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It’s been far too long since I’ve been at a live trade show, so I jumped on the chance to attend the IEEE International Microwave Symposium (IMS) show in Atlanta. It wasn’t a huge show this year, and there were no foreign attendees, but it felt like we were back in the saddle again.
At IMS, I ran into Anaya Vardya, CEO of American Standard Circuits, and asked him to give us an update on ASC’s new technologies.
Andy Shaughnessy: How’s it going, Anaya? Nice to see you in person.
Anaya Vardya: Good afternoon to you. It’s great to be here at our first in-person show in over a year. I think the last time we met in person was at the IPC APEX EXPO show in San Diego in February 2020.
Shaughnessy: It’s good to be at a live trade show. The virtual shows are not the same.
Vardya: Correct. We did a couple of the virtual shows. We weren’t really too thrilled with them. The good news is that the sponsors of IMS set it up as both an in-person event and then a virtual event in two weeks. We’re participating in both, but we were pleased that we were able to make some new contacts at the show and conduct some face-to-face business that I think has been lacking in a while. You can tell that a lot of people have Zoom fatigue and it’s great to finally get together and be able to see people face-to-face. I think people are pretty open here.
Shaughnessy: How much of your business is in the RF and microwave arena?
Vardya: I would say that about half our business roughly is in the RF microwave space. A lot of our mil-aerospace sector clearly is, a good portion of our communication businesses is in the RF sector. A pretty good chunk of our business has always been in the RF sector, especially the stuff that we’re building domestically in the U.S.
Shaughnessy: You were saying that you guys are doing some interesting stuff in HDI.
Vardya: Yes. One of the technologies that we had not developed as rapidly as a lot of other technologies at American Standard Circuits is our HDI technology. We’ve got multiple fronts right now that we’re working on. One of them is obviously working on just improving our HDI capabilities in general. We can certainly do staggered microvias, but we’re working on developing stacked microvias right now. We are pretty much done with that process; we’re at the tail end. We’re also partnered and are a licensee of Averatek’s A-SAP process that is going to give us the capability of being able to build one-mil lines and spaces, and maybe even smaller.
We’ve made some big investments in that area in the last year. It’s one thing to be able to build a board like that, but it’s even trickier because you must be able to inspect these boards. And electrical test is great, but when you’re building one-mil lines and spaces, we really need AOI.
We recently invested in AOI technology from Orbotech that gives us the capability to go down to 15 microns lines and spaces. We also have a piece of equipment that will help us with repairing shorts where you’re able to laser cut these shorts out. Clearly, when you’re at such tight lines and spaces, if you do have shorts, you’re not going to be able to cut it manually, as is pretty typical in the board business today. We’re invested in that technology. We also invested in process equipment and are really working with Averatek to develop the actual process.
We’re currently in the process of doing some reliability test boards. We are pretty far down that road. I think that’s just another development. The one other nice thing about the Averatek A-SAP processes is it clearly gives us the ability to build what we call biocompatible circuits. We’re able to build circuits with no copper in them. We’re talking about circuits that are built with gold and platinum that can penetrate the skin. I think there’s a lot of medical customers that are looking for those kinds of applications where copper cannot be inserted into somebody’s body.
Shaughnessy: Very interesting technology. And Averatek’s A-SAP process is additive, right?
Vardya: Yes. The A-SAP is semi-additive. You start out by eliminating all the copper on your dielectric material, then you put on a liquid metal ink on it, for lack of a better word. Then you can use that, and you can plate up.
Shaughnessy: And then the traces aren’t beveled in this process, right?
Vardya: That’s correct. You get nice straight edges. In addition to the A-SAP technology, we continue to improve from a RF microwave perspective. The complexity continues to increase. I think a lot of what’s going on is the via structures in the printed circuit boards are just getting more and more complex. The number of different kinds of materials that we’re able to mix together is also starting to increase. We recently did a 22-layer board for a customer with five lamination cycles. In addition, we had different kinds of back drilling that we had to do on various sublayers. Part of HDI is microvias, but the other part of it is really being able to do more sophisticated blind and buried vias coupled with back drilling. It’s a very complex structure, so we’re working on all of those fronts.
Shaughnessy: Well, it’s good seeing you again, Anaya. It looks like DesignCon, PCB West, SMTAI, and IPC APEX EXPO are all going to be live shows, so maybe we’ll see you on the road.
Vardya: I’m looking forward to being at in-person trade shows again. I think we all are. It’s been too long.
Shaughnessy: Thanks for talking with me.
Vardya: Thank you, Andy.
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The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Fundamentals of RF/ Microwave PCBs
The Printed Circuit Designer's Guide to... Flex and Rigid-Flex Fundamentals
The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to …Thermal Management: A Fabricator’s Perspective