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62 The PCB Magazine • March 2014 F e a t u r e by Steve Iketani and Brian Nelson sanmina-sci Key Factors Influencing Laminate Material Selection for Today's PCBs Ever greater miniaturization of electronic equipment and its circuitry, along with increas- ing data traffic rates, continuously pushes the PCB industry to improve performance. The compression of development cycle times has been ongoing for some time, but recently this has created a tsunami-like impact on PCB fab- rication, especially in laminate materials. In order for design engineers to find solutions for increasing speed and signal integrity manage- ment in PCBs, they must keep up with the con- stant evolution of laminate materials, primarily on their loss performance attributes. Today, we are seeing wave after wave of new materials that target improved cost as well as improved performance. Some efforts are in cost reductions at the current performance lev- els (Figure 1), and other entries are designed to improve performance while attempting to stay at par with existing price levels (Figure 2). These performance-enhanced issuances tend to fall into the spaces between traditional class groupings, creating a more continuous suite of laminate offerings. As a result, there are more tailored choice options for any specific design application, rather than having to select either an over or under laminate available for specifi- cation. The source area for higher-speed materials has been rapidly widening. In the early 2000s, most higher-speed materials came from the U.S. and Japan. Today, materials are being sourced from Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, and China. The companies and materials may not have the same maturity and application knowledge that the industry is accustomed to, depending upon the manufacturer, its experi- ence, and the duration an offering has been in the market. Despite this general disadvantage, new laminate players continue to charge into the market, providing many materials of lim- ited data and background. A large sampling of

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