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Trends for electronics manufacturing equipment amid sluggish demand

By Dominique Numakura

Observation from the JPCA Show 2009 I attended last month are below. The focus of this article is on electronics equipment suppliers and performances from new machines.

There were two primary types of machines featured at the exhibition; the first is used for manufacturing printed circuit boards (PCB) and flexible circuits, and the second is used for SMT (surface mount technology) assembly.

Business remains slow for machine manufacturers who continue to feel the economic slowdown. I talked with a few executives from equipment manufacturers and they each experienced the same business cycle over the last few months. Business was pretty good, and large orders continued to be processed from PCB manufacturers in Taiwan, Korea and China; however, things dropped off significantly in October 2008 as cancellations and postponed orders were the norm.

Accordingly, revenues weakened and each department had to operate within new budgets which translated to expense cuts.

Most companies reduced the size of their booths at the JCPA show, and some leading equipment manufacturers in industry even cancelled their reservations.

JPCA Show 2009 reduced their floor size compared to last year and equipment manufacturers were just one segment with less representation than last year.

LDI (Laser direct imaging) machines remained a hot topic in the machine arena.  Competition amongst major LDI machine suppliers was fierce, as each demonstrated their latest models. Progress and advancements from the new models was not very innovative.

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New models had many small improvements such as processing speed, resolutions, automation, double side capabilities, and more. These newer models are more capable compared to current machines, and representatives pointed out total cost performances are much lower. Representatives neglected to point out the increased prices until I brought it to their attention. All of the manufacturing reps agreed there are two many LDI machine manufacturers for today’s demand.

Secondary machine companies were very active during the exhibition, especially those specializing in the automated or semi-automated manufacturing process for flexible circuits.

A typical example of their machines is an automatic attaching machine for stiffener boards developed by MCK. This part of the manufacturing process was not automated and required human intervention that significantly added to manufacturing costs. Now, labor costs are reduced and productivity increases. This machine is not capable for all types of stiffener designs, but it seemed very effective for typical stiffener constructions.

I came across a very unique imaging machine developed by Dai Nippon Screen used in roll-to-roll manufacturing for flexible circuits. The basic mechanism looks like a copy machine, and it prints etching resist patterns directly generated from CAD data, on copper surfaces of flexible laminates. The machine can repeat or change the circuit patterns easily on a laminate roll. Unfortunately, I can not provide a full review of this machine because I discovered it toward the end of the show and had no time to review the technical capability.

The second category of machines featured at the show is used for surface mount technology assembly.

Leading machine suppliers included Juki, Yamaha, Panasonic, Sony, Hitachi, iPulse and Samsung reserved relatively large booths and demonstrated the latest SMT assembling machines.

Their floor space took up almost one-quarter of the exhibition. Once again, I did not come upon anything new, as manufacturers focused on new improvements that affected mounting speeds; densities of components, varieties of components, dimensional accuracies and more.

Manufacturers promoted high yields and high productivities. A Yamaha representative claimed that one of their pick and place machines can mange 72,000 chip components per hour.  This equates to 20,000 components per second, and is a new speed record in this category.

Source: EPT Newsletter, VentureOutsource.com, July 2009




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