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Once driven by hardware, the controller industry for PCB drilling is now one being driven primarily by software, so says Holger Dornau, of SIEB & MEYER. Barry Matties sat down with Holger at the CPCA show in Shanghai to discuss CNC drilling and routing machine controllers and why It's becoming more and more important for fabricators to consider.
Barry Matties: First, why don't you just start by telling us a little bit about what your company does.
Holger Dornau: SIEB & MEYER was founded in 1962 by two engineers, Reinhard Sieb and Johannes Meyer. It started with special electronics and had nothing to do with the PCB at first. In '73, we started the first NC controller for drilling machines. We have been in this market for more than 40 years and gained a lot of application experience. Today, we have 220 people in Lüneburg, Germany, and we have two subsidiaries, one in Shenzhen, China, and one in Taiwan. Our major business is CNC controllers for PCB drilling and routing machines worldwide. Number two is having a lot of drive electronics for many applications, for special requirements that require high speed and high precision. This means, for example, converters for high-speed spindles for milling machines, grinding machines.
Matties: It sounds like your customers are the OEMs of the drill machines?
Matties: How does this benefit you by being in a show like this?
Dornau: General experience from many years, whether it be here or other shows in Asia, for us, it's a contact platform and having meetings with our customers, the drilling and router OEMs. Sometimes, especially at this show, we have the chance also to find the smaller, local machine makers. And there, we have already had some success. We have a handful of customers in this market segment now using our controls. But the major customers are the bigger ones, mostly coming from the machine maker field or from others.
Matties: The board fabricators are never your direct customer?
Dornau: Not normally. Sometimes we go together with our OEM customers to their end customers, to the board makers in order to better understand the application, the end customer's needs, and technology trends.
Matties: In terms of the controller itself, what would make one controller better than the other?
Dornau: It's always a combination, of machine and controller, and precision and performance. That's what we have to compare. Occasionally we have the chance to take the same machine, take our controller, and take a competitor's controller to make a real comparison.
Matties: So once a controller is in, is there an opportunity for a fabricator to come in and say I want to change my controller? Is that ever a situation that occurs?
Dornau: I've never heard of a fabricator asking for a change of controller. From our experience, the operators are used to handling the major controller makers, which are Hitachi, Schmoll, and SIEB & MEYER. And they are fine with this. Of course, there are differences in operating these systems, but I have never heard of changing the controller.
Matties: Would there be any advantage to changing? Any practical advantage?
Dornau: I would say no; technology-wise, the market leaders are close in their performance and their functionality, so there is no need to do so. I'm talking about the market leaders.
Matties: When somebody is looking at buying a drill, how important is that control function to the purchase of a drill?
Dornau: It's becoming more and more important. Regarding functionality and operation and how it can be operated. So many large PCB makers are asking for a SIEB & MEYER controller because they already have 300-400 machines, for example, so they are very used to our controllers and they have had good experiences with them. There is no interruption of the production and now, especially in China, we are finding that customers are requesting more and more very high-end applications. In this hall, for example, we can see many famous makers from China; they make really high-end boards—50 layers, 100 layers, etc. We are focused to develop new software functions for this very important market.
Matties: So the end customers are making special requests to have a machine with your controller?
Dornau: Yes, more and more.
Matties: How do they even know that they should be asking for your controller?
Dornau: This is sometimes the problem because we have no direct contact with them. They are customers of our customers. But we try to convince our customers, which are the machine makers, to bring us into the discussions for this. We ask them to take us in at the beginning of specifying the technic al discussion with the customer regarding the machine.
Matties: In terms of the controller, that's the movement and the function of the machine. Are there any data analytics that you're capturing through your system that is then communicated to the fabricator for process improvement?
Dornau: We have an interface on our controller providing a lot of data from the machine and from the processing side. Now we've developed a very stable, high performing connection to a system which we call the SIEB & MEYER Linemanager. This is a system collecting data on a database and showing it with a GUI, which means the status of the machine, jobs list, tools, historical and actual data, which can be provided.
Matties: And with this data is there, for example, the ability to predict maintenance concerns prior to a breakdown?
Dornau: This is something we are working on, but it is not 100% ready yet. We also provide open interfaces like OPC UA, and API. If customers decided not to use our interface to display the data, they can do it by themselves.
Matties: So they could bring it into whatever house that they want to view it in?
Dornau: Correct. They can connect it for example to their EMS system.
Matties: Do the machines talk to each other? Can you network the machines?
Dornau: At the moment, no. Usually in a drill shop, you have not only SIEB & MEYER controllers, though it would be nice if it were so, but usually, realistically, it's a mix of SIEB & MEYERs, Schmolls, Hitachis, etc. This communication I personally feel could be coming, but is not realized yet.
Matties: In terms of when you're working with the different manufacturers, they use different spindles, different configurations. Is your software tuned specifically for that machine, or is it a package that they just plug and play?
Dornau: Our controller is a package, which can control most of the machines on the market—I would say nearly 100% different kinds of mechanics and spindle types. What we have is a program part in our controller where you adapt the controller to the specific machine. You put in a special parameter set, because the controller has to know which kind of machine is behind it. Also, we have a software part, which is called scripts, where you can put in some specific application software, like a special tool change.
Matties: Why don't the drill companies have their own controller interface software? Why would they need a third party? It seems to me that they would want to have total control over their product that way and develop their own.
Dornau: It's very complex. You should know that we have about 25 software engineers in Lüneburg working all day on the software so it's very complex. When I started my job at SIEB & MEYER 24 years ago, performance was mostly hardware-driven. Now it's almost totally software-driven. The
advantage and the key to success today is software.
Matties: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel like we should share with the industry?
Dornau: We are now focusing on these Linemanager items. As we discussed, machines must communicate with each other. We must supply correct data and a fast response to other service systems because this is the key to the fully automated PCB factory in the future. If you don't have this data, it will be a big problem. This is what we are working on very diligently.
Matties: Good. I appreciate your time today. Thank you.
Dornau: Thank you very much.