In 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, in addition to their outlook for the industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, tell me about LPKF’s showcase here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: With regards to the applications have concerns, the first is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process changed, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is cutting edge. I might point out that greater than 90% are made in this way. We are the current market leader for stencil cutting technology-and we happen to be with this business now for longer than twenty-five years. After that, we have a laser system for PCB Depaneling, specifically for depaneling. Why do depaneling having a laser? We have electronics which are getting more and more sensitive. These people have a higher volume of components that happen to be also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress on the board and also to the components, that may result in a failure at some point in the field.
LKPF has also developed other applications where laser may be used; as an example, inside the solar industry for high precision solar cell production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, as you can imagine, is an extremely accurate tool. For instance, when we focus on the machine where we are by using a UV laser, we are speaking about 20µm in diameter from the laser beam. Your hair is commonly around 100µm in diameter-you can think of how thin and small this laser beam works. That is the explanation why we can be quite accurate and that is also exactly why we are able to drill small diameter holes.
Needless to say, mechanical drilling is quite common nowadays; but in cases like this, our company is just speaking about thin boards. Should you be looking for further rigid boards, we continue to have mechanical drilling machines, but also 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 matter of the diameter of the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and the miniaturization trend from the electronics industry, how could customers ensure that they can drill an exact diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly part of our core competencies, that people have the ability to achieve these high goals when it comes to accuracy and in the matter of number of holes per second. On the one hand, you achieve this by the making of the appliance. This is portion of the development process and makes sure that you employ the right electronics and also the right laser technology inside of the machine. Besides that, we have the capacity to check what we are performing within. We have been not marketing this a lot of since it is also component of our development, but we have now methods to control the laser beams as well as to monitor the laser beam to ensure we all know what is happening in there.
If you think in regards to the drilling of flexible board, what we’re referring to is material. We have the copper material, we now have PTI material, and others give a different reflection for your laser beams. This implies the parameters also need to differ. Once you desire to stop on one of these simple materials in the event of blind holes, blind vias or perhaps a blind hole as opposed to 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 most, quite a few years. Before, we were successful in depaneling, however it was completed a bit on the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology within the machine which is used for depaneling is pretty much just like when you’re referring to the lasers and ways to operate the lasers, and it’s a similar for that drilling. You can find, of course, some special construction of the machines, and tools.
We have seen that it market features a higher demand for these better machines as opposed to having PCB Router or perhaps two drilling machines, and this, again, is where we originate from. The UV laser is something which we’ve known for many, many years. It really is a product of the own development, therefore we do not implement another-party supplier. We have now developed our personal laser tools and used them for a long time. We all know a great deal about UV lasers and we believe demand goes more and more toward this direction. It’s an issue of looking at the market to find out the amount of it really is served by suppliers. Once we identify there remains room for another, why not?
Las Marias: How could your clients justify investments into UV laser drills whenever they may curently have equipment for instance a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will happen in the production output. Today, that is probably the first criteria for each supplier. He is thinking about whether he could achieve the qualities that his customers demand. Whenever you can be positive the exact same quality, then you can certainly justify it to a different supplier. That is exactly the point where we attempt to get these people and say, “We can provide you with the high quality which you need to have.”
We have been prepared to obtain a better quality even if your holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we confer with a number of these producers when it comes to their roadmaps. How is it gonna try looking in two, 3 or 4 years? Should they purchase the appliance now, they are not likely to end its utilization in one or two years. It is going to work across the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what might you say in regards to the Industry 4. trend happening now in the market?
Schneider: That is tough to say, to be honest. All of us work in an industry which is still quite interesting within this. You can find a lot more electronics in each and every product nowadays. The functionality is becoming higher and better. I actually have been in the commercial for twenty-five years and that i recall the time once we had the first SMT component on the board. Those were the times as i worked for a company producing car radios in Germany.
In the event you take a look at how it’s changed in the twenty five years since and you also turn to your smartphone, it is really not a mobile phone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ when compared to a ‘phone’, because during my case, I also apply it everything else rather than just a mobile phone. This continues to be the basic part of the smartphone, that we can do a lot of things with. The functionality gets higher and higher. I do believe which has effect on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers as well as the assembly producers are required to follow these trends rather than machines and rather than processes.
Even if you have a look at inspection, our company is assembling components that are so small you cannot identify them with your bare eyes. You require some kind of special equipment to do that. This really is a trend our company is seeing also. Secondly, the big hype in Europe and also the world is naturally the link of each and every machine, of each and every process, and also the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Are you able to specify the industry applications that need such high precision drilling?
Schneider: To start with, as mentioned our company is centering on the FPC Cutting Machine, whereas you will see also some cutting processes that the laser can also be usable for. We will have what will happen inside the rigid board production and when additionally, it is practical to work with the device there. But the thicker the board, needless to say the better time you need. That’s one point.
Alternatively, the laser itself is definitely a flexible tool. Part of our job is to identify applications where you can use it. Maybe we may have learned the individual so 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 referring to?
Schneider: I feel we now have discussed a whole lot. It’s really interesting to see how the situation is happening in China. China continues to be an extremely interesting marketplace for us. We also see trends that our customer become a lot more active in other Asian countries. The first time during my life, I used to be in Vietnam last November, and so i was 13dexopky impressed in what I discovered there. There are actually very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will probably be fascinating to find out where these electronics will likely be produced down the road, but I’m proud that in Europe plus in the us the electronic production still has big value.
I was in Las Vegas for APEX and i also was actually surprised the American market didn’t change in the case of development; they have always been on the top. Obviously, they have changed greatly with regards to the production, as a lot of production went up to Asia. Nowadays, it appears that they still produce on their own and that is shown by the number of machines which can be ordered by our American colleagues. That is quite good and it’s more balanced again. It will probably be interesting to see how this will develop.
Las Marias: How do you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The current market here is excellent. It’s always a significant market, therefore i would say electronic production is incredibly well-established here. It is far from only about easy electronics either, things are all produced here through the iPhone to automotive electronics. This need for chinese people industry is reflected at the show with really every supplier being here. You will find visitors from the us, Korea, Japan, Europe, etc. Everyone is trying to get a bit of this cake. Certainly, we do see that we have now high pressure from competition and you will also check this out in customers’ behavior. They know how busy it is here, and so they understand how important the show is designed for each supplier. So this is still an essential market.