Laser Focus on Flex and Rigid-flex


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Matties: Let’s shift a little to the actual flex fabricator who runs the machines. What challenges are they faced with in processing flex boards? Are there any considerations they should think about?

Noel: As we’ve said, yield is always a consideration. You have to be able to produce parts at a profit. We’ve had experiences even in the past few years where customers, OEMs, and producers have had to come to ESI for a solution where they thought they had another route to go, but were experiencing low yields in production. Again, with ESI’s laser material expertise, we’ve been able to help solve a lot of those problems.

Matties: When those types of customers come to you, what challenges do they face that they couldn’t solve? What was the problem?

Noel: It was the introduction of some of these 5G material sets. When utilizing traditional flex manufacturing processes that require high-temperature lamination, these new materials have a different glass transition temperature and also react differently to the other processing steps. That has led to yield loss. We’ve seen vias move out of pads and things like that. Being able to provide a solution to a customer that we can ensure them is an easier or more reliable process to do has been able to help solve those problems.

Matties: It goes right back to what you said about starting with collaboration up front. This is a great example of where that problem could have been avoided completely.

Noel: Absolutely. To be frank, we had already done the prework with some of these customers beforehand. It was an alternative process step that was readily available.

Ryder: I want to mention the base material manufacturers in this picture as well. ESI has always been close to the base material manufacturing world, and we continue to do so. We have constant discussions with the main material manufacturers so that when they introduce new materials, the process and the needs for the processability of the material is discussed. A perfect solution may not always be possible. The materials fit a certain performance that the OEMs need, but we do make it a point to be a part of that discussion with the material manufacturers.

Matties: Is there anything that we haven’t discussed that you feel we should include for the system designers?

Noel: One thing that ESI has been seeing is a continual press for increasingly smaller via sizes. When I started in flex 15 years ago, 100 microns was pretty standard. Now, we have customers pushing well below 40 microns. That’s a challenge for us and the customer not only for laser drilling but also for downstream and upstream processing. As we explore these smaller and smaller feature sizes, we need to evolve with the industry and provide solutions to that. That’s a big one.

Plate-ability is always a question. Again, compensating for upstream and downstream processes by utilizing a laser process that gives you the desired results is vital. ESI’s understanding of those processes is again a great part of our success and our customers’ success as well.

Ryder: I think that as the cost per photon decreases, we see laser-based manufacturing as a great opportunity for some of the new products coming on the market. We’d love to work closely with the industry and customers’ supply base to make that happen. We’re proud to be a part of it.

Matties: Thank you both for being here to share your thoughts, gentlemen.

Ryder: Thank you, Barry.

Noel: Thank you.

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