Eurocircuits Printed circuits blog

What keeps us busy at Eurocircuits, projects we are working at, new idea's, background information and a platform where you can participate, give your opinion and guide us to what is important for you as an electronics developer

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Posted by   Dirk stans  on 24 Feb 2015  | Posted under   PCB production Hits: 294

In January we made one of our largest investments in a single piece of machinery when we installed a Ledia V5 direct imaging system from Japanese image-processing company Screen.

Our commitment to the European engineering design community demands continuous investment in new production technology. When you need a new PCB technology we must have the necessary manufacturing processes in place. For example, fine-pitched components (BGAs etc.) require increasingly fine soldermask dams between pads to minimize the risk of solder shorts. The Ledia V5 allows us to offer finer dams than are possible with conventional imaging technology.
 


The Ledia V5 will also give us

  • shorter process times and more capacity. That way we keep fast deliveries on time.
  • more pooling service opportunities to help you keep your costs down.

What is Direct Imaging?

Traditional PCB imaging systems expose photosensitive etch and plating resists and soldermask inks using film-based phototools. Direct imaging systems cut out the phototool and use scanning technology to “write” the image directly onto the resist.

 


The success of the new technology can be seen from equipment sales within the PCB industry: since 2010 Direct Imaging systems have outsold the traditional phototool-based exposure systems by 3 to 1. 

What are the benefits of the Ledia V5?

We will use Ledia for inner layers, fine-line outer layers and tight-toleranced soldermasks.

The Ledia V5 direct imaging system installed in the yellow room in our plant in Eger.

1. Higher quality imaging, especially of fine-line PCBs

1.1. More accurate imaging of fine tracks and fine features.

The Ledia V5 uses a more coherent light source than conventional exposure systems. The LEDs can be fine-tuned to give a more precise polymerization of photosensitive resists and inks. Using Ledia V5 we can image fine lines and features on PCBs more accurately and more reliably than before.

1.2. Better registration allows tighter tolerances on outer layers and soldermasks.

Conventional exposure systems use fixed phototools. Designers must reduce packing densities on multilayer PCBs to accommodate the process tolerances on the phototool as well as the tolerances required by PCB manufacture. Multilayer bonding in particular can introduce linear and non-linear distortions in production panels. These distortions are difficult to predict as they depend to a large extent on the copper layout itself.

Direct Imaging brings two advantages: it eliminates the tolerances required by the phototool, and it allows dynamic registration on each production panel. Thus the Ledia V5 automatically aligns the image to each drilled panel, and then uses fiducials to compensate the image “on-the-fly” for any linear or non-linear distortion in the panel. Even on large pooling panels fine-line circuits can be registered individually without loss of throughput. Image compensation allows successful imaging of tighter-toleranced PCBs with higher packing densities. 

2. Tighter toleranced soldermasks for fine-pitched components (BGAs etc.)

Higher quality imaging and more precise registration means that we can image soldermasks with tighter tolerances.
 


This allows

  • designs with higher packing densities. Smaller soldermask windows allow smaller gaps between copper pads and adjacent tracks
  • more reliable soldering at board assembly. Ledia can image finer soldermask dams between fine-pitch pads to prevent solder shorts.

3. More plant capacity for faster and more reliable deliveries.

Direct imaging cuts out the process steps needed to plot, inspect and register phototools as well as to register them onto the exposure units. As we specialize in prototype and small batch orders we need to process tens of thousands of phototools annually (in 2014 at our Eger plant we used 36,000 films for imaging and 25,000 films for solder mask). Reducing these figures, perhaps by as much as two-thirds, will shorten our production cycle and increase plant capacity, meaning faster and more reliable deliveries, especially for 2 – 3 day jobs.

4. Minimum disruption to production and to processes.

The first Direct Imaging systems used UV lasers, but, as its name suggests, the Ledia 5V uses high-intensity LEDs. The peak efficiency of a UV laser falls within a very narrow frequency band, so DI systems using UV lasers need special resists. The Ledia V5’s LEDs have a broader frequency range so that we can continue to use our existing resists and soldermask inks. This makes Ledia 5V a “drop-in” upgrade to our existing imaging processes. So no time lost evaluating and approving new processes; there is minimum disruption to production – and our customers don’t need to re-qualify our soldermasks.

 

Posted by   Dirk stans  on 23 Jan 2015  | Posted under   Eurocircuits Hits: 2373
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It’s the beginning of a new year and we would like to thank our many customers for their valued business. As our thank-you, every user will receive a pack of eurocircuits playing cards with his first Eurocircuits order placed on or after Monday 12 January 2015. The cards will be shipped with the delivery.

Often, companies limit their thanks to the “first lucky 100” orders. Eurocircuits have over 9,000 active customers in a year and we want to thank as many of their eurocircuits users as possible. We have prepared plenty of packs of cards. So we can say that the offer is limited to the first 8.000 smart users.

As well as the playing cards we will be offering many other good things during 2015, good deliveries, good quality and good prices, as well as new tools to help you bring your projects to market on time and on budget. For a starter, visit our blog Looking forward in 2015. We will keep you updated via our Technical update emails – and every new release will be fully described in a blog.

Posted by   Patrick Martin  on 16 Jun 2014  | Posted under   PCB design Hits: 5162
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Milling, slots and cut-outs – hints and tips.

One of the most frequent questions we get asked via our support services is “how to I define slots in my PCB?”.  Slots and cut-outs also generate many exceptions, which may lead to delivery delays.  Some exceptions occur because the definition of the slots is not clear; others because slots and cut-outs are in the data but not in the order.

Terminology

“Routing” describes the cutting of the board profile, outline or contour.  We use a 2 mm cutter for this.  Any feature which can be cut with the 2 mm cutter is part of the profile.

“Milling” refers to any slots or cut-outs inside the PCB, but also to any slots in the profile of the PCB which can’t be cut with a 2 mm cutter.

How do I define my slots?

Gerber mechanical layer.

The safest and clearest way is in a Gerber mechanical layer which shows the slots/cut-outs and the profile of the PCB. Two possible ways forward:

  1. Use draws and/or flashes with the correct end size of the slot/cut-out
  2. Draw the slots/cut-outs with a 0.50 mm line.  It has the advantage that at the same time the line helps you to visually check the clearance of any copper to the board edge. Our engineers will take the centre of the line as the edge of the slot.

Combine your definition of the slots/cut-outs with the PCB contour (outline) into one Gerber file. This layer should line up with the copper layers, but to be as safe as possible make sure that the copper layers also include the PCB outline.

Different systems have different names for the mechanical layer (for instance in EAGLE it is layer Milling - layer 46).  Provided that you have included milling in your order (see below) our engineers will find the right file.

If there is no mechanical layer, you may have to adapt another layer.  If there could be any doubt which is the right file, point to it in a README file.

Avoid defining slots only in a copper layer or in a legend layer, as they are then very easy to overlook or misunderstand.  You can indicate large cut-outs in a copper or legend layer, but make sure that there is a clear outline, and put text CUTOUT in the middle.

Drill file.

Some CAD systems allow you to define slots in the drill file.  This is also safe and clear.  But they must be defined as slots with an X & Y dimension, not as a row of overlapping holes.

Plated/non-plated.

We take slots with copper on top and bottom to be plated.  Give the dimension of the finished slot size.  We will make the necessary adjustments for the plating.

Slots with no copper on top and/or bottom layer are non-plated.  If you need non-plated slots through copper pads, indicate this clearly in the mechanical layer or in a separate drill file.

Example:

This pictures shows the customer data:

 
customer file
  • an outline file containing some cut-outs (contour file, drawn with a 0.50mm line) - yellow
  • a drill file containing all drill holes and large round cut-outs defined as flashed hole - blue
  • a routing layer containing all slots defined as tracks with the correct slot sizes - red
 
PCB top view

The result shown on the final board. Note also the difference between the plated slot and the non-plated cut-out.

How do I order my slots?

In the Price calculator menu go to the section headed PCB definition and then to the Milling box.  There is a choice of 3 cutters: 2 mm, 1.2 mm and 0.50 mm.  Select the one which is the same size as, or smaller than, your smallest slot size.  Note that you cannot use a 0.5 mm cutter on board thicknesses greater than 2.00 mm.

If your board has slots or cut-outs, make sure that you fill in the Milling box.  It alerts our engineers that your board need milling.

1.2 mm and 0.5 mm cutters are cost-options.  If they have not been selected, we will need to increase the price of the PCB so our engineers will raise an exception.  There is no charge for the 2.00 mm cutter as it will cut the slots at the same time as it cuts the profile – but still complete the box so that we know that you need slots or cut-outs.

How do I check my slots?

PCB Visualizer is an automatic Gerber pre-production analyser.  Gerber is a pure vector format with, at present, no built-in attributes.  So PCB Visualizer cannot always detect structures like slots and cut-outs. What is possible at the moment:

  1. Your slots/cut-outs are defined using flashes and/or draws, placed in a separate mechanical layer and this layer lines up perfectly with all other layers => PCB Visualizer has no troubles recognizing all slots/cut-outs and displays them correctly.
  2. Your slots/cut-outs are drawn with a line (0.50mm). PCB Visualizer will display the line but the material inside the line will not be removed from the image. Our engineers will find and define them when they prepare the tooling for the PCB. Once this is done, you can view the prepared data in PCB Visualizer as the “Production data” rather than the “Customer data”.

If you want to check that the slots and cut-outs are correct before the board goes into production, set up pre-production approval by clicking the "Request pre-production approval box" under Running orders.  The job will then be halted after tool data preparation for you to check.

If you have any questions, contact our Live Chat support.

 
 
Posted by   Dirk stans  on 06 Jan 2015  | Posted under   Eurocircuits Hits: 4125
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We have a number of projects scheduled to be rolled out during the course of 2015. These are being developed in response to requests from our customers for more tools to help them get their designs to market faster and more reliably.

In 2015 we will launch  new tools to resolve potential production issues before they delay delivery or increase costs.

We have already started to provide assembly and test solutions with our equipment range. New software tools for 2015 will help designers verify the solderability of their designs, and confirm at the design stage that the assembled boards will fit into their housings.

New services include PCB layout from schematic and BOM, semi-flex PCBs to fit electronics into complex spaces without the need for connectors, and tighter toleranced soldermasks using our new Ledia direct-imaging system.

These projects are all in the pipeline. We welcome your comments, as this might influence the order in which we will complete, test and launch them. Please leave your feedback using the voting buttons below.

Software tools:

  1. CAM tools:

    Up to now, PCB Visualizer has been an image-based tool. During 2014 we have been developing a new vector-based version. This means that the data will be composed, like Gerber, of “real” entities (tracks, pads, planes, holes etc.). This allows for faster processing, but also opens the way for a whole range of new applications and repair solutions.

    • Pre-CAM data. When we prepare a job for production we run a number of routine automated procedures on our front-end engineering CAM systems ( more). These adjust the design data to our manufacturing tolerances. The procedures include
      • preparing the soldermask to provide a minimum clearance from the copper pad, adequate cover over adjacent tracks, minimum webs between pads etc.(see our PCB Design Guidelines page 15)
      • clipping the silkscreen to make sure that there is no ink on solderpads ( PCB Design Guidelines page 17)
      • other adjustments as described in our BLOGS: Eurocircuits Data Preparation – Single Image 1 and Eurocircuits Data Preparation – Single Image 2.

        The Pre-CAM tool will display the results of these procedures. You can see what your finished board will look like before you place your order. If you find any potential issues, you have time to modify your design- or talk to our engineers via Online Chat.

    • Pre-order solver. Our PCB Visualizer tools will continue to flag up DRC issues as they arise. The Pre-order solver software will propose possible solutions based on our service specifications and the options available in our CAM system. This may mean simply changing the classification of the job, but other options can include reducing a via-hole size, enlarging a pad size etc. Users will have the option to confirm the individual changes proposed by setting up approval rules (accept all changes, accept certain types of change, or confirm each case). The proposed solutions will be as described in our data preparation BLOGS Eurocircuits Data Preparation – Single Image 1 and Eurocircuits Data Preparation – Single Image 2
    • Post-order solver. This will incorporate the present exception flow into the PCB Visualizer tool-set. The Post-order Solver will present the solutions proposed by the CAM-operator during the data preparation workflow. The user can accept or reject them. If he rejects the proposed solution he can modify his data, as at present in the case of exceptions, or he can discuss alternative solutions with our engineers via the Online Chat.
  2. Assembly tools:

    • Solder paste editor. Edit solder paste pads on customer’s own paste layer or one generated by Eurocircuits. Functions include adding and deleting pads, as well as enlarging or shrinking them in X, Y or both. Add tooling holes or targets plus dimensions and positioning for the stencil.
    • Design for Assembly. Two predictive tools to help to detect locations where there is a risk of poor soldering.
      • Solder escape. Detect and flag places where solder could escape from the solder-pad, leaving a weak joint.
      • Solder bridge. Detect and flag potential solder shorts based on minimum isolation distances, soldermask configuration and solder process type.
    • 3D-DFM. “What will my assembled PCB look like?” “Will it fit into its housing?” Upload a digital BOM in EAGLE or Altium format with your PCB data-set and the 3D-DFM software will generate 3D views of your board and components with full 3D dimension data. You can then output a 3D vector file that can be input in a mechanical CAD-system, closing the gap between board data and mechanical data.
  3. Services:

    • Schematic to PCB. Supply us with the schematics + BOM (in EAGLE or Altium format). We will run BOM list analyses, place the components to your rules and lay out the board, and then produce the PCB. Each stage will include a customer approval step.
    • SEMI-FLEX pool. We will offer multilayer PCBs (4 or 6 layers to be decided) with a semi-flexible 100µm FR4 core that will allow a limited number of flexings (maximum +/-25) over a radius of 4-5mm. This technology can avoid the use of connectors when fitting PCBs into complex spaces.
    • High definition solder mask. We have recently installed a Ledia direct imaging machine. This exposes standard photoimageable soldermasks directly, without the need for phototools. Direct exposure allows narrower clearances between soldermask and copper pads as well as thinner webs between soldermask windows for easier and more reliable assembly of difficult components (QFN, BGA, small pitch, etc…). See our PCB Design Guidelines p. 15.

We appreciate your opinion. Please take a moment to express your vote:

Posted by   Dirk stans  on 05 Jan 2015  | Posted under   Eurocircuits Hits: 3645
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Let’s throw some figures at you:

PCB services

Year

Customers

Orders

Sales

2014

+/- 9.000

+/- 77.500

+/- 16.600.000

2013

+/- 8.000

+/- 69.500

+/- 15.500.000

2012

+/- 6.900

+/- 63.000

+/- 15.000.000

All sales are to customers excluding transport costs and taxes.

Eurocircuits has shown a consistent growth in customers and orders over the last 2 decades. 2014 has been another successful year with a consolidated turnover including PCB services, eC-equipment and consumables of 17.5 million Euro. This growth allows us to continue to develop new products and services for our customers. We will continue to invest in new equipment and new processes to keep you at the cutting edge of PCB technology, and to provide more of the tools that will help you deliver your products to market on time and on budget.

2015 will see another leap forward in PCB services, in PCB software tools and in eC-equipment. These are described in our “Looking forward in 2015” . Here let’s summarize what was new in 2014.

First the services:

  1. RF pool updated and extended. We introduced Isola’s I-Tera material to provide a lower-cost solution for RF development.
    RF pool - insights and details
  2. New order time line. So you can track your orders more easily through manufacturing
    New timeline makes order tracking smarter
  3. Pre-production approval. For customers who want to check the final production data for their PCB just before it hits the shop-floor…
    Pre-production approval
  4. PCB PIXture. Give your PCBs a powerful visual impact and make them stand out from the crowd
    PCB PIXture launched
  5. More options added for STANDARD pool, BINDI pool and stencils
    New Eurocircuits products and services presented at this year's Electronica 2014

New software tools

 to help designers cut costs and tailor their design data for particular orders:

  1. Buildup wizard and Layer editor updated and extended. Choose the most cost-effective multilayer builds in the Buildup Wizard and specify blind/buried vias when needed. Use the Layer Editor to confirm or fine-tune the build found by PCB Visualizer tools.
    Buildup wizard and layer editor updated
  2. Marking editor. Add order-specific text (QR codes, production dates etc.) to your PCB, or place order numbers, UL codes etc. in your preferred locations on the board.
    Marking editor
  3. Panel editor. Build a custom panel on screen to suit your assembly requirements, or view an eC-panel before production.
    Panel editor

New equipment

 including fixtureless testing of assembled PCBs as well as hand-soldering aids:

  1. eC-test-mate. Run functional tests on assembled prototype and small batch PCBs without the time/cost needed to build test fixtures.
    eC-test-mate
  2. eC-pre-heater. Reduce heating times and the risk of thermal stress to make hand-soldering/de-soldering of critical components faster and more reliable.

Workshops

We organized a series of workshops on prototype soldering and on working with the EAGLE CAD system. Many of our customers upgraded their EAGLE systems in the summer when CadSoft released a major new version. If you would like to join a workshop, contact your local sales team or email euro@eurocircuits.com.

Investments in ICT, plant and equipment.

We re-invested more than €1.5 million during 2014 in R&D and in new plant and equipment including:

  1. New servers and extra software licenses to boost the capacity and speed of our website, so that we can provide a better access experience to more customers at the same time.
  2. PCB Visualizer development. Each year we spend over 300k Euro in further development of our online tools because we believe in tools that make ordering faster and more efficient.
  3. eC-test-mate and eC-pre-heater development.
  4. Ledia direct-imaging. Direct imaging machines expose photo-imageable soldermasks and photo-sensitive etch and plating resists directly using a laser or as on the Ledia a tuneable LED light source. This cuts process times as no phototools are required and allows greater imaging precision and finer features. For the first applications, see our “Looking forward in 2015” BLOG.
  5. New plating and water treatment plant in our Aachen plant. We take environmental issues very seriously and work continuously to reduce energy and water consumption and maintain the highest quality of water output.