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At productronica, Barry Matties, Andy Shaughnessy, and Patty Goldman of the 007 team sat down with Eduardo Benmayor, director general with Aismalibar, a laminate supplier currently focusing on thermal management for the LED and automotive markets. Here Eduardo discusses the company’s strategy for survival in such a highly competitive marketplace, the challenges they face due to rising material costs, and their pursuit of new technologies such as thermal flex.
Barry Matties: Tell us a bit about your company for our readers, what you do and what you offer.
Eduardo Benmayor: We are a laminate company focused mainly on thermal management improvement of the printed circuit board, which of course is a big issue today as everything is becoming smaller and smaller. It’s a big problem to dissipate the temperature. Helping the temperature release on the boards helps the designer to make the board smaller, more compact and with better efficiency.
Matties: When you talk about thermal management, in what way does your product help?
Benmayor: We are adding a lot of mineral content to the epoxy resins in order to achieve much better thermal transmission, or a reduction in the thermal impedance, in order to transfer the temperature from one side of the board to the sides or to the heat sink.
Matties: Is this recipe unique to your product? Or are there industry standards for what you can put inside material?
Benmayor: Well, it’s not unique. I mean, there are many people working on the loading of mineral content inside the resin. This is not new. The industry has used it for many years, but everybody is running their own formulation. There are many directions to take this technology and the R&D developments are always focused on which kind of mineral content they use in order to achieve a better performance. The larger the percentage of mineral content inside the resin formulation the better for the thermal release, however it’s quite complex to achieve a higher percentage and also maintain the laminate properties with high standards.
Matties: How do the fabricators spec this in? What is their process?
Benmayor: The normal mechanism is they test and they compare. There are many different laboratory methods that people use in order to test the thermal resistivity or impedance on the board. But at the final stage everybody wants to test a real populated PCB board. They solder the components and see what the real temperature of the components is that they want to dissipate. This is what they always compare. If I have 80°C on this joint point with my actual material, will I be able to have a lower temperature with a better material? What will be the new joint temperature? If temperature goes down, lifetime is expanded and power can be increased.
Matties: Where is the biggest demand for the thermal coming from? Is it the automotive industry?
Benmayor: Two main sectors. One is LED, especially in headlights. The high-end automotive industry is moving 100% to the LED industry because they are capable of a lot of functionality that they did not previously have. They really transfer all the old technology to LED. And due to this they need a lot of power, especially in the headlights. Rear lights are a completely different story. But today headlights are the most technology-driven in the industry. And they really need high-end materials to dissipate the temperature on the headlights. This is a priority for all OEMs today.
Number two is electric cars. The growing electric car industry requires a lot of power supplies and high current. Power supplies and high current means high temperature on the boards. To achieve certain goals, temperature must be dissipated and dropped down to extend the lifetime of the components. Many engineering departments are working hard to improve their thermal performance.
Matties: Is automotive your core focus?
Benmayor: The market is being divided in general. We are seeing the home appliance industry moving toward LED, but they are very focused on pricing. They don’t really appreciate the technology as much because they can work with a lot of different materials and it’s workable for them. Then you have high-end customers that really need the technology and they appreciate what you can offer them, because we are providers of a technical solution.
Matties: Do you serve the HDI space?
Benmayor: We are starting to pay attention to this industry as they have thermal issues as well. We are now working on several projects to reduce temperature on GPUs for avionics. According to the OEMs they have achieved very interesting results with our Cobritherm prepregs and Thin Lam. We are building up a team to work in this market as we see good potential.
Matties: So how do you grow your company? What’s your strategy?
Benmayor: We are focused today on two main aspects: one is to work with our customers and help them upgrade from traditional FR-4 to high thermal connectivity materials, which they really appreciate because they can then offer their customers better solutions. These are prepregs and thin cores with 2 and 3 w/mk. We are seeing a nice growth there. On the other hand, we are putting a lot of emphasis on the relationship with OEMs. We have added two more members into our organization that are dedicated to providing support to OEMs exclusively.
Matties: When you’re comparing to the traditional FR-4, is there a price differential on the material?
Benmayor: Yes. The price of thermal management products are higher, but they can save a lot of the costs in heat sinks and metallic cases of vacuum pipes, which are normally used to reduce temperature on components with high temperature. For example, we made several tests with a very big producer of GPUs and with our Cobritherm. We were able to reduce the temperature of the board by 14%. By achieving this goal the OEM could save the cost of metallic components for plastic cones and remove the vacuum pipes. By doing this they paid a little more for the base material, but saved a good deal more by removing metallic covers, heat sinks and pipes. The savings were incredible.
Matties: So they really have to see the value or have a problem in order to convert because otherwise, we’re so price sensitive.
Benmayor: If a customer can use FR-4 and the board works at a proper temperature there is no need to use thermal laminates. Due to our raw material cost, the Cobritherm product range will never be able to compete with the standard FR-4 market. Just as an example, our product incorporates nano particles to improve thermal conductivity; just this one component has a higher cost than all the ones used in an FR-4 laminate.
Matties: So as you were saying, the only way for them to really quantify the value difference is by trying it.
Benmayor: If an OEM is not able to see the technological advantage or collateral cost savings, they will never pay for it. We are 100% technical driven and our customer must be able of appreciate the thermal technology.
Matties: How do circuit board designers fit into the equation? Do you market to the designers and say, “We have solutions for thermal abatement?” Or is it driven on another level?
Benmayor: Both. We normally try to approach the OEMs and explain the advantages of using our material, and they normally go back to the PCB fabricators and ask them if they can make some prototypes with our Cobritherm line. So we are pushing both sides because PCB companies are also an OEM-prescriber at the end of the day. This is because many engineers at the OEM level talk to the PCB manufacturers and ask them for solutions. This is one direction. But for the big OEMs, we really need to approach the R&D centers and explain to them, “If you use this material, you will gain this and this.”
Matties: The automobile is now using a lot of electronics.
Benmayor: As far as I know, 10%-13% of the cost of a car is electronics but big players say it will go up to 30% in the near future. There is no doubt that electronics in automotive will grow during the coming years. There is no way to see the end.
Matties: This gives you an advantage in that you’re really focused on a market as opposed to just being a broad supplier. That gives you a chance to really stand out.
Benmayor: Basically, our advantage is that we are an EU supplier with high-end technical laminates capable to target the engineering departments of the biggest automotive producers in the world. As you may be aware, the EU leads the automotive industry and it’s considered at the highest level. Our disadvantage is that many of the mass production PCBs for the automotive industry are made in the Far East.