Research and development departments are faced with demands for ever finer and more precise processes coupled with ever greater economic rigor. That further materials and areas of use are constantly being added does not make their task any easier.
The LPKF product line is thus clearly geared to prototyping applications. The portfolio assists R&D labs across the full range of laser processing with high-performance hardware and software components in scenarios calling for the fine, precise processing of micromaterials. This meets the demand for ever faster product cycles, ever greater precision and flexibility in processing, and economic benefits from the omission of masks and tools. The laser is an attractive tool in this situation: the laser process is accurate down to a few micrometers and requires no direct contact with the material, which means it is particularly gentle on the objects involved. These characteristics are what make laser processing so attractive for product development. Today lasers are already employed to structure high-precision RF circuits, PCBs with high-density microBGAs, and the individual layers of a multilayer before pressing. Laser processing operates without masks and complicated tools, delivering reliable results for research or in the run-up to series production.
LPKF has refined its existing range of prototyping laser systems, which can also be seen in the new product design. The ProtoLaser S is being replaced by the ProtoLaser S4. The new laser source in the green range of visible light masters the processing of laminate materials like FR4 PCBs even more fully than its predecessor. The difference in the absorption coefficients of copper and the carrier substrate at a wavelength of 532nm enlarges the working window. This enables precise structures to be produced after through-hole electroplating even with irregular copper layers.
In a similar way to the process involving mechanical circuit board plotters, laser structuring is an insulation technique employed on a fully copper-coated material. In concrete terms, the laser removes the copper on both sides of the planned conductor track precisely down to the substrate level and the track remains in place with precise side walls between the insulation channels. The device uses a special hatching method to make available large areas much faster than with direct removal. The ProtoLaser S4 is the specialist in the LPKF portfolio for the laser processing of laminated materials like FR4 PCBs and flex or rigid-flex substrates. The LPKF ProtoLaser S4 generates conductive patterns from fully copper-coated base materials – with a pitch of 65µm (50µm lines, 15µm spaces).
Another new product is the LPKF ProtoLaser U4. Like its predecessor, the U3, it works with a laser in the UV range (wavelength of 355nm). Although this laser system also masters the structuring of laminated substrates, it boasts additional capabilities thanks to the specific wavelength. For instance, it separates delicate laminates (flex/rigid-flex) immediately next to conductive structures; it can also expose high-density structures on tin resists and generate invisible structures on TCO-coated glass. The supreme skill is the processing of ceramics. The ProtoLaser U4 can, for instance, structure metal films on ceramic carriers (Al2O3) and scribe ceramics, and is especially suited to the processing of LTCC (structuring, milling, drilling). The ProtoLaser U4 features a fast vision system and a laser performance measurement tool to document test results and is more stable than its predecessor in the low-energy range in particular, which is especially beneficial when delicate materials are involved.
In addition, LPKF will be unveiling its LPKF ProtoLaser R at productronica. This laser system works with an ultrashort pulse laser source. Cold ablation is possible with this laser source – the pulse length is so short that next to no thermal effects arise in the vicinity of the landing position. The ProtoLaser R is ideal for processing thin, delicate films, such as those used in OLED lighting or complex thin-film solar cells.
The new LPKF ProtoLasers S4 and U4 together with the ProtoMat D104 and laser tool can be seen at productronica in Munich on November 10–14 (Hall B3, Booth 303).