Part 2: EIPC’s Winter Conference in Lyon, France: Day 2 Review

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Christoph_Bornhorn.jpgChristoph Bornhorn, managing director of FED (Fachverband Elektronik-Design), the German association for design, PCB and electronics manufacturing, described how FED had developed a four-stage training programme known as ZED (Zertifizierter Elektronik Designer)—Certified Electronic Designer—with the objective of increasing the professional competence and acceptance of PCB designers. Since the programme had begun in 2015, more than 500 people had participated in courses and seminars and gained basic and specialised knowledge of PCB design. A key principle of the programme was to involve designers in the entire electronics process and to gain an understanding of electrical engineering and physics, manufacturing technology and testing procedures, materials science, standards and regulations, and economic aspects, as well as studying PCB design from first principles.

At each of the four stages, participants who passed the exam received a qualification certificate for that ZED level. After passing the whole programme they were entitled to hold the title Zertifizierter Elektronik-Designer, ZED. So far, 22 people had passed the final exams at Level 4, and FED considered the ZED concept a major success. The intention was to intensify the marketing effort to bring the programme to the attention of a wider public and recruit more participants. At present, the programme was available only in German language.

Robert_Even.jpgThe opening slide announced, “A New Era of Agile Electronics,” as Nano Dimension’s materials manager Robert Even explored the challenges of 3D-printed electronics and discussed how this disruptive technology would redefine PCB prototyping and shorten the design and test cycles of multilayer PCBs from weeks to days. “Testing new ideas is now quick and affordable—encourage your engineers to tinker!”

Nano Dimension’s technology was based on inkjet printing, and their DragonFly machine accepted standard Gerber and Excellon input formats. Nano Dimension manufactured their own inks: a dielectric photopolymer that served as both substrate and solder mask, and a conductive silver ink made by a patented process that controlled the size and distribution of the silver nanoparticles. The formulation was matched to that of the dielectric ink and optimised for the 3D printing of conductive traces, as well as for building via interconnects. The materials were inkjetted onto a hot substrate, causing the solvent to evaporate and the nanoparticles to become sintered as part of the print process, giving layer thicknesses of about 0.3 microns.

There were not yet any applicable IPC standards, but 3D printed circuits had been tested against the IPC specifications for conventional FR-4 copper circuits. Because the substrate had no fibre reinforcement, it had limited mechanical strength, and although the polymer had a high decomposition temperature, it had a relatively low glass transition temperature, and could only be soldered with low-melting alloys. It was possible to achieve 100-micron lines and 125-micron spaces, with vias down to 200 microns, through-holes down to 400 microns, signal layers greater than six microns thick and dielectric layers greater than nine microns thick.

Thin substrates were sufficiently flexible to be used in bend-to-fit applications and non-planar circuits could be fabricated. A notable additional feature was the capability to embed components, by laying down the initial layers, interrupting the printing process, placing the components, then resuming the printing operation.

The DragonFly had been awarded a productronica innovation prize in November 2017, and seven printers had been sold to date. A demonstration machine had been brought to the conference so that delegates had the opportunity to observe the 3D printing process in operation.

Alun_Morgan.jpgAlun Morgan brought an extremely successful EIPC Winter Conference to a conclusion, thanking all who had participated: speakers, moderators and delegates. Particular thanks went to the sponsors, and especially to Alstom Transport Information Solutions for their generous hospitality. And, as ever, to the EIPC staff: executive director Kirsten Smit-Westenberg and event manger Carol Pelzers, for their superb organisation and management of the event. Morgan closed by reminding all present that 2018 was the 50th anniversary year of EIPC and that there would be special celebrations at the summer conference in Germany in June.

I am again grateful to Alun Morgan for kindly allowing me to use his photographs.


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