When designing and manufacturing printed circuit boards (PCBs), it’s easy to overlook the depaneling process. After all, traditional thinking has been that developing thinner boards, designing the layouts for maximum efficiency, and engineering smaller components will produce the most savings.
However, if PCB manufacturers focus merely on reducing size and increasing yield, they may fail to realize how important depaneling can truly be. Worse yet, in their haste to produce more PCBs, many manufacturers have ignored the developments in depaneling altogether and, consequently, have significantly fallen behind some of their competitors.
This presents a clear problem for PCB manufacturers. PCBs are continually getting smaller, and customers are demanding thinner, lighter, and more delicate PCBs. Because of this, depaneling could soon become one of the trickiest steps in the manufacturing of PBCs. Failure to keep up could make it virtually impossible for some manufacturers to recover their potential losses within the market share.
At the same time, with the adoption of new technology, PCB manufacturers can significantly increase their yields, design more efficient boards, and set themselves up to respond to the inevitable changes which can be expected to continue to take place within the future of the PCB industry.
Traditional and New Methods
The PCB manufacturing industry has been utilizing mechanical depaneling methods for years. The problem is that these methods exert mechanical stress, and because of this, boards can only be made so thin and components can only become so delicate before mechanical depaneling becomes nonviable. Furthermore, with mechanical depaneling, PCB designers must account for “alleys” which are the width of the saw blade itself. This means that PCB designers are forced to waste valuable space on every board that they produce.
To solve this problem, many PCB manufacturers have begun depaneling with CO2 laser technology. These lasers use extreme heat to melt boards, as opposed to cutting them. With CO2 lasers, there is no mechanical stress whatsoever, allowing PCB designers to become free to use increasingly thinner boards and more delicate components.
While CO2 lasers provided a breakthrough in depaneling, they also created a few issues of their own. Because they utilize extreme heat to cut, CO2 lasers emit large amounts of thermal stress on the PCBs. This thermal stress creates two significant problems. First, the burnt edges of the PCBs serve to make a few millimeters on their edges utterly unusable. Second, high temperatures can damage components both near and farther away from the edges, depending on how sensitive they are to heat.
Consequently, the two most common depaneling methods each create major obstacles to efficient PCB design, which has always been largely accepted as being unavoidable, until now. Currently, however, the most advanced PCB manufacturers are switching to the newest technology in PCB depaneling: UV lasers.
UV Lasers: Better Designs, Better Yields
UV laser depaneling has revolutionized the PCB industry from design to manufacturing. By improving on both mechanical and CO2 laser technologies, UV lasers allow PCB designers to create better designs and use newer materials.
- No Mechanical Stress: Much like CO2 lasers, UV lasers are completely non-contact. This means that they produce absolutely no mechanical stress which could damage components on
- No Thermal Stress: The true breakthrough with UV lasers, however, is that they remove essentially all thermal stress as well. UV lasers use “cold ablation” technology to separate the PCBs with minimal heat, a unique property of the UV wavelength. This means that you’ll never have to worry about burning the edges of PCBs or heating components to temperatures that could be damaging.
Designers can place sensitive components as close to the edges of the PCB as they want, meaning that no space is wasted. Additionally, when cutting especially thick PCBs, CO2 lasers have to emit so much heat that depaneling with them becomes impractical. Through the use of cold ablation capabilities of UV lasers, on the other hand, it is possible to cut the thickest PCBs without causing any damage.
LPKF’s UV: Groundbreaking Technology You Can Afford
Investing in a UV laser is an investment in the future of your business. Today’s electronics are constantly demanding smaller, more efficient, and even flexible PCBs. Mechanical and CO2 laser depaneling systems simply cannot meet these challenges. Manufacturers which are unable to respond to these demands will be left behind. By investing in a UV laser now, it is possible to immediately increase yields and to become better positioned to effectively respond to future changes in the industry.
However, as with all new technologies, UV lasers are more expensive than their older, outdated alternatives. Thankfully, LPKF offers high quality, affordable UV laser depaneling systems that can pay for themselves in as little as ten months. With a UV laser depaneling system, you’ll be able to increase yields, eliminate waste, and better respond to the needs of customers. Contact us today and see exactly why obtaining a UV laser depaneling system is a smart investment for your business.