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, and their outlook for that industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, inform me about LPKF’s showcase at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: So 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 advanced. I might point out that over 90% are produced this way. Our company is the market leader for stencil cutting technology-therefore we are already in this business now in excess of twenty-five years. After that, we have a laser system for PCB Depaneling, particularly for depaneling. How come depaneling using a laser? We certainly have electronics which are getting a growing number of sensitive. They have a higher amount of components that happen to be also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there can be some stress in the board and in addition for the components, that may result in a failure at some point within the field.
LKPF has additionally developed other applications where laser may be used; for instance, within the solar industry for top precision solar panel production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, understandably, is an extremely accurate tool. By way of example, whenever we discuss the equipment where our company is employing a UV laser, we are referring to 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. That is the explanation why we can be very accurate and that is also the main reason why we can easily drill very small diameter holes.
Obviously, mechanical drilling is very common nowadays; but in cases like this, our company is just referring to thin boards. Should you be looking for more rigid boards, we still need mechanical drilling machines, but additionally there you can find lasers that are normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is larger than the UV laser beam so it has also limitations with regards to the diameter in the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and also the miniaturization trend from the electronics industry, how can customers make sure that they may drill a correct diameter?
Schneider: This is part of our core competencies, which we are able to achieve these high goals when it comes to accuracy and in the matter of quantity of holes per second. On one side, you achieve this by the making of the equipment. This can be section of the development process and makes certain that you employ the right electronics as well as the right laser technology inside the machine. In addition, we also have the capability to keep track of what we should are accomplishing in there. We are not marketing this a lot of because it is also part of our development, but we have now ways to control the laser beams and to monitor the laser beam in order that we all know what exactly is happening within.
If you feel concerning the drilling of flexible board, what we’re talking about is material. We have the copper material, we have now PTI material, and those give you a different reflection for the laser beams. This simply means the parameters also need to differ. Once you desire to stop on one of these brilliant materials in the case of blind holes, blind vias or possibly a blind hole as an alternative to via hole, we have the capability to also monitor this step.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for many, quite a few years. Previously, we were very successful in depaneling, but it really was completed a little bit around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology within the machine which is used for depaneling is pretty much similar to when you’re discussing the lasers and ways to operate the lasers, and it’s a similar for your drilling. You can find, needless to say, some kind of special construction in the machines, and tools.
We see that this market carries a higher requirement for these better machines as opposed to having PCB Depaneling Router and even two drilling machines, and this, again, is the place where we originate from. The UV laser is a thing which we’ve recognized for many, quite a few years. It is a product of our own own development, so that we tend not to implement one third-party supplier. We certainly have developed our own laser tools and used them for many years. We realize a good deal about UV lasers therefore we believe demand is headed a lot more toward this direction. It’s a point of studying the market to find out the amount of it is served by suppliers. Whenever we identify that there is still room for an additional, why not?
Las Marias: How could your prospects justify investments into UV laser drills once they may already have equipment such as a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will occur about the production output. Today, that is probably the first criteria for each and every supplier. He or she is interested in whether he can reach the qualities that his customers demand. Whenever you can be positive the exact same quality, then you can definitely justify it to a different supplier. That is exactly the point where we attempt to draw in these guys and say, “We can give you the high quality which you would like to have.”
We are able to achieve a better quality even if the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also consult with several of these producers with regards to their roadmaps. How would it be going to try looking in two, 3 or 4 years? Should they invest in the appliance now, they are not likely to end its use in a couple of years. It is going to work over the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what can you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the business?
Schneider: That is certainly hard to say, actually. Many of us operate in a niche which is still quite interesting in this particular. You will find a lot more electronics in just about every product nowadays. The functionality is to get higher and higher. I have got been in the industry for 25 years and so i keep in mind the time when we had the initial SMT component with a board. Those were the period once i worked for a corporation producing car radios in Germany.
In the event you have a look at how it’s changed in the twenty five years since and you also look for your smartphone, it is not necessarily a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ compared to a ‘phone’, because inside my case, Also i utilize it for the rest instead of just a phone. This is still the basic section of the smartphone, which we are capable of doing so many things with. The functionality is to get higher and better. I believe which includes effect on the SMT market and also to the PCB market. The PCB producers and also the assembly producers have to follow these trends instead of machines and as opposed to processes.
Even when you take a look at inspection, we have been assembling components which can be so small you can not identify these with your bare eyes. You require some kind of special equipment to do that. This is a trend we have been seeing also. Secondly, the big hype in Europe as well as the world is needless to say the link of each and every machine, of each and every process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Could you specify the marketplace applications that need such high precision drilling?
Schneider: First of all, as I said our company is paying attention to the FPC Cutting Machine, whereas you will find also some cutting processes that your laser is additionally usable for. We will see what goes on in the rigid board production and in case furthermore, it is a good idea to utilize the equipment there. But the thicker the board, obviously the better time you require. That’s some time.
On the flip side, the laser itself is certainly a flexible tool. A part of our job would be to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we know the individual 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 simply think we must be discussing?
Schneider: I do believe we have now discussed a whole lot. It’s really interesting to see how the situation is going on here in China. China continues to be an incredibly interesting niche for us. We also see trends which our customer become more and more active in other Asian countries. The very first time in my life, I used to be in Vietnam last November, and i also was 13dexopky impressed using what I discovered there. You can find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be very worthwhile to discover where these electronics will likely be produced in the foreseeable future, but I’m proud that in Europe and also in the usa the electronic production retains big value.
I found myself in Las Vegas for APEX and that i really was surprised how the American market didn’t change when it comes to development; they have invariably been at the top. Obviously, it provides changed greatly in the case of the production, as plenty of production went over to Asia. Nowadays, it would appear that they still produce alone and that is shown by the volume of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That may be quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will likely be interesting to see how this may develop.
Las Marias: Would you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The marketplace the following is excellent. It’s always an important market, and so i would say electronic production is very well-established here. It is really not only about easy electronics either, things are produced here through the iPhone to automotive electronics. This incredible importance of chinese people market is reflected right here at the show with really every supplier being here. There are visitors from the us, Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. Everyone is hoping to get some this cake. Certainly, we do observe that we have high-pressure from competition and you can also see this in customers’ behavior. They understand how busy it is here, and they also know how important the show is for each supplier. Making this still a significant market.