Throughout 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, in addition to their outlook for that industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, inform me about LPKF’s showcase right here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: With regards to the applications are involved, the initial one is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process has changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is state of the art. I would personally claim that over 90% are designed this way. We have been the industry leader for stencil cutting technology-and that we have already been within this business now in excess of twenty-five years. Following that, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, particularly for depaneling. So why do depaneling using a laser? We now have electronics which are getting increasingly more sensitive. There is a higher level of components which are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there might be some stress on the board plus for the components, which may produce a failure sooner or later from the field.
LKPF has additionally developed other applications where laser can be utilized; as an example, within the solar industry for top precision solar panel production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, as you can imagine, is an extremely accurate tool. As an example, whenever we talk about the machine where we are by using a UV laser, our company is referring to 20µm in diameter from the laser beam. Your hair is commonly around 100µm in diameter-imaginable how thin and small this laser beam works. This is the reason why we can be quite accurate and that is also the key reason why we are able to drill very small diameter holes.
Obviously, mechanical drilling is very common nowadays; but in this instance, we are just referring to thin boards. If you are looking to get more rigid boards, we have mechanical drilling machines, but in addition there you will discover lasers that happen to be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is larger compared to the UV laser beam and so it has also limitations with regards to the diameter from the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances along with the miniaturization trend within the electronics industry, how do customers ensure that they are able to drill an exact diameter?
Schneider: This really is a part of our core competencies, that we can easily achieve these high goals in the matter of accuracy and in the case of variety of holes per second. On the one hand, you achieve this by the construction of the machine. This can be part of the development process and makes sure that you use the right electronics and also the right laser technology inside of the machine. Besides that, we have the ability to observe everything we are doing within. Our company is not marketing this a lot of as it is also part of our development, but we have approaches to control the laser beams as well as monitor the laser beam in order that we understand precisely what is happening in there.
If you feel in regards to the drilling of flexible board, what we’re discussing is material. We now have the copper material, we certainly have PTI material, and others offer a different reflection for that laser beams. This simply means the parameters must also differ. When you desire to stop on one of these simple materials in case of blind holes, blind vias or a blind hole instead of via hole, we have the capability to also monitor this action.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for many, quite a few years. In past times, we were very successful in depaneling, but it was completed slightly in the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology inside the machine that is used for depaneling is essentially just like when you’re talking about the lasers and the way to operate the lasers, and it’s the same for the drilling. There are, naturally, some kind of special construction of the machines, and tools.
We have seen this market includes a higher need for these more accurate machines as an alternative to having PCB Depaneling Router as well as two drilling machines, which, again, is how we result from. The UV laser is a thing which we’ve noted for many, several years. It really is a product in our own development, therefore we do not implement a third-party supplier. We have developed our very own laser tools and used them for several years. We understand a good deal about UV lasers and that we believe demand is going a growing number of toward this direction. It’s dependent on exploring the market to discover how much of it really is served by suppliers. When we identify that there remains to be room for the next, why not?
Las Marias: How could your potential customers justify investments into UV laser drills after they may currently have equipment for instance a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification can happen around the production output. Today, that is one of the first criteria for every single supplier. He is considering whether he is able to achieve the qualities that his customers demand. Provided you can be positive of the identical quality, then you can certainly justify it to another supplier. That is exactly the point where we attempt to attract these guys and say, “We can provide you with the product quality which you want to have.”
We have been prepared to acquire a better quality even if the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also consult with several of these producers in the case of their roadmaps. How will it be likely to try looking in two, three or four years? When they spend money on the machine now, they are not going to end its utilize in one or two years. It will work over the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, exactlty what can you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the market?
Schneider: That may be difficult to say, to tell the truth. We all function in an industry which is still quite interesting in this. You can find increasingly more electronics in every product nowadays. The functionality is to get higher and better. I have got been in the market for twenty five years and i also remember the time once we had the 1st SMT component over a board. Those were the period as i worked for an organization producing car radios in Germany.
If you have a look at how it’s changed inside the twenty five years since and you also look for your smartphone, it is far from a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ when compared to a ‘phone’, because inside my case, Furthermore, i apply it the rest rather than just a telephone. This remains the basic part of the smartphone, which we can do countless things with. The functionality is to get higher and better. I do believe that has affect on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers plus the assembly producers have to follow these trends as an alternative to machines and as an alternative to processes.
Although you may have a look at inspection, our company is assembling components which can be so small you are unable to identify them with your bare eyes. You will need some special equipment to achieve that. This really is a trend our company is seeing also. Secondly, the big hype in Europe as well as the world is naturally the bond of each machine, of each process, along with the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Is it possible to specify the market applications which need such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To start with, as mentioned we have been paying attention to the FPC Laser Depaneling, whereas you will have several cutting processes in which the laser is also usable for. We will have what goes on from the rigid board production and when additionally, it is sensible to use the device there. But the thicker the board, obviously the more time you want. That’s one point.
However, the laser itself is an extremely flexible tool. Component of our job is always to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we already know the client so we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, could there be anything we haven’t talked about that you think we should be discussing?
Schneider: I feel we have now discussed a great deal. It’s really interesting to discover how situations are occurring in China. China remains to be a very interesting market for us. We see trends that the customer become more and more active in other Asian countries. For the first time during my life, I was in Vietnam last November, and i also was 13dexopky impressed with what I came across there. You will find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will likely be very interesting to find out where these electronics is going to be produced down the road, but I’m proud that in Europe plus in America the electronic production really has big value.
I found myself in Las Vegas for APEX and i also was actually surprised that the American market didn’t change with regards to development; they have invariably been on the top. Needless to say, it offers changed greatly in the case of the development, as a lot of production went onto Asia. Nowadays, it seems that they still produce independently and that is shown by the number of machines that happen to be ordered by our American colleagues. That is certainly quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will be interesting to find out how this will likely develop.
Las Marias: How does one describe the China market today?
Schneider: The marketplace this is excellent. It’s always a major market, so I would say electronic production is very well known here. It is not just about easy electronics either, everything is produced here in the iPhone to automotive electronics. This significance of chinese people marketplace is reflected at the show with really every supplier being here. You will find visitors from the usa, Korea, Japan, Europe, and the like. Everybody is trying to get a sheet of this cake. Certainly, we all do realize that we have high pressure from competition and you could also check this out in customers’ behavior. They are fully aware how busy it is here, plus they know how important the show is made for each supplier. Making this still a vital market.