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Meeting Customers' Needs for Printed Circuit Boards
HASL machines such as this system from German manufacturer Pentagal make it possible for Cambridge Circuit to achieve tight control over critical material parameters, including flatness and finish.

Printed circuit boards (PCBs) come in many shapes and sizes. Circuit boards can be as traditional as plated-through-hole (PTH) structures fabricated on one layer to multilayer boards with complex circuit configurations. Producers of PCBs also come in many shapes and sizes, some large and ready to jump into full-scale production when needed. But at times, smaller and more agile PCB operations may make more sense, especially when a customer might be struggling to transform a prototype circuit design into a production PCB, and working closely with a PCB producer is required to achieve the best results.

Cambridge Circuit is just such a smaller, more-agile PCB producer, capable of working closely with circuit designers and customers in need of clear communications with their circuit-board manufacturer. Established in 1986 and still managed by its original owner, the PCB maker is based in Milton, England, on the outskirts of Cambridge, United Kingdom (UK) in a 5500-square-foot facility adjacent to the Cambridge Science Park. Its location makes it possible to work closely with many leading technology companies in the same area, and to supply a wide range of local and regional clients with PCB services.

All Types of Boards
Cambridge Circuit provides everything from conventional, single-layer PTH boards to multilayer circuit boards, manufacturing prototype runs and small-production batches of PCBs in all shapes and sizes. The company has built a reputation for fast turnaround time, from producing PCBs in the same day to deliveries within five standard working days. The firm has supplied prototype PCBs to help local customers develop their designs, and has also provided seamless transitions to larger volumes by means of partners in the Far East, helping customers with cost-effective production service.

All manufacturing operations are performed in-house at Cambridge Circuit, from computer-aided-manufacturing (CAM) and photoplotting to bare-board testing. By exercising full front-end CAM capabilities, PCB data is thoroughly checked before manufacturing is started, allowing the company to alert customers to any possible production problems early in the manufacturing process. Because of its complete control over the PCB manufacturing process, the firm can offer extremely responsive and reliable service to each and every customer.
Nickel in SN100CL alloy helps stabilize intermetallic growth for improved PCB solderability and reliability.

To provide its customers with the highest levels of quality, Cambridge Circuit uses only the best materials and manufacturing equipment. Since implementation of the European Union's (EU) RoHS Directive in 2006, the company has relied on high-quality SN100CL alloy from DKL Metals Ltd. for its hot-air-solder-leveled (HASL) process for application of a high-reliability, lead-free-solderable PCB finish. To meet increasing demand, it is upgrading its HASL equipment with the addition of a new HASL production machine from the German manufacturer Pentagal (, well known worldwide for its PENTA hot-air leveling machines.

New HASL Machine
Cambridge Circuit is actually one of the first UK-based circuit-board manufacturers to install a new Pentagal HASL machine, which brings many benefits, including ease of maintenance and excellent build quality. The Pentagal system makes it possible to set process parameters for a number of different jobs on the PLC controller, for tight control over critical material parameters, including flatness and finish. The same settings can be stored for future use for customers returning for a repeat order. Pentagal has more than 30 years of experience in the construction of HASL systems and peripheral equipment. The firm is truly a global player, supplying HASL equipment and flux to Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and North and South Africa.

Mark Sanford, Director of Cambridge Circuit, explained why the company decided to go with the SN100CL alloy from DKL Metals: "It is an industry-leading alloy and has a very good reputation. At the time of changeover to lead-free finishes, it was crucial that we had a solder that would give the very best results. There were a lot of reservations in the industry regarding lead-free finishes and DKL had a proven track record with SN100CL." DKL Metals also supplies Cambridge Circuit with SN100Cle, a top-up alloy. Its service in connection to this material includes regular analysis of the solder in its bath, attention to detail and process control that is not lost on Cambridge Circuit's customers.

Mark Sanford notes that SN100CL, which is specified by many of Cambridge Circuit's customers, provides a bright finish and is much more solderable than many of the competitive finishes. SN100CL is designed specifically for HASL equipment and provides numerous benefits, including excellent fluidity, bridge-free coating of fine-pitch circuitry, good penetration of PCB through holes (even with small diameters), uniform coating thickness, and low copper erosion. The alloy wets quickly but does not erode copper on through-hole walls and shoulders. It also enables the formation of a stable intermetallic layer. Nickel (Ni) in the SN100CL alloy stabilizes intermetallic growth, minimizing material modifications that can compromise solderability and reliability, even during high-temperature storage.

Circuit boards that are HASL finished with SN100CL alloy offer advantages compared to circuit boards finished with electroless processes, notably an intermetallic layer that complements solderability and supports excellent storage life. The SN100CL alloy is an excellent finish for circuit-board assemblers working with SN100C lead-free alloy in their wave-solder machines or for assemblers using any of the SAC range of lead-free alloys in their wave-solder machines.

Dedicated Employees
In addition to the best equipment and materials, Cambridge Circuit counts on the best people to provide high quality of service to its customers. These employees are extremely dedicated, and many have been with Cambridge Circuit for many years and have formed, close, long-term working relationships with Cambridge Circuit clients. A company policy enables clients to deal with Cambridge Circuit staff on a one-to-one basis for the duration of a professional relationship, for the duration of a business association, through all stages in the design, manufacture, and delivery of a product. This approach ensures that customers know exactly who they are dealing with and that issues can be dealt with quickly and efficiently.

Evidence of this strong customer-focused philosophy is the return rate or retention rate of Cambridge Circuit's customers. The company's client list ranges from large multinational firms, such as Phillips and Toshiba, to startup companies and lone operators. No matter the size or age of the customer company, the same level of service is offered to all clients. One of the rewards to company employees is to watch start-up-company clients expand into large, profitable businesses. For Cambridge Circuit, one of the greatest testaments to its way of doing business is that the company is still doing work for its very first customer.

Cambridge Circuit continues to look for new products for its customers, and ways to serve its customers. The firm is quickly growing its product portfolio and seeking to expand into new markets. The strong relationship with DKL Metals has helped to achieve this growth. DKL Metals has shown its commitment to provide excellent service and products, and that commitment has translated into excellent product quality and value for Cambridge Circuit's customers. Mark Sanford feels that the relationship between the two companies has been open and ideal and that he could not ask for more: "The support provided by DKL Metals has been excellent, and any technical issues we experienced have been dealt with quickly and satisfactorily."

Contact: Cambridge Circuit Company Ltd., 4 Winship Road, Milton, Cambridge, UK CB24 6BQ 01223 423100 E-mail: Web: or DKL Metals Ltd., Avontown Works, Linlithgow, West Lothian, UK EH49 6QD; 01506 847710 E-mail: Web:

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