During 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, along with their outlook for that industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, inform me about LPKF’s showcase right here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: In terms of the applications are concerned, the first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process has evolved, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is cutting edge. I would say that a lot more than 90% are designed in this way. Our company is the industry leader for stencil cutting technology-so we happen to be in this business now for more than twenty-five years. After that, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specifically for depaneling. Why do depaneling having a laser? We have now electronics which can be getting a lot more sensitive. These people have a higher quantity of components that are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there might be some stress in the board and in addition for the components, that may create a failure eventually within the field.
LKPF has also developed other applications where laser can be utilized; by way of example, from the solar industry for high precision solar cell production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, obviously, is definitely a accurate tool. As an example, if we focus on the machine where we are employing a UV laser, we are referring to 20µm in diameter of the laser beam. Hair is normally around 100µm in diameter-imaginable how thin and small this laser beam works. This is the reason why we can be very accurate and that is also the reason why we could drill very small diameter holes.
Of course, mechanical drilling is quite common nowadays; but in this instance, we have been just discussing thin boards. Should you be looking for additional rigid boards, we still need mechanical drilling machines, but additionally there you will find lasers which can be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is bigger in comparison to the UV laser beam so it has also limitations in the case of the diameter of your hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and also the miniaturization trend within the electronics industry, how can customers make certain that they could drill an accurate diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly part of our core competencies, we can easily achieve these high goals with regards to accuracy and with regards to number of holes per second. On one side, you achieve this by the building of the device. This is certainly portion of the development process and makes certain that you employ the right electronics along with the right laser technology inside the machine. Besides that, we have the capability to keep track of everything we are going to do inside. Our company is not marketing this a lot of since it is also element of our development, but we have approaches to control the laser beams and also to monitor the laser beam so that we know what is happening in there.
If you believe regarding the drilling of flexible board, what we’re referring to is material. We have now the copper material, we certainly have PTI material, and those give you a different reflection to the laser beams. This implies the parameters must also be different. When you want to stop on one of those materials in the case of blind holes, blind vias or perhaps a blind hole rather than via hole, we are able to also monitor this step.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for several, several years. Previously, we were very successful in depaneling, however it was completed a bit around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology inside of the machine which is used for depaneling is essentially just like when you’re referring to the lasers and how to operate the lasers, and it’s the same for your drilling. You will find, of course, some special construction of the machines, and tools.
We see this market includes a higher demand for these more accurate machines rather than having PCB Depaneling Router as well as two drilling machines, which, again, is where we are derived from. The UV laser is something which we’ve recognized for many, many years. This is a product of our own own development, so that we do not implement still another-party supplier. We certainly have developed our own laser tools and used them for several years. We understand a good deal about UV lasers therefore we believe demand is headed more and more toward this direction. It’s a matter of looking at the market to see how much of it is served by suppliers. If we identify there remains to be room for an additional, why not?
Las Marias: How could your clients justify investments into UV laser drills after they may currently have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification can happen on the production output. Today, that is probably the first criteria for every single supplier. He is interested in whether he is able to reach the qualities that his customers demand. Provided you can be positive the exact same quality, then you can certainly justify it to another supplier. That is the point where we try to get they and say, “We can provide you with the quality which you wish to have.”
Our company is ready to gain a better quality even when the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also confer with most of these producers in the case of their roadmaps. How would it be gonna try looking in two, 3 or 4 years? Should they purchase the device now, they are not likely to end its use within one or two years. It is going to work across the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what might you say about the Industry 4. trend happening now in the marketplace?
Schneider: Which is tough to say, actually. Many of us are employed in a marketplace which can be still fascinating in this. There are actually a growing number of electronics in every single product nowadays. The functionality is getting higher and better. I have been in the industry for twenty-five years and I recall the time if we had the initial SMT component on a board. Those were the days once i worked for a business producing car radios in Germany.
In the event you look at how it’s changed within the 25 years since and you also look to your smartphone, it is really not a mobile phone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ than a ‘phone’, because within my case, Also i apply it for everything else rather than just a phone. This continues to be the basic portion of the smartphone, that people can do numerous things with. The functionality gets higher and better. I believe containing affect on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers as well as the assembly producers are forced to follow these trends rather than machines and as an alternative to processes.
Even when you examine inspection, we are assembling components that happen to be so small you can not identify all of them with your bare eyes. You need some special equipment to do that. This is a trend we have been seeing also. Secondly, the big hype in Europe and the world is naturally the bond of every machine, of each and every process, and the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Is it possible to specify the industry applications which require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To start with, as I said our company is paying attention to the FPC Laser Depaneling, whereas you will see also some cutting processes that your laser can also be usable for. We will see what occurs in the rigid board production of course, if furthermore, it makes sense to utilize the device there. But the thicker the board, naturally the better time you require. That’s some point.
On the flip side, the laser itself is an extremely flexible tool. A part of our responsibility is always to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we may have learned the consumer therefore we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, can there be anything we haven’t discussed which you think we need to be discussing?
Schneider: I feel we now have discussed a good deal. It’s really interesting to see how the situation is taking place here in China. China remains an extremely interesting marketplace for us. We also see trends that our customer become a lot more active in other Asian countries. The very first time inside my life, I found myself in Vietnam last November, and so i was 13dexopky impressed as to what I discovered there. There are very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be very interesting to see where these electronics will be produced down the road, but I’m proud that in Europe and also in the usa the electronic production still has big value.
I used to be in Vegas for APEX and so i really was surprised the American market didn’t change in the matter of development; they have invariably been on top. Needless to say, they have changed greatly in the matter of the production, as a huge amount of production went to Asia. Nowadays, it seems that they still produce independently and that is certainly shown by the volume of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That is certainly quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will likely be interesting to discover how this may develop.
Las Marias: Would you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The industry this is excellent. It’s always an important market, so I would say electronic production is extremely well known here. It is not necessarily just about easy electronics either, all things are produced here from the iPhone to automotive electronics. This need for chinese people industry is reflected at the show with really every supplier being here. There are visitors from the usa, Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. Everybody is attempting to get a sheet of this cake. Certainly, we all do observe that we have now high pressure from competition and you can also see this in customers’ behavior. They are aware how busy it is here, and so they learn how important the show is for each supplier. Making this still a significant market.