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, as well as their outlook for the industry in Asia.
Stephen Las Marias: Andy, tell me about LPKF’s showcase here at NEPCON.
Andy Schneider: So far as the applications are worried, the initial one is the laser system for stencils. The stencil process is different, from etching to laser-produced stencils, which today is state of the art. I would personally state that more than 90% are produced by doing this. We are the industry leader for stencil cutting technology-therefore we have been within this business now for longer than twenty-five years. Next, we have a laser system for PCB Depaneling, especially for depaneling. How come depaneling by using a laser? We now have electronics that are getting a growing number of sensitive. They have a higher level of components that are also sensitive. With mechanical depaneling, there could be some stress in the board and also for your components, that may cause a failure sooner or later in the field.
LKPF also has developed other applications where laser can be utilized; for example, from the solar industry for top precision solar power production.
Las Marias: Why laser?
Schneider: Laser, obviously, is certainly a accurate tool. By way of example, if we discuss the device where we have been employing a UV laser, our company is referring to 20µm in diameter in the laser beam. Your own hair is generally around 100µm in diameter-you can think of how thin and small this laser beam works. Which is the explanation why we are often very accurate and that is also the key reason why we can drill small diameter holes.
Needless to say, mechanical drilling is very common nowadays; but in this case, our company is just speaking about thin boards. Should you be looking to get more rigid boards, we have mechanical drilling machines, but in addition there you can get lasers that are 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 of the hole.
Las Marias: Considering tighter tolerances and also the miniaturization trend inside the electronics industry, just how can customers make sure that they can drill a correct diameter?
Schneider: This is certainly element of our core competencies, that people can achieve these high goals when it comes to accuracy and with regards to number of holes per second. On one side, you accomplish this by the construction of the device. This really is section of the development process and makes sure that you apply the right electronics and also the right laser technology inside of the machine. Besides that, we also have the capability to check everything we are doing within. We have been not marketing this an excessive amount of since it is also element of our development, but we certainly have ways to control the laser beams as well as monitor the laser beam to ensure that we all know what is happening inside.
If you think in regards to the drilling of flexible board, what we’re speaking about is material. We certainly have the copper material, we have now PTI material, and people provide a different reflection for the laser beams. This implies the parameters must also differ. As soon as you desire to stop on one of these brilliant materials in the event of blind holes, blind vias or possibly a blind hole instead of via hole, we have the ability to also monitor this action.
Las Marias: What product development trends are happening in PCB drilling?
Schneider: We’ve followed that business for many, a long time. In past times, we were very successful in depaneling, nevertheless it was done somewhat on the side and wasn’t our main business. However, the technology within the machine that is used for depaneling is essentially exactly like when you’re discussing the lasers and how to operate the lasers, and it’s exactly the same for your drilling. There are actually, needless to say, some special construction in the machines, and tools.
We percieve this market carries a higher demand for these better machines instead of having PCB Routing Machine or even two drilling machines, and therefore, again, is the place where we come from. The UV laser can be something which we’ve renowned for many, quite a few years. This is a product of our own own development, so that we will not implement a third-party supplier. We certainly have developed our own laser tools and used them for many years. We understand a whole lot about UV lasers and we believe demand is headed a growing number of toward this direction. It’s dependent on checking out the market to find out how much of it really is served by suppliers. Once we identify that there is still room for one more, why not?
Las Marias: How would your customers justify investments into UV laser drills when they may already have equipment like a mechanical driller?
Schneider: The justification will happen about the production output. Today, that is among the first criteria for every supplier. He is considering whether they can get the qualities that his customers demand. Whenever you can stay positive of the same quality, then you can definitely justify it to a different supplier. That is the point where we attempt to draw in these people and say, “We can provide you with the quality which you need to have.”
We have been ready to acquire a higher quality even when the holes keep getting smaller-which we definitely expect-and which we also discuss with most of these producers when it comes to their roadmaps. How is it gonna try looking in two, three or four years? If they spend money on the device now, they are not likely to end its utilization in a couple of years. It can work on the next five to seven years.
Las Marias: Andy, what else could you say concerning the Industry 4. trend happening now in the marketplace?
Schneider: That may be difficult to say, to be honest. All of us are employed in an industry which is still very interesting within this. You can find more and more electronics in just about every product nowadays. The functionality gets higher and higher. We have been in the industry for twenty five years and i also keep in mind the time once we had the initial SMT component over a board. Those were the period once i worked for an organization producing car radios in Germany.
In the event you have a look at how it’s changed inside the twenty-five years since and you check out your smartphone, it is far from a telephone anymore: it’s more ‘smart’ compared to a ‘phone’, because in my case, Furthermore, i apply it for everything else rather than just a phone. This continues to be basic portion of the smartphone, that we are capable of doing countless things with. The functionality is to get higher and higher. I believe that has influence on the SMT market and also on the PCB market. The PCB producers along with the assembly producers are required to follow these trends as an alternative to machines and instead of processes.
Even if you take a look at inspection, our company is assembling components that happen to be so small you can not identify them with your bare eyes. You require some kind of special equipment to achieve that. This is a trend we have been seeing also. Secondly, the important hype in Europe along with the world is naturally the link of each machine, of each and every process, and the information being transferred.
Las Marias: Could you specify the marketplace applications that require such high precision drilling?
Schneider: Firstly, as I said we have been centering on the FPC Laser Depaneling, whereas you will have several cutting processes in which the laser can also be usable for. We will have what will happen inside the rigid board production of course, if additionally, it is practical to work with the equipment there. But the thicker the board, obviously the more time you need. That’s one point.
On the other hand, the laser itself is a very flexible tool. Component of our responsibility is to identify applications where it can be used. Maybe we know the client and that we can substitute processes where our laser brings significant benefits.
Las Marias: Andy, will there be anything we haven’t discussed that you just think we should be referring to?
Schneider: I believe we certainly have discussed a lot. It’s really interesting to discover how situations are taking place within China. China is still a very interesting niche for us. We see trends that the customer become a growing number of active in other Asian countries. The very first time during my life, I was in Vietnam last November, and i also was 13dexopky impressed with what I found there. There are very sophisticated electronics being produced there. It will likely be very interesting to find out where these electronics will be produced down the road, but I’m proud that in Europe plus in the us the electronic production still has big value.
I found myself in Las Vegas for APEX and that i really was surprised how the American market didn’t change with regards to development; they have always been on top. Obviously, it provides changed greatly when it comes to the development, as a lot of production went to Asia. Nowadays, it appears that they still produce by themselves 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 be interesting to view how this will likely develop.
Las Marias: Would you describe the China market at the moment?
Schneider: The marketplace here is excellent. It’s always an important market, therefore i would say electronic production is incredibly well known here. It is not only about easy electronics either, things are produced here through the iPhone to automotive electronics. This incredible importance of the Chinese industry is reflected here at the show with really every supplier being here. You will find visitors from america, Korea, Japan, Europe, and so forth. Most people are attempting to get some this cake. Certainly, we do notice that we now have high pressure from competition and you will also see this in customers’ behavior. They are fully aware how busy it is actually here, and they understand how important the show is perfect for each supplier. So this is still an essential market.