Institute of Circuit Technology Darlington Seminar

5th November 2013

"Remember, remember the fifth of November.... ", celebrated in the UK as Guy Fawkes Night or Bonfire Night; the anniversary of the failure of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes and fellow conspirators had planned to blow up Parliament and kill King James I, November 5th 2013 will be remembered by the stalwarts of the North-of-England PCB fraternity as the night when the attractions of Bill Wilkie's Institute of Circuit Technology Darlington Seminar outshone those of the fireworks party!

The programme was split between advances in PCB technology and some mechanisms available to help promote the transfer of technology and the development of export business.


Technological innovation was central to the first presentation. Eric McLean, returning to his roots in PCB processing from a sabbatical in microelectronics, demonstrated what could be achieved in high-resolution PCB imaging with Rainbow's contact-print-on-wet-photoresist technique. Of the many advantages of the process, perhaps the most significant was the extremely short optical optical path from photomaster feature through the thickness of the resist, typically 8 microns compared with a worst-case 69 microns for dry film. The outcome was that with a non-collimated light source of 6° divergence, a nominal 20 micron line would effectively expose as 21.7 microns compared with 35.4 microns for the dry film example. The low coating thickness and high photospeed of Rainbow's 100%-polymerisable liquid resist enabled extremely short exposure times using low-energy LED UV sources. A remarkable attribute of the coating system was its ability to tent relatively large holes, even though the coating was only 5-6 microns thick on the panel surface, and McLean showed examples of 0.9mm holes consistently tented. In addition to the technical advantages of the process, there were environmental benefits including low material wastage, low energy consumption and the absence of solvents.

ICT Vice-Chairman Dr Andy Cobley, discussed how the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme was helping businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base, and speaking from his personal experiences as Director of the Functional Materials Applied Research Group at Coventry University described how the three principal players engaged in the KTP relationship: a company partner, a knowledge-base partner – generally a university or research association, and a KTP associate – generally a recently qualified person transferring the knowledge the company is seeking into the business via a strategic project. Classic KTPs ran for 1-3 years, and Short KTPs for 6-12 months. There were currently over 700 partnerships running in the UK, with the government supporting 60% of the total eligible costs. Dr Cobley's presentation prompted many questions from the audience – there was a lot of interest in the scheme and he outlined the qualifying conditions and application procedure.

Next came a case history from Ian Kenyon, Sales Director of GSPK Circuits, with a presentation entitled "Killing the myth: UK PCB manufacturers can only sell to the UK", describing how, with the commitment of the company, a determination to succeed in export markets and with the support of the government initiatives UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and UK Export Finance, GSPK had become a truly international player, with a £6 million increase in sales over three years, and sales offices in Germany, France, Spain and Ireland. GSPK's achievements had been recognised with many business awards, including the prestigious Queen's Award for International Trade.

Kenyon explained how UKTI worked with UK-based businesses to ensure their success in international markets, and to encourage the best overseas companies to look to the UK as their global partner of choice, with an emphasis on innovative and R&D-active companies. UK Export Finance was the UK's export credit agency, helping exporters and investors by providing access to working capital, credit insurance policies, risk insurance on overseas investments and guarantees on bank loans. He reviewed the export challenges that his team had faced, and stressed the importance of communicating in the local mother tongue and understanding local logistics protocols and import regulations. "All UK manufacturers must acknowledge that UK PCB growth is dependent on export. There is a bigger market in Europe. If you want to achieve it be a structured approach, the opportunity is there!"

The final presentation came from Dr Andy Cobley, making a second appearance because one of the scheduled speakers was unable to attend. He reported the progress of the Susonence project, developing ultrasonically enhanced surface modification processes for PCB and metal finishing applications, which had evolved out of an initial IeMRC-supported study and was now a multi-partner European eco-innovation project whose major objective was the first application of ultrasonically enhanced techniques for removing surface layers, etching, and texturing a variety of metallic, polymer and ceramic substrates with greatly decreased chemical consumption and significantly reduced environmental impact. Current work was directed at the persulphate etching of copper, for applications including pre-treatment prior to electroplating, removal of conditioner prior to electroless plating, and pre-treatment of multilayer inner layers to improve bonding and resist adhesion. Pilot-scale equipment had been designed and constructed to enable extended production trials at a European PCB fabricator.

Bill Wilkie brought the formal proceedings to a close, thanking the presenters for their input , the delegates for their attention and acknowledging the generosity of GSPK Circuits for providing an excellent supper. An interesting and informative evening, offering a positive alternative to rockets and firecrackers and, as ever, a tremendous networking event – the ICT has become the catalyst for bringing the UK industry together and membership numbers continue to increase.


Pete Starkey


November 2013

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