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The production of PCB is often hampered by minor details. Keep an eye on it.

No, we are not going to try to tell you that Industry 4.0 is a hot trend today. It is 2021. And companies that postponed or underestimated the automation and digitization of the production and all linked processes have been stripped naked by the pandemic and are often fighting for bare survival today. Elsewhere, machines are already taking over routine activities – and these are by far not only the operations in production halls. It is a whole chain of events that precede and follow the production. Automation affects the actual input into production and ends with the dispatch of the product from the warehouse. Radim Vítek, the production manager of Gatema PCB a.s., which is one of the fastest manufacturers of printed circuit boards throughout Europe, could also talk about it. In practice it means precisely that they endeavour to save minutes and seconds of time on every detail. “We know that we cannot compete with Asian manufacturers in price, so we have to offer other advantages. The quality of production and the express speed of delivery. In extreme cases, we can produce certain types of boards even in fourteen hours, where logically no distant manufacturer is able to deliver at the same time. Compared to many European plants, we also have a three-shift operation so that we do not have downtimes and could be constantly flexible,” he explains.

First Electric Formula Racing Car Designed in TU Brno

The great world of Formula One racing is perhaps too exorbitant for Czechs to break into. It's all about big global brands that are behind their racers and their cars. It's not just about driving skills, but about the ability to win big sponsors, build an elite team, and secure a place among less than thirty chosen drivers. Despite this, a new project is being launched in the Czech Republic that is attracting attention. The project, headed by TU Racing team, which operates at the Brno University of Technology, aims to design the very first electric Formula car in the history of the country. We talked to Dominik Klement, the youngest head of the team in its ten-year history and the first ever team head from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, about how Czech students are doing compared with global competition and about electronics and printed circuit boards.

When is it worth buying a board in Europe and when in Asia?

One of the most fundamental trends that production automation should bring will include the return of production to Europe or North America. Why? Because the most expensive part of production today are "man-hours". If there will be fewer skilled regular workers and, on the contrary, more expert and creative people globally who have to be paid well, the natural cost of logistics from one end of the planet to the other and the “price” in the form of the time delay caused by this transportation will become one of the most fundamental variables in the entire production process.

Photonics is not electronics. Nobody is able to predict its future in 5 years

„Not even 1% of what we develop and produce stays in the Czech Republic. We only have certain strategic partnerships with universities but that within the overall revenue of the entire company really stands for a tiny fraction” as Mr. Martin Zoldak of Argotech company states at the beginning of our dialog. The Argotech company is truly one of the very few companies in this country that specializes in the field of photonics. What is a dynamically growing industry that is in the near future about about to become the sought after “rapid change” in the sphere of further development of technologies. In the last decade we have gotten used to everything around is being constantly fast paced and in fast motion and this change having an exponential character. However now we are in stage when further development is theoretically possible but it derails due to physical limitations. Optic fiber might be even faster but physics has its certain limitations and boundaries in terms of distances, temperatures, power input, scrap heat. That's why alternatives are being looked for and photonics has, amongst all other fields, best potential opportunities to overcome and exceed such limitations.

IPC Class 3 practically

Boards manufactured in class 3 according to IPC are designed for demanding applications. They can be used in cases where high, continuous and critical performance is required, or the environment for the operation of the boards is unusually harsh and product failure cannot be tolerated. In all these cases, reliable rigid boards manufactured according to IPC standards for class 3 are used, specifically according to IPC-600G and IPC-6012D. The IPC-600G standard defines the acceptance criteria for defects in the printed circuit board manufacturing process, from the input material to the final output inspection. Acceptance criteria are graded in classes 1, 2 or 3, with the strictest criteria applying to class 3. The IPC-6012D standard specifies qualitative criteria, i.e. measurable specifications of the monitored characteristics of a printed circuit board, it also specifies inspection and testing methods for each characteristic of the board and, last but not least, defines an inspection plan according to which the board is to be inspected to meet the Class 3 requirements.

Gatema is thriving in Austria and the DACH region. Under the banner of Katema Tec

Boskovice, 4 Februrary 2021 – Gatema PCB, one of the fastest and at the same time dynamically developing European printed circuit board manufacturers, continues to strengthen its position in German-speaking countries. Following last year’s acquisition of the well-known German firm Kubatronik, which specialises in the manufacturing of sophisticated boards for aerospace, military and medical applications, the company is continuing to find success in Austria. There it operates under the banner of the sales offices of Katema Tec, which was established in cooperation with the experienced manager Andreas Kader who is also leading the company.

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.