With technology widely-recognized as the best in-class for 3D automated optical inspection, CyberOptics is a proven solutions provider to customers around the world. We caught up with Dr. Subodh Kulkarni, President and CEO, to learn the latest about current trends, the latest technology and where he sees things heading in the future.
1. CyberOptics is acknowledged as a global leader in high-precision 3D sensors for the industrial metrology, surface mount technology (SMT) and semiconductor markets – what are the core customer requirements across these different areas?
Regardless of whether it’s for automated optical inspection, solder-based inspection, semiconductor tool measurement or parts inspection, our manufacturing customers have a lot in common. Although they may operate in industries from consumer electronics to aerospace, automotive, to medical devices and many more, they’re all focused on increasing operating efficiencies, production yields and quality.
As a company, our primary goals are to save our customers time and expense and through our pioneering sensor technology, they have the means to strengthen their competitive positions as the demands for higher accuracy at faster production speeds increase.
We have made significant progress in developing and manufacturing high precision 3D sensors for the three key market segments you mention, but we’re constantly trying to stay ahead of the curve in order to meet and exceed our customers’ ever-changing requirements.
2. Indeed – as a company that has been pioneering optical sensing technology for over 30 years, just how do you succeed in maintaining your position as a leader in this field?
Basically, in a number of ways. Our technology leadership stems from our sensor expertise, sophisticated algorithms, rich patent portfolio and our daily commitment to continuous advancement. A good example of this is our proprietary 3D Multiple Reflection Suppression (MRS) technology, which enables microscopic-level inspection at production speeds, and which we now deploy in all of our market segments. We’ve invested a lot in this technology and feel that it is a genuine differentiator to alternative technologies that are available on the market.
3. That sounds interesting – can you tell us how that works, and what makes it unique?
MRS sensor technology basically enables metrology-grade accuracy by inhibiting optical measurement distortions and reflections. So, essentially, what we’re doing is digitally ‘tagging’ the light to ensure we supress the multiple reflections and enable high-quality measurement and inspection reports.
Conversely, most of our competitors are using systems comprising a single camera and multiple projectors in series, but our solution reverses that by incorporating multiple cameras and a digital projector. Effectively, it’s like they are using vacuum tubes while we’re using a new transistor, which totally tips the balance in our favour in terms of speed and accuracy.
The attributes of MRS technology are underscored when you consider that it’s now at the heart of the world’s cell phone manufacturing inspection systems and is increasingly used in various applications where highly accurate inspection is critical. We are also working to enable MRS to address applications in the mid-end semiconductor and advanced packaging market. We also see future opportunities in the large front-end semiconductor market as in which to leverage the unique combination of speed and accuracy, but we are first working to penetrate mid-end with MRS.
4. What are the main market drivers that are influencing where optical inspection technology is headed?
Regarding SMT, it’s essential to maximise yields given the decrease in size of electronics packaging and the increase in density of printed surface boards. There is definitely a greater need for precision accuracy and speed that continues to drive the market shift to 3D optical inspection requirements and the latest solutions on the market are geared towards meeting these requirements. These include our own offering, which maximizes ROI and line utilization by using multi-view 3D sensors that quickly capture and transmit highly accurate data simultaneously delivering performance that is unparalleled in the industry.
We are also increasingly finding that many of our customers – be they manufacturers of PCBs, semiconductors or consumer electronics – want fast and accurate X, Y and Z measurements of the various different features they have in their circuits, devices and various parts.
By listening to and working closely with customers to meet this requirement, we developed our SQ3000 CMM (coordinate measuring machine). We believe it’s the world’s first in-line CMM that can measure any object and deliver hundreds of thousands of dimensions simultaneously in less than ten seconds. Compare that to traditional CMMs that are less accurate, far more complicated to use and typically take up to a couple of hours, and you start to see why we are so excited about it.
5. Why is this information so important and sought after by electronics manufacturers?
As I mentioned previously, circuits are becoming more complex, and parts are getting smaller. Metrology always played a big role within the semiconductor industry and when you’re manufacturing such minute and advanced parts, it is a crucial stage of the whole inspection process.
Not only is it important, but we’re finding that customers are demanding more and more of it, particularly the high-end customers. It’s no longer enough to say whether a part is good or bad from a simple pass/fail inspection report; customers increasingly need to know why and how. If they know this, they can then feed that data back to identify the root cause as soon as possible to avoid further defects. This is why it continues to be critical – especially within the smart factories environment – to have measurements, as well as inspections.
And of course, it makes sense that the faster the manufacturer can obtain measurements, the faster they can analyze it, make the necessary design changes and continue production. So, fundamentally, it’s about enabling manufacturers to enhance development cycles, improve productivity and maximize yields.
6. So, looking ahead to what lies in store, can you share your predictions on any trends or opportunities?
One thing that we have noticed is that, to some extent, the SMT and semiconductor markets appear to be blending into one, due to the emerging area of advanced electronic packaging. A good example are the latest smartphones, like the iPhone X, or Samsung Note S9, which instead of incorporating a traditional PCB, instead accommodate an advanced package that Apple and Samsung have put together.
I think this is a good indicator of where we are heading and I believe that the PCB industry is going to change dramatically for this kind of advanced electronic packaging, where accurate measurement will be vital to ensuring yields are high.
So, I would say that as we begin to see more and more advanced products in that area, it certainly presents a significant growth opportunity for companies like ours that are already firmly established within the SMT, semiconductor and metrology space.