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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Company profile From: Soldering & Surface Mount Technology, Volume 23, Issue 2
In adversity, diversity
CEMCO-FSL is what happens when you bring innovative engineers together under one roof. CEMCO, or Circuit Engineering Marketing Company, paired up with FSL or Finishing Services Limited, back on the late 1990 s, a cohesion of expertise in hot air levelling and alternative protective finishes. Based at Waterlooville in Hampshire, CEMCO-FSL has, like everyone else in the printed circuit board (PCB) industry, seen some radical changes in their fortunes. At their peak, they were producing ten hot air levelling systems a month, and had over 650 installations worldwide. The backbone of HAL systems was the “Quicksilver”, launched in 1983, and the key to its success was the compact size and operational simplicity of the machine, which appealed to large, medium and small PCB manufacturers all over the world. In 1989 they went, with a grant from H.M. Government Department of Trade and Industry, into production with a truly automatic horizontal hot air leveller, named “Alchemy”, and this had been designed to integrate with other surface finishing processes such as tin, nickel, and organic coatings through a series of panel handling modules, and was accordingly accepted by the market instantly, such that more than 50 of these impressive lines have now been installed worldwide.
But that was then, and this is now. Only about one-third of their work is for the PCB industry. “Quicksilvers” continue to sell, but now they are built singly, and not in batches. “Alchemy” is alive and well and they have recently delivered and installed a line to Storz in Germany where increased capacity was sought. Paul Watson, the Sales Director, explains that HAL continues to be the preferred finish, it is back in popularity, thanks in the main part to shelf life and the high reliability of the finish, be they lead-free or tin-lead solders. It is always interesting to hear, yet again, of the insistence of the military equipment manufacturers to eschew lead-free solders, for obvious reasons. CEMCO-FSL have had, for many years, a HAL contract service operating at Waterlooville, and this is as busy today as it has ever been, except that now they have two “Quicksilvers”; in operation, one for lead free and one for tin lead. The latter line is the busier of the two. Much of their work nowadays is with LEDs, with aluminium housing as a built-in heat sink being hot-air levelled.
But the heady days of high volumes, and full order books for standard equipment have waned. What has happened at CEMCO-FSL, under the enthusiastic and committed Managing Director Peter Lymn is a change of emphasis. One field they are into now is that of printed electronics; another is in control systems and automation. The latter could be seen under assembly on the shop floor, for a customer who is about to embark upon a revolutionary process that will result in dramatic energy reduction and the consequent savings in energy costs will be staggering. The level of excitement about this project was almost tangible, and the prototype units, designed by Ken Bishop and built under the eye of Len Flint, were nearing completion, ending two years of specialist work.
On the printed electronics front, the 50 years of experience at CEMCO-FSL was also in evidence. They have recently built a wet processing production line entitled MetalJet, for the reel-to-reel production of ink-jet printed electronics that can image 2 micron lines with 80 micron space on 50 micron substrate and high speed. It is this type of intellectual engineering that has also brought them into the field of producing ceramic chip carriers, and through a modular system of manufacture, designed by Peter and his colleagues, production yield has been brought from 40 to 98 per cent to the delight of all concerned (Figure 1).
Back in the printed circuit world, CEMCO-FSL introduced their streamline technology some 12 months ago, an entirely new system of wet processing that brought better uniformity of etch from top to bottom, using fluid engines that are able by a special technique to deliver a higher volume in a smaller space, running with both thick and thin substrates. The system offers greater efficiency, in reality 50 per cent greater efficiency, than existing processes, and has a very much smaller footprint. There has been a great deal of interest from the Asian market, where machines tend to be traditionally rather obese. Streamline was the result of taking a long look at the ways in which plastic housing was designed and manufactured, and the result is a far more integrated system which is both much easier to manufacture, and to operate (Figure 2).
Peter Lymn started his career in engineering as an apprentice toolmaker with a company called NDR, which had been started up by one Norman Lockwood, who himself had been an apprentice at the RAF School of Engineering at Halton. Under Norman’s guidance Peter was involved with the manufacture of some of the first press tools for PCB manufacture, and went on to become a director of the company in 1968. The company moved to Buriton, just up the road from Waterlooville, where they moved into specialised manufacture of automated conveyorised systems, including roller tinning lines, at the same time collecting a range of agencies for equipment for the PCB industry. To handle these agencies CEMCO was founded. One of these agencies was for Hollis Engineering Inc., who had hot air levelling equipment. This was new at the time, and had been developed as a part of the NASA space programme. Peter soon found that he practically had to rebuild every Hollis machine before he could sell it into Europe, and in the end Hollis agreed to licence CEMCO. In 1989 they moved down to Waterlooville from Buriton to a 40,000 sq. foot factory and started work on the “Quicksilver” HAL systems. That same year they set up an office in California, and appointed a number of different distribution agents in various locations around the USA. It was to become one of their best markets.
Since the year 2000, many famous names in the PCB industry have now, sadly, vanished from the picture. The days when people would stand on the furniture at Internepcon in Brighton to catch a glimpse of some exciting new technology have faded, and even the more illustrious shows such as Productronica have lost some of the glitter that attracted people from all over the world. The world has changed; the markets have changed, but CEMCO? No, CEMCO has not changed; it has the same ethos, the same spirit of adventurous innovation, the same professionalism. On the factory floor there is a moving picture of avenues explored, opportunities seized, and a unique talent for being able to convert a thought, an idea, a concept, into something tangible, handsomely designed, which works. With such a solid foundation of expertise, it is no real surprise.
John LingAssociate Editor