Dr. Luca Gautero, product manager at SÜSS MicroTec, discusses marketing strategies for inkjet printing of solder mask, and explains how collaborative development along the supply chain has introduced new options for the designer and demonstrated the real benefits of this technology to the OEM.
Pete Starkey: Speaking with Dr. Luca Gautero, who is product manager at SÜSS MicroTec, based in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. Luca, it’s great to have the opportunity to speak with you as we approach the Productronica exhibition. Let’s hope the authorities don’t place any further restrictions on travel.
Luca, you’ve become an excellent columnist for I-Connect007 and amongst your many talents, you are clearly an expert inkjet printing technology, particularly in the developing field of inkjet solder mask. You’ll be exhibiting your equipment at Productronica on the stand of Adeon Technologies who are recognized as a leading distributor and full-service provider for the European printed circuit board manufacturing industry. Adeon’s a company I’ve worked with for over 20 years, and you couldn’t find a better partner.
There seems to be a tremendous synergy between yourselves and Adeon and I’m sure that you’ve each chosen your partner very carefully. Your selective approach to the market is an intelligent one. Adeon has many years of experience in the inkjet business, and know that with a concept like inkjet solder mask, it’s necessary to cooperate closely not just with material suppliers, but with the user and the user’s customers, to understand the benefits of the technology as a whole, and particularly to gain acceptance from the end-user. In the instance of 5G for example, the wrong solder mask in the wrong place can result in significant signal loss.
Working closely with leading suppliers of pre-treatment processes, solder maskings, printed circuit fabricators and their OEM customers, is a route to clearly identifying the performance requirement and its associated challenges and demonstrating that this is the technology to offer the solution. Would you like to comment on your marketing strategy in collaboration with Adeon and how successfully it is developing acceptance of the concept of inkjet solder mask?
Dr. Luca Gautero: Well, first of all, I’m very happy to have this discussion with you on this topic in light of the upcoming event of Productronica. And yes, Productronica is of course part of our marketing strategy in collaboration with Adeon, and this will be the second time that we are with Adeon at this show. And yeah, like last time we were very happy to be there because we recognized that the booth itself was really a technology hub for PCB manufacturing. So it was very well populated during the whole time and you could see really that there are curious eyes walking around. They might be there for looking at the novel kind of software or specific new equipment, but they walk around and if they see something they have never seen, they just ask a couple of questions.
So, that’s a very precious moment. And actually, I think that this year will be even better than that and it will leverage all the marketing and sales activity that we have been doing during this pandemic period. In which yes, we have been keeping on discussing with customers, but they were either an icon or a window on a screen. And with Productronica might be the first time that we actually can place a face on a name. So maybe this Productronica will have more of a social event character than a technical one, but still, it’s very important to have this contact with your customers and with your opportunities.
And yes, opportunities, the selection of opportunities was something that Adeon really gave us a big help in. As I said, we were already in previous Productronica, and many, many PCB manufacturers came to us asking, making questions, so on. Adeon was able to drive our efforts. We do sampling for customers, so we explain what happens on the board. The focus of Adeon was to find a PCB manufacturer that not only wanted to have a tool as an evaluation, as a nice accessory in the production, on the production floor but a tool that actually is running. That is demonstrating to end-users what inkjet printing is doing, what inkjet printing can do, and how inkjet printing can be modified or adjusted to meet special requirements.
And while we say, and I’m not the only one saying that inkjet printing is perfect for the day-to-day business because it will give you all the savings. It will give you all the dynamic production of a digital tool. It has also a lot of potential for special applications, like high voltage breakdown, like specific cosmetics. Like for example, you mentioned before 5G. Also in that situation, because it’s an additive process, it’s possible to drive specifically where you want to have solder mask, where you want to have this dielectric material that becomes an actor in all of this frequency gain. So yeah, I think that Adeon was a very good choice in our marketing strategy in the past years, and also in the years to come.
Starkey: I think it’s not just about selling printing machines. Again, particularly with inkjet solder mask. The industry waited for it for 20 years and we’ve seen quite a few false dawns. A lot of people got very excited and then went very quiet afterwards. I think that you’ve researched this topic in great depth and not just within your own organization, but as I’ve said, involving the pretreatment specialists, the fabrication specialists, and not just that. Going to the end of the line to talk to the OEMs and determine what is their requirement, what are the challenges, how is this technology placed to overcome the challenges? And being able to work backwards from that, really along the whole supply chain and clearly identifying where your organization fits into that supply chain.
Gautero: In fact, I sort of have this idea that PCB manufacturers know exactly what the advantages of inkjet printing are. We don’t have to say much to a PCB manufacturer. It’s the end-user that maybe had never seen many products. They might have seen some test boards, Yes. But how does that come into their hands? So, those are the efforts that are needed right now. And you’re right. I mean, it’s not something that a single company can say, “Well, I just sell the tool and will be all okay.” Far from it. The effort is really to provide PCB manufacturers with a spectrum of solutions, meaning that there will be pre-treatment, there will be pre-treatment for a specific application, for a specific way of applying inkjet printing.
I see that inks themself, we start having quite a multitude of commercial inks available. And at the moment we are looking for the one solution that fits all, and very likely that’s where it will start. But in the end, it will be that specific solder mask is better for a specific application and so on and so forth. I mean, I just got into some information regarding laminates and there, for example, there as well, there are some selection to be made. For example, we mentioned 5G, but also for high power, and it will be I guess exactly the same for inkjet printing.
We see we are a little bit of a funnel in the sense that many technologies, well, you have to make a selection before you use the tool. So yeah, we need to support the PCB manufacturer, both with knowing what are the options and what we, in our limited experience, because we have a lab, we produce boards, but we are definitely not anything like a running production. So, we humbly go to customers, we say, “Look, this is what we know. But of course, in no time, you will be much more expert than us.” And that we see when we discuss with our customers that are using in production the tools, we recognize that. I mean, yes, we know how to use our tools, but they know more than us even. Also maintenance-wise. And yeah, there is an effort that goes from multiple sources.
Starkey: I recognize your approach. I greatly admire your approach, and I believe that it will ultimately be the most successful one. I’m very grateful for having had this opportunity for just a quick discussion with you. Hopefully one of your future columns for I-Connect007 can explore the topic in more detail. Hopefully, we’ll get the opportunity to speak face to face in Productronica.
Gautero: Maybe before we close, I have a couple of things I would like to say. Maybe it’s interesting to know that there will be a couple of Easter eggs. Maybe it’s not Easter eggs, because it’s not really the right period. But yeah, we will have some overhead screens and there will be some new footage to show. So this is something that maybe people are interested to come and see. Of course, at SUSS, and SUSS being active in SEMICON, there will be also a SÜSS booth at the SEMICON show.
It can still be interesting for PCB because there we will have live the LP50, which is the R&D platform for inkjet printing. We see also interest in not only solder mask, but also for conductive inks and other edge technologies. So maybe someone might want to have a brisk walk through the other hall.
Starkey: It sounds like a very attractive proposition. Luca, thank you very much indeed.
Gautero: Thank you for your time.
To download this audio (mp3) file, click here.
Check out this additional content from Luca Gautero's monthly column:
Additive Reality: Drop Your (Solder) Mask, It's Sampling Time
Additive Reality: Solder Mask Patterning at the Edge Between Drops and Bricks
Additive Reality: Printhead Selection or 'Shop 'Til You Drop'