In the recent NEPCON China event in Shanghai, I spoke with Andreas Schneider, sales director for cutting and structuring laser at LPKF Laser & Electronics, about the latest developments in laser drilling, how customers can justify investments in laser drilling machines, in addition to their outlook for the industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, let me know about LPKF’s showcase here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: As far as the applications are concerned, first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is advanced. I would claim that greater than 90% are designed by doing this. We are the industry leader for stencil cutting technology-therefore we happen to be within this business now for longer than twenty five years. Following that, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specifically for depaneling. Why do depaneling with a laser? We certainly have electronics that are getting increasingly more sensitive. These people have a higher amount of components which are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress in the board plus for your components, which may result in a failure sooner or later in the field.
LKPF also has developed other applications where laser works extremely well; by way of example, inside the solar industry for high precision solar cell production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, understandably, is a very accurate tool. As an example, once we speak about the appliance where we have been using a UV laser, our company is referring to 20µm in diameter from the laser beam. Hair is generally around 100µm in diameter-imaginable how thin and small this laser beam works. Which is the reason why we can be very accurate and that is certainly also the main reason why we can drill small diameter holes.
Naturally, mechanical drilling is extremely common nowadays; but in this case, we are just talking about thin boards. Should you be looking for more rigid boards, we still need mechanical drilling machines, and also there you can find lasers that are normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is bigger compared to UV laser beam and so it also has limitations with regards to the diameter in the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances along with the miniaturization trend inside the electronics industry, how can customers make sure that they could drill a precise diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly part of our core competencies, that we are able to achieve extremely high goals when it comes to accuracy and in the case of amount of holes per second. On the one hand, you accomplish this by the making of the equipment. This is certainly portion of the development process and makes certain that you apply the right electronics and also the right laser technology inside of the machine. Besides that, we have the ability to observe whatever we are doing in there. We have been not marketing this a lot of because it is also element of our development, but we have approaches to control the laser beams as well as monitor the laser beam so that we all know precisely what is happening within.
If you think in regards to the drilling of flexible board, what we’re speaking about is material. We have now the copper material, we now have PTI material, and the ones give a different reflection for your laser beams. This means the parameters must also be different. The instant you would like to stop on one of these materials in case there is blind holes, blind vias or a blind hole as opposed to via hole, we have the capacity to also monitor this action.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for several, quite a few years. In past times, we had been successful in depaneling, but it really was completed a little bit about the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology within the machine that is utilized for depaneling is basically just like when you’re speaking about the lasers and the way to operate the lasers, and it’s the same for the drilling. There are actually, obviously, some special construction of the machines, and tools.
We see this market has a higher requirement for these better machines as an alternative to having PCB Depaneling Router or even two drilling machines, and that, again, is the place where we result from. The UV laser can be something which we’ve recognized for many, several years. It is actually a product of the own development, therefore we usually do not implement still another-party supplier. We now have developed our laser tools and used them for quite some time. We know a great deal about UV lasers and we believe demand goes increasingly more toward this direction. It’s a matter of studying the market to view the amount of it is actually served by suppliers. Once we identify there remains to be room for one more, why not?
Las Marias: How would your potential customers justify investments into UV laser drills when they may have equipment such as a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification can happen around the production output. Today, that is probably the first criteria for every supplier. He is thinking about whether he is able to reach the qualities that his customers demand. If you can stay positive of the identical quality, then you can definitely justify it to a different one supplier. That is the point where we try to bring in these guys and say, “We can provide you with the quality which you need to have.”
Our company is able to obtain a higher quality whether or not the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also talk to most of these producers with regards to their roadmaps. How would it be gonna look in two, three or four years? When they invest in the equipment now, they will not end its utilization in a couple of years. It would work on the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, exactlty what can you say in regards to the Industry 4. trend happening now in the industry?
Schneider: Which is challenging to say, actually. Most of us operate in a marketplace which is still quite interesting with this. There are actually more and more electronics in every single product nowadays. The functionality is becoming higher and higher. I have been in the commercial for twenty five years and so i keep in mind the time once we had the first SMT component on a board. Those were the times as i worked for a business producing car radios in Germany.
Should you have a look at how it’s changed from the twenty five years since and also you look to your smartphone, it is not necessarily a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ than the usual ‘phone’, because within my case, Also i apply it for everything instead of just a telephone. This remains the basic part of the smartphone, that we are capable of doing a lot of things with. The functionality is getting higher and higher. I think that has impact on the SMT market as well as on the PCB market. The PCB producers as well as the assembly producers have to follow these trends instead of machines and instead of processes.
Even if you have a look at inspection, we are assembling components that happen to be so small you cannot identify these with your bare eyes. You need some special equipment to do that. This is a trend we have been seeing also. Secondly, the important hype in Europe along with the world is naturally the bond of every machine, of every process, and the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Are you able to specify the industry applications which need such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To start with, as I said our company is centering on the FPC Laser Depaneling, whereas you will have several cutting processes which the laser is also usable for. We will have what goes on in the rigid board production and when additionally, it makes sense to utilize the machine there. But the thicker the board, needless to say the more time you need. That’s one point.
On the other hand, the laser itself is certainly a flexible tool. Part of our job would be to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we already know the individual so we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, is there anything we haven’t mentioned that you just think we ought to be referring to?
Schneider: I do believe we now have discussed a whole lot. It’s really interesting to view how things are going on in China. China remains an extremely interesting niche for us. We also see trends that the customer become a growing number of active in other Asian countries. Initially during my life, I was in Vietnam last November, and so i was 13dexopky impressed using what I found there. There are very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will probably be quite interesting to find out where these electronics will be produced later on, but I’m proud that in Europe plus in America the electronic production retains big value.
I used to be in Vegas for APEX and i also was really surprised the American market didn’t change in the case of development; they have been on the top. Of course, it offers changed greatly in the case of the development, as a huge amount of production went to Asia. Nowadays, it appears that they still produce on their own and that is shown by the number of machines which are ordered by our American colleagues. That is quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will probably be interesting to find out how this will develop.
Las Marias: Would you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The current market this is excellent. It’s always a significant market, therefore i would say electronic production is incredibly well-established here. It is not approximately easy electronics either, things are all produced here from the iPhone to automotive electronics. This significance of chinese people industry is reflected at the show with really every supplier being here. There are visitors from america, Korea, Japan, Europe, and the like. Most people are hoping to get a piece of this cake. Certainly, we do realize that we have high pressure from competition and you can also see this in customers’ behavior. They know how busy it is actually here, and they also know how important the show is made for each supplier. So this is still a vital market.