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The True Costs of Laser Depaneling

Innovative and cost-efficient cutting of Printed Circuit Boards

In addition to mechanical processes, the laser is a promising alternative for separating printed circuit boards. The processing with the laser is regarded by many as quite cost-intensive. However, the price-performance ratio of the systems has been steadily improved over the last few years and is more than competitive with that of mechanical separation processes.

Cost Comparison Depaneling

Potential users have a wide range of different processes available to them for separating printed circuit boards from a panel. In addition to the laser, there is a selection of mechanical separation processes, such as milling or die punching, which are characterized by different costs, qualities and cycle times. In order to ensure a suitable choice of a depaneling process for printed circuit boards, different factors should be taken into account when considering the process. These include, among others:

  • Investment Costs
  • Price-Performance Ratio
  • Follow-up Costs (Scrap, Malfunctions)
  • Sustainability/Resource Efficiency
  • etc.

Development Price-Performance Ratio

In many people's mind, depaneling with the laser is considered an expensive solution that is only used when mechanical separation processes cannot meet the high demands of the design and the sensitive components.

Over the past several years, significant advancements in both the perfrmance, and the reduced cost of the primary hardware components have led to the fact that the price-performance ratio of current laser depaneling systems is more than competitive with conventional router systems. Within the last ten years, the price-performance ratio of laser depaneling machines on the market has increased almost tenfold while traditional mechanical systems remained almost unchanged.

In the past, only the most demanding applications for cutting complex flex PCBs with lasers was economical. For several years now, the laser depaneling of rigid PCBs has and will continue to become more and more attractive.

Consideration of Follow-Up Costs

For many decision makers, the focus is on initial investment costs and the resulting price-performance ratio of the system. This is one factor that should be taken into account when purchasing a depaneling system, but certainly not the only one. Many overlook the additional running costs associated with operating and maintaining the equipment, buying consumable tooling or even post-depaneling processes such as cleaning the dust off each PCB when using mechanical depaneling methods. A laser has no need for expensive consumable routing bits or saw bladed, and because no dust is created, there is no dust to clean (or inhale).

Laser depaneling is a very attractive solution, especially with regard to follow-up costs. Due to the stress-free nature of laser depaneling, production yield is significantly higher than with mechanical separation processes. Damage to components or the PCB itself which is caused by mechanical stresses or deposited dust during mechanical separation processes is completely avoided due to the contactless and dust-free process.

In addition, the space that is wasted by the pre-routed channels surrounding each board, can now be reclaimed. By using a laser beam that is measured in mircons, the pre-routes can be eliminated, and the individual PCBs may be closer together, often allowing for an additional row of PCBs on the same panel. This is especially apparent for panels with small PCBs, as the wasted routing space is a significant percentage of the panel area. Consuming less raw material and reducing the amount of waste is not only a benefit to the bottom line, but also a benefit to our environment.

Sustainability and Resource Efficiency

Due to realized material savings as well as the reduction of potential defects and the corresponding increased yield of PCB production, the important factors of sustainability and resource efficiency can be adressed. In addition, the energy efficiency of laser systems has increased considerably in recent years. This is because the energy input has remained almost constant, while the performance of the systems has increased by a multiple. Overall, the energy efficiency has improved more than sixfold since 2010.

The factors mentioned above will become even more important in the future, especially in view of the finite nature of fossil ressources. Therfore, the most efficient as well as waste- and defect-free separation of printed circuit boards is to strived for and can only be fully guaranteed with the laser as a depaneling tool.

Re-definition of Laser Depaneling

With the new series of the CuttingMaster family, LPKF sets new standards in laser depaneling and offers customers a price-performance ratio never seen before. The systems can be equipped with different laser sources to meet specific requirements and are available in manual and automated versions.

Compact and extremely cost-efficient: the 2000 series is characterized by an excellent price-performance ratio and high quality, compared to mechanical separation processes the system is more than competitive.

CuttingMaster 3000

The 3000 series is a high-precision and powerful laser depaneling system with a maximum working area up to 500 mm x 350 mm. Optionally available with a pulse duration in the nanosecond or picosecond range.


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