DuPont, Taconic and PFC Team Up For High-Speed Flex

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Tom_McCarthy.jpgMcCarthy: We saw a presentation today on 56 Gbps, and they're not using the lowest-loss materials or even the flatter copper that is coming into the marketplace. And they're not using the newest treatments of oxide treatments on the innerlayer copper. Innerlayer copper usually gets some type of oxide or alternative oxide, so there's new technology in treating the innerlayers. I think you're going to see copper continue to keep going out further and further.

Matties: So there is head room?

McCarthy: Yeah, absolutely. There's more room to grow.

Kelly: You know, the military has been using blind and buried vias forever. In the telecom world, they try to get away from blind and buried vias and a lot of microvias, because of the cost. It's expensive to sublam, but the military has been doing three, four, five sublaminations forever. It's just a matter of time before all of this stuff trickles into telecom.

Matties: From a value point of view for your customers, is this expanding your market share or giving you a competitive advantage?

Kelly: It certainly gives us a competitive advantage because there are not very many people who can build this. We're probably at the forefront right now. People will catch up as this becomes more available, but PFC has always tried to stay a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of densities and new materials. Quite frankly, for a long time, there weren't a lot of new flex materials on the market. Now there's a huge proliferation and we're playing with quite a few of them. We're onto our fifth try of a new high-speed cover-lay this year already. The first two failed miserably, the third one looks good, and then I've got a new one I'm trying in the next couple of weeks. This is all kind of coming together, because our customer base needs this stuff yesterday. We're already shipping product, not a ton, but we are shipping, and it's working in high-speed applications. They're running the stuff at 28, 40 and 50 GHz, and they're happy. It's not only the speed, but they love the low loss and the low moisture absorption. That's the big thing. It makes a lot of difference to them.

Matties: Just for a little context, why don't you just give us a little overview of PFC.

Kelly: I started the company in 1997. Like any flex startup, we struggled for a while at first. In 1999 I was called down to Waterloo [Ontario, Canada] and I met with a company called Research in Motion. They were 35 people at the time, and for the next six years we built every flex circuit that they wanted.

So, we basically grew with them. In 2001, they came to us and said, "We hate assembling these things, they drive us crazy." They didn't fit the same profile as the rigid boards, so they were doing all their assembly in Waterloo. We got into the assembly side of the flex circuit business and made good money from them. They were a great customer. We primarily poured that money into high-density, next generation stuff, because in our opinion, that's where the market is going.

Research in Motion eventually went offshore, but for three years, from 2005–2008, their phones didn't even use flex, which was kind of a surprise, so we didn't care anyway. Then they got back into it. You look at any phone nowadays and they're just filled with flex circuits. Apple just dominates, in some cases, the flex circuit market. We continue to push that high-speed stuff and it’s still important to us. We do a lot of medical. The company is very successful.

Matties: Congratulations. And Tom, why don't you give us a little overview of Taconic?

McCarthy: Taconic was started by a person who worked at DuPont, left DuPont, and later built a factory on farmland that his wife owned in the middle of nowhere, east of Albany, New York. In the ‘60s it started out with fiberglass-reinforced Teflon® composites. In the ‘80s, it was fiberglass reinforced Teflon® composites for the circuit boards. We've been building Teflon®-based circuit materials for 35 years now. We want the performance of Teflon®, but we don't want you to even realize there's Teflon® in it. We want to make the Teflon® piece invisible, aside from the electrical parts. That's my primary job—to make it fabricate like it's not Teflon®.

Matties: And Glenn, we all know about DuPont, but why don't you just tell us a little bit about what you're doing over there?

Oliver: I do a lot of things at DuPont, and I'm not going to go through the whole history of DuPont, but I can say that a lot of people see DuPont as a chemical company. I think it's safe to say that we're definitely beyond that now. In fact, really it's more of a science and engineered materials company now than it ever was. I can definitely say that we're a company that is constantly changing. We've evolved significantly over the past two centuries. It started in 1802, so it has a very long history.

It has a good brand name and it should, because it's a good company to work for. I can say from my role there, what I focus on is this area of high-speed and high-frequency flex. It's still really a brave new world, because the flex circuit market is very small compared to the rigid circuit market. The knowledge base in terms of what designers have and what they understand to be the options is even less represented.

I guess you could say that one of the things I should have on my business card is evangelist for using flex in high frequency. I have a lot of passion for that business and I think it's an area that's going to win in the market, because there's a lot of untapped potential, as Steve and Tom pointed out.

Our paper this afternoon is going to show a lot of misconceptions that people have about flex circuits and hopefully we may be able to dispel them. That's one of the exciting things about my job because often designers have no idea that flex circuits can be a solution to their problems.

Matties: It sounds exciting, and you also have good timing. What do you guys think about the market for this year?


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