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JULY 2018 I PCB007 MAGAZINE 15 it gives more power, so the throughput per ma- chine increases. So now, customers can put in a direct imaging machine and still get a rea- sonable throughput from the equipment. But, when you look at the throughput per capital equipment cost, it's still a very expensive in- vestment. Instead of buying a conventional ex- posure unit, they're having to spend five to 10 times the cost to put in a direct imaging piece of equipment. Then the key thing is to get maximum throughput with that piece of equip- ment for their capital equipment cost. In many cases companies just don't have the capital to be able to invest in multiple direct image units so it is our job as solder mask suppliers to eke as much as we can out of each machine. So although the technology exists, the capital equipment cost remains a limitation—which can be frustrating because the solution to the registration problems and the feature size res- olution problems is there, but it's not neces- sarily readily available because of the capital equipment costs. Matties: Are there any equipment suppliers you know of who are doing a pay-per-print model with that expensive equipment? Tibbals: Not that I'm aware of. It's a bit of a problem because I'm not quite sure how that would work. The number of prints be- ing done from each machine…I don't know what the payback would look like. It's an interesting idea, but I don't think any of the capital equip- ment people are offering it at the mo- ment. The good thing is there are sev- eral equipment manufacturers on the market, and the competition has driv- en technology advancement as well as applied pressure on pricing for the machinery. Earl: As Shaun has said, there are a va- riety of equipment suppliers available to the market now, and the material we've developed for direct imaging is tuned to be working towards more of those multi-wavelength systems that then bring a broader spectrum to make the imaging of the solder mask more efficient, re- ducing the process times and making the pro- ductivity from the expensive bit of equipment greater. Tibbals: So that's our job, really, as a solder mask manufacturer—to help our customers get maximum throughput out of the machines on the market. The equipment guys have in- creased the power and the wavelengths, and that's good, but we've still got to optimize the material to reduce the exposure time as much as possible. And by doing that, we are enabling our customers to go direct image with solder mask, and that, as we said, is solving the reg- istration and feature size problem for the sake of those manufacturers, providing they can in- vest in the equipment. Matties: This sounds like ultimately, they'll have no choice as the demand for density in- creases. Tibbals: Yes, you're absolutely right. We first saw that with dry film. Direct image dry film was introduced quite a few years ago. It gradu- ally took off, and now you see a large number of board manufacturers using direct image ex- clusively for their dry film processes because Figure 1: Profile of a solder dam using direct image photoimageable solder mask.

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