In the recent NEPCON China event in Shanghai, I spoke with Andreas Schneider, sales director for cutting and structuring laser at LPKF Laser & Electronics, in regards to the latest developments in laser drilling, how customers can justify investments in laser drilling machines, as well as their outlook for the industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, say about LPKF’s showcase here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: In terms of the applications have concerns, the first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is advanced. I would personally say that over 90% are produced this way. We are the industry leader for stencil cutting technology-and we are already in this particular business now for more than 25 years. Afterward, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specifically for depaneling. How come depaneling using a laser? We have now electronics which are getting increasingly more sensitive. There is a higher amount of components that happen to be also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there may be some stress on the board and also for the components, that may result in a failure sooner or later inside the field.
LKPF has also developed other applications where laser may be used; for instance, within the solar industry for top precision solar cell production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, as you can imagine, is definitely a accurate tool. By way of example, once we focus on the appliance where our company is employing a UV laser, we are referring to 20µm in diameter from the laser beam. The hair is usually around 100µm in diameter-imaginable how thin and small this laser beam works. That is the explanation why we can be extremely accurate and that is certainly also exactly why we can easily drill small diameter holes.
Naturally, mechanical drilling is very common nowadays; but in this case, we have been just talking about thin boards. If you are searching to get more rigid boards, we have mechanical drilling machines, and also there you can get lasers which can be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is larger compared to the UV laser beam so it has additionally limitations when it comes to the diameter from the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and the miniaturization trend within the electronics industry, how could customers ensure that they can drill a precise diameter?
Schneider: This is a part of our core competencies, that we can achieve these high goals in the case of accuracy and with regards to number of holes per second. On the one hand, you accomplish this by the construction of the device. This is certainly area of the development process and makes sure that you employ the right electronics as well as the right laser technology inside of the machine. Besides that, we have the ability to keep track of what we are performing within. We are not marketing this too much as it is also element of our development, but we have ways to control the laser beams as well as monitor the laser beam to ensure that we know what exactly is happening inside.
If you feel in regards to the drilling of flexible board, what we’re referring to is material. We now have the copper material, we have now PTI material, and the ones give you a different reflection for that laser beams. This simply means the parameters also have to be different. As soon as you would like to stop on one of these materials in case of blind holes, blind vias or perhaps a blind hole as an alternative to via hole, we have the capacity to also monitor this step.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for several, a long time. In past times, we had been very successful in depaneling, but it really was completed somewhat around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology inside of the machine which is used for depaneling is essentially the same as when you’re referring to the lasers and how to operate the lasers, and it’s the identical for the drilling. You will find, obviously, some kind of special construction from the machines, and tools.
We percieve that it market includes a higher need for these better machines as opposed to having PCB Routing Machine or perhaps two drilling machines, and therefore, again, is how we result from. The UV laser is a thing which we’ve noted for many, several years. It is a product of the own development, therefore we tend not to implement still another-party supplier. We certainly have developed our very own laser tools and used them for many years. We realize a whole lot about UV lasers and that we believe demand is certainly going increasingly more toward this direction. It’s an issue of checking out the market to view the amount of it is served by suppliers. If we identify that there remains to be room for an additional, why not?
Las Marias: How would your clients justify investments into UV laser drills when they may already have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification can happen in the production output. Today, that is amongst the first criteria for every supplier. He or she is considering whether he could reach the qualities that his customers demand. Whenever you can be positive the exact same quality, then you could justify it to a different one supplier. That is the point where we try to draw in these folks and say, “We can provide you with the quality which you need to have.”
Our company is ready to achieve a better quality even if the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also consult with most of these producers when it comes to their roadmaps. How would it be going to look in two, three or four years? If they put money into the device now, they are not likely to end its use in a few years. It will work on the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what might you say in regards to the Industry 4. trend happening now in the market?
Schneider: That is certainly difficult to say, in all honesty. All of us function in a niche which is still fascinating in this. There are actually a growing number of electronics in every product nowadays. The functionality is becoming higher and better. I have got been in the market for 25 years and so i keep in mind the time if we had the 1st SMT component on a board. Those were the days after i worked for an organization producing car radios in Germany.
When you have a look at how it’s changed inside the twenty-five years since so you look to your smartphone, it is not a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ compared to a ‘phone’, because inside my case, I also utilize it for the rest rather than just a telephone. This continues to be the basic portion of the smartphone, that people can do so many things with. The functionality is to get higher and better. I believe which has effect on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers as well as the assembly producers are required to follow these trends instead of machines and instead of processes.
Even if you look at inspection, we are assembling components that happen to be so small you can not identify them with your bare eyes. You want some kind of special equipment to do that. It is a trend our company is seeing also. Secondly, the major hype in Europe along with the world is needless to say the connection of every machine, of every process, and also the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Can you specify the current market applications which need such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To start with, as I said we are concentrating on the FPC Cutting Machine, whereas you will find also some cutting processes in which the laser is likewise usable for. We will see what occurs in the rigid board production and when furthermore, it is a good idea to use the machine there. Although the thicker the board, of course the better time you require. That’s some time.
On the other hand, the laser itself is an extremely flexible tool. A part of our job is usually to identify applications where you can use it. Maybe we already know the individual so we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, could there be anything we haven’t mentioned that you simply think we ought to be speaking about?
Schneider: I do believe we have discussed a lot. It’s really interesting to find out how situations are occurring within China. China remains an incredibly interesting marketplace for us. We see trends our customer become more and more active in other Asian countries. The first time within my life, I used to be in Vietnam last November, and i also was 13dexopky impressed in what I found there. You can find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will probably be very interesting to find out where these electronics will probably be produced in the foreseeable future, but I’m proud that in Europe and in addition in the usa the electronic production continues to have big value.
I was in Las Vegas for APEX and I was actually surprised the American market didn’t change when it comes to development; they have always been at the top. Of course, it provides changed greatly when it comes to the production, as plenty of production went onto Asia. Nowadays, apparently they still produce on their own and that is shown by the amount of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That may be quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will probably be interesting to discover how this can develop.
Las Marias: How do you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The industry here is excellent. It’s always a serious market, therefore i would say electronic production is quite well established here. It is far from only about easy electronics either, things are produced here from your iPhone to automotive electronics. This need for 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. Most people are trying to get some this cake. Certainly, perform see that we have high pressure from competition and you will also check this out in customers’ behavior. They are fully aware how busy it can be here, plus they know how important the show is made for each supplier. So this is still an essential market.