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.

Following your activities from the external perspective, your company has been very active lately. Whether it has been the acquisition of a German company Kubatronik, Company with a long-term tradition and some excellent references or a transformation of the company into a holding structure or even setting up a specialized company Gatema PCB a.s. With all these activities currently happening, is there still a room for investing into the production process itself?

Most definitely. Especially last year was fundamental for us with regards to investments. We have obtained a new production line for developing a non-soldering mask from a Schmid company. Furthermore it was a replacement of the old production line for striping of dry resist. Both of the new production lines are fully automated and are equipped with automated dosing of chemistry and do not require manual labor. In both cases we have bought the most advanced and modern technologies that are currently on the market.

What is the new production line for developing a non-soldering mask capable of?

The developing of a non-soldering mask – this is the fundamental process before the final surface processing, so obviously a major emphasis is put on the fact that all the remains of a non-soldering mask are completely removed from all soldering areas onto which then final surface processing will be applied or deposited.  If this does not happen then there is a problem with the application of the final surface processing, or possibly with the consequent soldering and fitting the board as such. So we have made our life a lot easier with this.

And  what is the case of the production line of striping of dry resist?

In this case it was about a classical replacing the „old with the new because the original production  line was from 1995 and and it just grew old. We were putting this off for quite some time because the process is not so fundamental for the production but it still is one of the processes in the production and must be set up very well.

As a result of your new investments, are you able to offer new services to your customers?

In production, everything is connected to everything. Every investment means a step forward but not a revolutionary one but more likely an evolutionary one. We are at full speed with the production of boards with guided impedance. We offer immersion gold as final surface processing which is still going to be a necessity with the upcoming 5G network. We have made a huge leap forward with the rigid-flex boards which are nowadays included in our offer. And also we have lately started to offer a IPC class 3 certification that allows us to supply boards into industries such as medicine, aviation or security. But in these fields it is more about a more detailed and thorough check-up of each phase of the production process, and not so much about technology innovations.

PCB master - nevodivá pasta

Nevertheless all the above mentioned issues are more likely connected to quality as they are not as much about speeding up the process. Considering that Gatema is well known especially for its ability to produce a board in an extremely tight deadline.

In this respect we have helped ourselves a great deal with the service of filling of gaps with a non-conductive paste. To provide the service, we had been cooperating with external partners for many years, but we have recently purchased from a German producer I.T.C. our own technology for gap fill with a non-conductive paste and its consequent grinding. There is huge demand after this from our customers - and it makes sense from a business standpoint to ourselves as well. Reason for that is when you fill in the gap with a non-conductive paste, you then have the possibility to replate it with galvanic copper. As a result of this we then gain an option of higher proceeds or higher thickness of the possibility of planting with other parts on the surface. Additionally we can fill in the holes as a whole for selectively. At this moment we are preparing filling the gaps with galvanic copper.

Does that have a correlation to your next big investment into a galvanic line?

Correct. This year we installed a new galvanic line from a Slovak producer PPT. This company has been our long-term partner and they are professionals and a technically highly proficient company. This new galvanic production line is equipped with module that is going to provide the desired gap fill with galvanic copper.

What is it that makes galvanic copper so good?

This is, above all, a fantastic thing for temperature management. Copper is a great thermal conductor which has the ability to divert heat from areas where needed. The galvanic line is already in operation, it is long 17.5 m and belongs to our top investments in the last couple of years.

Would you be able to estimate the percentage that drives the volume of your new products and services coming from the demands of the market and how much this is purely your vision? Perhaps you see that this is the direction of the trend in Western Europe and this type of production lines is already there so therefore you know and can predict that there will be a potential interest in the future…

Guided impedance is purely managed and controlled by the market demand. The same goes for filling the gaps for example. Our sales department would be able to tell you more precise numbers and percentages. Gap filling with galvanic copper white also has the same applications. At the Gatema conference I was debating that a lot with our customers and many of them are literally looking forward to that very much or were just excited that we were going to offer such a service.

If you were to compare the level of your production with competition whether on the Czech or European markets, how would you rate it? Is it absolutely competitive or does it set trends in certain areas or just follows the European top league players?

As for the technological equipment goes, we belong in the top European and even world class. Currently we have already actually been able to cover the entire spectrum of all standards required by the printed circuit boards market market. On top of this, we have cutting edge technology's. Investments we have just made should start to return fairly soon which has also been indicated by a very hectic, but unusually successful first half of this year.

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Michal Horní
R&D manager