SMT topics in focus
ASMPT has taken a stake in British startup and Productronica 2021 Award winner ioTech Group Ltd. The company, which operates its research and development in Israel, has been developing a technology for continuous laser-assisted deposition (C.L.A.D.) since 2016. Industry insiders believe that the innovation has the potential to significantly advance the trend towards more miniaturization in the electronics industry. Günter Schindler, Senior Vice President, Business Excellence, ASMPT, explains the reasons for this step.
Mr. Schindler, you took a stake in ioTech already in 2019. How did you become aware of this company?
We noticed ioTech at a ‘speed-dating’ event with startups in Israel. The tip for the event had come from the Siemens Dynamo innovation lab. Of the thirty participating startups, three ultimately aroused our interest with a wide range of technologies. We thought that ioTech had the greatest potential and the greatest intersection with our portfolio. Following a due diligence review, we decided to make an investment. We see this engagement as an investment in the future.
ioTech’s unique selling point is the disruptive continuous laser-assisted deposition technology, C.L.A.D. for short. What does it entail?
C.L.A.D. can apply almost any paste-like material to the finest structures with high speed and positional accuracy, enabling full-scale digital production.
This new technology enables further miniaturization in the production of electronics on printed circuit boards and submodules such as sensors.
The capabilities of C.L.A.D. can be explained in more detail if you compare them with current deposition systems: today, each material to be deposited must be treated differently. With C.L.A.D. many materials can be deposited using a single process. After the materials have been applied with this new technology, they can then be further processed using the same processes (soldering, drying, curing, ...) as before. Solder paste must be soldered, adhesives must be cured with UV radiation, etc. post-processing remains therefore a challenge in electronics production.
ioTech might make traditional stencil printing methods with solder paste obsolete. This means that you no longer need a printing stencil but can directly use the Gerber data for positioning the materials to be applied.
With ioTech’s technology, the material to be deposited such as solder paste or silicone is first applied in a very thin layer on a carrier foil. A laser then hits the carrier foil, detaches and jets drops of the material onto the substrate. This way, you can apply many tiny droplets. The process even makes it possible to print multiple layers. Another characteristic of this process is that it works not only with solder paste but also with ceramics, metals and plastics.
The coated carrier foil is positioned at a precisely defined distance above the substrate. The laser pulse detaches the required amount of material and transfers it to the substrate, for instance a pad. In this way, many small drops of material can be deposited on the target object in fractions of a second. The process allows material drops to be placed side by side, touching each other and forming lines; they also can be deposited on top of each other, if thicker layers are required. This new technology is not limited to the application of solder pastes but is also suitable for paste-like materials such as adhesives, ceramic-slurries or metal-filled pastes. Currently, the technology is in beta stage. Now, we must implement this ingenious invention industrially and develop it further for various applications and processes.
What impact will the new technology have on SMT assembly?
The big advantage is that you can print different materials with a single machine. Theoretically, it would be possible to simply switch out the cartridge to print silicone, solder paste or adhesive onto a carrier foil. It is also conceivable to print a circuit board completely in a single pass at some point in the future. C.L.A.D. opens up many new opportunities in the semiconductor and SMT fields. In connection with rapid prototyping, for example, it could mean that you no longer have to wait until a stencil has been cut or lasered but start printing right away. Especially in connection with prototypes, new ideas can be realised in a very short time (a few hours). For example, the new process can be used in the SMT environment to "repair" a printed circuit board that has been poorly printed with solder paste (using the stencil printing process) by using the C.L.A.D. process to selectively fill the "faults". As you can see, there is a lot of potential in this technology. That’s why last year we increased the investment we had made in 2019.
ioTech recently installed the first beta printer called io300s at ASMPT. Where is it located, and in which direction do you want to apply this technology in your own operations?
The printer stands in our development center for high-end printing technologies in Weymouth, England. We will now evaluate the practicality of this machine for our solder paste applications and discuss it with customers and potentially interested parties. Then, we will also see where new business cases may arise.
Please explain to our readers why you believe that the C.L.A.D. technology will become a game changer in electronics manufacturing?
Once we validate the financial competitiveness and the technical capabilities for mass production, this technology can revolutionize the printing process in the SMT segment and may one day even be able to replace stencil and screen printing methods. There are many application areas for ioTech’s development. Examples include the smartphone and wearables industries as far as the application of seals and adhesives is concerned. In the SMT industry, some circuit boards must still be processed and populated individually today, for example with silicone that protects electronic devices from moisture. The new technology can be used wherever additional tools are needed to safeguard an application process because it allows for very precise manufacturing processes. The bottom line is that it will allow us to work with much smaller components in electronics production.
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