PCB Design and the future of advanced manufacturing technologies | Episode 14
Hi, everyone. Thanks for tuning in to the Print Circuit podcast where we discuss trends, challenges and opportunities across the printed circuit engineering industry. I'm your host, Steph Chavez. In this episode, we'll focus on advanced manufacturing technologies, specifically regarding rigid flex, HDI and even micro HDI. We'll get into that as well. Here to join me in is my good friend and industry subject matter expert Anaya Vardya CEO of American Standard Circuits, also known as ASC.
Thanks for being here, Anaya. Thanks for having me here today. Can you give the audience a brief introduction of yourself and your amazing background and experience that you bring to the table that allow many people to be successful as you collaborate with them in what yourself at ASC offers? Absolutely, Steph, so I've over 35 years of experience in the printed circuit board manufacturing space. I actually started my career in IBM. One little fun fact, you know, as we talk about some of these newer and advanced technologies, what's really interesting is a long time ago, fairly early in my career, I actually got exposed to building boards with microvias because at that time, IBM had its own technology to build microvia boards.
So I've known and have dealt with microvias for a very, very long time in my in my career. I'm currently the CEO of American Standard Circuits. We are a broad based manufacturer of a variety of different kinds of printed circuit boards, starting from Rgid to flex rigid flex to metal back to RF microwave boards. And most recently, we really launched what we call our ultra HDI line.
So we're a very broad based manufacturer of printed circuit boards solutions. And I think one of the things that we really love to do is work on educating the industry. So we've obviously written a number of different books. We've written four books so far. There's one which is really on the fundamentals of printed circuit boards. There's one on flex rigid-flex, there's one on RF microwave, and then there's another one on thermal management.
So again, if you would like to get a copy of those books, they are available as a free download on our website. W w w dot asc hyphen i .com. So feel free to go to that to the free resource section and you will certainly get an opportunity to download our books if you would really like a hard copy. Shoot me an email at sales at ASC hyphen I.COM and we'll see what we can do about getting you some hard copies.
That content that you share to the industry for free even, it's amazing. It's some really great stuff. I refer to those as golden nuggets because it's really the industry best practice of what is the correct way to design some of these.
You're designing the quality into it and it has a long term produceability because you're collaborating with your team and how things are done and how they should be done the correct way. So from one designer that's been around for, you know, 30 plus years, I can't thank you enough for what you and your team has been doing and continues to do. With that said, you know, let's get right into it. So when we think about flex and rigid Flex and HDI and like you said, ultra HDI, what doesn't work today when it comes to those technologies? So first of all, it's good to talk about flex and rigid flex because that is clearly a growing marketplace.
I mean, the one thing, one trend that I've noticed over the last few years is you see more and more designers attempting to design flex and rigid flex boards than ever before. So I think people are finally starting to really understand the many uses of of these kinds of circuit boards and not just constrained to the military environment, like for many years. I mean, if you were talking about rigid flex, especially in North America, it was primarily focused on the MIL aerospace sector.
I would say in today it's much more broader based and than it's ever been. I've seen applications in medical, I'm seeing applications in industrials now. I'm seeing applications in a lot of different sectors. The reality is that a lot of designers don't have a lot of experience dealing with rigid flex circuit boards, and a lot of times they're trying to apply kind of similar design rules as you might apply to build a rigid circuit board.
And clearly that doesn't work, right? So I think one of the biggest things that I always tell people, and I love to tell designers is work with the circuit board shop as you're doing your design. I can't tell you how many times we've had designs where people have thrown the design over to us and the design just plain doesn't work. And, you know, we either have to spend time with them to redesign it or it ends up being a very frustrating experience for both people to get five pieces built, because typically you can build five pieces of almost anything, but you might have to manufacture a 100 to get that five, right? And so I think in order to reduce the frustration level and I think to have a very efficient process, I think it's critical for designers to really work with some fabricators and partner with them.
Right. And truly partner with them, which is one of the things that we really preach. I mean, we love to work with designers and we work we're volunteering our services to you because we don't charge you for that, right? We're doing that because ultimately we hope to be able to work with you on actually building the boards. So, I mean, the whole goal is to have a real good synergistic solution that solves your problems and that that works for you long term. And I think that's one of the bigger issues, is people are not always approaching their their fabricators. I know of an instance where we built a fairly complex circuit board, rigid flex board.
It was a rigid flex. It had a metal core in it, it had RF materials, it has FR4 materials, it had thermal management materials in there. And one of our our director of technology actually spent probably three months working back and forth with the engineer, the amazing thing about it is that board was uber complex, I would say, and we actually managed to build it the first time through because of the three months of back and forth that went about before we even got the PO on that board. I couldn't agree with you more especially regarding communication with your supplier is key.
The suppliers are a stakeholder that needs to be at the table from the very beginning of that project. As you have your kickoff meeting. The suppliers in my opinion and I, you just agreed and stated that they need to be brought in early on and be a part of that team to collaborate.
So you are you are setting yourself up and the team up for success downstream. And it's not just at the moment of design, it's when the transition happens to fabrication, when it happens and it goes off to assembly. It's a fully successful ecosystem.
When you think about the whole thing from a bird's eye view, you nailed it and I couldn't agree with you more on that, especially with with people throwing garbage over the fence and expecting you and American standards to save them and to save the day and hopefully turn, you know, this garbage into gold or make a diamond out of it. Then, of course, they want it yesterday and they want to cheat or even some cases that they're asking when you push back or you start dialoging, then they don't. They're like, you're too much for me.
I'm going to go somewhere else because I just give them an and they'll say anything and you end up losing the po. Why? Because they don't want to deal with that complexity and what they feel is as a headache. But in reality you are saving them.
And I've had other industry colleagues on the show mentioned the same thing, the potential losing pos because they're initially trying to work out with that success and set that up. And I'm surprised people are still just throwing stuff over the fence the way we see it. So with that said, Anaya, we know what the problems are and what they can be.
What about the solutions? You started to talk a little bit about potential solutions or best practices. When we think about what are the solutions, What do you think designers can implement or should be implementing as they go forward? The number one recommendation and if people don't take anything else away from this podcast, I think the most important thing really is to partner with their PCB fabricator, because that would be the number one best practice that I would recommend, especially as the boards become more and more complex. One of the problems with complexity and you know, one of the things I like to say is on a CAD screen, you can make anything, you can, you can design, you can put any design together on a CAD screen. The question is, can we move it from the CAD screen to an actual realized product? Can we actually take that and put something together that's real? And that's where the trick in the whole thing lies. Right? The other thing that I've noticed is a lot of times people come up with these designs that they've thrown over the wall and then they're saying, Oh, I want a ten day turn on this highly complex board, you know, and I think people really don't fully appreciate what it takes to manufacture some of these products. You know, I mean, you're talking about stringing together a set of 100 to 200 processes sometimes to make one of these boards.
And, you know, everything has got to go right every step of the way in order for a good board to come out. And the more complex it is, the more process product interactions that exist. So again, I think, you know, the number one best practice, like I said, is working with the fabricator, really focus on trying to figure that out.
I think it's it's important to try to get your material set dialed in early, if you can. I mean, sometimes if you have unique material sets and you know you're going to be in a rush, be willing to work with your supplier and tell them. Gordon The material for me, I'm going to need to get this going right away and all my material is locked down. Start working with the materials sets start working with the via structures.
You know, make sure you have a good understanding of the via structure is going to be coupled with the material sets. Then your fabricator can figure out like how many ounce copper material we need to order, things like that, right? What is it going to take to build it? So I think working collaboratively with them, you can ultimately reduce the overall lead time associated with building a complex printed circuit board. And I think you just have to make sure you're choosing the right fabricator based on history, right? People that have knowledge in what you're trying to do, people that have experience in what you're trying to do, it's not always They're giving me the best price, as I always say. And because I learned it early on in my career, there's a price and a cost.
And you have to understand and know what those differences are. And in some cases, the cheapest supplier isn't always the best supplier. And knowing your supplier their capabilities and having a history of them or knowing about them makes a difference in going to the right supplier. But I think you would agree with me that establishing long term relationships is the key. It's not just the one off po because I don't think and correct me if I'm wrong, you're in it for the long term relationship, the multiple long term 5, 10 year, 20 year relationship with your customer, not just a one off po and then you're one and done and then see ya because I've seen your guys and your team's efforts and it's amazing what they do to me that that is the key and I couldn't agree with you more on that. You know we talked about flex and rigid flex and what about HDI, you know, when it come to blind buried and microvias as well I, I do want to you know talk a little bit about especially with the ultra HDI which is the new hot thing that I shouldn't say new, but it's because it's been in the chip world now it's being evolved into the PCB.
What do you what can you give me on that? A lot of the same principles apply in those technologies, right? I mean, HDI has been done now for quite a long time. That's where I think it's important to make sure that as you're starting the discussion, that the via structure is very clear because complexities start to increase as the via structure changes, right? So, for example, if you've got three plating cycles that are going to end up on a single layer and you're trying to do a very fine space, that may not be feasible. So I think one of the things is all of us, all printed circuit board fabricators will publish a set of capabilities. But what's missing in those capabilities is how different things interact with each other. Yes, I can do all of this, but while I'm doing this, I may not be able to do something else. And I think that you only get an understanding of that if you have an ongoing dialog whith you fabricator.
So I think the via structures are also very, very important. In fact, in our RF book, one of the things that we spend time on is really referring to via structures and how we via structures that impact how via structures. Plating can impact the end result of what you get on a part. And I think that part is obviously very, very critical.
I mean, in terms of ultra HDI today. So let's be frank about this. Right. Ultra HDI has actually been around for many, many, many years. It has primarily been in the chip scale packaging world, and it's primarily being done out of Asia. So Asia has been doing ultra HDI for many, many, many years.
But we had very little, if any, capabilities in North America. I mean, there people in North America were talking about HDI technology, I want to say almost 20 years ago. And the last time they talked about it, it was with respect to chip scale packaging. And ultimately it all ended up going to Taiwan and China. This time around, there's a lot of talk that people are really serious about doing it in the U.S.
so I think that's a very positive sign myself. I think in terms of designs, right? I mean, we have today successfully build 20 micron lines and spaces at American Standard Circuits. So just think about it, right? I mean, we are people that, at least in the U.S., typically talk about mils, and we're always talking about three mil line three mil space for mil line for mil space. And, you know, one of my taglines is we're really going from the world of mils to the world of MICrONS now, because now we've started talking about 20 micron lines and spaces, 25 micron lines and spaces. So it's very interesting how the dialog changes, but we certainly have that capability.
And again, as you are starting to design those things, there are a number of different processes and methodologies that can help you get there. We have done it on a variety of different materials, so we've done a lot of 25 micron lines and spaces on flex circuits. As an example, We are currently in the process of building a multi-layer flex with, I would say, 25 micron lines and spaces.
Today as we speak, we've got those on our manufacturing floor, something that not a lot of people have actually managed to do so far. I mean, it sounds easy, but it's it's riddled with a set of issues that we're kind of working through. So I think one of the key things, especially as the boards get more complex, is if you're a designer and you're looking for something, be willing to partner with your circuit board supplier to work with them on the R&D phase, you know, and be patient, because sometimes we might tell you that, yeah, we think it's going to take us two months to do it, but unfortunately, one of the famous adages where you just don't know what you don't know comes to play sometimes, right? And so, I mean, we do we do see some of that going on for sure as we are endeavoring on this really advanced technologies. I mean, we have made a commitment and we have made investments to get pieces of equipment to be able to be fracture that kind of technology. But just because we have equipment doesn't mean it's all done. I mean, there's a lot of process know how that goes into this and every design is unique.
So I think one of the other things that we've seen is that, you know, you deal with different kinds of complexities. And what people don't realize sometimes is just because you've done one part number that's similar when you go to another design, sometimes there's just enough subtle differences that can throw you for a loop. So while it should be doable, sometimes it doesn't happen the first time around.
There's one question that's been on my mind when I not just with Ultra HDI, but with like establishing a new process or a new technology that that you or your company or me or my company or my employer may want to do. I employ. But the issue I see at hand is if I have a customer that wants me to design a widget, how would be the best way to go around, in your opinion, on to allow them to let me try this new technology on their design? Because most customers, they don't want you to experiment on anything new.
They want you to deliver a produceable product in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of money. And so trying to get someone or convince someone to partner up and say, Hey, there's a new solution that allows me to be more efficient for you and you can design more complexity. And so, you know, from your perspective, from a suppliers point of view, how how do you go about collaborating or what is that? Because yeah, like I said, in my in my previous employer, that was one of the biggest things is it's not so easy to adopt the newer technology because the end customer isn't willing to pay for you to change your process or to change it because they just want their widget design from cradle to grave as quickly as possible and as cheap as possible. Yes, I think that's a very fair question. Right.
And what I would say is that you should only use the newer technologies when you have to. And so what do I mean by that? If you can do it in standard technology, you should, because that usually would be the cheapest and the best way to do it. Right. And that's the tried and tested method. But what's going on right now with the advancement of electronics, with the miniature miniaturization, with a lot of the things that are happening in the electronics space right now, people are getting to the point that they can't do it with standard technology. So then where really as a designer you need to be aware of is what is the possibility? What are all the other technologies available that could help me solution a particular problem, right? If you start using ultra small ball grid arrays, well, you're not going to be able to route it out.
In normal technology, you're going to need 25 micron lines and spaces. You might need 20 micron lines and spaces. So you let the end requirements drive the need for applying the technology as opposed to the reverse, right? Not try to push the technology out. We as a initiator of some of this newer technology, we need to make people aware of the technology.
We need to make people aware of the capabilities of that technology. And then ultimately, as designers get to the point that they don't have an option, then they at least know, okay, here's my out, here's how I can do this. I guess, you know, my normal guidelines were 75 micron lines and spaces, but there is no way for me to route these components out with that kind of design constraint. So I need to get to that next level and then once you have to do it because of the application you're in. So you might have space constraints, you might have size constraints, you might have whatever your design constraints are for your end product that's going to force you into the new technology.
Once it does that, people don't have a choice, right? You either get that capability or you don't. Right? And in order to get it, you've got to employ this new technology. But I think trying to convince somebody, well, let's go use this new technology because it's new, I don't think it really works. That's kind of my opinion. I take a more pragmatic approach to that. You know, and I always I mean, in general from an R&D perspective, we at ASC, we usually let our customers drive what we spend our R&D dollars on because I think we don't want to be the people really pushing it.
We want to be the people that are being pushed, for lack of a better word, right? But I would tell you that Ultra HDI is the exception to the rule where we did get into it before there was the push yet before there were a lot of people talking about it. And albeit our progress was relatively slow, we are really picking up right now because there is that demand out there. There are more and more people starting to see.
There are more and more people getting educated about it. And then a lot of these people want to source that product in North America. So that set of circumstances has made the ultra HDI conversation or has actually revived the ultra HDI conversation in North America. With these new technologies.
You know, I shouldn't say new, but with these technologies, the advanced technologies of Flex rigid Flex and HDI and, you know, ultra HDI, what do you see are the roadblocks to implementing these best practices you talked about? For me, when I always think of roadblocks, of implementing anything within a company, the very first thing I think of is internal culture. Are they open to change? Are they open to accepting something new or are they going to stay within their swim lane or their legacy way of doing things? But what do you see as a roadblock from your point of view? I think that the biggest roadblock is whether ultimately people need these newer technologies, right? I mean, as long as they don't need it, they shouldn't spend their time on it. I mean, the biggest roadblocks, in my opinion, are A, we need to get more people educated on the possibilities and then we need to look at them way they come up against the wall on the design that they are working on. Once you come up against the wall, that's when the roadblock goes down automatically because you don't really have a choice, right? So I think the roadblock definitely is the fact that, you know, the technology is newer for people.
So it's new to individual designers because they've never designed in it. So the mindset that you talk about is clearly there. I mean, it's interesting, right? So like 20 years ago, if you go back, right, the military and their printed circuit board requirements, they were always a laggard, right? They never wanted to lead in technology, if you remember. They always want to tried true and tested technology.
But, you know, with all the stuff that they're trying to do right now, they've figured out that they actually have to now get to the leading edge of it, as opposed to be on the trailing edge of technology, because otherwise they're not going to be able to accomplish what they need to because things, electronics is just getting. So I mean, it's just in the middle of everything, right? And more and more and more, right. I mean, you think about even something as simple as a as a pilot's helmet and look at how sophisticated and how expensive a pilot helmet can be for some of these the latest generation of fighter planes.
I mean, just think about the amount of electronics the amount of stuff that is going into it that just shows you there's a great example of an organization or an industry really, that that really wanted to be at very established technology. Certainly I would call them a little bit established to trailing versus Leading has now migrated their thinking process. And again, the reason is why, because they had to. I agree with my background in avionics in the Marine Corps and knowing the complexities that go into these aircrafts, whether it's in the aircraft or the helmet or a communication system that's on their body, whatever the case may be, it's amazing. I do know from my experience in the mil aero, especially like on the commercial side, is safety is paramount and you're designing in the sweet spot of produceability and true known technology, and you're not pushing the envelope.
But as you stated, as the complexity of our electronics in the industry are growing vastly, and things are getting smaller, things are getting faster and having to be able to deal with that. You know, you've got to adapt the new technologies in order to be able to take it to the next level and to meet those customer requirements that you're talking about to design that widget. And I love the fact that you said that it's those end requirements that drive you into using these advanced type technologies, whether it's flex rigid flex, you know, HDI and then ultra HDI as we think about these roadblocks and overcoming them, I mean, you've already stated how some of these people can overcome these roadblocks. I mean, that was one of the questions I was going to ask you. But I mean, you you nailed it with that said, you know, I think we've outlined the best practices when it comes to advanced designs.
I can't thank you enough for your invaluable insight and sharing today on the podcast. With that said it, you know, I want to thank you and I thank you for joining any last comment that you'd like to add? Yeah, I want to thank you for this discussion. I think it's been very useful. I hope a lot of people listen to it as my final parting thought. If you're a designer to make sure you involve your fabricator! We're going to publish the links as part of the podcast.
So that way that the audience can can get to those educational content as well as your website and have a look see at you guys. Okay. With that said, you know, we've outlined the best practices when it comes to advanced designs. You know what I thank Anaya again for his invaluable insight so keep following along for more PCB.
design best practices.