EIPC 50th Anniversary Conference Day 2: The Past, the Present and the Future, Pt. 1

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The sun was shining in Dusseldorf as delegates returned to the conference room for the second day of the EIPC 50th Anniversary Conference. There were very few empty chairs—even those who had enjoyed a late networking session in the hotel bar had taken their seats as Paul Waldner opened the proceedings with Session 5, on a theme of future PCB design, material and processes for the PCB supply chain.

1Paul_Waldner.jpgWaldner introduced Micha Perlman, senior marketing manager at Orbotech, to give a presentation on digital solutions for automotive PCB production. He commented that advances in automotive electronics presented a new driving experience, considering developments in connectivity, autonomous operation, safety, infotainment, comfort and environmental friendliness. Automotive data was growing rapidly, with cameras, sonar, GPS, radar and lidar. It was forecast that an autonomous vehicle would generate 4000 Gb of data per day, and connectivity via 5G was a 2Micha_Perlman.jpgfundamental enabler for the future for vehicle-to-infrastructure and vehicle-to-vehicle interaction. As a consequence, the large communications providers would be joining the automotive supply chain.

Automotive electronics would place new demands on the PCB industry: HDI was predicted to grow from zero to over 15% of the total HDI market by 2020, more complex multilayer boards would be required for engine control units, boards microwave and radio frequency radar would need SLP technology, high power systems would require heavy copper, and flex and flex-rigid harnesses would replace conventional wiring. And at all times, safety and reliability would remain the number 1 priority.

How did a leading supplier of imaging and inspection equipment respond to these requirements? Perlman described a whole range of digital solutions to meet the demands of the automotive industry: direct digital imaging, triple vision AOI with integrated 2D metrology, full production traceability, defect distribution visualisation, and a full suite of IoT and Industry 4.0 solutions for data tracking, big data analysis and data visibility.

3Gerd_Appelt.jpg“You already recognize the winner at the start—A supply chain without wastage.” Speaking from the position of a distributor with a 40-year history of supplying laminates, pre-pregs, foils and ancillary materials to the European PCB industry, Gerd Appelt, with responsibility for sales and technical service at Göttle GmbH, focused on customer satisfaction and optimisation of the supply chain.

With the rapid introduction of new products into the market, managers were always looking for opportunities, and making a wrong decision could be very costly. Appelt referred to a series of opportunities missed by bad decisions, notably Decca Records turning down the Beatles, Nokia missing the smartphone market, and Kodak trusting in film and not capitalising on the digital camera. Of the twelve companies in the original Dow Jones Index from 1896, only General Electric was left.

“90% of the potential of your supply chain is not active now!” he commented, and asked, “Are you working with the right partners? Size doesn‘t matter—potential does!” He remarked that Steve Jobs had been looking for HD video capability for the iPhone, and found the solution in a small German company. At the other end of the scale, the news headlines announced that Apple is moving on from Intel because Intel wasn’t moving anywhere!

Appelt advocated keeping time to market to a minimum, to be successful, and optimisation of supplier services and product quality. New applications needed tight cooperation along the whole supply chain and in the case of specialised laminates it was an advantage if the supplier could provide a range of material options. The Internet of Things was enabling Industry 4.0 and the world was moving towards Smart everything: smart city, smart energy, the connected car, smart agriculture, connected health, smart retail, smart supply chain and smart home. Industry 4.0 was already reality in the laminate manufacturing industry. And there was more to come in the future ... “Business is changing,” he said as he concluded with an example of a teddy bear that could tell bedtime stories.

4Jonathan_Weldon.jpgJonathan Weldon, principal investigator in DuPont’s Circuit and Industrial Technologies group, gave a scintillating presentation on flexible materials for 5G. He began by defining the market needs of 5G technology and asking the question “Where does flex fit in?”

The evolution of 5G technology was creating increased demand for high frequency circuit materials with low relative permittivity and loss tangent to achieve low latency, low loss and highest antenna gain, for applications including mobile handsets, base stations, smart devices, small cells and beam formers, and hybrid substrates. The critical frequencies were sub-6GHz, and the millimetre-wave frequencies 28GHz and 39GHz, and typical examples of the functional components required were digital-to-analogue and analogue-to-digital converters, filters, mixers and circulators, digital/analogue/hybrid beam formers, antenna feedlines and arrays. The important characteristics of materials for these functions were frequency and phase stability, loss performance and processability.

The use of flex material was still primarily driven by packaging needs, the separation of analogue, digital and antenna components, and the elimination of cables and connectors. Its electrical benefits were the absence of glass, and therefore of skew and phase issues, and its low permittivity and loss tangent.

Traditional all-polyimide-based flexible copper-clad laminates have been predominant in the flex circuit market but had been perceived as having some undesirable properties and limited performance at millimetre-wave frequencies. An alternative material was liquid crystal polymer LCP, which has very low moisture absorption and had been considered a better choice for high frequencies, but it has its limitations: its bulk material properties did not directly correlate to circuit performance and its mechanical properties could limit processability and yield.


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