An award-winning high-tech company, AEM Inc. is a top provider of technologies in electronic components, offering manufactured solutions and application specific services to high reliability OEM markets. The company has become a leading producer of high-reliability passive components for use in military, aerospace and medical electronic devices.
“Electronic components are our key core competency, and we have a long heritage in the space sector for more than 30 years in manned and unmanned space flight,” Marketing Director Scott Sentz says.
Driving the Market
Founded in 1986, AEM has built a long track record of providing premier components for manned and unmanned aircraft, space systems, missile systems and advanced technologies critical to aerospace mission success. Its electronic components have been in orbit for 30-plus years and have zero reported failures. The company has been listed three times on the Inc. 500 list of “America’s Fastest-Growing Private Companies.”
The company has carved out a niche for itself in three key areas: high reliability solid body fuses for overload circuit protection, high reliability ferrite chips for EMI filtering and tin/lead conversion for tin whisker mitigation. In the fuse sector, AEM is the sole MIL-PRF-23419/12 QPL listed manufacturer of solid body, current-limiting fuses produced using a thick film technique for the aerospace industry. AEM’s high-reliability fuses are used by NASA and every other major manufacturer of satellite, spacecraft and space related hardware throughout the world.
“We stay very close to the end users and work closely with their component engineering groups,” Sentz says. “There are design and development activities happening on everything between 140 and 300 volts as we’ve been working on pushing up voltage capabilities of our fuses. We see this as a mature market with steady, incremental growth and fairly protected from economic shifts.”
As for its ferrite chips, AEM is the only DSCC-approved provider of ferrite chip beads designed for ultra-high-reliability applications. The company is the lone manufacturer of high-reliability ferrite chip beads designed for the space and military use. The series is the first and only line of ferrite beads manufactured with qualified materials and tested to compliance with DSCC drawing 03024, which are specifications prescribing the stringent physical, electrical and operational specifications for high-reliability ferrite chip shielding beads.
“Our chips tend to be used in high-end aerospace and military applications, such as nuclear missile systems,” Sentz says. “We are seeing growth here and abroad, as we increase our position in that market in Europe.”
Tin Whisker Mitigation
Perhaps one of the leading aspects of AEM’s operations that is helping to drive the company’s growth is its tin/lead conversion process for tin whisker mitigation. Tin whisker growth is a risk when pure tin is present in electronics assemblies; tin whiskers can grow sporadically and unpredictably from 100 percent tin surfaces with the exact catalyst not yet fully quantified. The need for this kind of service has come about because of lead-free initiatives that have caused the obsolescence of commercially available electronic components with tin-lead finishes. Lead-free initiatives can result in reliability issues due to tin whisker formation.
“As you take lead out of components, the originals become obsolete,” Sentz says. “But lead is needed in terminal finishes because of the tin whisker problem. We convert the components through the tin/lead conversion process in many high-end markets. In last few years, the market for tin/lead conversion has doubled.”
AEM’s tin/lead aerospace-qualified conversion process is compatible with thousands of surface mount device component types, including types with external terminals. AEM’s proprietary plating process delivers superior quality while eliminating potential damage to sensitive electronic devices caused by conventional hot solder dipping. Conversion of terminations from 100 percent tin to tin/lead types helps ensure that whisker formations are minimal or non-existent.
AEM’s conversion process includes both tin/lead plating and subsequent fusion processing to ensure that the resulting component termination finishes are a homogenous mixture of tin and lead. Additionally, it ensures that all areas of each component termination are converted to tin/lead, including termination locations in egress and wrap-around areas.
As part of AEM’s TWM offerings, the company includes monitoring of component quality going into and out of the tin/lead conversion process. It also makes sure converted component terminations contain a minimum of five percent lead. It may be followed by 100 percent electrical or customer-specified up-screening activities. On top of that, 100 percent visual inspection at seven to 10 times magnification levels is performed by AEM on all TWM lots.
Ultimately, AEM’s process is designed to virtually eliminate the formation of tin whiskers on surface-mount component terminations. It is an ideal process for chip scale passive components including capacitors, inductors, resistors, ferrite chip beads, fuses, resistor arrays, capacitor arrays, bead arrays and many molded body passive and active surface mount component types.
As the company looks ahead, its aim is to expand its portfolio of products in its traditional markets, specifically in the passive component area. This will help it to better meet and exceed customer requirements with existing components as well as new component types in the passive electronic component world. AEM is also looking at ways to grow its presence in new markets, such as with underwater applications. As it is able to offer a greater breadth of products, AEM can continue to play a key role in helping its customers fulfill mission critical program requirements.
“Fuse development and ferrite chip expansion along with tin/lead conversion and screening will take us well into the next decade with our end markets,” Sentz says, “Expanding into underwater applications will also open a unique market for communication and exploration, one that will be exciting because it is new and undefined just like space once was and continues to be.”