Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
PAL launches new horizontal plater at Productronica
Keywords PAL, IML, Shipley Ronal, Electroplating, Printed circuit boards
IS014000 regulations and increased circuit complexity have forced PCB manufacturers to seek ever more environmentally friendly and more advanced automation for their production processes. In order to serve this trend PAL has joined forces with another PAL Group company, IML of Taiwan (horizontal conveyorized systems) and Shipley Ronal (plating chemicals) to develop the new generation of horizontal electroplating modules. So revolutionary is the new design, that five concepts relating to the design of the Anode, Flood Bar, Copper Oxide replenishment, Cathode roller and Transportation roller are now pending as patent applications in the USA, Europe and Asia.
Nearly three years of intensive and comprehensive R&D has been invested in the introduction of the horizontal plater. After a year of intense study, the prototype design was confirmed in December 1997, with the first unit assembled and commissioned at PAL's headquarters in Hong Kong in September 1998. IML's involvement clearly indicates that PAL has opted for a conveyorized machine rather than the rack or side contact type of design already brought to market by other manufacturers. Two advantages strongly influenced that decision. First, the anode to cathode distance can be minimised so that plating distribution can be more uniform without the necessity of shielding, which has to be adjusted each time the panel width changes; and second, the issue of panel alignment. The new machine also includes special new features such as a high-density particulate vortex mixing system and an automatic ultra-thin PCB anti jamming device.
To validate the early design, months of detailed tests were carried out using conventional direct current (DC) electroplating - in all, there were 150 DC tests carried out. Ultra-thin PCB laminates down to 0.1mm in thickness, now state-of-the-art for industry, have been successfully processed. To serve the industry's cutting edge, PAL has now upgraded the prototype to use advanced reverse pulse plating (RPP) technology and chemicals. Initial test results show a dramatic improvement over those from conventional electroplating.
There is a planned programme of continuous improvement for the modules, to accommodate new technologies, which include blind vias and microvias - both essential for production of hi-tech devices such as advanced ever-smaller and more powerful mobile phones.
Benefits of switching to horizontal plating include major savings in terms of chemical volume and ventilation and manpower demands are also reduced significantly. The ability to process thinner material means the machine can be used for higher technology products manufactured to a higher quality level. The first two full horizontal machines are expected to be installed in Taiwan before the end of the year.