Additive Reality: Drop It, and Enjoy the Greenback

The columns so far have brought up the technical aspects of inkjet solder mask and made readers more familiar with this technology. This last column instead will show how the technical aspects match the commercial ones. It will start by introducing the main change in the manufacturing compromise and then the general details on payback period1.

Presently, traditional solder mask has been a balance between accuracy and throughput. Inkjet brings one more dimension: the copper thickness (Figure 1). A single print coating process by inkjet can handle thick or thin copper, in other words, the same inkjet tool is able to coat this thicker copper with fidelity to narrow features, fast, or a compromise between the two.

Luca_fig1_0722.jpg
Figure 1: a) A traditional compromise, what do you want? Accuracy or throughput?; b) Inkjet compromise, still a choice to make, though, a useful one.

Of course, traditional technology can create thick solder mask and therefore sufficiently cover thick copper traces. However, solder mask coated with inkjet would be conformal (Figure 2); additionally, it would require much less solder mask material compared to traditional solder mask deposition methods.

Luca_July_Fig2.jpg
Figure 2: Example of a thick, solder mask coated, copper trace (91µm, ~3.58mil, ~3 ounce). In this situation, the inkjet coating technology targets 24 µm on copper and on laminate. Traditional coating technologies for solder mask, like curtain, spray, or screen printing, would be able to achieve the desired thickness on copper, and especially its edges, by “wasting” a large amount of solder mask on the laminate. This is the perfect example of the advantages of additive manufacturing for electronics.

In Figure 1b, any compromise is within the green factor. Any chosen configuration will bring reduction of CO2emission, direct (by lowering energy consumption) or indirect (by diminishing consumable usage). An eye on the future tells you that such emission will become expensive. The focus on now tells you how easy it is to market a low CO2 emission board to your customers.

The traditional coating of solder mask is a well-established manufacturing technology. Intensive and long-lived market competition fully optimized production costs, both on the investment (CAPEX) and the consumables (OPEX). Any company can generate the numbers:

  • Running costs as energy, consumables, and waste treatments
  • Floor space and the related permits
  • Labor will show up as the drivers for the payback period

Present configuration can expect a return within few years. The companies running production with inkjet solder mask welcome the reduction in consumables of approximately 80% and the reduction of floor space (with its facility) down to a tenth. Additionally, they see that labor evolves. The skills level needed better matches the staff qualifications and the production floor environment is healthier, thanks to the lower amount of solder mask material and its virtual absence of volatile organic components (VOC). This makes OPEX only a fraction. This means more return per board.

However, the intelligence placed in the match between inkjet and solder mask together with the technological hardware reflects in the CapEX. Luckily, the one investment in inkjet replaces several ones: coater, driers, LDI tools, wet lines, and more. In the end, it all comes down to numbers. These numbers make the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculation. Such calculation can provide a comparison between traditional technology and inkjet and boil it down to a single number: the number of years of the payback period.

The more accurate the numbers, the better the insight, so I cycled to a nearby PCB manufacturer and obtained the numbers with a scenario of a few hundred thousand panels per year. Of course, in these numbers, there is much of the SUSS machine running costs, so, for the unbiased character of this column, I will not disclose numbers, only aggregated trends. It was evident that inkjet investment is higher; thanks to the low OPEX, the Net Present Value (NPV) reaches zero one year before the traditional technology. Not only payback period is one year better, since OPEX is lower, every year means less cost for the same boards produced. In view of these numbers, it is a no-brainer.

Before closing, let me go back to the green factor. The production of the boards is more independent from fluctuation in electricity price and waste disposal. These forecasted factors cannot enter the TCO, though the fact remains that each board will have a smaller CO2 footprint. The only logical step then will be to inform the marketing department and get a nice “green factor” logo done.

As mentioned at the beginning, this is the last column. I will take a creative break. If you enjoyed the column so far, you might find the upcoming FED conference in Potsdam and its digital solder mask panel very interesting. I will be glad to welcome you there.

P.S. My usual bike stroll is a few kilometers more than you might think. I am currently training for a charity activity that involves biking.

References

  1. “Payback Period,” by Julia Kagan, Feb. 7, 2022, Investopedia.com.

Luca Gautero is product manager at SUSS MicroTec (Netherlands) B.V. 

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2022

Additive Reality: Drop It, and Enjoy the Greenback

07-11-2022

The columns so far have brought up the technical aspects of inkjet solder mask and made readers more familiar with this technology. This last column instead will show how the technical aspects match the commercial ones. It will start by introducing the main change in the manufacturing compromise and then the general details on payback period. Presently, traditional solder mask has been a balance between accuracy and throughput. Inkjet brings one more dimension: the copper thickness. A single print coating process by inkjet can handle thick or thin copper, in other words, the same inkjet tool is able to coat this thicker copper with fidelity to narrow features, fast, or a compromise between the two.

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Additive Reality: Let's Drop a Line About PCB Cross Section

05-04-2022

My article in the April 2022 issue of Design007 Magazine, titled “Additive Manufacturing Requires Additive Design Techniques,” presented several cross sections of solder mask coated with an inkjet technology. However, the choice of the cut’s location, and therefore the highlight of the picture, is slightly different from the usual dam or copper edge coverage. This illustrated my point and most structures of solder mask showed in the figures would not be anything new to my readers. Several articles have explained lateral definition and stacking principles.

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Additive Reality: Drop-forging Solder Mask Thickness With Inkjet

03-28-2022

Traditional coating processes for solder mask handle thickness as a single parameter for the whole board. There will be differences between the amount of material on the laminate or on the copper, and these will depend on the height of the copper and in some cases on the section of the copper feature. Overall, it is reproducible: It looks homogeneously green and is easy to estimate its amount of material consumption. Therefore, everybody is happy.

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Additive Reality: Isolated Raindrops Announce the Storm

02-16-2022

It is an early January evening after office hours. Despite my best New Year’s intentions of striking a good balance between work and personal life, when I hear the ding of an incoming email, I decide to check it anyway. It’s a message from the U.S., where Don Monn of Taiyo has just given his view on the inkjet market. Something he says immediately strikes a chord, “What I can tell you is … there are well over 20 installations … between North America and Europe. There are another five or six already committed to be installed in the first quarter of 2022.” But his numbers don't immediately add up for me.

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Additive Reality: Green Drops, White Drops or Both: Do Solder Mask and Legend Make a Good Team?

01-19-2022

The combination of solder mask printing and legend printing seems an obvious and attractive solution, like bringing chocolate and vanilla together. Still, the gain would rely on obtaining both functionalities without adding complexity. However, from the summary consideration of my last column on the equipment construction, two separate printhead arrays would match best the different requirements of legend and solder mask. In this column the story continues.

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2021

Additive Reality: A Report From 2021 (Drop)tronica

12-08-2021

After months of social distancing, productronica brought people and ideas together in a single place. Its most pragmatic demonstrations were the tools on the floor of the B3 Hall at the München Messe. The fair had representations for almost all equipment needed for PCB manufacturing and inspection. Three of these tools were solder mask inkjet printers from different brands, as was the case in 2019—a sign that business has continued, albeit a slow pace, through the pandemic period. However, this year there was another vibe, this time about additive manufacturing. At the entrance, an animation on a giant screen showed how a company is delivering a bottom-up approach for PCB prototyping—an inspiring manufacturing frontier at the doors.

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Additive Reality: Your Company Drops Open the Inkjet Printer Box, Now What?

11-29-2021

The moment will come when some of you readers will advance from interest to complete involvement with the technology. This will be a fun ride as you will experience first-hand the concepts seen so far in this column. However, we all know that any reliable technology relies on one healthy, not so exciting, good habit: preventive maintenance. Preventive maintenance and incidental repairs are not the same, though they might follow the same instructions. Still, this does not mean that these are interchangeable.

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Additive Reality: Drop Your (Solder) Mask, It's Sampling Time

10-17-2021

Inkjet printing equipment around the world is printing solder mask on PCB half fabricates. This effort goes under the name of “sampling.” Major PCB manufacturers have been asking either equipment or material suppliers (or both) to provide a solder mask coated sample with inkjet technology to make cross comparisons.

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Additive Reality: Solder Mask Patterning at the Edge Between Drops and Bricks

09-26-2021

The digital form of the inkjet printing technology goes through files containing a rasterized image; these bitmaps, in their simplest form, contain information about presence (or absence) of drops. Additionally, the resolution brings in the drops pitch.

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Additive Reality: Printhead Selection or ‘Shop ‘Til You Drop’

08-17-2021

If inkjet tools could be found on an e-commerce site, there would be several product specifications of which many would specify the jetting properties; these would basically detail the printhead(s) in the system.

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Additive Reality: Drops of Technology

07-16-2021

The solder mask application revolves around solder mask material. Still, not all the attention should focus on the material alone. The inkjet printed solder mask layer will be made of a collection of drops and next to the solder mask ink a few other materials play a role in the shaping of these drops.

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Additive Reality: Drop Placement Accuracy

06-20-2021

New columnist Luca Gautero takes a clever engineering spin on William Tell and the apple and how it relates to inkjet equipment for solder mask coating.

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