During 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 to the industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, inform me about LPKF’s showcase right here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: So far as the applications are worried, first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process has changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is advanced. I would claim that a lot more than 90% are designed using this method. Our company is the industry leader for stencil cutting technology-and that we have been with this business now for over twenty five years. After that, we have a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specifically for depaneling. Exactly why do depaneling by using a laser? We have now electronics which are getting more and more sensitive. These people have a higher amount of components which can be also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there may be some stress around the board and also for the components, that may create a failure eventually inside the field.
LKPF has also developed other applications where laser works extremely well; for example, in the solar industry for top precision solar panel production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, as you can imagine, is an extremely accurate tool. For example, once we speak about the device where our company is using a UV laser, we have been speaking about 20µm in diameter of your laser beam. Your own hair is normally around 100µm in diameter-you can imagine how thin and small this laser beam works. Which is the reason that we are often very accurate and that is also the key reason why we can drill very small diameter holes.
Obviously, mechanical drilling is incredibly common nowadays; but in this instance, our company is just discussing thin boards. If you are looking to get more rigid boards, we still need mechanical drilling machines, but also there you will discover lasers that happen to be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is bigger than the UV laser beam so it has also limitations with regards to the diameter in the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and the miniaturization trend in the electronics industry, just how can customers make sure that they are able to drill a precise diameter?
Schneider: This really is component of our core competencies, that people are able to achieve extremely high goals in the case of accuracy and in the case of number of holes per second. On the one hand, you achieve this by the building of the device. This is certainly section of the development process and makes sure that you apply the right electronics along with the right laser technology within the machine. In addition, we also have the ability to keep track of whatever we are accomplishing in there. Our company is not marketing this too much as it is also component of our development, but we have now ways to control the laser beams and to monitor the laser beam to ensure that we understand what exactly is happening inside.
If you consider concerning the drilling of flexible board, what we’re speaking about is material. We have the copper material, we now have PTI material, and those offer a different reflection for your laser beams. This means the parameters must also be different. As soon as you wish to stop on one of these materials in the case of blind holes, blind vias or even a blind hole as an alternative to via hole, we have the ability 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. Before, we had been successful in depaneling, but it was completed somewhat around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology in the machine that is used for depaneling is basically exactly like when you’re speaking about the lasers and the way to operate the lasers, and it’s the identical to the drilling. You can find, of course, some special construction of your machines, and tools.
We see that it market has a higher need for these better machines as opposed to having PCB Router or even two drilling machines, and therefore, again, is how we result from. The UV laser is something which we’ve noted for many, many years. It is actually a product of our own own development, so we will not implement a third-party supplier. We have now developed our personal laser tools and used them for several years. We realize a good deal about UV lasers therefore we believe demand is headed a lot more toward this direction. It’s an issue of studying the market to discover how much of it is actually served by suppliers. If we identify there remains room for an additional, why not?
Las Marias: How could your clients justify investments into UV laser drills whenever they may currently have equipment such as a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will happen about the production output. Today, that is amongst the first criteria for every supplier. He or she is thinking about whether he is able to reach the qualities that his customers demand. When you can stay positive of the same quality, then you could justify it to a different supplier. That is exactly the point where we attempt to draw in they and say, “We can provide you with the quality which you would like to have.”
We have been willing to acquire a better quality even if the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we talk to a number of these producers with regards to their roadmaps. How is it planning to try looking in two, 3 or 4 years? Should they purchase the equipment now, they are not likely to end its use in one or two years. It will work over the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what can you say in regards to the Industry 4. trend happening now in the market?
Schneider: That is tough to say, actually. Many of us are employed in a marketplace which is still quite interesting within this. You can find a growing number of electronics in every single product nowadays. The functionality is to get higher and higher. I have been in the business for 25 years and that i keep in mind time when we had the very first SMT component over a board. Those were the period when I worked for a business producing car radios in Germany.
When you take a look at how it’s changed from the 25 years since and you turn to your smartphone, it is really not a mobile phone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ than a ‘phone’, because in my case, In addition, i apply it for anything else rather than a phone. This is still the basic portion of the smartphone, which we are capable of doing countless things with. The functionality gets higher and better. I feel which includes impact 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 when you examine inspection, we are assembling components which can be so small you can not identify all of them with your bare eyes. You want some special equipment to do that. This really is a trend we are seeing also. Secondly, the important hype in Europe along with the world is needless to say the link of each machine, of each and every process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Can you specify the market applications that require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: Firstly, as mentioned we are paying attention to the FPC Laser Depaneling, whereas you will see also some cutting processes in which the laser can also be usable for. We will see what will happen in the rigid board production and in case furthermore, it is practical to utilize the device there. However the thicker the board, needless to say the greater time you need. That’s some time.
On the other hand, the laser itself is certainly a flexible tool. A part of our responsibility is to identify applications where you can use it. Maybe we already know the customer therefore we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, is there anything we haven’t talked about that you just think we should be discussing?
Schneider: I think we now have discussed a great deal. It’s really interesting to find out how situations are occurring here in China. China is still an incredibly interesting niche for us. We see trends that our customer become more and more active in other Asian countries. For the first time inside my life, I had been in Vietnam last November, and so i was 13dexopky impressed using what I discovered there. You will find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will probably be fascinating to see where these electronics will probably be produced down the road, but I’m proud that in Europe and also in America the electronic production really has big value.
I found myself in Las Vegas for APEX and i also was actually surprised that this American market didn’t change in the matter of development; they have always been ahead. Naturally, it provides changed greatly in the matter of the development, as a lot of production went up to Asia. Nowadays, apparently they still produce independently and that is certainly shown by the amount of machines that are ordered by our American colleagues. That may be quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will be interesting to find out how this will develop.
Las Marias: Would you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The market this is excellent. It’s always an important market, therefore i would say electronic production is incredibly well established here. It is not only about easy electronics either, all things are produced here from the iPhone to automotive electronics. This need for chinese people marketplace is reflected right here at the show with really every supplier being here. You will find visitors from the us, Korea, Japan, Europe, and so forth. Everybody is looking to get a piece of this cake. Certainly, perform realize that we certainly have high pressure from competition and you will also check this out in customers’ behavior. They understand how busy it really is here, and so they understand how important the show is perfect for each supplier. So this is still an essential market.