All articles

Silicon Photonics? A huge trend, which, however, will not beat the PCB price

There is nowhere to grow. Current science in the field of processor development has found itself at the very limit of possibilities. We can hardly produce even smaller or denser parts and components without encountering basic physical limits. That's why companies around the world are focusing a lot on “revolutionary” architectural change. In the field of photonics or “silicon photonics” it is optical data interconnection with integrated lasers. We, Czechs, with a few exceptions in the field of photonics, rather play second fiddle. One of the rare exceptions is the Argotech company located in Trutnov. We talked with Martin Žoldák, the head of its development department, about photonics and printed circuit boards.

Hard to Read Print? The Reason is Speed and Ecology

Digitization brings a number of undisputed benefits. Unceasing acceleration of the production of the printed circuit board itself, simplification of the production process or lower error rate of people in routine work. But not everything is perfectly resolved - as shown, for example, by more frequent complaints from customers regarding lower quality of service printing . We asked Zdeněk Cápal, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Gatema PCB, why this is the case, what are the trends in the development of printed materials, and what can be done about it. That is, a company that has been relying on the extraordinary speed of production of prototype printed circuit boards for years.

Brains from Slušovice. Before and today, they arouse respect far beyond the borders

The beginning of this story will sound a little bit strange especially to the youngest generation. The origin of the MGM Compro company, which today is one of the world-renowned experts in the development and production of special electronics in the field of drive systems, speed controllers or battery systems, can be traced back to the United Agricultural Cooperative in Slušovice. What can an inconspicuous town of 3,000 people east of Zlín have in common with innovative electronics and printed circuit boards? At least the person of Grigorij "Griša" Dvorský who has been there for more than three decades. He remembers the times of the "Slušovice miracle" when leading brains from all over the country met in Slušovice and in addition to specialists in cattle breeding, corn growing or food processing, there was also an elite team of microelectronics developers. At a level that exceeded the boundaries common to the countries east of the "Iron Curtain".

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.