Meyer Burger on Inkjet Technology and Digital Printing Benefits


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Don Veri, sales and business development manager for Meyer Burger, discusses some of the challenges fabricators face in adopting inkjet technology, the benefits they can expect once it’s deployed in their facility, and the advantages of digital printing in solving problems on the shop floor.

Barry Matties: First, can you tell us a little bit about Meyer Burger?

Don Veri: Meyer Burger is a publicly traded company out of Thun, Switzerland, which is just south of Bern. The company was founded in 1953 principally on building slicing equipment and machinery for the Swiss watch industry. Through the years, we migrated into building machine tools for slicing solar-grade silicon for the photovoltaics market. Through a series of acquisitions and the company’s growth, they’ve acquired beyond machine cutting/slicing tools, vacuum deposition tools, and in this case, as we’re discussing today, industrial inkjet printing technology and equipment.

Matties: When you talk about Swiss watches, it just screams precision, and that’s certainly something that you carry through all your products, I would imagine.

Veri: That’s certainly true and for inkjet printing and additive deposition; since it’s a digital process, precision and patterning is very important and one of the primary differentiators of additive inkjet deposition technology as compared to alternate technologies. In contrast to the precision and patterning feature, additive inkjet deposition is widely used for area printing applications. We see a large range of versatility of inkjet technology versus other competing technologies.

Matties: Can you also talk a little bit about your process?

Veri: We have a couple of product offerings from our inkjet printing division located in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. We have a research system called the LP50 and a production series of equipment called JETx. The LP50 is a ubiquitous, wide-ranging tool that supports a variety of different applications and materials. Meanwhile, the JETx machines are built for specific applications and materials for printing semiconductor wafers, solar cells, PCBs, and flexible electronics substrates. The JETx product line machines are designed with specific printhead systems, which enable a client to produce at a high volume and a predefined cost of ownership projection based on material and application.

MeyerBurger-Machine1.jpg

Figure 1: Meyer Burger's inkjet printer is suitable for flex circuits.

Matties: This is in the circuit board realm—a technology that’s just recently making its way into the manufacturing process. What’s the greatest challenge for fabricators to bring this into their process?

Veri: You’re right. Printing solder mask inks onto PCBs isn’t new, but the current technology can be considered state-of-the-art; it’s much more advanced than it was three or four years ago. The challenge for a manufacturer to bring the material and equipment into their manufacturing process is their ability to create comparable images at a better and more efficient cost point versus the established process of record, which are long established. Being able to document and deposit these solder mask inks onto a variety of circuit boards, including shapes and sizes, and at a micro level is very important. The micro sizes of the images you have to print and the features you have to cover can largely vary. So, a circuit board producer might have 2,000–3,000 SKUs, but qualifying one solder mask SKU doesn’t mean you qualify for the other 1,000 or 2,000. There’s a broad range of qualification steps that you must go through, and it’s time-consuming. Our challenge is to work through that process with our customers to get qualified.

Matties: And what’s their motivation to do it? If there’s proven process of record and OEM acceptance, OEMs are often the ones who will specify. These are challenges that would not necessarily put it high on their priority list unless there’s a particular challenge that they need to meet to maybe close the sale.

Veri: In many circuit board factories, the market can be broken down for large-volume board shops versus small-volume board shops, meaning board orders that might be 1,000, 2,000, or 3,000 in quantity versus five, 10, or 15. Thus, we have to differentiate in terms of our targeted customer. Then, we differentiate by the level of complexity and the size of features they want to print. Once we can find those specific board shops in the market that fit within the printing capability of these printers, then we find that we can print smaller features faster and do it at lower costs because we eliminate three different process steps. We eliminate three pieces of equipment, floor space, the creation of the artwork, and the storage requirement for all images. At the same time, maintaining a faster throughput, for example, gives clients a better economic advantage versus others that might not have this technology deployed in their facility.

Matties: When we talk about mass production, speed is always a big issue in jet printing. And when you get into places like Asia where there’s a whole different level of mass production, are you saying that this equipment is well suited for that as well?

Veri: What we see in terms of speed and throughput is they are always specific to the product type and the material you’re depositing. In the semiconductor market where you’re printing wafers—very high value—it’s quite different versus printing solar cells or circuit boards. For a six-by-six-inch solar cell, we can print thousands per hour, and on an 8-inch or a 12-inch semiconductor wafer, we can print dozens per hour, so it’s a different dynamic, but it’s still very economical relative to that industry’s need. For circuit boards, it’s all about sides per hour, so you have to print multiple sides of a board, and we quantify our throughput in terms of printing approximately 60 sides per hour, depending on the complexity of the printed image/circuit topography that we have to encapsulate.

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