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 that industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, tell me about LPKF’s showcase right here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: As far as the applications are concerned, first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process has changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is state of the art. I would personally say that a lot more than 90% are designed by doing this. We are the market leader for stencil cutting technology-so we are already with this business now for over twenty five years. After that, we have a laser system for PCB Depaneling, especially for depaneling. How come depaneling with a laser? We have now electronics that are getting a lot more sensitive. They have a higher volume of components that are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there can be some stress about the board and in addition to the components, which can cause a failure sooner or later within the field.
LKPF also has developed other applications where laser may be used; as an example, inside the solar industry for top precision solar cell production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, obviously, is an extremely accurate tool. As an example, whenever we speak about the machine where our company is using a UV laser, we have been referring to 20µm in diameter of the laser beam. Your hair is usually around 100µm in diameter-imaginable how thin and small this laser beam works. Which is the reason why we are often very accurate and that is also the main reason why we could drill really small diameter holes.
Obviously, mechanical drilling is incredibly common nowadays; but in cases like this, we have been just referring to thin boards. Should you be looking for additional rigid boards, we still have mechanical drilling machines, but in addition there you can find lasers which can be normally CO2 lasers. The CO2 laser beam is larger in comparison to the UV laser beam and so it also has limitations in the matter of the diameter of the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and also the miniaturization trend inside the electronics industry, how could customers make certain that they may drill an accurate diameter?
Schneider: This can be a part of our core competencies, we can achieve extremely high goals with regards to accuracy and in the case of number of holes per second. On the one hand, you achieve this by the making of the equipment. This can be portion of the development process and makes sure that you employ the right electronics as well as the right laser technology inside the machine. Besides that, we also have the capability to keep track of everything we are doing within. We have been not marketing this a lot of because it is also a part of our development, but we now have methods to control the laser beams and to monitor the laser beam to ensure we all know precisely what is happening inside.
If you believe in regards to the drilling of flexible board, what we’re speaking about is material. We have now the copper material, we certainly have PTI material, and the ones provide a different reflection for your laser beams. This means the parameters also need to differ. Once you desire to stop on one of these materials in case there is blind holes, blind vias or even 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 a lot of, several years. In the past, we had been successful in depaneling, nevertheless it was done somewhat around the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology inside of the machine which is used for depaneling is basically just like when you’re referring to the lasers and ways to operate the lasers, and it’s the same for your drilling. There are, needless to say, some kind of special construction of the machines, and tools.
We notice that it market includes a higher need for these more accurate machines as opposed to having PCB Depaneling Router and even two drilling machines, and therefore, again, is the place where we result from. The UV laser is one thing which we’ve noted for many, quite a few years. It is a product in our own development, therefore we do not implement another-party supplier. We certainly have developed our own laser tools and used them for many years. We all know a whole lot about UV lasers and that we believe demand is certainly going a growing number of toward this direction. It’s an issue of studying the market to find out the amount of it can be served by suppliers. If we identify there continues to be room for the next, why not?
Las Marias: How could your potential customers justify investments into UV laser drills whenever they may curently have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will happen in the production output. Today, that is amongst the first criteria for every single supplier. He or she is considering whether he is able to get the qualities that his customers demand. Provided you can be positive of the same quality, then you can justify it to a different one supplier. That is the point where we attempt to draw in they and say, “We can provide you with the quality which you wish to have.”
We are able to gain a higher quality even when the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we consult with a number of these producers when it comes to their roadmaps. How is it planning to look in two, 3 or 4 years? Should they put money into the equipment now, they are not going to end its utilization in a couple of years. It will work across the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what else could you say about the Industry 4. trend happening now in the marketplace?
Schneider: Which is tough to say, to tell the truth. Many of us work in a business which happens to be still quite interesting in this. You will find increasingly more electronics in every single product nowadays. The functionality gets higher and higher. I have got been in the business for 25 years and that i keep in mind time if we had the first SMT component on a board. Those were the times once i worked for a business producing car radios in Germany.
When you take a look at how it’s changed inside the twenty five years since and you also turn to your smartphone, it is far from a phone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ compared to a ‘phone’, because within my case, Furthermore, i use it for anything else rather than a telephone. This remains the basic area of the smartphone, which we can perform numerous things with. The functionality gets higher and higher. I do believe which has influence on the SMT market and also to the PCB market. The PCB producers along with the assembly producers are forced to follow these trends as an alternative to machines and as an alternative to processes.
Although you may examine inspection, we are assembling components which are so small you cannot identify these with your bare eyes. You want some kind of special equipment to achieve that. It is a trend we are seeing also. Secondly, the big hype in Europe and also the world is obviously the connection for each machine, for each process, as well as the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Is it possible to specify the market applications which require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: Firstly, as mentioned we are focusing on the FPC Depaneling Machine, whereas you will have several cutting processes that your laser is likewise usable for. We will have what will happen inside the rigid board production and if furthermore, it is a good idea to make use of the equipment there. Although the thicker the board, naturally the better time you require. That’s one point.
Alternatively, the laser itself is certainly a flexible tool. Element of our responsibility is usually to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we already know the individual so we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, could there be anything we haven’t described that you think we should be talking about?
Schneider: I do believe we have now discussed a good deal. It’s really interesting to find out how things are taking place here in China. China continues to be an extremely interesting market for us. We see trends which our customer become a growing number of active in other Asian countries. The first time during my life, I was in Vietnam last November, and that i was 13dexopky impressed as to what I found there. There are very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be very interesting to view where these electronics is going to be produced in the future, but I’m proud that in Europe and also in America the electronic production retains big value.
I was in Las Vegas for APEX and so i was actually surprised how the American market didn’t change in the matter of development; they have always been on top. Obviously, it offers changed greatly with regards to the production, as a lot of production went to Asia. Nowadays, it appears that they still produce by themselves and that is shown by the number of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That may be quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will probably be interesting to discover how this will develop.
Las Marias: How would you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The current market the following is excellent. It’s always a major market, and so i would say electronic production is quite well known here. It is not necessarily approximately easy electronics either, things are all produced here through the iPhone to automotive electronics. This incredible importance of chinese people industry is reflected here at the show with really every supplier being here. There are visitors from the United States, Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. Everybody is hoping to get a piece of this cake. Certainly, we all do realize that we have high-pressure from competition and you could also see this in customers’ behavior. They are fully aware how busy it really is here, and they recognize how important the show is for each supplier. Making this still an important market.