Through the recent NEPCON China event in Shanghai, I spoke with Andreas Schneider, sales director for cutting and structuring laser at LPKF Laser & Electronics, concerning the latest developments in laser drilling, how customers can justify investments in laser drilling machines, and their outlook for that industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, inform me about LPKF’s showcase right here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: With regards to the applications are involved, first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process is different, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is cutting edge. I might say that over 90% are made in this way. Our company is the current market leader for stencil cutting technology-therefore we have already been in this particular business now for over twenty-five years. Afterward, there exists a laser system for PCB Depaneling, particularly for depaneling. Exactly why do depaneling having a laser? We now have electronics that happen to be getting more and more sensitive. They have a higher quantity of components which are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there may be some stress about the board plus for your components, which could produce a failure sooner or later from the field.
LKPF has additionally developed other applications where laser can be used; as an example, from the solar industry for top precision solar power production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, understandably, is an extremely accurate tool. For example, if we focus on the appliance where our company is by using a UV laser, we have been speaking about 20µm in diameter of the laser beam. Your hair is usually 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 certainly also the key reason why we could drill small diameter holes.
Of course, mechanical drilling is very common nowadays; but in such a case, our company is just referring to thin boards. If you are looking for further 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 bigger than the UV laser beam so it has also limitations in the case of the diameter in the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and the miniaturization trend inside the electronics industry, how can customers ensure that they are able to drill an exact diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly element of our core competencies, that people can achieve these high goals when it comes to accuracy and in the case of number of holes per second. On one side, you achieve this by the construction of the device. This can be part of the development process and makes sure that you apply the right electronics along with the right laser technology inside the machine. On top of that, we also have the ability to monitor what we should are performing within. We have been not marketing this too much as it is also component of our development, but we have now approaches to control the laser beams as well as monitor the laser beam to ensure that we know what is happening inside.
If you believe concerning the drilling of flexible board, what we’re speaking about is material. We have the copper material, we have now PTI material, and others offer a different reflection for your laser beams. This means the parameters also need to be different. The instant you would like to stop on one of these simple materials in case of blind holes, blind vias or a blind hole instead of via hole, we have the capacity 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 had been successful in depaneling, nevertheless it was done a little bit about the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology in the machine that is used for depaneling is essentially the same as when you’re speaking about the lasers and the way to operate the lasers, and it’s exactly the same for your drilling. There are, naturally, some kind of special construction of the machines, and tools.
We percieve this market has a higher demand for these more accurate machines instead of having PCB Routing Machine as well as two drilling machines, which, again, is the place where we come from. The UV laser is one thing which we’ve known for many, many years. It is a product of the own development, so that we tend not to implement still another-party supplier. We have now developed our own laser tools and used them for many years. We know a great deal about UV lasers therefore we believe demand is certainly going a growing number of toward this direction. It’s a point of studying the market to view 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 potential customers justify investments into UV laser drills whenever they may already have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will occur in the production output. Today, that is probably the first criteria for every single supplier. He or she is thinking about whether he is able to reach the qualities that his customers demand. If you can stay positive the exact same quality, then you can certainly justify it to another supplier. That is exactly the point where we try to draw in these folks and say, “We can present you with the quality which you need to have.”
Our company is willing to obtain a better quality even when the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also discuss with many of these producers with regards to their roadmaps. How could it be planning to try looking in two, three or four years? If they put money into the machine now, they will not end its utilization in 1 or 2 years. It is going to work within 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: That is certainly difficult to say, to tell the truth. Most of us work in a business which is still very worthwhile with this. There are actually increasingly more electronics in each and every product nowadays. The functionality gets higher and better. We have been in the market for 25 years and I remember the time whenever we had the first SMT component on the board. Those were the times after i worked for a company producing car radios in Germany.
When you look at how it’s changed from the 25 years since and you look for your smartphone, it is not necessarily a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ than a ‘phone’, because within my case, In addition, i utilize it for everything rather than just a telephone. This continues to be basic section of the smartphone, that people are capable of doing a lot of things with. The functionality is getting higher and higher. I do believe that has impact on the SMT market and on the PCB market. The PCB producers as well as the assembly producers are required to follow these trends rather than machines and as an alternative to processes.
Even if you take a look at inspection, our company is assembling components that happen to be so small you are unable to identify them with your bare eyes. You will need some special equipment to achieve that. This really is a trend our company is seeing also. Secondly, the big hype in Europe and the world is needless to say the bond of each and every machine, of each process, and also the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Could you specify the current market applications that require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To begin with, as mentioned our company is paying attention to the FPC Cutting Machine, whereas there will be several cutting processes that your laser is also usable for. We will see what occurs in the rigid board production and in case furthermore, it makes sense to use the appliance there. Nevertheless the thicker the board, needless to say the better time you will need. That’s some point.
On the flip side, the laser itself is definitely a flexible tool. Part of our responsibility would be to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we already know the consumer therefore we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, can there be anything we haven’t talked about that you just think we should be speaking about?
Schneider: I think we have discussed a whole lot. It’s really interesting to see how situations are happening here in China. China remains to be a very interesting marketplace for us. We see trends that our customer become a growing number of active in other Asian countries. The first time inside my life, I had been in Vietnam last November, and I was 13dexopky impressed as to what I found there. You will find very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will be fascinating to view where these electronics is going to be produced in the future, but I’m proud that in Europe and in addition in the usa the electronic production still has big value.
I had been in Vegas for APEX and so i was surprised how the American market didn’t change when it comes to development; they have been on top. Naturally, they have changed greatly in the case of the production, as a huge amount of production went onto Asia. Nowadays, it appears that they still produce on their own and that is certainly 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 likely be interesting to discover how this will develop.
Las Marias: How does one describe the China market at this time?
Schneider: The current market this is excellent. It’s always a significant market, therefore i would say electronic production is quite well-established here. It is far from just about easy electronics either, things are produced here from your iPhone to automotive electronics. This significance of chinese people industry is reflected right here at the show with really every supplier being here. There are actually visitors from the us, Korea, Japan, Europe, and so forth. Most people are trying to get a bit of this cake. Certainly, we do notice that we have high pressure from competition and you will also check this out in customers’ behavior. They are aware how busy it can be here, and so they recognize how important the show is perfect for each supplier. Making this still an essential market.