Manufacturing Flow and Considerations in Adopting Laser Processing Capabilities

Market demand for smaller, faster, wearable, lighter and more powerful devices continues to keep PCB manufacturers scrambling to keep up as they evolve and adapt their manufacturing capabilities to meet changing customer needs. But keeping up with the dizzying pace of change in the world of PCB manufacturing need not be a daunting task. Employing laser technology is one of the best ways to stay current, as it enables printed circuit manufacturers to achieve manufacturing flexibility and agility with more accurate and/or smaller features than is possible with traditional processes.

Adding flexible circuit laser processing to your production capabilities can pay big dividends. It helps widen the scope of potential customers you can service and extends your reach into additional markets for which you otherwise wouldn’t have had a solution.

There are several steps in the flexible circuit manufacturing process where laser processing can add value. This series will primarily focus on the laser micromachining processes related to drilling, coverlay cutting, and circuit singulation using general laser micromachining systems. Keep in mind that many of these same principles are also relevant in laser production of rigid boards and even to LDI.

Figure 1. Where laser technology fits in the flex processing manufacturing flow.

Laser micromachining drivers

Printed circuit manufacturers typically invest in laser micromachining systems when punching, mechanical routing, or mechanical drilling becomes infeasible or is no longer cost effective due to one or more of the following issues:

  • Features become too small or complex for drill/routing bit diameters and/or die punch manufacturing capabilities.
  • Trace width/spacing requires that the size of via pads be reduced beyond the registration capabilities of mechanical drilling.
  • Part tolerances require machining accuracies beyond mechanical processing capabilities.
  • The number of vias per panel increases sufficiently to make mechanical drilling less cost effective than laser drilling.
  • Customer demand includes blind via processing in thin flex material beyond the depth-control capabilities of mechanical drills.
  • High product mix and/or fast turnaround time requirements become incompatible with the long lead times and expense associated with fabricating dies for coverlay cutting and circuit singulation.

If you’re facing some or all of these challenges, it’s time to consider a laser processing solution. But before launching into that endeavor, take the time to inform yourself about the right way to adopt laser processing capabilities. This application note will help you understand the implications while answering some important questions related to key topics:

  • Calculating and Optimizing Production: How do you calculate and optimize total system cost of ownership and cost per panel? We review the high-impact profitability factors in choosing and running your system.
  • Readiness and Site Preparation: How do you ensure that your facilities are ready for the introduction of laser processing? We address shop floor concerns such as HVAC, temperature control, debris removal capabilities, power requirements and more.
  • Installation, Training, and Initial Operation: How do you get your new system installed and processing those first runs? We focus on installation best practices, system verification testing, training and safety.
  • Process Development: How do you develop your process library? We review several best practices, tips and tricks for typical flexible circuit laser processes.
  • Maintenance and Servicing: How do you minimize system maintenance and repair costs while prolonging its useful life? We highlight best practices and considerations in the “care and feeding” of your laser processing machine.

Posts adapted from "Stepping Up To Laser Processing for Flex ebook authored by Patrick Riechel, Director of Product Marketing at MKS Instruments.

About the Author

About the Author Patrick Riechel is Director of Product Marketing for Flexible Circuit Micromachining tools at MKS Instuments. He has over ten years of experience in the design and manufacture of electronics, having held positions at Symbol Technologies, Motorola Solutions and MKS. Patrick has an MBA degree and a Master of Science in Systems Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as well as a Bachelor of Science of Electrical Engineering from Brown University. As the inventor of seven patents and the catalyst for bringing industrial head-worn computing to Motorola, he was the recipient of the Robert Noyce Fellowship at MIT for his contributions to the field of electronics.