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PCB | October 19, 2009

AT&S: New technology for PCB high-volume production

The new NucleuS technology developed by AT&S is a method for volume production of individual printed circuit boards that makes optimal use of the production format and only connects them to their frames just before they are shipped out to assemblers for assembly.
The end product of printed circuit board (PCB) production is the panel, which consists of a number of printed circuit boards, as specified by the customer, held together by a frame. Once the panel has been completed by the PCB manufacturer, it is shipped to an assembler which mounts the various components (chips, resistors, etc.).

Ideas for manufacturing frames and printed circuit boards separately and assembling them in the most suitable form before sending them to the assembler have been around since the 1980s, but until now all of these approaches have been unsuitable for mass production, and no cost-effective production methods have been found.

"AT&S’s NucleuS technology, developed at its Austrian facility in Leoben-Hinterberg and in its Shanghai plant, does not have these drawbacks, and promises considerable increases in efficiency. First, the printed circuit boards are produced individually, and then they are inserted in a standard assembly frame. The special process developed and patented by AT&S has the same tolerances as the existing production method", a statment reads.

Some of the advantages of this new technology are:
- More efficient use of the production format (normally, several PCB panels are produced on one standard-sized panel; eliminating the frame means that even more printed circuit boards per panel can now be produced).

- Reduced costs (the frame, which until now has been produced with the same layer stack-up as the printed circuit boards, can now be manufactured using simpler, cheaper technology).

- Lower assembly losses, because defective printed circuit boards are weeded out immediately (until now, either the whole panel was scrapped – even if only one printed circuit board was defective – or the assembler was unable to work at full efficiency because individual defective printed circuit boards that were not to be populated were running through its production process).

- Increased flexibility, because printed circuit boards using a variety of technologies (single-sided, double-sided, multilayer and HDI) can be assembled into a single panel to the customer’s specification.

- More environmentally friendly production due to lower material use and rejects.

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