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46 PCB007 MAGAZINE I JUNE 2020 and the OEM groups within Atotech, my job is to essentially understand where and how the industry is moving forward, and then consid- er how this may potentially impact our equip- ment business. We follow what is important for the future regarding equipment, and from this, we can determine the features that are needed. Let's take finer line and spaces in high-end PCBs as an example. In this regard, laminate materials are getting thinner and thinner, which means we need to continuously improve our transport capability to maintain process reliability for our customers—even under increasingly more challenging conditions. In simple terms, it's all a question of how to ensure the safe transport of thin and highly flexible materials through turbulent fluid areas. High-end PCB makers are reducing the cop- per foil thickness to enable finer lines and spaces, which allows for more functions and performance within the same PCB area. Pro- cessing PCBs with thinner copper layers is quite challenging and leads to improvement in our existing plating technologies and their key features. One such feature would be the clamps contacting the PCB during the elec- trolytic plating process. The challenges are to maintain the tight and accurate clamp closing mechanism, which is required to enable uni- form plating performance, while not damaging the thin laminate material itself. We're making good progress, but the critical point is that it must be carried out in close cooperation with our customers, and it has been. To understand our customer's pain points, it's vital that we visit and speak with them di- rectly and on a regular basis. That's why I, and our other process experts, frequently travel to various regions. After such a visit, we have a clearer understanding of where the demand is, what improvements in the customer processes are needed, and—equally as valuable—which of the current features are running well. Once back at our equipment development center in Germany, I share that information with our R&D and engineering groups, as well as with the process chemistry experts based in Berlin. Regular discussions with the Berlin team are fundamental to understanding what is needed from the process chemistry point of view and it means we can harmonize our ef- forts and then get back to our customers with the most advanced technical solution available. For example, if the chemistry is foaming exces- sively, we need to consider which equipment features can reduce that foaming, and then en- sure that they are applied at the design stage. Another example is that some chemis- tries are prone to crystallization; this may not sound particularly important, but if solid particles build up in the machine, it can lead to defects on the PCBs themselves. Knowing which chemistries suffer from this, and where it can occur, means we can apply the relevant countermeasures and avoid particle genera- tion. Subsequently, our equipment products are known to be well equipped with several smart features that avoid particle generation or effectively reduce the number of free particles within the process chambers. This direct dialogue with our diverse custom- er base is what drives us forward and enables the innovation, which means we keep provid- ing the best solutions available in the market. Andreas Schatz

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