Until recently, the creation of efficient Printed Circuit Board layouts wasn’t exactly a pressing issue. Electronic devices were large, and PCBs weren’t restricted in size. Today, however, PCBs are smaller than ever before and sometimes even ultra-thin and flexible. Designers are now forced to put more powerful and complex PCBs on smaller boards. Unfortunately, the close proximity of components and traces increases the chances of failure. This means that PCB designers are investing significant resources into designing the most efficient and effective PCB layouts possible.
The most cost-effective method of producing circuit boards is by printing multiple circuit boards onto a panel. These panels must then be separated into the smaller, individual boards the customer ordered. This process is called depaneling. Years ago, this process was painstakingly done by hand, but as circuit boards got thinner and more fragile, these manual methods quickly became impossible and unaffordable. Today, there are a slew of different technologies available to depanel circuit boards, each with their strengths and weaknesses. In this article, we will explore those differences.
How will the heat generated by a laser beam affect my board and components during depaneling? Will it melt edge components into an ugly heap? Or demolish thin flex materials into an unrecognizable blob? We get these worst case scenario questions all the time from PCB designers and manufacturers who have relied on mechanical routers, manual cutters, and other traditional depaneling machines throughout their careers. So it is no wonder that there’s an ongoing concern about a laser’s heat affective zone (HAZ), and the thermal effect on edge components in particular.
Flexibility is a good thing if you’re an Olympic gymnast or Cirque du Soleil performer – and it’s essential for PCB designers and manufacturers whose prototypes and end products demand precision etching on flex PCB materials. For the past 40 years, standard mechanical PCB milling systems have been the tools of choice for straightforward milling operations, and in some cases, they’ve been great performers for flex PCB etching as well. LPKF’s top-performing ProtoMat mechanical PCB milling systems, for example, feature faster spindle speeds, low runout and high resolution for working with substrates as thin as 5 mil for single-sided designs and traces, and spacing as small as 4 mil. All good stuff, so how could it get even better? Laser.
It seems like there are more myths about UV laser depaneling than there are about the Loch Ness Monster. But unlike old Nessie, UV laser depaneling myths are much easier to debunk.