Productronica 2011

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 11 May 2012



Ling, J. (2012), "Productronica 2011", Circuit World, Vol. 38 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Productronica 2011

Article Type: Exhibitions and Conferences From: Circuit World, Volume 38, Issue 2

In 2009 it seemed that the old friend was in a bad way. In 2011 it seems that that same patient has recovered somewhat, but major surgery has changed him. His sense of direction is not the same, and his personality is less cheerful; he has become quite thrifty, and is worried about his future. Much of this may be due to the economic situation, but he has not been able to keep up with a changing world as well as he might have done had he been feeling more his usual self. He is still in Ward B1, the visiting hours are the same, but the number of visitors other than devoted family members remains small.

Susan Reavey-Sutter at Lippert-Unipol waxed enthusiastic about their new LIPPRITE® planetarising brush, which had nothing to do with space exploration, but everything to do with hole plugging removal. Benefitting from their union with the Osborn Group, they have developed a new cup brush which combines diamond-tipped pads along with water retention pads, and which removes hole plugging media without damaging the hole or the edges, leaving a perfectly planar surface. Another aid to yield improvement, in a small but significant way, in an industry which forms a valued part of their business.

André Bodegom at Adeon Technologies symbolises much of the change within the European PCB market supply side. The downturn in the number of OEMs able to support their sales and service activities in Europe has given rise to specialist engineering companies who are prepared to take up that mantle, and Adeon is one of them. He has recruited new engineers, and now carries the flag for companies such as KLG, Semblant, Camtek, amongst others, and, imminently, MuTracX. Adeon has always sustained a reputation for great reliability, and now carries responsibility for some major names within much of Europe. A complete Anglophile, the ever-reliable and inevitably-energetic André retains the UK as his own “patch” so that in itself is welcome news for many.

Martyn Gaudion at Polar Instruments mentioned that their market in the USA continues to be strong, with the UK and Asia both slowing a bit. About 60 per cent of their business is in design, 40 per cent in the PCB sector, but they have had a good year and seem likely to continue to do well as they respond to input from their large customer base. No slackening of pace on their stand, nor in product development.

The Viking Test stand was also a busy one, in both equipment and visitors alike. Jake Kelly reckons that he now has about 80 per cent of the UK market for wet processing equipment, based upon having highly functional and affordable equipment with service and support. Much of this comes from UCE, whose equipment is operationally friendly, and requires very little maintenance. On the stand was a new brushing line, incorporating much of the traditional IS excellence, for 50μm inner layer brushing, as well as for flex circuitry, complete with conveyor system, and with high-accessible components. Also shown was his own make of legend ink-jet printer, complete with laser warpage sensor, vacuum bed, camera alignment, and running with two heads which can allow for two colours to be printed at the same time. Completing the picture was a Kejie automated drilling machine and a roller cleaning system.

His stand was typical of many, upon which well-known names had consolidated to showcase their hardware on a smaller footprint of stand space than might have been desirable in previous years. Apart from Atotech and Schmid, stands were by and large modest, but just as effective. Some companies were not there at all, sadly indicating a fading of those who have known and enjoyed the sunlit days of yore, and have cut their coates according to their cloth.

Now called MEK Europe, the former Marantz Europe Company was showing their new SP5 5D laser inspection system which had attracted a huge amount of attention when Henk Biemens, their CEO, took it on a roadshow through Europe in September. During that excursion he was able to prove to interested potential customers the effectiveness of the equipment in less than 4 h in their own working environment. Such an approach to product proving is effective, and puts his company well ahead of the competition, such as it is.

Totech sounds like the name of a company involved with safety footwear, but what they do make, and very well indeed, in Holland, is safety cabinets for components. The hazard here is moisture, which is complete anathema to component placement, and within the very sophisticated cabinetry is an environment in which components, loose or on reels, or antennae, can be stored prior to assembly a low Rh and at ambient temperatures, with insulation such that only very modest energy consumption is required. The calamities of component failure after assembly through iffy storage are now in past times.

Rehm Thermal Systems have taken some of the horror out of reflow ovens by installing an integrated residue management system that includes pyrolysis technology in the heat zones. Pyrolysis is the thermally induced decomposition of organic compounds, breaking complex molecules down into simpler substances through the use of high temperatures. By splitting long molecular chains into shorter ones, pyrolysis significantly reduces the amount of condensable waste and unwanted dripping within the process chamber. Since remaining residues are captured within a special granulate, the system is virtually maintenance-free, requiring only an exchange of granulate every 12 months. Rehm have also listened to their customers and have engineered their VisionX lines to match life expectancy to a point where, in a competitive environment, they are more than holding their own.

The charming European sales manager for Pola e Massa was happy to respond to the suggestion that the survival of a small company in a highly competitive and declining market was a matter of some enquiry. At their HQ in Ovada, Italy, there are just 40 employees, of who 15 are involved in R&D. 30 years old as a company; they have succeeded in having the right equipment at the right place at the right time, an exercise that is not a matter of luck. But more recently, their engineering skills in surface treatment were such that they came to the assistance of a multinational Korean company who were in some degree of embarrassment, and resolved a processing obstacle for them. Their equipment is now specified throughout the supply chain for the production of complex circuitry used in the IT field, and the production lines of this “family” company in Italy have been very busy indeed.

The EIPC stand this year was not only much bigger, but busily populated by staff and visitors alike. Joining EIPC this year was IeMRC, represented by Professor Paul Conway and Dr Darren Cadman, both from the University of Loughborough. The innovative electronics manufacturing research centre at Loughborough is the hub of a large number of projects running in the UK, with the Phase II ones being related to carbon-based electronics, smart microsystems, ultrasonic plating processes for PV and PCB manufacture, power modules for networks, amongst many others. Most of the major British universities are involved in some way or another, along with industrial partnerships. The industry guru that is Walt Custer was also present, except when he was giving presentations to those many people who wished to know what the market situation was now, and what his crystal ball might foresee for them. It is to be hoped that the full recovery of his own condition can be emulated elsewhere. Emerald Group Publishing was also flying the flag for the three engineering journals that are pertinent to the show.

Just over the way, Chris Wall of Electra Polymers spoke of the drivers for development in his company. These were direct imaging and LED. Much work has been done on tuning resists to fit light source wavebands, narrow for lasers (±5 nm) for lasers, and wider bands for LEDs. This has led to some clever chemistry which has immediate application in primary imaging, allowing etch resist to be imaged with LEDs as a light source at less than 5 mJ. White solder resists are required for lighting and automotive applications, and these make their own demands on resin and pigment formulations. Other areas of work including wafer level packaging, EL materials, and membranes for fuel cells. Electra has been busy.

On the Rainbow Technology Systems Ltd stand was a remarkable video alongside some equally remarkable equipment, all of which form part of an integrated automatic system to coat, image and develop fine lines on circuit boards. With a throughput of 200 d/s panels per hour, maximum size 21×24 in., the Rainbow process hinges around the coating, imaging and development of panels using halide film which is in direct contact with wet resist during exposure, providing the ultimate in definition, namely, 10μm features. The system uses about as much power as an electric kettle (3 kW), has a footprint of 10 m2, and is fully automatic. The light source is LED, giving 5 mJ, and whilst the process operates in the vertical plane, the system works on the industry standard of Hi-Ho. The pilot line is operational at their premises near Glasgow, where proving trials can take place. The microelectronics and printed electronics markets are valid for the benefits of this new line as much as traditional circuit board manufacture. The future looks colourful.

LPKF is another remarkable company. At a time when such statistics might seem incredible, they have reported a 60 per cent growth rate, sales revenues are up from €61-79 million, earnings (EBIT) is 15 per cent, and the order intake now is 22 per cent up on last year. They are investing €11.5 million of their own money in production capacity at Garbsen, to increase it by 50 per cent and are currently running at full capacity. LPKF have always been innovative, but now their position in three distinct markets is unassailable, with their LDS systems used world-wide in the production of cell phones, and latterly notebooks, and tablet PCs. In thin-film manufacture they are expanding their production capacity to meet demand, and maintain their position in the top three companies involved with plastic welding.

On the equipment side they launched at the show their new Protolaser U3, aptly described as the “Swiss Army Knife” of the laboratory; this combines lasers for both structuring and cutting and drilling. This was joined by their Fusion 3D 1500 for long antennae used in the IT market, where LDS antennae are required for netbooks and notebooks. Automotive backlighting and LED sockets are also produced with LPKF equipment. LPKF enjoy strong global partnerships with their associates and strong growth over the coming years seems assured, against all the usual indicators.

ATOTECH benefitted from a cheerfully designed and colourful stand that was seldom less than crowded; they have developed a new electrolyte for filling blind microvias using insoluble anodes. It gives a uniform filling distribution over the entire plated panel using force flood agitation. InPro T400 by name. They also have a new touchless transportation system (TTS) for the horizontal transportation of touch-sensitive surfaces like SAP or embedded circuits, which can be incorporated into their uniplate lines.

Orbotech were busy right from the off, and never had less than a busy stand. They were demonstrating their latest technologies, which included the new automated optical repair (AOR) system, PerFix™ 200, for high speed repair of shorts and excess copper on advanced PCBs; the new generation Fusion™ 22 automated optical inspection (AOI) system, the Paragon™-Xpress 9 mass production laser direct imaging (LDI) system with third party automation, the Sprint™-100 inkjet legend printer and InCAM™, the comprehensive, high-precision computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) system for HDI and IC substrates developed by Frontline PCB Solutions. The relentless demand for products that are smaller, faster and price competitive by this consumer world puts demands upon manufacturers; this in turn calls for the need for production tools that offer advantages in delivering quality, cost and time-to-market that they require. We saw a lot of this at the show.

Since news about AdoptSMT first appeared in our columns, the company has expanded from a base in Germany and the UK to Austria, Poland and Romania, from which centres they can supply and service many of the famous names of SMT, including Assembléon, Siplace, Mydata, Rehm, Marantz, EKRA, DEK, MPM, to name a few. They are now co-operating with Hover-Davis further afield in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania, based on a successful partnership for many years elsewhere. Now 20 years old, AdoptSMT enjoys a position at the forefront of the pre-owned equipment market, complimenting this with a rapidly growing second core activity of spare parts, tools and consumables. A once modest stand has grown exponentially!

Ing. Luca Corli is the Assistant Director of Sales at SEICA, who are now celebrating 25 years in business. Luca explained how they have now incorporated a great deal of automation onto their flying probe testers so that they have automatic load/unload and thus can run without any manual intervention, such as through a night shift. Testing is done vertically, obviating the problems of bow and sagging, especially with thinner substrates, and testing is done double-sided, such that both d/s and s/s boards can be run through the line most efficiently. They are also offering reverse engineering through their equipment. Notable customers such as DB, Air France and Dassault have a need to repair circuit boards, and the location of the fault, such as solder joint cracking, or component loosening, can be ascertained quite readily with a flying probe tester which will generate CAD data previously unavailable. A thermal sensor can also be used to measure the temperatures of ICs under test to locate areas where repair is required. They have mature mechanics, and by their own versatility are adding value to their range with new software and abilities.

Over in Hall A2, Assembléon was launching their new iFlex SMT system.

iFlex is an intelligent and flexible SMT system that is suited for high product mix manufacture, and works on a single pick/single place basis, which they claim offers defect levels of less than ten DPM. The concept allows manufacturers to produce in volume on one lane, while frequently and independently changing jobs on the second, which means that a wide variety of PCBs to be assembled simultaneously on a single manufacturing line.

The flexibility built into iFlex allows manufacturers to assemble high quality PCBs in any quantity, regardless of variety. Assembléon say that electronics manufacturers, especially in Europe and the Americas, are seeing a growth of their product mixes, and so changing from one product variety to another takes time, and therefore there is a cost. With what is a “smart” combination of flexible hardware and software solutions they offer the flexibility to help manufacturers to produce more efficiently.

Schmoll Maschinen GmbH were launching something new of their own, too. The PicoDrill was on display, in operational mode, and was impressive. A laser machine for micro-drilling blind vias, the “green” laser operates at very high speed, 1,000 holes per second being at best, and with mixed technology boards, 500 holes per second. The system has automatic load/unload, and can run for many hours without manual supervision. For drilling, cutting and structuring, this is a machine for mass production, with <10μm accuracy.

Mydata of Täby in Sweden is a company who have made great progress into the SMT world in what seems like a very short space of time, and they were attracting a lot of attention with their MY500 jet printing machine for solder paste printing. Stencils here are things of the past, and the jet printing of a board from a pre-loaded cartridge is done at enormously high speeds with great accuracy, and each job can be programmed and optimised before printing begins, with great increases in productivity.

MuTracx had nothing to show but everything to offer. Their new Lunaris is close to completion and will be installed at a beta site very shortly. In the field of primary imaging, the competition has just got a lot hotter. Offering CAM to etch in 5 min, the Lunaris process removes 11 of the normal 15 process steps in inner layer manufacture. Costs are dramatically reduced, productivity is 100 per cent yield, and the equipment demands only a modest footprint whilst having very low energy consumption allied to very high productivity, offering one full panel every 20 s for 125μm line and space, or every 40 s with 75μm line and space. Stuart Hayton was happy to talk to the many people who came to see him, and many of the handshakes had deeper meanings.

Productronica appears to be as big as ever. But it is not. It appeared to be as well attended as ever. But it was not. Now might be a good time to think about reducing the exhibitors’ costs, and the organisers’ costs, too, by aiming for three days instead of four. The management of this bi-annual show should perhaps ponder on the realities of life at the coalface, where the going is presently tough, and likely to remain so, in Europe at least under current leadership. No one would lose, everyone would gain, and Productronica would not put at risk the respect that it has earned over the many years that it has been in existence.

John LingAssociate Editor

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