Nuclear fusion leads to investment in automated SMD assembly

FuG Elektronik GmbH, situated close to Rosenheim (Germany), is a provider of high precision low and high voltage system power supply units. Customers, such as the Max-Planck Institute for Plasma Physics, request immediate replacements for assemblies that fail during their tests. This is because each hour lost due to being able to continue the experiment costs the institute a fortune, and puts their research back. FuG could not achieve the expected time line, nor have the flexibility in the delivery chain, using EMS service suppliers. That’s why they invested in a SMD assembly system with the pick-and-place mounter and dispenser Paraquda from Essemtec at the core.

The Max-Planck Institute for Plasma Physics in Garching (IPP) has expanded its existing system for microtron resonance heating with technical support from FuG. The system consists of electron tubes with a very strong magnetic field for the generation of hyperfrequency waves; this is one of the principles of a nuclear fusion reactor.

Picture 1: The inside of the Depressed-Collector-Gyrotrons of Tokamak nuclear fusion reactor at IPP in Garching

What is nuclear fusion?

The sun is the basis of all life on earth: the central star contains 99.8 percent of the mass of the entire planetary system. This huge plasma ball consists mainly of hydrogen. A constant fusion fire burns in its core, where the hydrogen atomic nuclei merge into helium. The enormous energy produced in this nuclear fusion is what heats and lights the earth.

The goal of fusion research is to derive energy from fusion of atomic nuclei. Under terrestrial conditions it is the two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, that fuse most readily. In the process a helium nucleus is produced, this being accompanied by release of a neutron and large quantities of useful energy: One gram of fuel could generate 90,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in a power plant – the combustion heat of 11 tonnes of coal.

Fusion fuels are cheap and uniformly distributed on earth. Seawater contains deuterium in almost inexhaustible quantities. Tritium, a radioactive gas with a short half-life of 12.3 years, hardly occurs in nature. It can, however, be formed in a power plant from lithium, which is likewise abundantly available. Since, moreover, a fusion power plant will have ecologically favourable properties, fusion could make an enduring contribution to future energy supply.

Read more about nuclear fusion under:

During the tests several hundred people work on the project. The technical and financial commitment is huge. Failure of even a single component must therefore be minimised. If and when they do occur, they must be repaired within hours.

With its own in-house SMD assembly FuG makes themselves largely independent from EMS service suppliers, who are less interested in small and short lead-time orders for prototype and small batch production due to many more larger and more profitable orders.

That’s why lead times of many weeks for small batches (max. 100 PCBs per order) are quite normal. FuG is a global player, and as such the highest quality and fastest reaction times are expected, so they cannot accept this. Nowadays customers don’t expect to wait at all, and whilst FuG could previously deliver the assemblies within six week at the earliest, it’s now possible to supply them within just one week thanks to their investment in the SMD line. This is an immense market advantage and their investment will pay off very soon.

The question of the needed for staff was solved using their own people from their manual assembly department. The software from Essemtec is so user friendly that they had no introduction problems, Mr. Schoppel, project leader at FuG, says. Thanks to Paraquda they can now achieve all the goals they are set.

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