PCB Router – Have You Been Curious About The Reasons You Need This

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PCB (printed circuit board) depaneling, also called singulation, is the process of removing numerous smaller, individual PCBs from a larger multi-PCB panel produced during manufacturing. The depaneling process was created in order to increase throughput of PCB Router as circuit board sizes reduced. At CMS Laser, our depaneling process has the main benefit of speed, pin-point accuracy, no tooling cost or wear, no part induced stress, and no cutting oils or other waste.

Demand Driven by Size

As technology continues to evolve, the gadgets we use become a little more advanced and often decrease in size. This reduced size requires smaller PCBs. With no set standard for PCBs, every board is designed for a certain item. Therefore, the procedure for depaneling separate boards coming from a multi-image board is unique. Production factors such as stress, precision and cleanliness are paramount to keeping board defects to a minimum.

Depaneling Methods

PCBs are generally manufactured in large panels containing multiple boards at the same time, but can be produced as single units if need be. The depaneling of PCBs process may be fully automatic, manual, or semi-automatic. There are several methods used, including laser PCB depaneling, inside the electronics industry. Let’s examine what they are:

Punching/Die Cutting:

The punching method is the method of singular Inline PCB Router being punched out from the panel through the use of a unique fixture. The punching fixture has sharp blades on one part and supports on the other. Another die is necessary for each board and dies must frequently get replaced to keep up sharpness. Although the production rate is high, the custom-designed fixtures and blades demand a reoccurring cost.

V-Scoring:

Boards are scored along the cut line on both sides to minimize overall board thickness. PCBs are subsequently broken out of the panel. Either side in the panel are scored to a depth of about 30 percent of the board’s thickness. Once boards have been populated, they can be manually broken out of the panel. You will find a strain put on the boards that will damage some of the components or crack the solder joints, in particular those near the side of the board.

Wheel Cutting/ Pizza Cutter:

The “pizza cutter” method is a manual option to breaking the net after V-scoring to slice the other web. Accuracy is critical, because the V-score and cutter wheels has to be carefully aligned. You will find a slight degree of stress on board which could affect some components.

Laser Depaneling

Laser depaneling can be carried out on boards requiring high tolerances. Depaneling occurs without physical contact, with no mechanical stress, and is also adaptable to slice requirements by way of a computer controlled process. Laser depaneling is acceptable for installation in surface mount technology (SMT) lines or with board unloaders/loaders for standalone operation.

Routing:

Most PCBs are routed leaving the patient circuits attached to the panel frame by narrow tabs that are subsequently broken or snapped to singulate the circuits. Routing will take up hbrerp panel area as a result of wide kerf width of any physical bit.

Laser Routing:

Laser routing provides a complete software-controlled process without reliance upon any mechanical dies or blades. Laser routing can cut any shape path including curves and sharp corners. The cut kerf width could be under 20 microns, providing exceptional accuracy.

Laser routing can be executed using either:

High-power CO2 laser (~10┬Ám wavelength)

The CO2 laser can thermally cut through FR4, glass fibers as well as other rigid and flex circuit substrates at comparatively high-speed though with noticeable heat effect on the edge of the cut for the majority of substrates.

Solid-state UV laser (355nm wavelength).

The UV laser, using a considerably smaller focused spot size, ablates the panel material with considerably less heat along with a narrower kerf width. However, because of lower power levels, the cutting speed is significantly slower compared to the CO2 laser and the cost/watt of UV lasers is higher compared to CO2

Generally speaking, companies that are sensitive to char and fine debris along the cut line will employ the UV laser while users who clean the circuits after singulation can benefit from the larger speed from the CO2 laser.

Final Thoughts

Laser systems for depaneling play an essential role later on of the PCB manufacturing industry. As interest in PCB Laser Cutting Machine continue to parallel technology trends, including wearables and Internet of Things (IoT) devices, the need for systems that increase production line speed and minimize costs for manufacturer will also still rise.

Within our Applications Development Lab, we work together with each client to determine the ideal laser and optics configuration for a manufacturing process.

In this particular three-part series on PCB depaneling, upcoming posts will talk about the huge benefits and challenges of PCB depaneling, together with the evolution of PCB depaneling with laser systems.

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