In December 2010, Saturn Flex hired Frank Reed to manage production at the Saturn Flex facility. Along with his experience in PCB manufacturing, Reed served previously as a production manager at the world’s second largest furniture manufacturer, Herman Miller. Reed moved to Alpharetta, GA from Detroit in December 2010 to help manage growth in the plant and oversee cross-departmental processing. He works closely with Joe Pline, Saturn Flex’s chief process engineer who has more than 30 years experience in building specialized and highly technical flex, rigid-flex and rigid PCBs, to set production schedules and manage process controls. Reed also now oversees all facility improvements, vendor relations and equipment operations.
These shop-enhancements led to several major accomplishments for Saturn Flex in 2011. Saturn Flex took on a number of jobs that pushed the boundaries of not only its capabilities, but of the industries’ capabilities.
In July Saturn Flex took on a flex board thayt included plated 2-mil vias. It was a prototype and the client was previously told by other board houses that it couldn’t be done. Saturn Flex took the project and with its upgraded plating system plated the 2-mil holes completely shut. The project – which also included 2-mil traces and spaces, was a success.
Then last fall, Saturn Flex took on another project that required 3-mil vias through an 8-mil, 4-layer flex board. Through R&D it was determined that lasering the vias was not an option. So Saturn Flex did what one outside drilling service with 30+ years experience and several vendors said was impossible: it successfully mechanically drilled the 3-mil vias. Then it successfully plated those vias. Today that is a production project and Saturn Flex is consistently producing that part. It was by no means easy and took a good deal of investment and R&D to make the part a reality. This project demonstrates Saturn Flex’s determination to be among the industry’s elite when it comes to manufacturing specialized and high-tech flex, rigid-flex and rigid PCBs.
In August 2010, Yash Sutariya set out to make his new company an industry leader. Throughout 2010 and 2011, Sutariya and his new team performed several processing audits meant to determine the plant’s manufacturing capacity and technological ability. Addressing the most critical needs first, Saturn Flex purchased and installed equipment in virtually every department. Some equipment replaced inferior pieces, while others were added to existing pieces.
The purchasing went on throughout the year, and by no means is the company done. As this report is being written, two multi-spindle drills are on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean coming from Germany to Saturn Flex. These drills are high-tech drills that can process a high number of panels in a short amount of time. With these drills, Saturn Flex does not anticipate any capacity issues in its drilling department for at least the next couple of years.
Saturn Flex is also in the process of installing a new Chemcut Ammonia Etcher. It is a newer model of Saturn Flex’s existing etcher with much greater capacity. It is being attached to a new resist stripper, enabling drastically reduced processing time for inner-layer and single-layer etching.
Saturn Flex’s next purchase will likely be a multi-platen vacuum press to address capacity needs at lamination. After that, Saturn Flex is well-prepared for future growth that is anticipated throughout 2012. The equipment that has been put in place throughout 4Q 2010 and 2011 has giving Saturn Flex a strong foundation for higher production runs, increased quality and oversight, and substantially elevated capability.
The following is a list of equipment by department installed during 4Q 2011 and all of 2012:
Crescent 30 Photoplotter
The addition of this machine enabled Saturn to bring fine-line photoplotting in house. Saturn now plots at a consistent 4,000 dpi resolution and plans are in the works to upgrade the hardware to enable an 8,000 dpi print.
Morton Dynachem 224 Vacuum Resist Laminator
This machine was an upgrade to our existing vacuum resist laminator and an addition to our Hot Roll Laminator. This machine has a stronger pump and a more simple application process enabling a stronger bond between resist and PCB which is important for fine line/pitch applications, with a shorter processing time.
OLEC Accuprint AP 30 5,000 Exposing Unit – This unit utilizes 5,000 watts of UV light and was an addition to our existing 2,000-watt unit. The increase in UV intensity enables shorter exposure times for our soldermask processing and greatly increases our ability to image fine lines helping to alleviate the risk of shadowing and under-curing of the resist film.
Saturn saw major improvements to its wet-processing department which also was an aim to increase both capacity and quality.
Sorensen DCS8-125E Rectifiers
Rectifiers are what controls the electrical output to the electroplating tanks. Plating is one of the core processes in building a multi-layer PCB and it is crucial to have an even distribution of copper throughout the PCB. Saturn Flex moved from a single rectification system where one rectifier supplies current to both anode bars on either side of the PCB/cathode bar, to a duel rectification system where the current supplied to each anode bar is controlled by its own rectifier. This allows Saturn Flex the ability to account for varying copper differences for each side of the PCB panel, and improves the control of the current which results in a more fluid and consistent flow of current.
In plating it is crucial to have a good flow of chemistry through the vias to ensure consistent and even plating. Saturn Flex has been using a back-and-forth agitation rack which pulls the panels through the solution to encourage that solution to flow through the vias. In late 2010, Saturn added vibration to the equation. These vibrators vibrate at very high frequencies and help to move out any stubborn air bubbles that might get trapped in very small vias. This process has helped to increase yield and greatly enhances Saturn Flex Systems’ ability to plate very small vias. They were instrumental in Saturns’ ability to plate shut a .002” via last July – an fete previously deemed impossible by our own chemical plating supplier.
Chemical Supplier OMG Added as new Vendor
Saturn Flex switched chemical vendors and thus plating systems in late 2011. OMG Group is a global leader in the supply of chemistry to PCB manufacturers. The company custom-designed and installed a plating bath that has both increased evenness in electroplating and dwell time for electroless plating. The company also has opened up use of its lab and serves as a backup test facility, sampling our bath once a month to ensure make-ups are ideal.
Perhaps in no other department is Saturn Flex more excited about the addition of equipment than its drilling department. Today, Saturn Flex can surely say that no other PCB shop in the world has better capabilities than its drilling department.
Excellon Concept 129 – In late 2010 Saturn Flex added one of the industry’s top drills for PCB manufacturing. This drill came fully equipped with 165,000 rpm spindles, laser TMG and broken bit detection, automatic tool change – all things that bring tolerances down, hole quality up and enables a 300+ hits per minute cycle. With this drill, late last fall Saturn Flex was able to mechanically drill a .003” via into a four-layer, .008” thick flex board. Until now, we had not heard of any drill operator drilling anything smaller than a .004” blind via into any substrate, much less a four-layer, .008” thick substrate. It was all done with lasering, which was out of the question for this particular part. In fact, the hardest part was getting a German company to custom-manufacture the very small bits. After accomplishing this fete, Saturn Flex has turned its clients’ part into a production run part and is consistently drilling the 792 required .003” vias into every four-layer flex they order .
Plasma Etch Plasma Etcher – In early 2011 Saturn Flex added this plasma etcher with the latest software available. The machine brought in-house a process critical to cleaning vias after drilling. This process will enable Saturn Flex to customize our cleaning of the holes and will decrease lead times.
Testing/Inspection – Saturn Flex has greatly increased its capacity and ability to test and inspect fine features with the addition of two flying probe testers and one automatic optical inspection device.
Gardien MPP6504 and Mania Speedy MPP4504 Flying Probe Testers – Saturn Flex added two flying probe testers to its existing Probot 6D. Both testers are more than 3X faster than the Probot, but the Gardien is the very latest flying probe tester created by Gardien and is the only one in use in North America today. Gardien offered the tester at a greatly reduced rate in return for the ability to use Saturn Flex’s inspection department as a showroom for other potential buyers to visit and see the machine in action. It actually arrived the first week in February and Saturn Flex is just getting used to its ahead-of-its-time capabilities.
Orbotech SK-75 AOI – The Orbotech unit is a meat and potatoes automatic optical inspection unit which automatically inspects PCB panels for shorts and opens. This automates a process that otherwise is done manually using microscopes, eyeballs and opens up the possibility of human error. This addition greatly decreases inspection times for PCB panels.
The Look Ahead
2011 was a year heavily focused on production and manufacturing improvements. As noted several new pieces of equipment have been added to the facility and employees are now trained and operating them. While this kind of evolvement is typically an ongoing process with any PCB manufacturing plant, Saturn Flex feels it has addressed concerns and established a good base for expected future growth. Future shop improvements will be less fundamental and more plug-and-play.
Now that this foundation of production has been established, Saturn Flex is more positioned to become more outward in its focus for improvement. 2012 will be a year where Saturn can now focus more on sharpening its marketing tools, securing desired certifications and improving its customer relations.
Certifications – Saturn Flex started down the path of securing several certifications that will both increase productivity as well as marketability.
ITAR – This certification is a necessity for any manufacturing company to have in order to manufacture goods that travel outside of the United States. Saturn Flex secured this certification last year.
ISO9001:2008 – The process was started in January 2011 and Saturn Flex made a deposit to the auditing firm Perry Johnson in September of 2011 to begin the process of becoming ISO9001:2008 certified. IS9001:2008 is a system whereby a company puts in writing every step of how it operates its manufacturing from the front office procedures to the shop-floor operation and maintenance of equipment. Then it creates history proving those guidelines have been followed. The system stresses repeatability, traceability and fluidity between departments.
As of today, Saturn Flex has created its 87-page Quality Assurance Manual which gives a brief overview of its operating guidelines. This manual is available in PDF format for anyone who requests it.
Saturn Flex is very close to calling for a final audit of its system and anticipates having this certification by the end of the first quarter.
Mil-Prf-31032 – This designation allows its components to be bolted on to an existing ISO9001:2008 certification. These components – which focus mostly on increased inspection, analysis and pre-engineering, have been included and are being followed in Saturn Flex’s existing ISO9001:2008 system. Once ISO9001:2008 certification is complete, an audit will be immediately requested for the Mil-Prf-31032 certification. Under this certification we will also be offering rigid PCBs to capture those last niches of the North American PCB market that the Saturn companies do not currently target.
UL – Saturn has made its initial deposit and is in the process of fabricating samples for testing at Underwriters Laboratories. This certification designates our products to be safe for public use and is what many companies who manufacture products for the general public look for. Saturn Flex anticipates securing this certification by the end of the second quarter.
In 2012 Saturn Flex looks to increase its presence on the stage of flex, rigid-flex and high tech PCB manufacturers. In doing this Saturn Flex will follow the lead of its owner Yash Sutariya, who in 2011 was named by Crain’s Detroit Business one of its prestigious “40 Under 40”. This award recognizes those business leaders under 40 years of old who show promise and a history of success. He will be speaking at IPC’s Flexible PCB conference in June in Irvine, CA.
Saturn Flex will work to increase the content on its Web site, enabling clients to learn more and more about the construction of flex, rigid-flex and high tech PCBs. It will also continue to work with its clients throughout not just the fabrication process, but also the design process to help reduce clients’ costs by increasing manufacture-ability. As always, Saturn wants to serve not just as a supplier to its clients, but also a resource.
And Saturn Flex Systems will continue to strengthen its reputation as a manufacturer that will strive to do whatever is necessary to provide its customers with competent service and top quality products.
For more information, please contact:
V.P. Marketing, Sales and Quality Control