BADEN WURTTEMBERG, GERMANY -- Würth Elektronik and FELA report ongoing joint research of PCB technology digitization has moved from prototype to serial production.

The two fabricators, which call their technology "s.mask," are pursuing an approach of coating a defined functional surface by 3-D print, independent of varnish and machine fleet. "This is the best starting point for gradually digitizing PCB production and its inherent processes," the firms said.

Norbert Krütt, managing director of FELA in Villingen-Schwenningen, said he is highly satisfied with the outcomes achieved so far: "The digitization of PCB technology represents a real quantum leap under technological aspects. Functional coatings respectively dielectric are no (longer) generously dispersed like with a watering can, but rather utilized in a targeted manner for realizing benefits in downstream processes at both stages, within the PCB production and those at our customers’ sites."

The first prototypes were produced in July and results were encouraging. Initial material tests and examination results showed "tremendously improved" accuracy and various options for an application-specific mask definition. Both offset and basic tolerance ranges can be significantly reduced that way, they said.

S.mask permits direct coating of more than just a single layer of defined and precisely designed dielectric. The individual surface design allows consideration of customer demands and special requirements; e.g., on dielectric strength values. Wurth web

In soldering process trials, there was notable improvement for most of soldering and assembly issues previously known. "Should these observations be confirmed during the test runs planned for early 2018, they would yield immense benefits," the firms said. Testing at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany will begin in 2018, with results are expected by mid-year.

Beside the advantages in precision and performance, first pilot projects also show an upgrade of the PCB protection, turning out well through gentle application of the functional coating as well as reduced quantity and types of chemicals used.

The cooperation is conducted at all levels, from top management via R&D up to shared communication. Andreas Gimmer, managing director of Würth Elektronik CBT in Schopfheim, says: "Since the time we started our cooperative partnership, it has been seen that the way our companies are working together provides multifarious synergies. We expect economic success for us, but also find that common research and development is simply pleasure."

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