PCB Manufacturing – The Roles Fiber Lasers Can Play

Printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing is a complex process which requires the use of specialised equipment as well as exceptional engineering expertise to achieve correctly.

Evolutions in technology over the years have simplified and streamlined a lot of the key aspects of PCB production, with the introduction of fiber lasers being one of the latest developments.

So, what roles do fiber lasers play in PCB manufacturing and what benefits do they offer in comparison with the older alternative they are replacing?

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Fiber laser cutting of PCB stencils

Can Lasers Mark PCBs?

This is one of the most significant steps forward that fiber lasers have made possible in a PCB production context.

As the complexity of electronics increases, it is necessary to mark boards in order to identify key components and ensure that parts are positioned in the correct places so that the connections between them function as intended. Such identifying marks have traditionally been delivered alphanumerically, although there is a limit to the amount of information that can be contained in such an approach, as well as restrictions based on the amount of space available on the surface of the printed circuit board itself.

This is where marking PCBs with a fiber laser comes into its own. Because fiber lasers can be precisely controlled and deliver incredibly accurate marking capabilities as a result, they can be used to add identifying codes to the surface of any PCB, cramming lots more information into a smaller area using bar codes and QR codes, for example.

The speed of fiber laser marking is also relevant in this context, as codes can be etched in a matter of seconds, all while ensuring that the material surrounding the area of application is not damaged or distorted. With the ongoing miniaturisation of electronics and the parallel shrinkage of PCBs, this kind of ability is becoming more sought-after.

Fiber laser marking is also used to provide information in the production of integrated circuits. Clarity, precision and efficiency all come into play here as well, while the fact that the process does not consume any material or create any significant waste is also appealing.

It is also worth noting that the marking of circuit boards with fiber lasers goes hand in hand with the marking of components using the same technique. This makes parts more traceable and replaceable, while ensuring that fragile, sensitive components are not put under undue stress.

Fiber laser marking for circuit boards and components

Fiber laser marking for circuit boards and components

What is the Role of Lasers in Cutting PCBs?

Adjusting the intensity and duration of a fiber laser allows for various materials to be cut, in addition to simply being marked or engraved.

Cutting is another essential aspect of PCB manufacturing, since each circuit board needs to be made using a stencil with apertures through which components can be connected and solder can be applied.

PCB stencils can be cut quickly and in large volumes through the use of a fiber laser system, the beam of which can make short work of the circuit board material, punching through it to leave the necessary apertures while ensuring that the integrity of the surrounding material is not compromised.

Repeatability is clearly important to this process in a mass production scenario, and this is something that fiber laser cutting equipment can certainly provide. Fiber lasers require very little maintenance and because they take a non-contact approach to cutting materials, they both avoid damage and minimise waste. All of this leads to cost savings as well as efficiency improvements, not just for PCB production but also a number of other applications.

Can Lasers Sinter PCBs?

While solder is still widely used to affix components to PCBs and provide the conductive interface necessary to create connections between different elements of the circuit, there are some downsides to this approach. Complications are especially related to the lower levels of reliability that solder offers at higher operating temperatures, which is why alternative methods are being explored at the moment.

Sintering is seen as one such solution which could overcome the limitations of soldering and allow for stronger, more durable and consistent bonds to be formed during PCB production.

Fiber laser sintering is creating a compelling opportunity for the creation of cutting edge PCBs which are made without solder. High-density circuits are especially well suited to the use of this technique, affording improved stability in the long term.

The process of sintering involves a laser being applied to a powdered material, often containing silver. The heat of the laser brings the powder to its melting point, then it is allowed to cool to create a solid connection. All of the advantages of fiber laser technology covered in the other PCB manufacturing applications are relevant here.

Find out more about fiber laser PCB production strategies

Get in touch with the team here at SPI Lasers if you are eager to hear all about the ground-breaking capabilities of fiber laser systems; we’ll be happy to answer any questions about our products and services.

 

Image Sources: Axonite and Blickpixel

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