Prototyping technology must be kept up to date

Product developers know that they must engage in close exchange with producers at all times to obtain prototypes of their PCBs to ensure they can be produced as planned. Exotic or highly innovative requirements quickly reach the limits of feasibility, as production lines are not designed for certain prototypes or demands. Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck GmbH from the Kinzigtal in the Black Forest knows this, of course. The production of prototypes is one of the focuses of this company. So an incredible 6-figure total has been invested there in modernizing production lines in the recent past, to offer the latest technology at all times.

Becker & Müller were busy during the production free time between Christmas and Epiphany. They focused on modernizing their plants. Of course, everything had been planned with the corresponding waiting time. The quieter time around the turn of the year had been reserved for implementation.

The changes and the new requirements of the clients that became more and more demanding had made this step necessary. Anything that is feasible at some point, in some way, 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 know whether the technologies currently in demand will also prevail in the market in the long term. Investments in the right direction can only be made with a sure sense of what developments will continue. It has paid off to anticipate developments and offer production options before they are actually needed. An open eye and some sense of the market are good insurance for suitable investments.

For example, Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck has now invested in the development and modernization of the wet process with a vacuum etching module from PILL. The industry has already had some good experiences with vacuum etching technology. Standard printed circuit boards from a thickness of 50 μm up to 5 mm can be processed with reliable quality in one plant. The technical update now allows the implementation of even finer structures in higher qualities than before. Detailed plans for improvement were able to largely avoid interruptions to the ongoing process. A team of PILL technicians were on site and were able to support the job immensely well.

Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck GmbH expanded its market presence with the acquisition of Häfele. The organically developing customer base with its individual and new demands provides a good overview of what will determine the future framework for industry requirements. The previous base material storage had become too small, requiring an investment of €26,000 to bring the warehouse operation up to the new required skills and size. Häfele’s acquired customers had some different requirements from the previous customer base when it came to basic materials. This led to some additional options to choose from among the HF materials.

The base material warehouse was expanded and the computer-assisted warehouse management was updated and improved. For example, the system will easily find its way between FR4 or PTFE materials in the wide variety of materials in the paternoster warehouse, quickly and reliably retrieving the right material for any customer order.

The analysis also showed that HotAir is still widely used in PCB tinning. The modernization of the surface is, therefore, another investment with good prospects. At the same time, the pre- and post-cleaning steps of the process were changed. HAL surfaces are more cost effective than chemical SN or chemical Ni/Au and are therefore of course in high demand among customers. As plant builders also continue to develop new functions, investing in this area also meant investing in improving quality, reducing maintenance intervals through separate pre-cleaning, and increasing employee productivity with a buffer.

Environmental aspects and increasing quality are important aspects in decision-making at Becker & Müller Schaltungsdruck GmbH. Detailed test series with extensive analyzes showed that the surfaces are becoming more uniform in the newer process, as evidenced by its microsections. Only this production area had an investment volume of approx. 80,000 euros.

Today it is impossible to do without computer-based processes in modern productions. Data protection is a central element. So it was clear that this area should also be part of the service provider’s investment strategy. To minimize external influences and risks, locally separated EDP systems, RAID systems, and other backup strategies were developed. It was an investment in security and future capacity. This also meant moving towards the new EU General Data Protection Regulation GDPR (2016). The European data protection law has been updated. After a handover period until May 2018, the specified companies must have adjusted their processes, procedures, and hardware to prevent harm to other companies and individuals.

The galvanizing machine also received a “software facelift” and program entry for individual panels was automated via a data matrix code reader. It was already possible to anticipate future developments in operability, the latest security requirements and upcoming reinforcements in the overall IT strategy. This is another investment with a good outlook.

Further investments are made in the Becker & Müller technology roadmap. It does not matter if they are manufactured for another measuring machine in the test area or for a new drilling management system: the two-way exchange between the development department of the product manufacturers and the DFM department of the PCB producers has proven that fertilizes healthy developments.

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