Through 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 that industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, say about LPKF’s showcase here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: With regards to the applications are involved, the very first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is state-of-the-art. I might say that over 90% are designed using this method. We have been the current market leader for stencil cutting technology-and we are already within this business now for over twenty five years. After that, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specially for depaneling. Why do depaneling using a laser? We certainly have electronics which can be getting a lot more sensitive. There is a higher amount of components which can be also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress about the board plus to the components, which may result in a failure in the end within the field.
LKPF has also developed other applications where laser works extremely well; for example, in the solar industry for top precision solar power production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, obviously, is certainly a accurate tool. For instance, if we discuss the appliance where we are by using a UV laser, our company is talking about 20µm in diameter in the laser beam. Hair is commonly around 100µm in diameter-you can imagine how thin and small this laser beam works. That is the explanation why we are often very accurate and that is also exactly why we could drill very small diameter holes.
Obviously, mechanical drilling is very common nowadays; but in such a case, our company is just referring to thin boards. If you are searching for more rigid boards, we have mechanical drilling machines, but additionally there you can get lasers that are normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is bigger than the UV laser beam and so it has additionally limitations in the case of the diameter from the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and the miniaturization trend from the electronics industry, how could customers make certain that they are able to drill a precise diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly component of our core competencies, we can easily achieve these high goals in the case of accuracy and when it comes to quantity of holes per second. On one side, you accomplish this by the construction of the device. This is certainly section of the development process and makes sure that you employ the right electronics and the right laser technology inside the machine. In addition, we also have the capability to monitor whatever we are doing inside. Our company is not marketing this too much 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 in order that we know what exactly is happening within.
If you think regarding the drilling of flexible board, what we’re referring to is material. We have now the copper material, we now have PTI material, and the ones give a different reflection for the laser beams. This means the parameters also need to differ. As soon as you wish to stop on one of these brilliant materials in the event of blind holes, blind vias or even a blind hole rather than 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 several, quite a few years. Before, we were very successful in depaneling, however it was completed somewhat on the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology in the machine that is used for depaneling is more or less similar to when you’re discussing the lasers and the way to operate the lasers, and it’s the identical for the drilling. You can find, naturally, some special construction of your machines, and tools.
We see that it market has a higher interest in these more accurate machines as opposed to having PCB Depaneling Router as well as two drilling machines, and this, again, is when we are derived from. The UV laser is a thing which we’ve recognized for many, a long time. It really is a product in our own development, and then we usually do not implement another-party supplier. We certainly have developed our own laser tools and used them for several years. We all know a good deal about UV lasers and we believe demand is certainly going a lot more toward this direction. It’s a point of checking out the market to find out the amount of it can be served by suppliers. Whenever we identify there remains to be room for an additional, why not?
Las Marias: How could your prospects justify investments into UV laser drills whenever they may have equipment such as a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification may happen on the production output. Today, that is among the first criteria for every single supplier. He or she is enthusiastic about whether they can get the qualities that his customers demand. If you can stay positive the exact same quality, then you could justify it to a different one supplier. That is the point where we attempt to attract they and say, “We can give you the quality which you wish to have.”
We have been able to acquire a better quality even if your holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we discuss with a number of these producers when it comes to their roadmaps. How will it be likely to try looking in two, 3 or 4 years? Should they spend money on the device now, they will not end its utilization in one or two years. It is going to work on the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what can you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the industry?
Schneider: That is hard to say, to tell the truth. Most of us work in a business that is still very worthwhile in this. There are actually more and more electronics in every product nowadays. The functionality is to get higher and higher. We have been in the commercial for twenty-five years and so i keep in mind time whenever we had the very first SMT component on the board. Those were the times as i worked for a corporation producing car radios in Germany.
When you examine how it’s changed in the twenty-five years since so you turn to your smartphone, it is not necessarily a mobile phone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ than the usual ‘phone’, because within my case, I also use it for the rest rather than a phone. This continues to be basic section of the smartphone, we can perform so many things with. The functionality gets higher and higher. I feel which includes affect on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers plus the assembly producers are forced to follow these trends as an alternative to machines and as an alternative to processes.
Even if you examine inspection, we have been assembling components which are so small you are unable to identify all of them with your bare eyes. You want some kind of special equipment to do that. It is a trend we are seeing also. Secondly, the major hype in Europe and also the world is naturally the link for each machine, of each and every process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Could you specify the market applications which require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: First of all, as I said we have been paying attention to the FPC Cutting Machine, whereas there will be several cutting processes in which the laser can also be usable for. We will see what goes on within the rigid board production and if furthermore, it is practical to utilize the device there. However the thicker the board, obviously the better time you want. That’s one point.
However, the laser itself is definitely a flexible tool. Part of our responsibility would be to identify applications where you can use it. Maybe we already know the consumer therefore we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, will there be anything we haven’t described that you think we should be referring to?
Schneider: I believe we have now discussed a good deal. It’s really interesting to discover how things are happening here in China. China is still a very interesting niche for us. We see trends that the customer become increasingly more active in other Asian countries. For the first time within my life, I had been in Vietnam last November, and i also was 13dexopky impressed as to what I stumbled upon there. You can find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be quite interesting to view where these electronics will likely be produced in the future, but I’m proud that in Europe as well as in America the electronic production retains big value.
I used to be in Las Vegas for APEX and I was really surprised that the American market didn’t change in the case of development; they have been on top. Obviously, they have changed greatly when it comes to the development, as plenty of production went to Asia. Nowadays, it seems that they still produce on their own and that is certainly shown by the amount of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That is quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will be interesting to find out how this may develop.
Las Marias: How do you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The marketplace this is excellent. It’s always a serious market, thus i would say electronic production is very well known here. It is really not just about easy electronics either, everything is produced here through the iPhone to automotive electronics. This need for the Chinese marketplace is reflected at the show with really every supplier being here. You can find visitors from america, Korea, Japan, Europe, and so on. Everybody is trying to get some this cake. Certainly, we do notice that we have high-pressure from competition and you will also see this in customers’ behavior. They are aware how busy it really is here, and so they know how important the show is for each supplier. So this is still a vital market.