Five Priorities for Implementing Direct Imaging Technologies

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The circuit fabrication industry has always been the unsung hero of the electronics era. SPC, TQM, ISO, and 50 other acronyms have ruled the day to govern quality and process approaches. I’ve been in the industry for 39 years and I feel more like a craftsman than ever before—trying to figure out how to produce the impossible and maintain a profit.  

With smaller features, exotic materials, endless plating, and press cycles, the industry feels like it is in transition. Soon enough the lines between microelectronics and PCB will be forever blurred. The result is that digital direct imaging has become an instrumental tool in the circuit craftsman’s toolbox, but the selection process is just the first key step in tapping this valuable and expensive technology. Here are five priorities for you own “toolbox.”

1. Selection process.

A thorough examination of what a direct imager can do is vital. Often the PCB shop is looking at its most current difficult problem to solve and it prepares a sample that confirms DI can do today’s tough applications. The selection process must give a high score to a tool (and a supplier) that is adaptable and a true problem solver, because by next month, year, or decade the direct imaging system will need to do things that haven’t been thought of yet. Direct imaging is a major capital purchase; extending the investment time horizon by acquiring a tool that has many uses must be a factor in the ROI. 

2. Supplier as a partner.

Direct imaging is a tool that relies on and influences many different processes. It’s important to look at the role the supplier has within the industry and their approach or “passion level” for solving problems with rational cost and agility. Direct imaging combines so many disciplines; it is much more than selecting a machine. Imaging suppliers must be experts with imaging, of course, but should also contribute to the processes that DI impacts. If you make the right choice the supplier will become your partner and you will become theirs. 

3. Team approach.

The selection process usually includes a core group of two to four people at the PCB facility. However, a successful implementation should involve many more people. Our experience is that the most successful deployments of direct imaging are those that initiate communication and training immediately after the purchase agreement. Initiating a successful implementation before the machine even arrives accelerates the timing of all savings and traps issues not considered during the selection process. The supplier is your partner; he wants a successful implementation and should be happy to participate.  

To read this entire article, which appeared in the October 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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