IPC APEX EXPO 2020 was a great location for iNEMI's PCB-focused workshop. Lively panels of experts discussed many of the new applications that are demanding innovation and new developments in the PCB supply chain, and what it takes to implement those changes. 
Dr. SK Chiang (Prismark Partners) opened with a discussion of the key market trends that are impacting the PCB industry:  
  • the move to more personal devices such as smart phones, TVs in consumer devices 
  • the growth of data in communications, computing and medical infrastructure 
  • the focus on energy efficient applications, particularly automotive and industrial 
  • the drive to automation, including everything from lights-out factories to driverless cars

5G technology

In terms of key developments to meet these market needs, there were a number of common topics from the speakers. The impact of 5G technology was, of course, a major focus. The transition to 5G, which is being driven by the need for faster speeds and wider bandwidth, is fueling the development of new ultra-low loss laminates and other materials, along with relevant fabrication capabilities. It is also emphasizing the need for development of consistent testing methods for these new materials. Justin Johno (Hitachi Chemical) discussed low loss materials and presented some of the materials Hitachi Chemical is developing to meet low loss needs while minimizing warpage.

Impact of automotive

The impact of the growth of electronics deployment in automotive and, in particular, the move to electric vehicles, was also reviewed by a number of speakers. Lenora Clarke (MacDermid Alpha Automotive) presented the megatrends in automotive, which include connectivity, the complete connection of all vehicles and the infrastructure, autonomous driving, the move to shared cars and ride share fleets and, finally, electrification. From a materials perspective there is a need to develop unique material sets capable of dealing with higher power and high thermal excursions while delivering high-density requirements. Requirements for thermal cycling above 170°C and 1000 V are being seen. Ed Kelly (Isola) echoed this need, also identifying the demand for increasing conductive anodic filament (CAF) resistance requirements and how to improve manufacturing of these materials as key topics. All of this is occurring at a time when development cycles are much faster in automotive then in previous decades.

Flexible PCBs

Dan Gamota (Jabil), discussing the deployment of electronics on everything, addressed the challenges for flexible/conformal/stretchable PCB technologies. Recent developments in materials and manufacturing processes have been driving new product innovations, particularly in the medical and wearable space.

Demands of miniaturization

Increasing miniaturization demanded by the needs for increased functionality across all markets was addressed by Tarja Rapala Virtanen (EIPC). Miniaturization is driving more complexity in PCB fabrication with multi-layer high-density interconnect and substrate-like packages. Accurate and consistent measurement methods are needed for high quality and to ensure minimum variation. She discussed the need for not only ultra-low loss materials but also much tighter impedance tolerance. Materials must also have good thermal and mechanical stability over frequency and temperature. She noted that time to market continues to be a critical metric in the PCB industry; it takes time to develop, qualify and achieve the yields and performance required. Tarja also commented on the requirements from the PCB industry and supply chain to implement a circular economy approach to PCB design and fabrication.

Increased performance

Juan Landeros (Intel) talked about the impact of increasing bus speed on materials, design and architecture. On the materials side, improvements are needed in glass type, resin, oxide treatment, zero roughness copper and looking beyond copper. On the manufacturing side, there need to be improvements to back drill quality in terms of registration, stub length and exposed copper. Sarah Czaplewski (IBM) continued that discussion, noting that the push for faster data rates and more I/O is challenging for PCB fabrication methods. She discussed the issues with high aspect ratio plated through holes (≥ 20:1), especially in low loss materials, and recommended that more emphasis needs to be placed on optimizing PTH manufacturing process earlier in the product development cycle. She identified other challenges being faced such as ensuring microvia pad cleanliness, improved layer-to-layer registration for densely routed packaging, and the need for smaller antipads on backdrill layers to reduce z-axis crosstalk.

The need for standards

Emma Hudson (Emma Hudson Technical Consultancy Ltd) and Jan Pedersen (Elmatica) both commented on standards generation. Emma emphasized the needs for industry engagement in developing standards. Good standards require good data and input from industry to make the standards relevant and applicable. Jan gave an update on standards development focused on automotive applications (IPC-6012 EA), where the challenges include metal core printed boards high-voltage applications and the cleanliness requirements for printed circuit boards. He also discussed new medical application standards, including the first standard ever for PCBs in medical devices, and highlighted the challenges — such as traceability and compliance — that exist for PCBs for these types of devices.

Check out presentations from the forum plus iNEMI technical papers.

Session 1 Speakers-cropped
Figure 1. Speakers from iNEMI APEX Session 1 (L to R): Tarja Rapala Virtanen (EIPC), Emma Hudson (Emma Hudson Technical Consultancy Ltd), SK Chiang (Prismark Partners), Dan Gamota (Jabil), Grace O'Malley (iNEMI). Not shown: Juston Johno (Hitachi Chemical).


Session 2 Speakers

Figure 2. Speakers from iNEMI APEX Session 2 (L to R): Juan Landeros (Intel), Jan Pedersen (Elmatica), Lenora Clarke (MacDermid Alpha Automotive), Ed Kelley (Isola), Sarah Czaplewski (IBM).