Through the recent NEPCON China event in Shanghai, I spoke with Andreas Schneider, sales director for cutting and structuring laser at LPKF Laser & Electronics, concerning the latest developments in laser drilling, how customers can justify investments in laser drilling machines, and their outlook for your industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, say about LPKF’s showcase here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: As far as the applications are worried, first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process has evolved, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is state-of-the-art. I might say that greater than 90% are made by doing this. Our company is the marketplace leader for stencil cutting technology-so we have been in this business now for longer than twenty-five years. Following that, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, particularly for depaneling. How come depaneling having a laser? We have electronics which are getting a growing number of sensitive. These people have a higher level of components that happen to be also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress in the board and also for the components, that may create a failure at some point from the field.
LKPF has additionally developed other applications where laser can be utilized; as an example, from the solar industry for high precision solar power production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, as you can imagine, is an extremely accurate tool. As an example, when we talk about the equipment where our company is using a UV laser, we are speaking about 20µm in diameter from the laser beam. Your hair is commonly around 100µm in diameter-you can imagine how thin and small this laser beam works. This is the explanation why we can be very accurate and that is certainly also the reason why we can drill very small diameter holes.
Of course, mechanical drilling is incredibly common nowadays; but in cases like this, we are just referring to thin boards. If you are looking for further rigid boards, we still have mechanical drilling machines, but also there you can find lasers which can be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is larger in comparison to the UV laser beam so it has limitations when it comes to the diameter of your hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances along with the miniaturization trend inside the electronics industry, just how can customers ensure that they are able to drill a precise diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly element of our core competencies, which we can easily achieve these high goals in the case of accuracy and in the case of variety of holes per second. On the one hand, you accomplish this by the construction of the device. This really is area of the development process and makes sure that you employ the right electronics and also the right laser technology within the machine. Besides that, we also have the ability to monitor what we are accomplishing within. We are not marketing this excessive because it is also element of our development, but we have methods to control the laser beams and also to monitor the laser beam to ensure we realize what is happening in there.
If you believe about the drilling of flexible board, what we’re discussing is material. We certainly have the copper material, we have PTI material, and others provide a different reflection for that laser beams. This means the parameters also need to be different. The instant you want to stop on one of these brilliant materials in case of blind holes, blind vias or perhaps a blind hole rather than via hole, we have the ability to also monitor this action.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for many, many years. Before, we were successful in depaneling, nevertheless it was completed a little bit around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology inside the machine which is used for depaneling is essentially just like when you’re speaking about the lasers and the way to operate the lasers, and it’s exactly the same to the drilling. You will find, naturally, some special construction in the machines, and tools.
We percieve that the market features a higher need for these better machines rather than having PCB Router or perhaps two drilling machines, and that, again, is when we are derived from. The UV laser is one thing which we’ve renowned for many, several years. It really is a product in our own development, so we usually do not implement still another-party supplier. We have now developed our very own laser tools and used them for many years. We realize a good deal about UV lasers and that we believe demand is headed increasingly more toward this direction. It’s dependent on looking at the market to see the amount of it can be served by suppliers. When we identify that there continues to be room for one more, why not?
Las Marias: How would your prospects justify investments into UV laser drills whenever they may curently have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification may happen in the production output. Today, that is one of the first criteria for every single supplier. He is considering whether he can reach the qualities that his customers demand. Whenever you can stay positive the exact same quality, then you could justify it to another supplier. That is the point where we try to get these guys and say, “We can provide the quality which you want to have.”
Our company is able to obtain a better quality even when the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also talk to many of these producers in the matter of their roadmaps. How will it be likely to look in two, three or four years? When they invest in the equipment now, they are not going to end its use in one or two years. It is going to work across the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what can you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the marketplace?
Schneider: That may be tough to say, in all honesty. Many of us function in a marketplace which happens to be still quite interesting with this. You can find increasingly more electronics in every product nowadays. The functionality gets higher and better. I have been in the market for twenty five years and that i keep in mind the time if we had the 1st SMT component on a board. Those were the times when I worked for a company producing car radios in Germany.
When you examine how it’s changed in the twenty-five years since and you look for your smartphone, it is not necessarily a mobile phone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ compared to a ‘phone’, because inside my case, I also apply it everything rather than just a telephone. This is still the basic section of the smartphone, that people is capable of doing a lot of things with. The functionality is to get higher and better. I think that has effect on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers and also the assembly producers are required to follow these trends as opposed to machines and instead of processes.
Although you may examine inspection, our company is assembling components that happen to be so small you are unable to identify them your bare eyes. You want some special equipment to achieve that. It is a trend our company is seeing also. Secondly, the important hype in Europe and the world is obviously the link of each and every machine, of every process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Can you specify the marketplace applications that require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: Firstly, as I said we are concentrating on the FPC Depaneling Machine, whereas you will have also some cutting processes which the laser can also be usable for. We will have what goes on within the rigid board production and in case additionally, it is sensible to work with the device there. But the thicker the board, of course the greater number of time you want. That’s one point.
On the flip side, the laser itself is certainly a flexible tool. A part of our job would be to identify applications where you can use it. Maybe we know the client so we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, will there be anything we haven’t discussed which you think we ought to be referring to?
Schneider: I feel we have discussed a great deal. It’s really interesting to find out how things are occurring within China. China remains a very interesting niche for us. We see trends that the customer become more and more active in other Asian countries. Initially within my life, I found myself in Vietnam last November, and so i was 13dexopky impressed in what I came across there. You will find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will probably be very interesting to find out where these electronics is going to be produced down the road, but I’m proud that in Europe and in addition in America the electronic production retains big value.
I was in Las Vegas for APEX and I was actually surprised that the American market didn’t change with regards to development; they have always been on the top. Obviously, they have changed greatly in the matter of the development, as plenty of production went up to Asia. Nowadays, it seems that they still produce independently and that is certainly shown by the quantity of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That is certainly quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will probably be interesting to see how this will likely develop.
Las Marias: How does one describe the China market at this time?
Schneider: The marketplace here is excellent. It’s always a serious market, so I would say electronic production is very well known here. It is not only about easy electronics either, things are all produced here from the iPhone to automotive electronics. This significance of chinese people marketplace is reflected right here at the show with really every supplier being here. There are actually visitors from the United States, Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. Everyone is attempting to get a bit of this cake. Certainly, perform observe that we certainly have high pressure from competition and you can also see this in customers’ behavior. They understand how busy it really is here, plus they know how important the show is made for each supplier. Making this still an important market.