Linear drive technology aids PCB production throughput

Paul Boughton

Demand for advances in the design, development and manufacture of printed circuit boards (PCB) is ever increasing. As a result PCB production equipment manufacturer Rainbow Technology Systems has developed a new machine that is designed to help increase the speed at which circuit boards are printed, with a higher accuracy for detail, increased right first time yield, and a reduction in process waste.

To ensure that the circuit boards have a smooth transition between each process stage, Rainbow Technology used several linear belt drives. However, during the initial testing stage of the machine, these belt drives failed. It was at this point that Rainbow Technology turned to Festo, who had been touring the UK in its electric drives mobile. The two companies met at a local consultation in Glasgow and agreed an order of two ELGA-RF linear belt drives as an alternative to the original parts. Due to the urgency of the situation, Festo configured and dispatched the belt drives to Rainbow Technology within two weeks.

“After meeting with the Rainbow Technology team and hearing their needs, we provided them with our new ELGA-RF belt drive axis,” says Nigel Dawson, product manager for electric drives at Festo.

The Festo ELGA-RF operates the main transport system of the PCB machine. The belt drives are capable of carrying high loads at increased speeds, therefore helping to increase production. The reliable ELGA-RF has robust roller bearings, which enables it to move at a faster speed of up to 10 m/s compared with alternative belt drives that use ball bearing guides.

“The two belt drives were synchronised together to extend the length of travel inside the machine,” says Robert Gibson, chief mechanical engineer, Rainbow Technology. “Here, speed and accuracy of the Festo ELGA-RF belt drives made a big contribution to the final design of the transfer system, as well as the predicted operational lifetime of the parts, which is in excess of five years.”

The ELGA-RF can handle almost double the payload capacity of conventional roller bearings, capable of carrying up to 160kg. The robust design of the ELGA-RF belt axis guarantees that they are suitable for stop-start motions and their low profile allows them to take up minimal space in the machine.

Rainbow Technology’s new Inner Layer Process Line PCB machine is just eight metres long and is capable of printing 180 double sided panels an hour. With a standard energy consumption of just 4kW, the machine can produce high density circuits with higher yields and less waste due to its unique design with unparalleled levels of ‘hands free’ automation.

The method employed by the new PCB machine no longer relies on the use of industry standard dryfilm or liquid resist to create the circuit boards. By using a more economical solvent free, liquid etch resist, Rainbow Technology’s new approach brings a range of savings throughout the process. These machines will be shipped out to Asia for use as high-speed production lines.

Following the successful first use of Festo’s electric drives in its current PCB machines, Rainbow Technology has commissioned Festo to evaluate the pneumatics on the next generation of PCB machines to make recommendations on how Festo parts can be utilised.