Throughout the recent NEPCON China event in Shanghai, I spoke with Andreas Schneider, sales director for cutting and structuring laser at LPKF Laser & Electronics, regarding 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 at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: In terms of the applications have concerns, the initial one is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process is different, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is cutting edge. I would personally state that more than 90% are made by doing this. Our company is the current market leader for stencil cutting technology-and that we have been with this business now in excess of 25 years. Afterward, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, particularly for depaneling. So why do depaneling having a laser? We certainly have electronics which can be getting more and more sensitive. They have a higher quantity of components that are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress on the board plus to the components, which can create a failure eventually within 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 panel production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, as you can imagine, is definitely a accurate tool. For instance, if we speak about the equipment where our company is utilizing a UV laser, we are referring to 20µm in diameter of your laser beam. Hair is normally around 100µm in diameter-imaginable how thin and small this laser beam works. That is the reason why we can be very accurate and that is also the key reason why we can drill very small diameter holes.
Needless to say, mechanical drilling is incredibly common nowadays; but in this instance, we are just talking about thin boards. Should you be looking to get more rigid boards, we still have mechanical drilling machines, but also there you can find lasers that are normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is larger compared to UV laser beam and so it has additionally limitations in the case of the diameter from the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances along with the miniaturization trend within the electronics industry, how could customers be sure that they can drill an exact diameter?
Schneider: This can be a part of our core competencies, which we can achieve extremely high goals with regards to accuracy and with regards to variety of holes per second. On the one hand, you achieve this by the construction of the device. This can be part of the development process and makes sure that you apply the right electronics and the right laser technology within the machine. Besides that, we have the capacity to observe what we should are doing within. We are not marketing this excessive because it is also element of our development, but we have now approaches to control the laser beams and also to monitor the laser beam to ensure we understand exactly what is happening inside.
If you feel regarding the drilling of flexible board, what we’re referring to is material. We now have the copper material, we have PTI material, and the ones give you a different reflection for that laser beams. What this means is the parameters must also be different. When you want to stop on one of these brilliant materials in the case of blind holes, blind vias or a blind hole as an alternative to 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 most, quite a few years. Previously, we had been successful in depaneling, but it was done somewhat about the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology inside the machine that is utilized for depaneling is pretty much exactly like when you’re referring to the lasers and ways to operate the lasers, and it’s a similar for your drilling. There are, naturally, some special construction in the machines, and tools.
We have seen that the market has a higher requirement for these more accurate machines as an alternative to having PCB Router and even two drilling machines, and therefore, again, is when we come from. The UV laser is one thing which we’ve noted for many, a long time. It is a product of our own own development, so that we tend not to implement another-party supplier. We now have developed our personal laser tools and used them for many years. We all know a lot about UV lasers and that we believe demand goes more and more toward this direction. It’s a matter of checking out the market to discover how much of it really is served by suppliers. Whenever we identify there remains room for an additional, why not?
Las Marias: How could your clients justify investments into UV laser drills when they may currently have equipment say for example a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will happen on the production output. Today, that is probably the first criteria for every single supplier. He is enthusiastic about whether he is able to get the qualities that his customers demand. If you can stay positive of the identical quality, then you can certainly justify it to a different one supplier. That is the point where we try to draw in they and say, “We can give you the quality which you need to have.”
We have been willing to gain a better quality even if the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also talk to a number of these producers with regards to their roadmaps. How is it likely to try looking in two, three or four years? Once they spend money on the equipment now, they are not likely to end its utilize in a couple of years. It will work across the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what might you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the business?
Schneider: Which is tough to say, actually. We all are employed in an industry which happens to be still quite interesting in this particular. There are actually a lot more electronics in just about every product nowadays. The functionality is becoming higher and higher. I have been in the commercial for 25 years and that i keep in mind the time whenever we had the initial SMT component on the board. Those were the period once i worked for an organization producing car radios in Germany.
In the event you take a look at how it’s changed in the 25 years since so you check out your smartphone, it is far from a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ compared to a ‘phone’, because during my case, I also apply it for everything rather than just a telephone. This continues to be basic part of the smartphone, we is capable of doing so many things with. The functionality is becoming higher and better. I believe that has effect on the SMT market as well as on the PCB market. The PCB producers along with the assembly producers are required to follow these trends as opposed to machines and as an alternative to processes.
Even though you have a look at inspection, we are assembling components which are so small you can not identify them with your bare eyes. You need some kind of special equipment to achieve that. This really is a trend we have been seeing also. Secondly, the important hype in Europe and also the world is of course the connection of every machine, of each and every process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Are you able to specify the current market applications which require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: First of all, as I said our company is concentrating on the FPC Cutting Machine, whereas you will find several cutting processes in which the laser is likewise usable for. We will see what will happen in the rigid board production and if furthermore, it is practical to use the machine there. Nevertheless the thicker the board, needless to say the better time you will need. That’s one point.
However, the laser itself is an extremely flexible tool. Part of our responsibility is always to identify applications where you can use it. Maybe we already know the customer and we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, will there be anything we haven’t talked about that you simply think we must be talking about?
Schneider: I believe we have discussed a good deal. It’s really interesting to find out how situations are happening within China. China continues to be a really interesting market for us. We also see trends which our customer become a growing number of active in other Asian countries. Initially in my life, I had been in Vietnam last November, and so i was 13dexopky impressed as to what I came across there. There are very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be very interesting to discover where these electronics is going to be produced later on, but I’m proud that in Europe and also in America the electronic production continues to have big value.
I used to be in Vegas for APEX and that i was really surprised how the American market didn’t change with regards to development; they have invariably been on top. Of course, they have changed greatly when it comes to the production, as a huge amount of production went up to Asia. Nowadays, it would appear that they still produce alone and that is certainly shown by the volume of machines which are ordered by our American colleagues. That is certainly quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will likely be interesting to see how this may develop.
Las Marias: How does one describe the China market at this time?
Schneider: The current market here is excellent. It’s always an important market, and so i would say electronic production is very well established here. It is not approximately easy electronics either, all things are produced here from your iPhone to automotive electronics. This incredible importance of the Chinese industry is reflected at the show with really every supplier being here. You will find visitors from the usa, Korea, Japan, Europe, and so forth. Most people are attempting to get a piece of this cake. Certainly, we all do observe that we certainly have high pressure from competition and you can also see this in customers’ behavior. They are fully aware how busy it is here, and they know how important the show is made for each supplier. Making this still an important market.