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, along with their outlook for your industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, tell me about LPKF’s showcase at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: With regards to the applications are concerned, the very first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process has changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is advanced. I would personally state that more than 90% are designed using this method. We are the market leader for stencil cutting technology-so we have been within this business now for longer than twenty-five years. After that, we have a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specifically for depaneling. So why do depaneling with a laser? We certainly have electronics which can be getting a lot more sensitive. These people have a higher quantity of components which are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress around the board and also for the components, which may result in a failure sooner or later within the field.
LKPF has also developed other applications where laser can be utilized; for instance, inside the solar industry for high precision solar power production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, obviously, is certainly a accurate tool. As an example, when we discuss the equipment where we have been employing a UV laser, we have been speaking about 20µm in diameter of your laser beam. The hair is generally around 100µm in diameter-you can think of how thin and small this laser beam works. That is the explanation why we are often very accurate and that is also the reason why we can easily drill really small diameter holes.
Needless to say, mechanical drilling is extremely common nowadays; but in cases like this, our company is just referring to thin boards. If you are looking for more rigid boards, we still have mechanical drilling machines, but in addition there you will discover lasers that happen to be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is bigger compared to the UV laser beam and so it has limitations in the matter of the diameter in the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and also the miniaturization trend inside the electronics industry, just how can customers ensure that they could drill a correct diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly element of our core competencies, that people can achieve extremely high goals with regards to accuracy and when it comes to quantity of holes per second. On the one hand, you accomplish this by the making of the machine. This is part of the development process and makes sure that you use the right electronics and also the right laser technology inside the machine. Besides that, we have the ability to observe everything we are performing in there. We are not marketing this too much since it is also element of our development, but we have now methods to control the laser beams and also to monitor the laser beam so that we all know exactly what is happening in there.
If you believe concerning the drilling of flexible board, what we’re referring to is material. We certainly have the copper material, we have PTI material, and the ones give you a different reflection for the laser beams. What this means is the parameters also have to be different. The instant you wish to stop on one of these brilliant materials in case there is blind holes, blind vias or a blind hole as an alternative to 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, quite a few years. In past times, we were successful in depaneling, however it was completed somewhat around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology in the machine that is utilized for depaneling is essentially exactly like when you’re talking about the lasers and how to operate the lasers, and it’s the same for the drilling. You will find, of course, some special construction of your machines, and tools.
We percieve that the market carries 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 originate from. The UV laser can be something which we’ve recognized for many, several years. It is a product of the own development, so that we will not implement still another-party supplier. We have developed our personal laser tools and used them for quite some time. We understand a good deal about UV lasers and that we believe demand goes a growing number of toward this direction. It’s an issue of looking at the market to see how much of it is served by suppliers. When we identify there is still room for another, why not?
Las Marias: How could your potential customers justify investments into UV laser drills when they may currently have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification can happen in the production output. Today, that is amongst the first criteria for every single supplier. He or she is enthusiastic about whether he could reach the qualities that his customers demand. Provided you can stay positive of the same quality, then you can certainly justify it to another one supplier. That is the point where we try to attract these folks and say, “We can give you the standard which you wish to have.”
We are willing to acquire a better quality even if your holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also discuss with most of these producers with regards to their roadmaps. How would it be going to look in two, three or four years? If they invest in the appliance now, they are not going to end its utilization in 1 or 2 years. It would work on the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, exactlty what can you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the marketplace?
Schneider: That is certainly tough to say, to be honest. All of us function in a niche that is still very interesting within this. You can find more and more electronics in every product nowadays. The functionality is getting higher and higher. I have got been in the market for twenty-five years and I keep in mind the time when we had the very first SMT component with a board. Those were the days once i worked for a business producing car radios in Germany.
Should you take a look at how it’s changed from the twenty five years since so you look for your smartphone, it is not necessarily a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ than a ‘phone’, because within my case, I also apply it for everything instead of just a phone. This is still the basic area of the smartphone, we can do numerous things with. The functionality is getting 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 have to follow these trends as an alternative to machines and as an alternative to processes.
Although you may examine inspection, we have been assembling components that happen to be so small you can not identify them with your bare eyes. You want some kind of special equipment to achieve that. This is a trend we are seeing also. Secondly, the important hype in Europe along with the world is naturally the bond of each machine, of each process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Could you specify the marketplace applications which require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To start with, as I said we are centering on the FPC Depaneling Machine, whereas you will have several cutting processes that the laser is also usable for. We will have what goes on in the rigid board production and if in addition, it makes sense to use the appliance there. Although the thicker the board, naturally the better time you want. That’s one point.
However, the laser itself is certainly a flexible tool. A part of our job is to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we know the client therefore we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, can there be anything we haven’t described that you just think we need to be discussing?
Schneider: I do believe we have discussed a lot. It’s really interesting to discover how everything is happening here in China. China remains to be a very interesting market for us. We see trends our customer become a growing number of active in other Asian countries. Initially within my life, I found myself in Vietnam last November, and I was 13dexopky impressed as to what I stumbled upon there. You will find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be very worthwhile to discover where these electronics will likely be produced later on, but I’m proud that in Europe plus in America the electronic production continues to have big value.
I found myself in Vegas for APEX and I really was surprised that this American market didn’t change in the case of development; they have invariably been on the top. Obviously, it offers changed greatly in the case of the development, as a lot of production went over to Asia. Nowadays, it appears that they still produce by themselves and that is certainly shown by the volume of machines which are ordered by our American colleagues. That is quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will likely be interesting to find out how this may develop.
Las Marias: How does one describe the China market right now?
Schneider: The current market the following is excellent. It’s always an important market, therefore i would say electronic production is extremely well known here. It is not approximately easy electronics either, things are all produced here through the iPhone to automotive electronics. This need for the Chinese industry 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 attempting to get a bit of this cake. Certainly, we all do notice that we have high pressure from competition and you will also see this in customers’ behavior. They are aware how busy it is here, and so they understand how important the show is perfect for each supplier. So this is still a vital market.