MIVA Technologies’ Explosive Growth Shows no Signs of Slowing Down

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MIVA Technologies is a leading equipment builder for direct imaging technologies in the circuit board and microelectronics space. The company’s head of its business development group, Brendan Hogan, sat down for an interview to provide some background and where the company’s specialties lie.

Patty Goldman: Brendan, tell me a little bit about yourself and MIVA Technologies.

Brendan Hogan: My background is principally in business and product development with 30 years in the circuit board electronic manufacturing industry. I started out in machine design in 1983 and migrated to business development roles through the years, in 2004 I started Kuper Technologies in 2004 primarily as a consulting company. About eight years ago Miva Technologies, GmbH became a client and the relationship has grown out of mutual necessity. Kuper Technologies recently created an entity we call MivaTek Global to focus the development, distribution and support of leading circuit fabrication equipment. MivaTek Global now handles most of the global business development effort for Miva Technologies, GmbH and several other products. As a team Miva Technologies, GmbH and MivaTek Global have balanced market development and product development such that our DLP-LED imaging technologies have become a real force to be reckoned with out in the circuit fabrication world.

Goldman: Do you image primary and secondary resist, and solder mask?

Hogan: Yes, the core competence of the company deals with the ability to produce fine imaging using DLP-LED for all photopolymer applications. That core technology allows our system to image literally any resist application or solder mask. Literally all photoimageable materials work in our system regardless of application including PCB, microelectronics and chemical milling. We have the full range of market available to us. Our premise is that most of the chemistries were developed around the mercury vapor wavelengths and by simulating that profile, we get the widest process flexibility for the end user. For equipment in this segment, to extend the investment horizon, it must be flexible. Today's circuit fabricators don't know what they're going to build in three or four years, so the product must be agile and adapt as technology demands.

Goldman: Since it’s direct image, there's no phototool, correct?

Hogan: Direct imaging technologies are targeted at two main areas. One is to eliminate the cost and the use of a phototool. The other is to improve quality by using machine vision and digital imaging improve the registration of the image to the substrate. This is soft automation if you will, by putting the quality in the hands of a machine instead of an operator. That's where the real value comes in in direct imaging technologies. Our technology uses a DLP, which is a very common device in the world, and an LED as the light source, coupled together to produce that image in a stream of images that form the actual circuit at a far lower cost than traditional imaging or traditional direct imaging.

Goldman: I take it it's just as fast as mercury vapor? How does that work?

Hogan: The comparison to conventional flood exposure is more complicated than speed. There are capabilities that direct imaging has that are simply not possible with flood exposure. The Miva direct imaging system is scalable to the end user to configure a system to meet requirements but also has an upgrade path to evolve the systems throughput and capabilities. Our system can be as fast as any in the world for imaging, whether it's flood or laser-based solutions or other systems.

Goldman: How about resolution?

Hogan: Our systems range from the circuit board resolutions at 50-micron line and space, all the way to the 1-micron line and space in semiconductor applications. In our view, the circuit board and microelectronics market requirements overlap; our program provides both segments with excellent cost-effective solutions.

Goldman: I agree with that.

Hogan: We do chip-on-board technologies and production that are 12-micron line and space; it's commonplace for us. We are doing a great deal of product development within the microelectronics segment. Developing and mining the best practices of the microelectronics segment has yielded many improvements for our current circuit board customers.

Goldman: If someone buys a machine to do the two-mil line and space, and then they need to do one mil, can the existing machine be adapted?

Hogan: Yes, it is a completely adaptable machine. There are several segments of resolution that we go to. We can literally take the existing machine in the field and convert it to the resolution that they need for the next generation without the total capital outlay for a new machine. That’s what we mean by extending the investment time horizon.

Goldman: What does that involve?

Hogan: The light engine technology is adaptable. We can alter the optical set, or we can change out the entire light engine, depending on what the customer requirements are. It also depends a bit on what the application is and what the proper approach is for the given customer.

Goldman: If you had a board that was five mil line and space versus one that was two mil line and space, what is the speed of imaging for each?

Hogan: These applications would use the same resolution (50 micron) so they happen to be identical. The system throughput is not impacted by circuit density but is impacted by required resolution.

Goldman: I know primary photoresist generally images faster than a solder mask would. Could someone do both on the same machine? Is it a matter of pushing a button?

Hogan: Precisely. The operator doesn't have any set up involvement of any kind. For their purpose, doing an inner layer, and outer layer, solder mask, or legend ink for that matter, is nothing more than choosing the Gerber file and pushing start. Set-up is automatic. The energy requirements are different, and those are set up in a profile in the system in advance, but literally any resist or solder mask can be imaged in the same machine.

In the prototype markets of North America and Europe, for example, we have many customers where the imaging room might have one or two of our machines and they don't have to worry about scheduling their product for that machine or this machine, because whatever product is coming in, whatever they're working on now, they can image in either of the machines. This improves operational efficiency dramatically.

Goldman: That makes it very versatile. I'm sure that is very popular.

Hogan: The versatility opens possibilities. For example, most legend ink in use is done with inkjet. Legend ink is a very slow process in a direct imager, but when you have that technical need or that customer that must have that ability, you can win that customer because you have that ability. The technical flexibility of the Miva system allows users greater range in all other processes.

Goldman: Backing up a little, you mentioned before about some new things going on with the company.

Hogan: Throughout 2017, we became much more aggressive in our business development profile. As of January 1, 2017, I took over the global marketing and business development effort, and we've reorganized how we approach the market. Essentially, we have gone through the innovative phase, the "How do we do this?" stage. We've gone through the development phase, asking, "Okay, how do we do it in a way that the market needs and to be competitive in the world?" Now we're in the commercialization phase, where we're ramping up production and marketing efforts across the world. There's a time when it’s capabilities are prepared for the global market and it makes sense to compete outside of your core market.

Goldman: Your core markets were North America and Europe? And now you're expanding beyond?

Hogan: That's right. We're also expanding beyond conventional circuit board and conventional microelectronics. Lead frame, OLED displays, we have applications in a broad range of microelectronics applications. We’ve been invited into the CHIPS Consortium at UCLA Nano-technology Center. It's a very promising development effort with MIVA, Global Foundries, Google, Intel, and Apple, developing new methods to make semiconductors, and microelectronics devices; our technology is at the heart of that. It's very exciting.

Goldman: It's a feather in the cap?

Hogan: Naturally, we have been doing a lot of product development work in that segment with top tier companies. The immediate benefit is a series of significant enhancements to our systems in the PCB arena. In the long term, we are working toward commercialization of the technology within the microelectronics segment as well.

Goldman: I believe you said you can image both regular solder mask and direct imaging solder mask? Do people still use dry film solder mask?

Hogan: There are certain applications where a dry film is a better performer, but it's a very small segment of the market. We knew our technology had achieved commercialization when most of the solder mask companies have now developed a solder mask specifically for our wavelength distribution. They're much faster, much more capable. They work so hard to develop these products, they're now out there in the market and doing very, very well.

Goldman: They work very well with you and everybody's moving forward. That's great. Anything else that you want to talk about? I assume MIVA is growing this year?

Hogan: Yes, our relative sales in 2017 were more than double 2016. By the end of 2017 we had already booked almost as much for the first quarter of 2018 as we did for all of 2017. We anticipate that 2018 will be either double or triple again, year over year.

A big element of our reorganization effort—the reorganization was more about staffing and responsibilities than anything else—is that our German counterpart is focused on how to scale production and developing the next generation technologies. We have several new versions of the product: a large format design, a dual tray design, and reel-to-reel direct imaging all coming out in February. The added focus on organization has accelerated our position in the market considerably.

Goldman: Where is your manufacturing?

Hogan: Just outside of Stuttgart, Germany. We have a great team of people on our manufacturing side. The organizations work well together. On the business development side, we've major efforts in expanding our technical support and sales engineering staffs.

Goldman: That's a lot of ramp-up for a year. Double one year, and triple perhaps the next year.

Hogan: That's right. It's a big task. They're working some major hours in Stuttgart. It’s amazing what they've been able to achieve; it's not a case of just ramping up and pushing machines out the door. These are very complex pieces of equipment, and we have very high quality. Our tech team that does the installations, and the QC team are heavily meshed, so when the product leaves we know it's going to work for that application.

Goldman: That's so important.

Hogan: Yes, and it's more than just the notion of quality. It is really understanding what the customer need is when the machine gets there. On the business development side, one of our big assets is we've thought through what the customer experience is, and I don't mean just trying to sell the machine, but what happens in that gap of a couple months after the PO and when the machine comes in. It is a major driver for the success of the product to that customer. We've developed a very sophisticated pre-installation program, so the customer is well-trained, well prepared before the product ever gets there. It's increased our customer satisfaction dramatically. We have an opportunity to get the customer's attention. Once the product gets there, they're all so busy trying to put it to work.

Goldman: You want them to not form any preconceived notions, so you just get all the right information in there to start with.

Hogan: It's a lot easier for the customer to start thinking about how they're going to apply the product around the water cooler than it is when they've got to get that job out in 24 hours and they’re trying to figure it out. The fog of battle when they're trying to use the machine after it's in is not the time to be thinking about how to solve manufacturing problems. We become consultants and we dig in and really invest ourselves in the customer at that point. That's really led to a lot of brand loyalty and customer referrals.

Goldman: That's great. Brendan, thank you so much for your time.


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