52 dip tanks with 80 approach positions fed by three automatic carriages. That’s exactly what printed circuit board specialist Varioprint AG based in Heiden, Switzerland, has been benefitting from in recent months thanks to its new, ultramodern electroplating facility. What’s more, the fully automated concept boasts two perfectly integrated key features: UP56 ultrasonic level sensors for level measurement and C4000 safety light curtains for area protection.
Varioprint AG: Specializing in printed circuit boards – and exports
Varioprint AG is based in the Swiss municipality of Heiden and has made a name for itself as one of the country’s leading manufacturers of printed circuit boards. It draws customers from other parts of Europe, the Far East, and the USA – and its export share of 85% is clear evidence that these key markets see the company as a strong international contender that provides highly innovative solutions.
Seeking to uphold this profile in its future activities too, in 2013 Varioprint made the decision to expand its production capacity and invest in a new, fully automated electroplating facility. “We see this new facility as a real technological milestone, as it opens up significantly more production options for us”, says Christoph Hutter, Technical Services Manager and member of the management board at Varioprint AG.
“Our existing facility wasn’t able to produce every kind of printed circuit board, which meant that we had to outsource some of our production. Now, though, we have the tools to electroplate circuit boards with a range of different thicknesses – from 50 µm to 5 mm – and with an accuracy level of 10 µm over the entire board. What this means is that we can now keep our main area of expertise – electroplating – entirely in-house.” Following the ground-breaking ceremony on May 1, 2013, the new facility was up and running as early as November – complete with sensor solutions provided by SICK.
Level measurement for bubbling, spattering media
At its heart, electroplating is essentially a chemical process. Not only do the water and additives in the dip tanks have to be present at a certain ratio, but the filling height of the liquid mixture also has to stay within certain limits. “For level sensors that detect evaporation losses and leaks in dip tanks, and monitor the medium supply, bubbling and spattering media create a really tough environment to work in”, says Patrick Risi, Product Manager at SICK’s Stans site in Switzerland. “Thanks to the UP56, we were able to provide GALVABAU AG with a rugged, reliable solution that has none of the disadvantages associated with ordinary float switches or capacitance probes.”
Used for continuous level measurement and able to output up to two different level limits directly, these ultrasonic level sensors boast not only measurement accuracy but also outstanding resistance to all kinds of aggressive media, thanks to a stainless steel enclosure with an IP67 rating and a transducer that is protected by a Teflon coating. This exceptional ruggedness doesn’t just talk the talk, it walks the walk too: “With the UP56, measurements and notifications are both reliable and error-free”, states Christoph Hutter. “The level measurement values at the individual dip tanks are displayed on the control system’s visualization screen. If the level is too low, the media is automatically topped up as necessary.” GALVABAU’s Managing Director Markus Gisler also has high praise for the number of ways in which parameters can be set during commissioning: “It’s possible to switch the analog signal and adjust the switching signal limits using the integrated operator display, a PC or even Connect+.”
Carriage traffic without collisions
In the fully automated electroplating facility, a total of three carriages each transport between three and six printed circuit boards per journey to the dip tanks, and then take them away again after electroplating is complete. Vertically installed C4000 safety light curtains monitor the routes of the gantry structures, providing a reliable way of preventing collisions and the risk of accidents involving people in the facility. Classified as PL e according to EN ISO 13849 and Type 4 according to IEC 61496, these devices meet the very highest standards of protection. Some real benefits for Varioprint AG are the system’s sensing range of seven meters, the ability to cascade the systems over the entire length of the facility, and the beam coding feature, which provides reliable protection against mutual interference during operation. If someone breaches the protective field, the safety light curtains stop the carriages in their tracks instantly.
Equipped with its new electroplating facility, Varioprint AG is now in the best possible position to provide new, customized printed circuit board solutions. And thanks to the SICK sensor technology, the company can be sure of professional, flexible production processes that are reliable in every respect.
Intelligent fluid sensor solutions from SICK:
- Product information: C4000 safety light curtain, UP56 ultrasonic level sensor
- Product portfolio: Safety light curtains, level sensors
- Customer information: Varioprint AG, Galvabau AG
- All Articles: Fluid sensors, opto-electronic protective devices, measuring, electronics