Reading time ( words)
I recently spoke with the Pacothane Technologies team about the current drivers of circuit board technology and how that has influenced and increased their product development of lamination and lamination assist products.
Nolan Johnson: Let’s start with introductions. Who do we have with us today?
Edward Alois: I’m president and owner of the company.
Paul Dahl: I’m the VP of sales and marketing.
Lahcen Khiyaty: I’m the product development and technical service manager for Pacothane.
Johnson: Tell us more about Pacothane.
Alois: Pacothane Technologies’ core business has been in supplying products for lamination and laminate assist products. We started in 1982, and we have an array of products for all needs of the lamination process. We have some new, exciting products that we’ve recently launched. We sell these products worldwide—in North America, Europe, and Asia. Our core business is dedicated to PCBs and lamination requirements. Our company’s position since the early 1980s has been as one of the leading pioneers and inventors of products specifically designed and manufactured for the PCB industry, specifically the lamination department and all types of lamination. I started working for the company in 2000, and in 2017, I purchased the company from Martin Wilheim.
Our approach to the business is working through distribution. We have very longstanding relationships, in most cases, 30+ years with our distributors. They’re full-service stocking distributors and offer technical support just-in-time inventory. We typically work with customers on either new boards, new designs, or problem solving. By developing products that are geared toward specific customer requirements and problem solving, they add value by increasing productivity, decreasing yield loss, and allowing them to develop higher technology circuit boards.
I think it’s important to emphasize that we have strong relationships with distributors. They have many years of technical experience and knowledge, and a lot of our customers utilize our distributors for their knowledge and expertise. In the circuit board industry, technology is expanding at extremely high rates. Boards are becoming more sophisticated than they’ve ever been, and they require high-tech lamination assist products such as ours.
Dahl: I would add, and it’s kind of a cliché, but we are a one-stop shop, and worldwide we’re known for the quality of the product that we produce.
Alois: Yes, we’re known for being very consistent, high quality, and predictable.
Johnson: Keeping with that theme, walk me through what the lamination products do.
Khiyaty: For flex and rigid-flex lamination, our release films provide conformal and consistent results, resulting in higher quality and improved yield. In the PCB manufacturing processes, post image, etch and strip of inner layers, the lamination process takes place to laminate these layers to a multilayer PCB. In the rigid-flex, we recommend the use of our PACOPLUS™ and PACOPAD™ to benefit from the conformability of the film and the pressure distribution of the pad. This allows the film to conform to the circuitry to avoid any air entrapment which causes delamination. The lamination process parameters can vary with material used, for example, parameters can be 400°F, 350 to 400 PSI. The HT 1500, for example, is to protect the outer layer of this circuit board from any damaged steel plate and from any oozing out of the adhesive to the steel plate. For the multilayer lamination process, we also have other conformal release film such as PACO-CLUTCH™ that can help with inner layer registration and wrinkle issues on the outer layer.
Dahl: Over the years, we’ve developed new products as the market has changed. We probably have 12–15 different products that are used in the manufacturing of PCBs, rigid and flex, and we continue to develop new products.
Alois: In essence, we don’t really have a simple product because it’s specifically designed for PCBs. We have release film, cushioning, and heat lag pads, and a full line of products for conformability, whether it is rigid, flex, or rigid-flex. We also have products designed for smart cards for the security industry, and they come in many surfaces and many degrees of conformability, depending on how intricate or topographical a circuit board may be. In essence, we have a full line of products designed specifically for each type of lamination and each type of board. Most recently, we’ve developed a line of high-temperature products for high-temperature lamination.
Johnson: You are in an underrepresented niche in the industry. There’s a lot of thought amongst designers—and the fabrication segment for that matter—that lamination is lamination. But a look at your product set says that isn’t true at all. What are some of the industry drivers causing the need for all these different, more specialized products?
Alois: I think there are a few market drivers. For one, circuit boards get smaller and more compact, meaning they want to do more things with smaller boards, more layers of boards, more intricate boards, and also high-temperature applications.
Khiyaty: As Edward stated, the industry or the technology’s narrowing—like smaller line width and smaller space and more sophisticated PCB where you need more conformal—more Z-axis and low shrinkage of the X and Y directions. That’s where products can fit. It’s more technology-driven.
Johnson: That points to particular industry applications too. For example, automotive seems to be a big driver in PCBs, medical devices as well—wearables in particular. With higher speeds, everything’s become RF now. How does that affect your product development?
Khiyaty: It affects our product development by inspiring us to develop new products that can be used with current and future technology changes. For example, one issue which we have developed a solution for is the movement and registration of the inner layers inside, where our product helps and assists with better registration and less X and Y movement. Using our release film helps with having more circuits up in the panel which results in more output with better yield. (See Figure 1.)
Johnson: How do you do that?
Dahl: For example, we have a new product that we recently developed called PACO-CLUTCH™ that went to the marketplace a year or two ago, but there is more demand for registration when you’re putting all these layers together—the less movement, the better.
Johnson: Do you see a need to accelerate your R&D efforts?
Alois: Yes. Thus, we’ve developed more products in the last four or five years than we’d developed in the previous 10 years: high-temperature pads, high-temperature release film, high-temperature conformability films, and conformable films in generals. These are all products that we’ve developed in the last five years based on working closely with customers. And we manufacture all of our own products in-house, which is important. We’re also ISO certified.
Dahl: Just adding to what you’ve said, Ed, I always use the one-stop-shop term for our distributors as well as our customers in this marketplace.
Johnson: It seems like you’re following along a very similar arc to what we see in materials in general, more specialization and new materials for specific applications. The products you’re developing would make sense. Smaller dimensions require much more precise placement. What used to be tolerable misalignments are now a yield issue. What’s the dynamic between you, your distributors with whom you have a longstanding relationship, and end-user customers? How do you get that information?
Alois: It typically starts with our distributors working extremely closely with our customers, and then it will get to us, and we’ll get involved with technical seminars. We’ve done technical seminars with our distributors to bring them up to speed on our products, as well as going the next step and actually having technical seminars in person, or now with COVID-19, it’s via Zoom or whatever else. We will deal directly with the customer with our distributor, and that’s how we develop products.
Johnson: And then with the products developed, there is some testing and interaction with an OEM to give you feedback.
Alois: Right. It wouldn’t be the OEM; it would be the board shop making the board, like TTM or those types of companies.
Johnson: Interesting. Do you talk to OEMs specifically about what their needs are?
Alois: Our distributors do that. You would get that from a company like Insulectro, where they’re dealing more and more with OEMs. We’re kind of the second tier down, dealing with the actual manufacturer of the circuit board.
Johnson: It sounds to me like this dynamic is working. What would be your recommendation to a fabricator or an OEM working closely with a fabricator? How should they make their voices heard if they’re having issues with lamination?
Alois: A good start is to view our website, which details our products and general recommendations. Ultimately, come to our distributor or us; that’s where it becomes a fine line. We don’t have a problem with that, and we have good relationships. Some of our customers see us online and will get ahold of us, but this is where it gets a little tricky. It’s always good to get the distributor involved because they’re the first line of defense. They have the boots on the ground, and we collaborate together. We have products that some OEMs spec in Pacothane, and that can be dicey. But it is important to deal in the infancy of designing a board with the OEMs on what products they can use.
We have many case studies where we get involved with a customer—we call it an audit—where we go in and find out what they’re doing, what they’re using, and many times we have recommendations that allow them to cut their costs, improve their throughput and yield loss.
Johnson: Can you share an example or two?
Khiyaty: Recently, we received an inquiry from one of the customers that reported that they were having issue with voids and delamination of their multilayer. This customer shared with us the lay-up they were using, as we’ve always encouraged our customers to do, this way we look at the problem from all angles and come up with suitable lay-up and material to use to resolve the issue first and ultimately provide the customer a cost saving. In this case we were able to give a lay-up and material that fit their product plus minimizing cost. Results were very good, and the customer was able to increase efficiency and yield.
Alois: We have customers that use craft paper. Lahcen can expand on that.
Khiyaty: They use craft paper, and it’s a hard surface. They rely on the pressure to drive their film to overcome any solder straw or air entrapment within the circuit. We recommend the PACOPAD, which is our 0.055-pad with better compression and heat lag, which gives you an even distribution of pressure within your platform. We also recommend a release film in the conformal aspect. They were using some of the shrinkage film that as the lamination plates gets cooler after the press, you shrink in the circuitry within your circuit. We gave them a product, PACOPLUS, that gives them an even distribution of the Z-axis and very low shrinkage on X and Y.
Figures 1: Example of using PACOPAD to ensure better pressure distribution.
An example of the PACO-CLUTCH is they use the traditional clutch, which is a two-release film, and you have a prepreg sandwiched between these two release films to take the movement from the inside of the circuitry to the outside. We found that using this traditional clutch is unprotected. They can’t move X and Y in too many different directions that the movements can happen inside. We developed it to be used by itself without any other release film or prepregs, and we minimize the movement by 20–30% movement. This means that it allows them to go back, and it doesn’t have to go back and rescale your inner layers outward. It allows them when they go to the drilling of the multilayer board to drill without having drill zone programs, increasing their productivity and decreasing their scrap.
Johnson: That removes manufacturing steps. Did I hear that right?
Khiyaty: Yes, it minimize the lay-up time, in the old way an operator would have to put release film, then one or two sheets of prepreg, then and another sheet of release film, using our product you will have to use one sheet of release film. when you have very minimum movement from layer to layer, this helps with registration and allows them to speed up their process in the drilling. When you have much less movement, you can drill a one-to-one ratio because of the less movement from layer to layer, which results in an increase of productivity in the drilling process and increase in yield. As a result of this less time spent on re-scaling, it saves you time and money.
Johnson: And that drops to the bottom line for the fabricator.
Alois: The bottom line is creating value for our customers.
Dahl: Absolutely. I think it goes back to our customers who will come with a need, for the most part, mostly through our distribution. Our distribution is seeing our major customers multiple times a week, and they will hear a certain need which they’ll bring to us to develop. Those developments quite often go along these lines: How do we reduce costs? How do we make these boards better and less costly?
Khiyaty: We can probably go to this example. What we have developed recently is the PACO Quick Press product. It eliminates your time, or if you have just one or two press machines, your productivity is getting more than that. With this product, you do a two-minute press for tack cure of your adhesive, and you take your panels and final cure it in the oven.
Alois: Yes, that’s a new technology, and that’s a good example where we’ve developed our product to allow them to run their quick press. All of our products are very customer- and technology-driven.
Johnson: What do you see on the horizon in the next few years?
Alois: I’ve been talking about high-temperature for a few years, but it’s coming and coming. As new lamination products become available, they require higher temperatures to cure them. That’s why we developed a high-temperature release film and a high-temperature pad for those applications. Boards are being demanded to perform at higher temperatures, technologies, and frequencies.
Johnson: Are there other things that might be on the horizon for you?
Dahl: That’s definitely the most talked about right now. Again, I believe we’re at the infancy stage with this. We’ve talked to you about PACO-CLUTCH, and that’s really starting to get momentum.
Alois: It’s two-fold. One, how we can add value to our customers on existing technology, which I think we do a really good job at. At the same time, we’re keeping up with the technology for conformable and high-temperature applications. I think flex is probably the fastest growing market right now, and that requires a lot more conformable products.
Johnson: Flex is a different animal than rigid. Do you see the same sorts of demands and market drivers on flex as you are on rigid products such as high-temp?
Khiyaty: We see more demand on the flex, on the high-temperature applications where there’s a need to go even higher than a 650–700°F product. For example, in the DuPont HT products, there’s a need for flex high-temp.
Alois: We also work with DuPont to develop products for some of their HT products and with manufacturers of presses as they develop high-temperature presses, and they have customers come in to test their products on those high-temperature applications. We work with press manufacturers to supply them with our high-temperature samples so that when they run these trials on their new high-temperature presses, they have release, conformal, and heat-lagging products, conformal pads that will withstand those temperatures. We try to work on all fronts.
Johnson: Thanks. This has been great information.