NEPCON 2007 National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, 14-16 May 2007

Soldering & Surface Mount Technology

ISSN: 0954-0911

Article publication date: 3 July 2007


Ling, J.H. (2007), "NEPCON 2007 National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, 14-16 May 2007", Soldering & Surface Mount Technology, Vol. 19 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

NEPCON 2007 National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, 14-16 May 2007

NEPCON 2007 National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, 14-16 May 2007

The future's bright, the future's... well, the house colour of Nepcon was evident throughout the carpeted hall, and it was all very cheerful – one could have been in Seville. In fact, everyone we met seemed cheerful, and we would have been able to meet everyone if we had had time, as the move to Hall 1 had made access easier for all concerned. Indeed, access was so good that the number of visitors was comfortably diluted by the space available to them, so that at not time did the show floor look crowded.

Peter Swanson of Intertronics introduced Araldite 2000+. They have just been appointed the UK distributor by Huntsman Chemicals, the largest privately owned chemical company in the world. “Adhere” is the brand name they are using to promote a new range of 14 high-performance bonding adhesives, which were launched this month in Barcelona. Available in polyurethane (PUR), epoxy (EP) and methacrylate (MMA) formulations, the new adhesives are available in cartridges or two-pack containers, can stick anything to anything, and for much of the SMT industry will be applied by their new turbo-nozzle, which has everything to do with turbulence to mix the two components together. There are myriad formulations, with a range of viscosities, making gap filling a possibility, and myriad applications, from loudspeaker systems, to an instrument panel on a power boat, where the products have to contend with vibration, salt water, extremes of temperature. And do.

Mike Rapson, MD at Contax was on a busy stand. Contax is a caring company whose versatile and ever-changing portfolio of products is based upon a professional knowledge of the markets they serve in the UK and Ireland.

Equipment being featured this year included the Camalot FX-D dispenser which is perfect for the mid to high-end market, has a low cost of ownership, and meets 90 per cent of the standard requirements for dispensing solder paste and adhesives. It has a single head, and meets customer-driven demand. Contax have, of course, the Xyflex Pro to meet the more stringent parameters. The Universal AdVantis AC-30L fills a market niche for pick and place; fitted with the notable Lighting head, this will run at 33,600cph and is for the SMD and through-hole application. Also from Universal was the GX-11S placement machine for high-mix low-volume requirements. This is a very accurate, very flexible machine for the smaller company. The Essemtec FLX2010- LCV is a flexible pick and place machine operating at 5,000cph, which is designed for the company with lots of job changes; over 300 different feeders can be fitted, and the two dispensing heads apply adhesive, conductive adhesive, or solder paste.

Of particular interest was the new bar- code controlled Essemtec CSS4050 SMD Tower. This new space saving system can store up to 546 reels and trays within an area of 1m2 and can protect them against electrostatic damage. The Tower can prepare a complete batch with one mouse click, and each component can be stored or taken out in less than 5s! Each reel and tray is marked with a barcode. The operator puts the container on the input/output plate, where the barcode and dimensions are automatically checked. A robot picks up the container and stores it to a free place within the Tower. Components that are moved frequently will be positioned in locations with the shortest access time. Within the SMD Tower, sensitive components are completely secure; there is full electrostatic protection; whilst the temperature and moisture inside are controlled as well. This attractively designed automatic storage system is particularly useful when batch sizes are low, and changeovers very frequent, as it saves time and ensures that components are easy to locate (Figure 1).

Figure 1 The new Essemtec Tower

The circuit board industry may be a shadow of its former self, but the survivors were mostly present, and Stephen Bailey at Spirit Circuits said that they have an eight-hour service for prototypes, and if they do not deliver within that time you get £1,000. Happily, they have never had to pay up. This is for single- and double-sided boards only, and there is no solder mask, nor surface coating, it is sufficient for the designer/ customer to load it and test it. Spirit Circuits was born out of Spemco, and operate out of Waterlooville in Hampshire where they handle small batches up to 200ft2; otherwise, it is sourced from the Far East.

Another company who operate a two- pronged approach is Merlin Circuit Technology and Kestrel International Circuits Circuit, who had a well populated stand and were one of the cheerful bunch. They should be, they are doing very well, with Kestrel enjoying record turnover and profitability, and Merlin, who do the really sophisticated strategic stuff in Cheshire, have been really busy all year. Merlin and Kestrel enjoy tremendous customer loyalty, and much of this is to do with the reliability of their service as it is to do with the force of personality of their sales team, recently reinforced with a new appointment. David Grant runs Kestrel, and spends much of his time in the Far East where fostering the partnerships with the board manufacturers is paying dividends.

Also at the show were Exception PCB, who had a purpose-built and stylish stand, the Invotec Group, Eurocircuits bvba, GPV Printca A/S (very good to see them come over from Denmark), and WUÍrth Electronics UK. GSPK, who diversified from pure PCB manufacture into contract electronics manufacturing with an assembly service a long time ago, have seen their sales increase by over £1m in the last 18 months. Mark Merifield at Flex-Ability probably spoke for many companies who have seen their fortunes change over the years; they too have had to emerge blinking from the burrows of manufacturing into the bright light of the marketplace and become involved in every opportunity for broadening their customer base. Events such as Nepcon and the forthcoming EIPC Summer Conference in Edinburgh in June provide excellent opportunities, and Mark is game for them all. Flex- Ability specialise in prototype and small to medium-size batches of flex and flex-rigid PCBs where on-time delivery and quality are paramount.

Another company who have not been standing still is Graphic PLC, who have now joined forces with Somacis pcb industries with a joint venture in Dongguan City, South China. Here, a 66,000m2 purpose-built PCB manufacturing facility will be opened on 24 May under the flag of SOMACIS- GRAPHIC. This is a 50/50 venture, based upon absolute trust engendered by the two CEOs, Giovanni Tridenti and Rex Rozario, who have pooled resources of technology and marketing. The new company will produce HDI microvia boards, as well as rigid-flex. For Graphic, this secures their supply chain for volume work for their many customers, high- technology boards will come from Somacis-Graphic, the single- and double-sided orders will be supplied from Somacis in Brazil, and the strategically important work for the military, aerospace and defence industries will continue to be done at Crediton. As Rex Rozario said “This is a genuine one-stop shop, we can meet every PCB requirement at world competitive prices and backed by worldwide product approvals.” Another cheerful person, and rightly so (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Rex Rozario (Graphic Plc) and Attilio Scalmati (Somacis)

Andy Chick is the Managing Director of TestWorks Group, whose stand provided much of interest. This is a company that emerged out of Marconi Instruments, set out into the meadows of test and inspection, and has now hedge- hopped into the field of assembly. About 80 per cent of their business is in the UK with CEM companies, and with 25 staff, all engineers, they are a company who have seen steady growth through turnkey operations as well as conventional capital equipment sales. They operate their own PCB test services, with a five-day turnaround, and a repair service, and cover F/P, AOI, X-Ray, ATE and JTAG test programmes.

In the SMT category, the impressive new SEICA “Firefly” selective soldering machine gives laser-based accuracy for fine pitch work lower than 50 miles; operating in-line, with pre-heat, it may be configured for single- or double-sided processing. The CO2 laser head rotates to determine the best angle of attack, depending upon the pad geometry, control is on an eight-axis principle, and there is a planar sensor as well, which compensates for any warpage on the board and controls the head to the correct height automatically (Figure 3).

Figure 3 The SEICA Firefly

Also from SEICA was their Pilot four- head flying probe tester which was fast anyway, but the F-Node programme they can inject various frequencies into the net and measure the response of the signature of that net such that a 20min test is reduced to 4-5min.

A perennially cheerful Karen Moore- Watts was on the DEK stand. She was happy to be back in the UK, back with DEK, and is now living near Ringwood in Hampshire, which must be one of the better places to live in the UK. DEK is one of the better companies in the UK, and is always keen to improve upon what some might see as perfection anyway. DEK now urge their customers to ask more of them, which was less to do with addressing a problem, and more to do with restating a philosophy. Now, here is a company which in 2006 collected no less than 11 industry awards of one kind or another, and you do not reach that situation unless you have achieved both industry and customer recognition with 5 stars, so expecting people to ask more of them is verging on the punitive. But, it reflects a healthy state of affairs within, and some interesting products without. “Cyclone” is the new on-board under-stencil cleaning system that seriously reduces downtime from the cleaning procedure. It performs aperture clearance and residue removal with one single wet oscillating stroke. The return pass is the last one. It is quick. It is going to be world-wide success. Vectorguard® was on display at the NEC, too, a laser-cut frameless stencil system with some unique foil technologies that brings first pass yields when using lead-free materials. It comes in Blue, Silver and Gold formats depending upon use, and is now complemented by Optiguard as joint development with Tecan that provides an alternative mounting process when stepped or multi-level stencils are deployed.

You do not always have to step onto a big stand to find something of interest. Peter Fraiman and Roger Matthews were on the Alternative SMT stand. They have been in business for ten years now, but the last two have seen changes, and they now have a new 10,000ft2 factory just outside Ayr in Scotland, leaving their showroom in Camden, London. They employ just 20 dedicated people, and have a strong engineering team who provide the essential support for sales of complete SMT assembly lines to their customers, who are almost anywhere you might think of in Europe. France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, North Africa (Morocco and Tunisia), Malta and Turkey to name the main ones. They are particularly good at looking after the first-time buyer, the hand-assembly company who is taking his/her hesitant steps down the SM road, which is heavily cobbled with all sorts of uncertainty, and want perhaps just one machine for a modest sum. From these little acorns, some pretty impressive oaks have grown over the years, and the Alternative SMT engineers now have air miles that are probably beyond redemption. MyData and Fuji are on the labels of much of their equipment, of which an impressive stock is held awaiting customer delivery, only one month from order, fully rebuilt. From their own stable comes the FeederMaster®. Faulty feeders cost time and money, so here the feeders may be tested and calibrated in-house before being installed onto the P&P machines.

What has Tunisia got to do with SMT? Quite a lot, actually. In Tunisia, there are now 2,600 foreign companies involved in manufacture, of which 300 are in the electronics industry. For the same employments costs of one engineer in the UK, you can employ seven of them in Tunisia, and you will have no difficulty in recruiting graduate engineers – 50 per cent of job seekers in Tunisia are graduates, and they come from the 500,000 university students who will pass through their universities in 2009. Mr Soltane of FIPA Tunisia was illuminating, and if a view of the blue Mediterranean from your office window has greater appeal than some damp, buddleia-clad inner-city brickwork, then give him a call. Most 6th Formers in the UK are into cookery or media studies nowadays anyway, so maybe Tunisia would be better for your expansion plans.

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Derek Gaston, MD at Europlacer was loquacious about his companies. They are well placed for some solid growth, and one of the great advantages of a privately owned family company is that it is not publicly run by shareholders and investors whose priorities do not always coincide. Thus, the company has been through a period of quiet expansion; they have their own company in North Carolina, to tap into the large potential markets in the USA for the medium volume flexible circuitry manufacturing, where high technology is extant. They have relocated their Far East operations into Shanghai, with an expert team of people based there, and have just opened a second office in Southern China., They are highly active in Eastern Europe, and in Russia, and are committed to manufacture in the West, so have no plans for such activity in China. Europlacer is a company who subscribe strongly to the policies of honesty and integrity, and who build on innovation. That was evident in the new iineo placement machine, where Derek had insisted upon a machine that would accept large panels, which it does: 1,500×600mm. a machine that would allow 01005 placement; which it does. The words ultimate flexibility have been used to describe the USP, but there is more than one. With no less than 24 different machine possibilities, this is an SMT platform that allows Europlacer to target the people “who don't know what they'll be doing this time next year” a situation that knows no geographical boundaries. The Europlacer stand was in the Premier League.

Electronics Yorkshire has their gleaming blue lorry parked on one side of the hall, and were busy in the mobile showroom demonstrating the work of their members, and the assistance that they bring to many different companies for whom electronics are either the means or the end of what they do. They also had a lecture theatre alongside in which speakers talked about Regulations, Directives and Standards, and RoHS, China RoHS (much worse, apparently) IPC, WEEE, EuP, REACH (terrifying, definitely) and Batteries were the subject matters. Delegates left looking pale.

The SMART Group had a large area dedicated to them, rather like a memorial village, but here the real inhabitants offered some well-attended seminars on a range of key topics for the electronics industry, all germane to the challenges faced almost daily. Delegates left looking happier.


If one wants to do justice to Nepcon, then three days is about right. If you want to write about everyone who was there, it would be possible in about two weeks, so obviously not many people have been commented upon, much as one might wish to.

The girls on the XJTAG stand were taking global warming seriously; indeed, all the exhibitors were taking it all very seriously, and there were some excellent stands with the exhibitors taking considerable trouble to bring in some hefty pieces of equipment to show people, and there was a lot of expertise available for those who wanted it.

One matter which seems to concern those involved in various avenues is this – where are the engineers of tomorrow? The view of one PCB manufacturer is that in ten years time, when the present experienced people have retired, there will be few to take their places. What then? It is not just the PCB industry that will be affected; it will be every aspect of manufacture.

One does wonder if the title Internepcon might just now be applicable once more. There were exhibitors from all over the world – Taiwan, China, Japan, Canada, Israel, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, Malaysia, so whilst the main people were from the UK, it is far from an insular show. In what it purports to do, Nepcon succeeds.

J. H. LingAssociate Editor