Prototype Technology Must Stay Up To Date


Product developers know that they need to engage in a close exchange with the producers at all times for prototypes of their PCBs to ensure that they are producible as planned. Exotic or highly innovative requirements quickly reach the limits of feasibility, since the production lines are not designed for certain prototypes or demands. Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck GmbH from Kinzigtal in the Black Forest know this, of course. Prototype production is one of the focuses in this company. Therefore, an amazing 6-digit total has been put into modernisation of the production lines in the recent past there, in order to offer the latest technology at all times.

Becker & Müller were busy during the production-free time between Christmas and Epiphany. They focused on modernising their plants. Of course, it had all been planned with the corresponding lead time. The calmer time around the change of the year had been reserved for implementation.

Changing and new requirements from the clients that kept growing more and more demanding had made this step necessary. Anything that is doable at some point, in some manner, will be done by someone – and production must be ready for it. However, these investments are often impossible to calculate in advance from a business management point of view. It is impossible to tell if the technologies currently demanded will prevail on the market in the long run as well. Investments in the right direction can only be made with a confident sense of which developments will continue. It has paid off to look ahead of developments and to offer the production options before they are actually needed. An open eye and a certain sense of the market are a good insurance for proper investments.

For example, Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck have now invested in development and modernisation of the wet process with a vacuum etching module by PILL. The industry has already had some good experiences with the vacuum etching technology. Standard PCBs starting at a thickness of 50 μm and reaching up to 5 mm can be processed in reliable quality on one and the same plant. The technical update now permits implementation of even finer structures in higher qualities than before. The detailed plans for the improvement were able to mostly avoid interruptions of the ongoing process. A team of technicians from PILL was on site and able to support the work immensely well.

Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck GmbH broadened its footprint on the market by its acquisition of Häfele. The organically developed customer base with its individual and new demands provides a good overview of what will determine the future framework for requirements in the industry. The previous base material storage had grown too small, requiring an investment of 26,000 Euro in order to bring operation of the warehouse to the newly required skills and the necessary size. The customers taken over from Häfele had some different requirements from the previous customer base where base materials were concerned. This led to some further options to choose from among HF materials.

The base material storage was enlarged and the computer-supported warehouse management was updated and improved. For example, the system will easily find its way between FR4 or PTFE materials in the great material diversity in the paternoster warehouse, quickly and reliably retrieving the right material for any customer’s order.

Analysis also showed that use of HotAir is still widespread in tinning of PCBs. Modernisation of the surface area is therefore another investment with a good outlook. At the same time, the pre- and post-cleaning steps in the process were changed. HAL surfaces are more cost-efficient than chemical SN or chemical Ni/Au and therefore, of course, in high demand among the customers. Since plant builders also continue to develop new features, the investment in this area also meant investing in improved quality, reducing maintenance intervals by separate pre-cleaning and increasing employee productivity with a buffer.

Environmental aspects and quality increase are important aspects in decision-making at Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck GmbH. Detailed test series with thorough analyses showed that surfaces are becoming more even in the newer process, as proven by their microsections. This production area alone had an investment volume of approx. 80,000 Euro.

It’s impossible to do without computer-based processes in modern productions anymore today. Data protection is one central item. Therefore, it was clear that this area also needed to be part of the service provider’s investment strategy. In order to minimise external influences and risks, locally separate EDP systems, RAID systems and further backup strategies were developed. It was an investment in safety and future capability. This also meant moving towards the new EU General Data Protection Regulation GDPR (2016). European data protection law has been updated. After a transfer period until May 2018, specified companies must have adjusted their processes, procedures and hardware to prevent damage for other companies and persons.
The galvanisation machine received a “software facelift” as well, and program input for the individual panels through a data matrix code reader was automated. It was already possible to foresightedly anticipate further developments in operability, the latest safety requirements and upcoming reinforcements in the overall IT strategy. This is another investment with a good perspective.

Further investments are put on the technology roadmap at Becker & Müller. No matter if they are made for another measuring machine in the test area or a new system for drill management: The bidirectional exchange between the development department of the product manufacturers and the DFM department of the PCB producers has proven to fertilise healthy developments.

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