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MAY 2019 I PCB007 MAGAZINE 117 lutely no one around to help me. I headed back to the car, and I drove around the town look- ing for an alternative place to stay or anyone I could ask for advice, but everyone was asleep and the whole town was quiet and locked up for the night. I parked the car and contemplat - ed the best course of action. I had a couple of days' worth of clothes in a bag to cover me for the trip, and I put them all on. It was definitely going to be a cold night and not the most com - fortable. Sleeping in the backseat of a small car is not something I would recommend. I don't think there is any way I could do it now, but even in my late 30s, it was not a pleasant experience. Before trying to sleep, I called my wife and ex - plained the events of the day. While she was supportive as always, I could hear the concern and worry in her voice, but I was sure it was the right thing to do. At least somebody now knew where I was and what my plans were. I didn't sleep very much, and instead, I quite literally counted the minutes until the morning. I was so incredibly cold and had to run the en - gine for a while just to add some heat and stop shivering. My son, who was a member of The Royal Air Force Air Cadets at the time and was used to camping outside in all types of weather, suggested to me later that sleeping in a car is similar to sleeping in a fridge and I would prob - ably have been warmer sleeping outside. The next morning, I messaged my wife to let her know I was okay and headed back to the factory as early as I could to continue the ma - chine installation and start to work on print- ing images onto real panels. Between the screen room supervisor and myself, we managed to get through the printing process, preparing data and printing panels. Drop-on-demand legend printing has some pretty strong advantages over screen printing or photoimageable processes, especially when applied to small batches. The data is all elec- tronic, so there is no need for any artworks or screens to be made. This cuts quite a lot of time and effort out of the process. Because the machine is CNC-driven, it is pos - sible to make a very accurate alignment to the copper image etched onto the panel. Microcraft does this very well, and there is a consistency to the results that it is hard to achieve using the screen-printing process. A camera alignment system automates the process to ensure accu - rate repeatability from panel to panel. Now, the process has evolved and is well- established with offerings from a few estab- lished suppliers. Solder mask machines are also becoming available, which offer similar levels of advantage for printing solder mask on smaller batches of panels. There is even the opportunity to print multiple colours or to print both solder mask and ident ink in the same operation. Print times have improved as well as the print head technology. For the right factory, the inkjet process has some very inter- esting possibilities. Returning home from Germany, I took some time to reflect on the experience. It remains one of the most difficult trips I have ever under- taken. I learned quite a lot about myself and gained considerable confidence in my ability to work on a wide range of machinery. But the most significant thought that remains with me from this trip is to enjoy each day. We can never be certain what is around the corner. PCB007 Marc Ladle is a director at Viking Test Ltd. To read past columns or contact Ladle, click here.

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