PCB | January 10, 2012
Eurocircuits teams with Elsyca
Eurocircuits has teamed up with Elsyca, a Belgian research company specialising in advanced electrochemical modelling, to implement a plating solution using Elsyca’s Intellitool.
Order pooling, combining several different orders on a single production panel, is now generally accepted as the key to manufacturing small batches of printed circuit boards quickly, efficiently and at low cost. As well as optimising production efficiency, order pooling cuts the environmental impact of PCB manufacture by reducing material wastage. As boards become more complex and design parameters stricter, one critical stage of the production process is becoming a limitation to order pooling efficiency. With a complex mix of different designs on a single panel, traditional electroplating technology can lead to unacceptable variations in plating thicknesses both through the holes and on the board surface. This can be reduced by the use of robber bars and balancing patterns but these use up panel area and waste expensive copper and other materials. Eurocircuits has teamed up with Elsyca, a Belgian research company specialising in advanced electrochemical modelling, to implement a plating solution using Elsyca’s Intellitool. Intellitool has been developed by Elsyca to reduce the impact of the layout pattern on material deposition on PCBs and semiconductors. A traditional plating cell uses monolithic bar or basket anodes operating at a fixed current. This takes no account of the copper distribution pattern. Intellitool uses a matrix of pin anodes, each of which is independently controlled by a simulation and optimisation program. This program takes the pattern data of the PCB and calculates the current required to achieve the correct plating thickness for each segment, pin by pin, depending on the copper distribution. The calculation also takes into account other parameters such as the design of the plating tank and the properties of the plating solution used. These calculations require no operator intervention. The plating process is driven fully automatically from the front-end engineering department in the same way as drilling, profiling, imaging and test equipment. Trials at Eurocircuits plant at Aachen in Germany have shown that the use of Intellitool has improved copper distribution across the production panels by 50%, allowing more efficient material utilisation. At the same time plating times have been cut by 40%, increasing plant capacity but also reducing wastage of copper, chemicals and electricity. Eurocircuits are now rolling out the new technology at their main production plant at Eger in Hungary. Dirk Stans, one of Eurocircuits’ Managing Partners explains: “Our goal is to give European designers local access to the best PCB manufacturing technologies in the world in our chosen area, medium-complexity designs. Here we seek constantly to improve our offering by investing in new equipment and new processes. Higher quality and lower costs depend increasingly on process automation driven by intelligent software. Our collaboration with Elsyca in the development and deployment of Intellitool removes another variable from our unrelenting pursuit of manufacturing excellence.”