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I had the opportunity to sit with Mike Wood, technical director with Cerambus Asia Pacific, at the 2019 CPCA Show in China. Mike discusses the acid copper product from Cerambus Technology Inc. that doesn’t generate sludge during the plating process and operates at higher production output by using higher current density. This is important for the state of the vertical continuous plating (VCP) market in Asia, and trends he’s seeing in that space.
Barry Matties: You told me a little bit about your technology for the elimination of sludge in copper plating. Can you give us a quick overview?
Mike Wood: The Cerambus acid copper product has many advantages. One main advantage is that it does not generate sludge as you are plating production. Typically, in about two months, the bottom of the baskets build in sludge. Along with this, the distribution on the lower portion of the VCP hoist line drops and the bottom of the panels have a lower thickness because the sludge is building and shielding the nuggets at the bottom of that anode basket.
So, our product essentially has no sludge. For one year, you could run your process and not have to empty or clean the baskets. Most people clean every three months, and they have to take a week out of production time to pull the nuggets all out. But they still have to do production, so during that downtime, the PC shop sends panels to an outside job shop. The downtime and cleaning are very expensive. It’s almost the same price as a full year of brightener when cleaning four times a year. The second advantage is that without the sludge, you can have a better distribution, which also means higher plating amperage.
This product will go above 30 amps per square decimeter (ASD) or 30 amps per square foot (ASF) current density and be very stable. I visited one customer, and in the past three months, the bath had no hand additions—only amp-hour replenishment at 38 ASF 24/7. Today, with the high current density, new VCP machines in the market have increased the eductor nozzles to a very high flow; it’s closer to two liters per minute per nozzle. At that high velocity, many of our competitors get thin at the knee. We don’t have that problem, so we can go to a very high current density from 34–38 ASF on these machines, increasing output by 20–30%.
Matties: So, you’re adding capacity.
Wood: Yes. Three VCP machines give the same output as four.
Matties: Obviously, this is a proprietary solution. Why has it not been copied?
Wood: The technology is from the U.S., and we manufacture the concentrate there—and in a facility in Asia—so the key ingredients are manufactured and controlled by us. For five years, others in the industry have tried to copy it but have not been successful.
Matties: It sounds like the ROI is straightaway?
Wood: Absolutely. John Nash, my boss [and Cerambus president], has said to many customers, “Don’t pay us for the brightener. Give us all of the savings that you receive from a lower operating cost.” No purchasing agent has taken him up on it yet, but that speaks volumes.
Matties: I also understand that Cerambus continues to expand.
Wood: Yes, we’re expanding into other markets. We’re doing a lot of work in Thailand, and we’re expanding into Southern Asia with the rest of the PC shops. We’re also expanding into the more rural areas of China and business is going very well. We have a very good market share, and we’re doing a lot with these advantages.
Matties: I would think your market share is increasing pretty quickly.
Wood: It is. We have a very high growth because of those advantages, and people are buying more VCPs.
Matties: When I spoke with John [Nash], he mentioned a new technical center. Can you talk about that?
Wood: Of course, we have our Dongguan facility that is a manufacturing and technology center, and we are planning to move from the San Jose area to the Las Vegas area with R&D and manufacturing.
To read the full article, which appeared in the August 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.