EIPC Winter Conference 2023, Day 2 Recap

EIPC Winter Conference 2023, Day 2 Recap

Day 2 of the EIPC Winter Conference at the Groupama Stadium in the Décines-Charpieu region of the Lyon metropolis in eastern France included a privileged visit to the Bugey nuclear power plant for those who were registered and had passed their safety clearance. The interest was so great that the party was divided into morning and afternoon groups. EIPC Board Member Martyn Gaudion, CEO of Polar Instruments, did a good job facilitating session 6 twice.

material solutions
The theme of the session was Material Solutions for Challenging Conditions and the first speaker was Anthony Pascalet, Process Engineer at AGC Multi Material Europe in France, who spoke about the development and evaluation of thermally stable antenna materials for automotive radars.

He went into the evolution of automation when driving and parking, from early driver assistance to full automation, the different radar sensors involved and the antenna designs and materials to be optimized depending on the radar function.

Its product roadmap showed AGC’s glass-reinforced and non-glass PTFE grades, already in volume production to support large Tier 1 companies, and glass-reinforced thermoset materials, which are the new option for automotive radar.

Pascalet gave some reasons for the trend towards thermosetting materials for high-frequency applications: PTFE is difficult to process, mechanically not robust and only offers limited possibilities for homogeneous multilayers. Challenges for thermoset materials were their comparative thermal instability, fluctuations in dielectric properties with temperature and significantly higher losses than PTFE.

He explained that AGC’s advanced thermoset materials offer improved electrical performance and very high reliability, with enhanced design flexibility through sequential build-up processes not possible with PTFE. He compared a conventional hybrid antenna circuit board with an antenna circuit board created using the sequential construction method, showed examples of double-sided three- and four-stage construction constructions and named numerous test results.

The material is easy to process, comparable to FR-s4 and has good compatibility with FR4 in hybrid structures. Printed circuit boards have stable electrical performance and insertion loss comparable to PTFE laminate with little temperature dependence. It has robust thermal performance and is resistant to heat aging, is compatible with lead-free assembly, and has good thermal cycling characteristics. Antennas have a stable resonant frequency over a wide temperature range.

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special laminates
Another presentation on specialty laminates – this time for high performance computing and the automotive industry – was given by Andreas Folge from Nan Ya Plastics in Germany. He introduced High Performance Computing (HPC) as a practice of aggregating computing power in a way that delivers much higher performance than traditional computers. Individual computing nodes in a connected group, processing large amounts of data at very high speeds, enable the study of the world’s greatest scientific, technological and economic problems.

Examples in the automotive industry are simulations for autonomous driving; to support the design, manufacture and testing of new products; and aim for safer cars and more efficient processes. Folge sees the car of tomorrow as a computer on four wheels, the value of which increasingly depends on software content and associated services. The car will no longer be built around an engine, but around a software platform and will be a fusion of the worlds of automotive and high-performance computing: “Software Shapes the Hardware.” There will be an integration of software and services from multiple providers.

What requirements will the automotive industry of the future place on suppliers of copper-clad laminates? Folge first gave some typical examples in the field of power supply and EV charging: heavy copper, all up to 12 oz, high thermal reliability, high anti-CAF performance and a comparable tracking index of at least 600. For embedded components, a customer Specification could include Tg above 220°C, CTE less than 40ppm per degree, insulation performance greater than 50kV per mm, high moisture resistance and low ionic contamination.

For millimeter wave communication and driver assistance systems, typical material requirements are for low Dk and Df; low expansion coefficients in the X, Y and Z directions; high modulus; and high anti-CAF performance.

Following were examples of specific Nan Ya product offerings in low Dk and Df materials to support 24GHz, 77GHz and 79GHz radar in vehicle ADAS systems, high thermal reliability materials for electric powertrains and battery management systems. Elsewhere, in high performance computing, there is rapid growth in the server and storage device market, particularly in artificial intelligence and machine learning accelerators. Nan Ya continues to invest heavily in R&D, especially in low-loss materials, reaping the benefits of a vertically integrated upstream structure.

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Manage PCB stackup

Not only did Martyn Gaudion moderate the session on Material Solutions for Challenging Conditions twice, he also made an extremely valuable contribution to the conference proceedings with his own presentation on managing PCB stacks in the global supply chain – twice.

His message: “Stackup tools are a solution to communication.” He asked, “Would you trust a board that communicated a complex setup like this?” and gave a number of actual examples of vague and potentially misleading instructions and drawings, including even one on the back of an envelope or nothing more than a phone call. He has seen many instances where the incorrect delivery of stackup information has led to costly consequences, often with compromised reliability and unpredictable high-speed performance.

The alternative he offered was Polar’s industry-standard Speedstack PCB Stackup Design Tool, which clarifies and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings with PCB manufacturers and the supply chain.

He commented on the growing need by designers and manufacturers to communicate layer stackup information at an unprecedented level of detail, and increasingly by procurement teams and third-party brokers to ensure error-free exchange of stackup information between originator and manufacturer.

Polar’s communication solution is to define the stack in an open XML format that interfaces with industry-standard CAD and CAM systems, can be written in third-party tools, and has access to extensive material libraries.

Bugey Nuclear Power Plant

While Gaudion moderated the conference sessions, two separate groups set off in their buses and followed the Rhône some 35km upriver from Lyon to Bugey in the municipality of Saint-Vulbas to visit the nuclear power station with its four pressurized water reactors.

Here are some notes Alun Morgan made during the visit:

“The visit started with an introduction to EDF and its energy balance in France. EDF has 167,000 employees, 38.5 million customers and generates 558 TWh of electricity, 78% nuclear, 12.8% renewable, 8.8% hydro, 0.7% coal, 1% fuel oil and 7, 3% from gas. 91% of their energy production is CO2-free. In France there are 56 nuclear power plants spread over 18 sites, all of them Generation 2 pressurized water reactors with a power range from 900 Mwe to 1450 Mwe.

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“They explained in detail how the network is supplied and were able to comprehensively answer the many questions raised. They passed around a container with three uranium fuel pellets, each weighing 7 grams. Each had the same energy production potential as 1 ton of coal.

“The site visit was fascinating and it was clear that the site was well organized and managed. We could see the various emergency power systems, as well as the newest ones, housed in tall buildings to remove any potential risk of flooding. We were able to enter the secured area and see the reactor containment. The visit then took us to the huge turbine hall. Each of the turbine blades weighed 150 tons and the hall was equipped with heavy-duty cranes. This is engineering on a grand scale; the return pumps, of which there were three, were the size of houses.

“As a teenager I visited Trawsfynydd nuclear power station, the main memory I have of it being the massive turbine hall which looked remarkably like that at Bugey; the process of converting steam into electricity probably hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years. The other memory is walking around the reactor floor in Trawsfynydd during operation, something you could do in a Gen 1 Magnox reactor that you can’t do today with the PWR design. As I left the site, it struck me that all of the massive electricity being produced only gets to the grid through six pairs of modest wires via poles. I was probably expecting more or thicker cables.”

conference observation

Overall, the EIPC Winter Conference 2023 was a superbly organized and coordinated event and the efforts of the EIPC team, particularly Kirsten Smit-Westenberg, Tarja Rapala-Virtanen and Carol Pelzers, are warmly acknowledged. Thank you for organizing an impressive and informative programme, an excellent venue and a great networking opportunity for the European PCB community.

I am grateful to Alun Morgan for allowing me to use his excellent photographs and notes on the power plant visit.