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60 PCB007 MAGAZINE I MARCH 2018 This process has picked up steam already in Asia, but interest is now starting to gather in other parts of the world with some interest- ing applications being put forwards to benefit from the technology. Similarly to the vacuum etch mentioned above, VCP offers improve- ments in distribution—especially when com- bined with pulse rectification. I have seen tri- als of this combination that have been able to offer a better than 1:1 ratio of copper in the hole compared to the surface of the panel. This allows some products to be manufactured by a simple and relatively cheap panel-plate pro- cess that could only have been made by pat- tern plating before. Sometimes it is the actual PCB manufacturing process which undergoes innovative changes. Recent years have seen some interesting devel- opments such as stretchable flexible circuits. These circuits have a base material and circuit pattern that allows them to stretch and flex in ways that a traditional flexible circuit would never be able to. Applications for this technol- ogy are only just starting to develop. The dy- namic nature of these circuits allows them to be integrated into fabrics and clothing. Elec- tronic medical equipment and sensors could quite literally be part of the clothing being worn by the patient with much more flexibility and comfort than more traditional electronics. Military clothing could be made to monitor the condition of the heart rate and blood pressure of the wearer and communicate back to mis- sion control. In cold climates, emergency heat- ing could be integrated within your underwear. Outfits for stage performers could quite liter- ally be part of the light show and these high- tech clothes could be safe to pass through the washing machine. Another recent development has been super- sized multilayer flexible circuits. A company called Trackwise in the UK is currently manu- facturing multilayer flexible circuits more than 40 meters long. They have developed a man- ufacturing method allowing them to replace traditional wiring in a wide range of applica- tions. They can even offer options such as im- pedance control over extended track lengths, which in turn is allowing their customers to develop their products in ways that were pre- viously simply not possible. It is wonderful how the PCB industry contin- ues to develop and evolve. Good ideas and in- novation will continue to open new opportu- nities and markets. For those of us who work in the supply of equipment, we are constantly having to push our designs to better serve the new ideas of our customers. If somebody wants to electroplate a circuit that is more than 40 me - ters long it takes some fresh thinking to come up with a cost-effective method. The long-term success of machinery suppliers is very much tied to that of our customers so we too need to play our part in the development chain and make sure we can meet everchanging demands. There can be a downside to some of these new manufacturing ideas. If you want a one- off special machine to enable you to produce your new and innovative product, there is usu- ally a cost premium to be paid. There must be a reasonable market for your new products to make commercial sense of the time and effort and expense of making changes to manufac- turing processes. Change can be difficult for all kinds of rea- sons and costs of improvement can be hard to control. The alternative, however, is not really an option. If nothing changes it certainly will not get any better. If you use your new technol- ogy wisely then you can get a step in front of your competition. My advice this month: innovate and prosper! PCB007 Marc Ladle is director at Viking Test Ltd. To read past columns or to contact Ladle, click here. Sometimes it is the actual PCB manufacturing process which undergoes innovative changes.

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