Solder Jet Printing: Is It the Right Time?

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Coenen: I think the market, or the perception of the market, is maybe that this machine is only for NPIs and very small runs. When we analyze production environments, we more or less see that the utilization of the pick-and-place is very low in high-mix environments, even though you have high-speed machines. If the pick-and-place line is only running 20% of the day then the output is not very high.

With this kind of technology, you can increase the output of the pick-and-place machine as well. Even though it might seem that jet printing is a bottle-neck initially from a speed point of view, if you look at the daily production time you may be able to produce more boards. People have a misperception that it's only for NPI.

Matties: I can only imagine that your R&D department is back there trying to break the speed barrier. To me that is all you should be focused on.

Coenen: We have taken a good step with the new generation where we have increased it by 50%.

Matties: That's a huge breakthrough, but that was the low hanging fruit, right? Now it becomes more difficult.

Coenen: We have done it all in the same platform base. If we want to make the next step, we probably have to think about platform changes.

Matties: What is the price? This must be terribly expensive. What is the expected ROI for an average user?

Coenen: I would say the average price is about $175,000. But the ROI can be as fast as one year, to an average of three to five years.

Matties: So it pays for itself fairly quickly. What sort of maintenance or service requirements are there? Do customers have to buy a contract with you? How does that work?

Coenen: Actually, the system itself is quite maintenance free. The head has no cleaning parts to it. You can just take the head off, put it in a fridge, and in the morning take it out and put it back on the system. There are very few wear parts, so from a maintenance point of view we typically do one check-up on a yearly basis, making sure that all the calibrations are correct. But there is hardly any day-to-day maintenance.

Matties: What about the paste? Can they use anybody's paste? Or are they locked into a certain brand, like yours?

Coenen: We have identified five partners that we have been working with so far, and we are expanding that way.

Matties: Are they reluctant to expand because the market is so small for this application?

Coenen: No, the fluid partners have been demanding parties. We haven't been able to shorten down the qualification process well enough. What we are trying to do now is instead of making it a long, motley process, develop a very good guideline for the paste manufacturers that will increase their chances that the paste will be jettable. Then we can have a much shorter introduction on new paste.

Matties: So you're giving them a recipe?

Coenen: We're giving them a good basis for a recipe. Everybody has their own recipe, but we give them guidelines about viscosity and these kinds of things.

Matties: How many paste guys are excited about this?

Coenen: I have another 5 or 10 waiting for us, because they see that there is a need from their customers that they can't offer. So they have been pushing us, asking us, "Can we qualify?" We're working now to get a much broader spectrum, because that is beneficial on both sides.

Matties: It doesn't sound like that's a roadblock.

Mycronic-Jet-Printer-Booth-Demo.jpgCoenen: I don't see it as a roadblock going forward. It has been a little bit of a roadblock over the years where we have had a limited amount of paste.

Matties: I would think that North America would be a prime target for this system.

Coenen: Mycronic has a very good, established customer base in the U.S. It took a little bit longer for the U.S. market to adapt to the technology.

One of the challenging things in the U.S. is that they have a lot of water-soluble paste, which is typically very difficult to jet. We're working on a water-soluble recipe for them. We're pretty close to getting a solution, but that has been a limiting factor for us in the U.S.

Matties: The magic key for this business sounds like broader paste selection and faster cycle times. You mentioned some competitors. How far along are they?

Coenen: What I have seen so far is that they are in the initial stages, but nowhere in comparison to speed levels or board capability levels.

Matties: You have 10 years of experience under your belt already. How many installs do you have at this point?

Coenen: We are close to 400 now.

Matties: That's pretty substantial. Is the concentration in Europe, primarily?

Coenen: I would say yes; the U.S. has caught up some, and actually Asia and China have caught up quite a lot.

Matties: You see more prototypes being built in China, too.

Coenen: Not only that, but here in China we’ve seen success in the high-volume market due to the add-on process, and we’re seeing some customers purchase maybe 10–15 systems, which is very different from our traditional customers.

Matties: Sounds like you're on a good path going forward. I'm glad we had a chance to talk today.

Coenen: It was good talking to you.


Solder paste jet printing demo at the Mycronic booth during Nepcon China 2015.


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