Depaneling PCBs is a critical step in surface mount technology assembly, especially when the boards are small, circular or require tight tolerances. Some electronic manufacturing services (EMS) companies have found a UV laser to be an effective tool for depaneling these types of boards.
Z-AXIS Inc. (ZAI), based in Phelps, NY, is one such company. Founded in 1989 to offer rugged video display monitors, ZAI diversified in the late 1990s into contract electronics design and manufacturing services. Today, the company offers analog, digital, mixed-signal, linear and power systems design, as well as high-end prototypes and design for manufacturing expertise.
Its manufacturing services include wire harness assembly and full box builds in an ISO 9001:2015-certified facility. The company handles large and small production runs for customers in the commercial, medical, military and industrial sectors such as Alstom, Baxter, Connection Technology Center, Crosman and Lasermax Defense.
Early in 2015, managers at ZAI researched the benefits of using a high-power UV laser for board depaneling. The laser cuts PCBs with zero mechanical stress and makes narrow cuts in virtually any shape, with better precision than pre-routed boards.
Another benefit is the laser helps designers keep tight tolerances on finished assemblies. This is especially important when the exact board size is critical to the finished product, and is becoming more common as boards need to fit into smaller products.
Laser depaneling also allows components to be placed much closer to the board edge. The laser cuts close to components without subjecting them to mechanical stress that may cause damage. This maximizes the use of board space in tiny PCB assemblies.
Impressed by all of these benefits, ZAI purchased and installed the HT200 series UV laser from Singapore-based Hylax Technology. This 20-watt laser is ideal for micro cutting of rigid and flexible PCBs thanks to air cooling, which minimizes heat generation during processing.
The laser is also recommended for applications that require high-quality markings at a high speed. It comes with an integrated control unit and Windows-based Hypermark control software, and requires minimal maintenance. Other applications include drilling and ablation. Applicable materials are plastics, silicon wafers, sapphire and glass.
Also in 2015, ZAI installed an MY200DX-10 pick-and-place machine from Mycronic AB of Sweden to double the assembly capacity of its existing SMT lines and optimize their efficiency and scheduling. The machine has a rated speed of 40,000 parts per hour and handles components as diverse as 01005, quad flat pack, ball grid array, chip-scale package, flip chip and odd forms.
ZAI then installed advanced machine vision systems for higher speed and accuracy when placing complex parts; better motherboards for faster processing; and a new server and line control software with workflow planning tools to minimize part changes between jobs, maximize throughput and enhance part traceability. ZAI is now able to automatically capture and track the manufacturer and date code of every component on each of its SMT board assemblies.