Joe Fjelstad once joked that if someone working in a board shop 50 years ago were placed in suspended animation and woke up today, they would recognize almost everything in today’s board shop. They could theoretically go right back to work because so little of their work environment changed in those five decades. (After five decades, I’d probably want to take a week off and catch up on reruns of MASH and The Bob Newhart Show.)
True, the basic fabrication process hasn’t changed much since 1972, but there have been tweaks along the way, especially in process control and measurement. And if you mentioned “environmentally-friendly waste processes” in a board shop before the 1990s, people probably would have looked at you funny.
Yes, many of the processes in our industry are what analysts like to call “mature.” Take plating, the focus of this issue of PCB007 Magazine, for instance. In our research, we learned that plating technology predates the pyramids. The Egyptians developed a fairly advanced method for plating about 5,000 years ago. They loved gold, but they really could work with anything. In the meantime, they also became experts at mining, refining, and metalworking. Mining is dangerous now; how would you like to be one of the miners working a few millennia ago?
The Egyptians, much like today’s process engineers, were constantly experimenting and tweaking their processes. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to discover Egyptian pictographs that translate into “Plan, Do, Check, and Act.” They also wound up developing some of the first metal wiring in history. Our industry owes more to the “technologists” of ancient Egypt than we realize.
As we found, though the plating process itself hasn’t changed much over time, there have been several updates in the plating process, including process control, plating racks, and additives that enhance throwing power. Power supplies have come a long way in just the past decade or so, and newer tanks allow engineers to customize the amount of agitation and solution flow. A process engineer from 1972 would have quite a few questions about today’s plating equipment, no doubt.
So, in the June 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, our contributors share a variety of strategies for optimizing their plating processes to carry them into the future. We also look at current trends in plating equipment, processes, and chemicals, as well as challenges and opportunities for improvement, and areas for eliminating more waste. And we shine a light on measurement and instrumentation. In a segment where measurement is king, why hasn’t the measuring equipment used to analyze the concentration of additives in chip manufacturing been tailored to the PCB segment?
We begin with a feature interview with I-Connect007 columnist Michael Carano. As he points out, even with developments in the plating process, the successful plating operator must have a solid understanding of fundamentals such as Faraday’s Law and Ohm’s Law, as well as the ability to control every process as tightly as possible. In an interview, Christopher Bonsell provides an update on the latest in PCB plating, with challenges, opportunities, and what state-of-the-art means in this segment today.
George Milad offers a primer on electroplating, electroless, and immersion plating techniques, and some advice for engineers facing difficulties in plating. Denis Jacques discusses an old process that’s making its way back into the fold: silver plating. Finally, we have an excerpt from Happy Holden’s book, Automation and Advanced Procedures in PCB Fabrication.
We also have columns from our regular contributors Hannah Nelson, Christopher Bonsell, Happy Holden. Guest columnist, Dave Hernandez, steps in for John Mitchell this month in One Industry, One World. Hernandez recognizes the work IPC is doing to advance manufacturing in Mexico. I think we would make the Egyptians proud.
This column originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine. Be sure to download a copy to your library for future reference.