All articles

Growing needs of people guarantee the printed circuit boards will continue to be in production

Mr. František Vlk is not really a typical business “shark”. He speaks calmly and carefully select select his words, is grateful for your questions and there is a 10 year old mobile phone on the table in front of him that he uses. And even in spite of that – or perhaps that's why – he has managed to built a company in Boskovice that employs around 200 people and has obtained a top class reputation for the production of printed circuit boards all over Europe. “Last year was tough but we managed to survive way above our expectations but it is too early to celebrating because the crisis that is going to hit this business is still ahead of us. The overall consumption is still suppressed by the coronavirus and especially the more expensive items are less in demand. People are still waiting, anticipating what's going to happen next. The companies have started to arm for the post-Covid period which results in developing and then ordering more complicated and complex boards. It is more interesting types of goods for us with higher added value” as he adds at the beginning of our interview.

The Year 2020 in PCB industry: fewer classic circuit boards, companies invested in development

The year 2020 will become part of history alongside the legendary years of 1968, 1989 or 2001, the years that have changed the rules in the world. A dramatic change is also happening at this time - the culture of work is shifting, people's habits are changing as well as global logistics, economic parameters, social conventions, technological possibilities. The development in many areas has managed to accelerate even more. After all, consider this, would you be able to imagine a similar pandemic 10 or 20 years ago? Without the possibility of home office, video conferences, high speed Internet, advanced automation or artificial intelligence, the course of such pandemic would be dramatically different. This was also one of the topics we discussed with Mr. Frantisek Vlk, Mr. Zdenek Capal and Mr. Ondrej Horky. The three gentlemen that are steering the wheel of Gatema PCB a.s., a top European producer of printed circuit boards that only in this year has managed to transform into a holding structure, to finish the acquisition of a well-known German company Kubatronik, to open up an Austrian branch office Katema Tec and to strengthen substantially its activities in Poland. This is not a bad result for a year which has been mostly negative for majority of people.

Industry 4.0 does not mean people will be replaced with machines

If a printed circuit boards manufacturer claims his key and unfair competitive advantage is production speed, then make sure he is going to be the first one to begin implementing automation and digitalization of all its activities within its own internal processes. Because what is most costly is human error. That is just a pure fact that 10 out of 10 production companies will confirm. But the fact is that even in spite of this highly expected arrival of the 4.0 industry it does not mean that human labor will not be needed any longer. “People will not be replaced by machines, they will only be transferred to positions where their creativity will be at better use form us. We see this on a daily basis.” as Ondrej Horky, a Commercial manager for Gatema PCB a.s. adds. Gatema PCB a.s. company belongs to one of the fastest producers of printed circuit boards within the European scale.

Conformal Coating. A board lifespan extended as much as three times

RealTime Technologies s.r.o. company headquartered in Eastern Bohemia village Sezemice has been long recognized as one of the most profound and known top training centers in the country in thie field of IBC certifications. It is by far not only a training center, but also a producer and a distributor and a service center in the area of printed circuit boards repairs. Since 2017 it has also been a competeng center for conformal coating - that is a selective varnishing of printed circuit boards which can prevent dirt, dampness and chemical sediments from disrupting the functionality of the entire electronic system. And as a result extend its lifespan as much as three times. “it is a process that is relatively new and is still in development. A process of conform coating is actually applying paint with required tropicalization or anti-humidity features that help with protection against air humidity, corrosion or against harmful environmental effect on an already assembled electronic set. It is good to protect the set. Not only for the reason of degradation of bearing material, soldered joint or individual components. The result is then a significant increase in dielectric stability and strength, decrease in the possibility of transmission of a charge between outlets. It is a complete protection of the board” as Mr. Jiri Dostal, a Technical Director of RealTime Technologies says and adds one practical example to prove this. “A fastened board is coated which is way more safer. If I took your mobile phone and coated it, then I'm going to be able to sink it into water and the electronics in the phone would still be working without any further issues,” as added by a person who trains several hundreds of people in the area of IPC standards each year.

IPC Class 3 is still a luxury nowadays, but will soon become a necessity

Electronics - a field that has been a part of Mr. jiri Dostal’s entire life really. Ever since he was a little boy he used to go to the research and development center of Tesla where he would observe his father making radars. He obviously studied electronics at a higher level and since 2000 he has been working in RealTime Technologies, a company where he is currently holding a position of a Technical Director. He is responsible not only for making sure the production is managed smoothly but at the same time he's one of the major lecturers of the company for the area of IPC certifications. In reality this means one to two workshops and seminars every week and more than 500 of trained specialists in the area of IPC standards. He holds a certificate of a Master IPC Trainer for the area of IPC-A-610 (a globally most used standard for the installations of electronic sets), IPC 7711/21 (which corresponds to repairs, remodeling and modifications of customer sets), Master Instructor MIT for the area of IPC-A-600 (for the criteria of an attached printed circuit boards) and a WHMA-620 (for installation purposes connected to cable sets and bundles). The MIT status then guarantees that he can train other specialists and trainers

How to prepare the data so that it does not get stuck during the production process

While nowadays the production of printed circuit boards is a completely automated process that is just being watched and monitored by operators, however production inputs entering is still heavily dependant upon people. And this is just the reason why mistakes and errors occur a lot more during production. Some of them come from lack of attention, other are a result of transferring data between systems, others come from the lack of knowledge about the scope of possibilities of the addressed producer itself. Mr. Radim Vitek is very well aware of all types of mistakes and who is the Head of Production and who has for more than 10 years now I'll be working in the TPV department. Tactical preparations of production in the Boskovice - based company Gatema PCB that is ranked among leaders in terms of the speed of production of prototype boards on the entire European market. And as every mistake made means at least a loss of time, it might perhaps be a good idea to remind ourselves of even the most trivial mistakes that the Gatema company has been facing. „Our responsibility is to have, in its shortest possible time, an accurately and correctly set up production processes, according to which then the circuit board is producable. Hence it is key for us to obtain the correct data. And even in spite of this we on a daily basis encounter with mistakes that may sound trivial, however these are being repeated constantly,” as Mr. Vitek adds.

How to choose from the widest portfolio of surface finishing?

How to correctly choose the surface finishing of printed circuit boards? Whilst previously it was just enough to protect the board against corrosion and the base for all adjustments was plain copper, customers nowadays are able to select from a wide selection of various options. There are ever increasing demands on a higher frequency, extended lifespan and generally better resistance of materials. New technologies also enable boards designers a higher thickness of joints and smaller distances between individual components. In Gatema, at this time only, six different options of surface finishing are being offered. Unleaded and leaded HAL, immersion silver, immersion gold, chemical tin or galvanic nickel and gold.

Acquisition of Kubatronik? A giant leap for us

It it's still one of the most remarkable pieces of news of this year in the field of printed circuit boards production. The Boskovice-based company Gatema announced the acquisition of a German-based company Kubatronik. It is still not quite usual a Czech company buys a German one. Let alone quite a significant one. Kubatronik is not any small fish but a traditional European player with its history reaching back to 1980. Moreover, the company has been focusing in the last couple years on the production of complex boards (especially flex or rigid flex) for high tech industries such as aviation, military for medicine. We have discussed the gradual takeover, integration and merging with the director of Gatema PCB a.s. company Mr. Zdeněk Cápal.

Filling in gaps? With non-conductive paste and galvanic copper

The production of printed circuit boards is a fairly stable business. After all, major part of the production process is directly dependent on chemical and physical processes which are largely quite hard to bypass. That is the reason why flaws are being sought after in all the processes around it – in the implementation system, in optimization of capacity usage, in replacing older machines with new ones, in improving particular technologies. This was the topic of our discussion with Mr. Michal Horni, R&D Manager for Gatema PCB company. A company that is even in European standards considered to be the leader in the sphere of speed production of prototype printed circuit boards.

IPC Class 3 has already been with us for quite some time, but officially now only since September

There are situations when the printed circuit boards need to perform its best in extremely difficult conditions. Usually in those when there is zero room for the smallest flaw or failure - typically in industries such as aviation, astronautics, medicine or automobile industry. That is why customers from such industries already today require practically exclusively PCBs qualifying for the IPC class 3 certification – a standard of a board undergoing in its entire production process several inspections and testing procedures. His industry expertise is shared with us by Mr. Zdenek Capal, a chairman of Gatema PCB a.s. company that is one of the top European leaders in the area of printed circuit boards production and thanks to its January acquisition of a German company Kubatronik it also frequently delivers highly advanced circuit boards for top global players in the industry.