Meyer Burger on Inkjet Technology and Digital Printing Benefits


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MeyerBurger-Machine2.jpgFigure 2: PiXDRO JETx printer for printed electronics.

Matties: There has to be a cross over point where people say, “This makes sense for us across the board.” Where do you see that happening? What’s the impetus for that?

Veri: I see the crossover where our customers are looking for the unique advantages of digital printing to solve problems they have on their shop floor. In today’s process, you create a Gerber file with your printed image you want to print on a circuit board, you create artwork, and you have to physically store this artwork. As that product is reordered periodically, you have the pull that artwork out. If it’s still usable, you reuse it, and if not, you have to remake it. With a digital file, it’s always kept digitally; there’s no storage other than on your hard drive or in the cloud. You download it to the machine, call up the recipe, and start printing. The setup time, and subsequently, the throughput time to print, is shortened considerably compared to traditional processes.

It’s that convergence where clients are trying to solve these problems. They have limitations on floor space, but they want to grow their business, so they look for a different product scope to support the application, such as a solder mask ink onto a circuit board rather than with a traditional process. If they have to expand with a traditional process, they’re going to spend two to three times more equipment and capex versus what our tool is priced at, so there’s a lot of value there.

Matties: As we move into the era of smart factories, we’re starting to see that in circuit board manufacturing, this technology lends itself very well to digital factories because it’s clean and easy manufacturing of the future. You press a button and build a board rather than going through all of these other steps.

Veri: Or you can control it remotely. Some shops are of that level of sophistication; other shops send the image down to the printer, and the operator pulls it up automatically—the next image with the recipe—and initiates the cycle.

Matties: When we look at all the advantages on the fabrication side, there are many weighty ones as well. What convinces an OEM to go ahead and approve this process? Because that’s really the deciding factor.

Veri: There must be a physical demonstration of the capability of the machine and process. These are tests that boards, as they are produced today, go through every day as a course of manufacturing. We have to pass those tests, which can take time because of the duration of the test and the number of devices, boards, or SKUs. That’s one aspect of it, and the second is machine reliability.

Matties: Let me just play this thought out for a moment. The OEM doesn’t care about machine reliability because they either get their board on time or they don’t, and if they don’t, they find a supplier that can, so that’s a fabrication issue. What I’m hearing is the deciding factor isn’t the process; it’s the material.

Veri: That might be true in some aspects of the market, but depending on how integrated the OEM is into their board shop when there’s a change in process, some companies require a change of process—not only ink but equipment. The company will require an audit and a demonstration of the feasibility of the technology.

Matties: But again, that’s only triggered if there’s an end benefit to that OEM.

Veri: Normally, the device performance shouldn’t be impacted by this ink.

Matties: I get that. What strikes me is I’m a big fan of this technology, and I think it should be adopted at an accelerated pace. I see all of the benefits that you’re mentioning, but I see one big roadblock—no motivation is tangible for the end user to come in and do all of those audits because their boards are coming acceptably to them now.

Veri: That’s true today. The real motivation is from the circuit board fabricators. That’s where the pull is.

Matties: And their roadblock is the OEM is not going to approve it.

Veri: That could be. There’s a dynamic there that the fabricators have to manage.

Matties: Definitely. That’s the zone that has my attention. If we come in and say we’re going to eliminate 30% of your cost in this process, for example, do we pass that on to the OEM? That would be an expectation.

Veri: It depends. In the market, you’ll always have that need to be cost competitive or create a cost advantage and manage that as long as you can; that’s definitely something that circuit board fabricators will have to overcome.

Matties: And they’re also gaining in some cycle time advantage as well. If this decision or value zone is the barrier, what role does Meyer Burger play in helping OEMs understand and approve this technology at an accelerated rate? In many cases, that’s the decision point for your equipment.

Veri: Once we start working with the circuit board shop, at a certain level of the conversation, the OEM will come into the conversation. At that point, you’re talking about how the board or product performs and also how it looks because there’s a certain cosmetic expectation as well. Then, we have to support the circuit board shop, in this case, with physical demonstrations of product capability and performance, which can take weeks or months.

Matties: And you’d check those boxes on your process, cosmetic, and product performance, but those aren’t the issue.

Veri: The cosmetic portion is different because it is an issue. Current inkjetable circuit board inks have a different look and feel; they’re glossy, and most circuit boards produced today are matte finished. We can create different levels of gloss, such as semigloss, but creating a matte finish is something that the ink suppliers haven’t developed to date.

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