionals was pretty cool, getting involved in that.

Edward Knutson:
And, recently we had a CAPS program with high school in Shakopee and getting the students involved in an industry that they didn’t really know much of. And then when they came in and they saw it, it was like, oh my God, it was excitement, it was an explosion. That was like, you couldn’t even capture it because it was so big.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
That’s awesome.

Edward Knutson:
And then of course been going to the high school and then having all these teachers say, Ed what you did with these students was amazing. They come here and they say, we saw the coolest things over there at Dimation, right down the street. And this is just incredibly cool stuff. And then they talked to somebody else that’s working doing the internship with the city and stuff like that. And it’s like, yeah we saw the street and how they do this painting lines on the street.

Edward Knutson:
And then Jake discoursing, oh my God, you should’ve seen these cool little thing that they’re doing that goes inside of a person’s brain that helps that individual, that can’t walk walk now, because there are these sensors that are actually implanted in the person that are actually aiding the nervous system of the body.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
All valuable jobs, right. You should painting roads, all valuable jobs are important jobs for society, and it’s equal. The value is the ability to see what clicks with different people, right. What you’re doing is giving them another option, right. An option or exposure to a whole universe they never thought was existing or possible.

Edward Knutson:
They didn’t know about it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
They didn’t know at all about it and how do you know if you’re going to get excited about something if you didn’t know that that something exists, right.

Edward Knutson:
Exactly. So, the SMTA, obviously integrating there was to be able to reach out to people that are not even in our industry to try to get their interest and through the schools getting their interest in, bringing them more into what we’re doing. And because there’s a lot of us older SMTA people out there, we got new ones, we got to come in to be able to rejuvenate what we’re going to be replacing as people retire.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Exactly.

Megan Bergsma:
Finish what you’re going to say. Finish what you’re going to say, Bill. Go for it.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
I was going to say that we keep talking about the gray tsunami, people with gray hair in the industry retiring all at once and leaving it. But I was going to say that doesn’t apply to Ed and I because we’re follicular challenged. So we don’t gray, right Ed?

Edward Knutson:
That’s right. It’s kind of that smooth look.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
It’s all the brain power. It just burns it up.

Megan Bergsma:
Right. This is going to be the two minute warning. I just wanted to have Ed say the last few minutes here, what do you see in the future for your company and Dimation? Where do you see it grow now that we had this pandemic and how it shifted the focus?

Edward Knutson:
I think it’s, like I said, it’s kind of like the Star Trek thing, we’re going to go above and beyond to continue knowing what we know. I mean, it was bad. I mean, it was an ugly, ugly thing, but the determination to continue to provide products to the customer is exceptionally solid and understanding the hiccups we had, what can we do to even make it even better, learn from it. And I mean, if you think of the pandemic, all the bad things that happened, what were all the good things that happened that nobody’s talking about? How clean is the world compared to what it was before the pandemic, are the animals striving, are there certain things that we see? I mean, if you’re in India and you’re looking out at the mountains and you can’t see them now, you might be able to see them because of what happened.

Edward Knutson:
So for Dimation, I think it’s going to be, what can we do for the customer? And we’re going to continue to try to knock it out of park for them, because that’s what we need to do.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Well done, my friend.

Megan Bergsma:
Well said.

Edward Knutson:
I had an exciting time, Saturday. I was at the office doing some computer work and I got a phone call and I answer my phone now with, homicide. You get all these spam risks and I’m going to homicide and the guy says, “Hey Ed, this is Jason. I have an emergency.” He says, “We have a package. That’s supposed to be on a plane at 5:30 tonight.” And he says, “It’s for the big fruit company.” And he says, “We broke apart on the board and we are down. Can I bring it over and get it fixed, please, please, are you available?” And I said, “I’m here bringing over.” And we did. We got at fixed and it was on his plane, going to an undisclosed location for the fruit company.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
That’s why if you want to know more about Ed’s secret to success just give him a call in his office Saturday night, right Ed?

Edward Knutson:
That’s right. But you might be on the phone awhile.

Megan Bergsma:
All right Ed, thank you so much for being our guest speaker for this segment of Fireside Chat. It was really great to have the two CEOs just discussing their companies and really getting to know more about what you do over at Shakopee.

Edward Knutson:
Well, thank you very much for having me.

Dr. Bill Cardoso:
Thanks so much Ed. We’ll alk to you soon.

Edward Knutson:
Very good. Thank you.

Megan Bergsma:
Bye.

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