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I recently caught up with my old friend Meir Polack, co-owner with Rony Hod of Artnet Pro, which is a high-tech equipment sales and service company with offices in the U.S., China, and South America. We discussed a new line of direct imaging equipment called Altix (also the name of the company). Since working with one of the direct imaging manufacturers a few years ago, I have become fascinated with what I think is the true game-changing technology of the past 25 years. Thus, I am always interested when a new company (new to me, that is) comes up. Besides, it’s always fun to talk with Meir and hear his global perspective on the PCB industry. I am sure you will agree.
Dan Beaulieu: Good to see you again, Meir, especially since you have a new line to talk about. First, can you tell me about Altix?
Meir Polack: It’s good to see you as well. Altix is a well-established and dynamic company with a solid imaging product line in the market. It’s a great fit to the Artnet Pro way of doing business—flexibility to make fast decisions and implement them on the field. Management from Altix understand the market needs of today. Accordingly, they try to provide customers with the best technology available in the market at a reasonable price for service and support. I believe that this kind of cooperation between our companies will be a win-win situation for our customers and us.
Beaulieu: Why are you so excited about their new revolutionary Altix DI Adix-SA machine?
Polack: The Altix DI Adix-SA is a great product for our market with a renovated user interface and DMD LED UV light source, which is gradually replacing the older laser technology. In my opinion, the market is starving for new products that will be more affordable to buy and to maintain. Until two years ago, Orbotech’s LDI was the dominant machine in the market.
And since there was no real competition, prices to buy and maintain those machines were very high, being almost prohibitive for your normal-sized PCB shop. Today, we can announce proudly that the Altix DI is a product that can compete with Orbotech LDI in all aspects—stability, performance, price, and maintenance.
Beaulieu: I know that your team has done an extensive search to find the best direct imaging equipment possible to bring to your customer base. Why did you decide on Altix DI equipment?
Polack: During the long years of servicing Artnet customers, the market has always been looking to give the best possible service and solution at the best price without compromising the quality and level of services we could provide. We feel that we have finally found this with the Altix equipment. We have always believed that the best-selling point is to believe in the product you are selling and supporting. And for that reason, we chose to support only the Orbotech products, until now. For the longest time, they were the best. But now, we believe that the Altix DI is the ideal machine to add to the line of products we sell and service. We believe that this is the best value in DI equipment on the market today.
Beaulieu: Will you still support your customers who have Orbotech equipment?
Polack: Absolutely. Artnet will keep supporting our current customers who have Orbotech equipment. Additionally, we will keep selling second-hand Orbotech equipment, but we have now added Altix products for customers who want to buy new machines and have special demands for such technology. For those customers, we believe that the Altix DI is the right product that can challenge the Orbotech LDI products regarding performance and quality, and beat them when it comes to price and service. I can look in my customer’s eyes and tell them that this is truly the next generation product for their shops.
Beaulieu: Can you describe some of the equipment’s features?
Polack: The Altix Adix-SA model can do any color of solder mask materials, innerlayers and outer layers, and LPI. The machine is also great for processing flex and rigid-flex PCBs because of a unique clamp mechanism on the table in addition to a standard vacuum table. The printing heads are sealed and protected from dust and fumes and are further protected because they are seated in a closed box with an internal environment condition right inside the machine, which leads to better stability and a longer life expectancy of the print heads. Each print head has a four-wavelength LED light source of 365, 380, 395, and 405 nm. This feature provides the ability for this machine to work sufficiently with almost any material currently `on the market. Adix-SA has a great human interface with much of the detailed information needed during the imaging process. The machine application is easy to learn. Additionally, machine accuracy and performances equal the Orbotech LDI and are better in some areas.
Beaulieu: Is there more than one model available from Altix?
Polack: Yes, there are currently several models. The Adix SA is a semi-automatic version where the operator loads the panel. Then, there are Adix PT/PTF (pass through/pass through flip) and CS/F (compact standardized/flip) integrated automation for medium- and high-volume production. Automation is either standardized or customized. Finally, Adix RtR (roll-to-roll) is dedicated to high-volume web production.
Beaulieu: So far, you have talked about how the machine rates against Orbotech. How is it better than other machines in its field?
Polack: Looking at other products in the market, and comparing to Adix, you can clearly see that this product was designed very carefully with a lot of investigation of the market demands. The Adix SA has it all under one hood; you don’t need two or three models to do the job for you. You do not have to worry if the demand during the work day is first innerlayers, outer layers, solder mask, or LPI. One machine can do it all with the best stability and quality in its class. Most of the products available on the market can be used for innerlayers and outer layers or solder mask and LPI. With the flexibility of this machine, you can build rigid, rigid-flex, or flex boards, and use this machine for any purpose you need at any given time during your process.
Beaulieu: What makes it outstanding?
Polack: There are a number of things that put it head and shoulders over the competition. First, the Adix has a unique design for the table with an adjustable vacuum and an automated clamping system that provides outstanding results in terms of registration and resolution. Then, the machine has fixed photo heads that ensure much greater stability over time in terms of quality of panels and maintenance. Our competitors have moveable heads that will cost more for maintenance and calibration, and the lifetime of the heads will be reduced, which will add tremendously to the cost of ownership to the customer.
Moreover, this machine is self-contained, so there is no chiller or other components outside that contaminates the cleanroom. All of our competitors require extra space around the machine. Finally, the interface is very user-friendly for operators. The HMI integrates different languages such as English, Spanish, Chinese, and many others that can speed up the learning curve.
Beaulieu: You said that it has the best-in-class registration. Can you elaborate on that?
Polack: This machine has a one-of-a-kind registration system and proof results on site for best registration top to bottom and image to panel with a very accurate table stage movement together with high-definition cameras to detect the targets on your panels. The print heads also have very high tolerances of image positioning on the table. Side-to-side accuracy is ±12 µm (0.5 mils), and image panel registration is ±8 µm (0.3 mils).
Beaulieu: And you said it could handle flex and rigid-flex as well?
Polack: Beside the unique clamping and vacuum system I talked about earlier, the dynamic autofocus range on the Adix-SA is 8 mm (±0.3 inches), and the depth of focus is 200 µm (8 mils), which helps with the uniformity of image quality on the flex material’s flatness issues.
Beaulieu: What exactly is real-time scaling and positioning?
Polack: Real-time scaling and positioning mean that the scaling calculation and positioning of the image are done during the imaging process based on target location comparison between the CCD system on the machine and the actual digital data.
Beaulieu: How big is the footprint, and how much space does it require?
Polack: Due to the structure to achieve the best accuracy, the machine is built on a granite table. Also, table movement is on a linear stage to achieve the accuracy needed to be the best of its class, which demands a larger footprint than some of the other competitors in the market. Comparing the Adix SA to its main competitor, it is smaller than the latest Orbotech platforms (6’ x 9’ x 6.5’).