UV Laser Depaneling: The Clark Kent of PCB Manufacturing

Posted by on October 8th, 2015

Like the mild mannered reporter, depaneling doesn’t stand out in the crowd compared to PCB design, circuit etching, and component placement. But depaneling is really an overlooked potential superhero in the PCB manufacturing process. Do it right, and you can meet or even increase production yield goals and rule the plant floor. Do it wrong, or do it with the wrong tools or process, and you could end up being the villain with damaged components, too much waste, and not enough production yield.

UV laser depaneling machines that use a 20-micron laser beam are saving the day for many PCB manufacturers. Why UV laser depaneling? You know that all PCBs are not perfectly square. They’re getting smaller and more creatively shaped to adapt to today’s technologies for mobile devices, medical devices, and other applications that demand more sensitive components. Smaller boards mean less room, so capacitors and components are pushed to the edge where they are more susceptible to damage during depaneling. UV laser depaneling eliminates the threat of too much waste and not enough production yield.

Super powers of UV Laser depaneling:

  • No mechanical stress – No tool or saw ever touches the PCB panel, so sensitive components are protected.
  • No thermal stress – UV lasers produce cold ablation unlike other laser wavelengths, which can cause charring and carbonization of the substrate.
  • Cleanliness – No dust. No contaminants. No damage to sensitive components, which is a common problem with saws and routers.
  • High precision cuts on arbitrary designs – Cut any design, no matter how small, intricate, and creative with higher yields.

But is mechanical depaneling still ever an option? Perhaps. That depends on your organization’s budget and how much production waste you can tolerate.

The common man’s alternatives to UV Laser depaneling are:

  • Hand break – “Break” is the operative word here, so there is still the risk of wasted materials. However, this simple method is still acceptable for manually cutting unpopulated PCBs.
  • V-cut blade or “pizza cutter” – Cheap to purchase and easy to maintain, but its rotary blade can only cut straight lines which have been pre-v-scored, it generates dust that can contaminate sensitive components in addition to generating mechanical stress.  Additionally, a flexible saw blade will never match the accuracy and precision of a laser.
  • Punch – High production capacity, but systems are costly and require sharpening on a regular basis. Again, the punching process puts mechanical stress on the board and can damage edge components.
  • Router – Flexible enough to cut arcs and angles, but routers generate a tremendous amount of vibration that can harm components. Also, routers generate a lot of dust.
  • Saw – Generates as much dust as a router and can only cut straight lines. Again, high vibration and the heat generated put components at risk.

You may still be able to get by with traditional methods for some more standard and less sophisticated board designs if you have to. But when you want superhero precision, less waste, and higher yield, you want UV laser depaneling on your side.

Do you want to know more about increasing production yield by using UV laser depaneling? Visit http://www.lpkfusa.com to learn about our MicroLine 2000 series UV laser depaneling solutions configured as either stand-alone or in-line ready models for laser depaneling of flexible, thin-rigid and rigid-flex printed circuit boards. Cut arbitrary shapes and the smallest dimensions with reliable efficiency.