Robots on Parade at Productronica

Robots are the rage this year at Productronica.

Robot

An 8′ tall robot greets visitors at Productronica.

While German companies are talking up Industry 4.0 (also known as the somewhat misnamed smart factory), the more significant development we’ve seen has to do with the variety and number of robots being demonstrated performing real-world tasks. (This ignores, of course, the oversized Transformer-styled edition that greeted visitors on Day 1 of the show, shown at the right.)

The other visible trend involves established equipment vendors filling out their line cards.

DEK

Redesigned DEK NeoHorizon printer

There are quite a few new placement machines. ASM has the TX series, a high-speed dual lane machine in a smaller footprint aimed at the handheld market. The company redesigned the DEK NeoHorizon screen printer; it’s lost its bubble shape in favor of cleaner, more industrial-looking straight lines that match the boxes of the Siplace placement machines. ASM also rolled out a novel feeder that ditches the traditional program and pick routine for a vision-based approach whereby an upward-looking camera directs the nozzle to the appropriate part lying loose on a tray. Reels are eliminated, as are tape and splicing. Programming is reduced to describing feeder and part number. It sounds a bit chaotic, but the cartridge used by the Bulk Feeder X can hold up to 1.5 million 01005 components (the current pickable range is 01005 to 0402; the company is working on metric 0201 and 0603 parts).

Panasonic is showing two demo lines, the NPM DX and NPM VF. The latter is a high-speed odd-form placement machine with a clinching option that feature insertion height check and PCB hole recognition. The DX is a dual-gantry, dual-lane machine with four heads (4, 8 or 16 nozzles) that is said to perform “nonstop data correction.”

The Samsung Decan S2 double-headed chipshooter is rated at 92,000 cph and handles boards up to 510 x 460 mm, with an optional 1,200 x 460mm upgrade. Component range is 03015 to 12mm.

Siemens TX placement lines

ASM Siplace TX placement lines

Speedline is showing the MPM Edison printer, which is aimed at high-volume applications such as handhelds and automotive. The machine was also shown at SMTAI and SMT Nuremburg earlier this year. Its Vitronics Soltec cousin has the ZEVAm selective soldering platform, which is lower priced than its other lines but can process three PCBs simultaneously thanks to three full-size preheating units. The machine has tilt soldering capability for pitches under 2mm.

Heller reportedly has a fluxless reflow oven that relies on formic acid. The system reportedly was developed in a joint venture with IBM. Echoes of years (decades?) ago: The concept actually isn’t new: sources say Nokia among others experimented with it back in the day.

The partnership of ASYS and Rehm has spawned a slick reel-to-reel printed electronics line, leveraging ASYS’s handlers with EKRA printers and a Rehm infrared soldering system.

ASYS reel-to-reel handler for printed electronics

ASYS reel-to-reel handler for printed electronics.

It’s hard to move around all the test and inspection equipment, which takes up more about 1.5 halls, or about as much as all the printing, placement and soldering equipment combined. Again, this is where one really can see companies stretching their product ranges. Viscom debuted the X7058 inline x-ray, its fifth generation AXI which targets the EMS industry, and the X7056, a “partial” AXI aimed at the automotive market.

Saki showed its third generation 3D AOI (called 3D ID), which among its eight cameras is a four-way side angle camera for viewing and inspection. The machine is capable of running 50% faster than the second generation model and can be programmed offline. Also new is the BF-X3, a sealed tube, 130kV x-ray which offers adjustable slicing up to 2,000 slices.

TRI rolled out a new 3D AOI (TR7700Q), SPI (TR7007QI), and upgraded its CT on the TR7600 series 3D AXI.

Vi Technology has the 5K3D inline AOI, based on its 2D AOI, featuring two laser cameras and one beam. The 3D sensor is said to have 1 micron resolution.

The A Leader Pro Series AOI has a grid laser for coplanarity checking. The machine is said to be 50% faster than its predecessor.

Yamaha upgraded its 3D x-ray called YSI-X with a 7-micron resolution high-speed option.

Landrex has a new robotic test cell, a three-way collaboration with Omni and Precise Robotics. The demonstration involved a robot picking up boards and putting them in a fixture, then returning them to their rack. The grippers and media presented could be customized, says Landrex president Jim Gibson.

We saw some LED test machines, led by Premosys, but only two flying probe testers.

ASM showed its first SPI, called Process Lens, which was built in-house (so much for the rumors they would buy Koh Young), as well as a new software tool called ProcessExpert that assesses the SPI data and can automatically reset several print parameters (printer height, pressure, stencil wipe, x-y offset).

Several companies showed industrial robots, some of which were simply flying during basic final assembly operations. Multiple cold test environmental chambers (Rehm, SMT) and vacuum soldering lines (Asscon, Rehm, Eightech Tectron, SMT) are on display as well.

Asscon vacuum soldering

Asscon  VP6000 vacuum soldering

There’s not as much talk about closed loop feedback this year, probably because it’s been supplanted by Industry 4.0.

What’s also apparent is that no company has emerged to displace the established world order. So while there are companies not known on the world stage everywhere at the Munich show this week, it’s clear that the next two years will bring more of the same.

Ed.: Check out the robots in action on the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY YouTube channel.

 

2014: The Year of the Deal

Today brings to an end one of the most fascinating years of acquisitions since the crazy Internet era of late 1990s and 2000.

Unlike that episode, however, 2014 was a much more orderly state of affairs, and while some of the deals were not foreseen, the pricing (and volume) were within the realm of reason.

To recap:

  • TTM Technologies announced it would buy Viasystems, bringing to a close one of the most talked-about chapters in PCB industry history. The deal has cleared all but the last few regulatory hurdles, and is expected to close in mid 2015.
  • Rogers will buy Arlon, merging two leading suppliers of high-frequency laminate materials, and perhaps further complicating the supply chain for some of the smaller fabricators that lack the purchasing power of the major players, not to mention consolidating the RF/microwave product supply base for the US Defense Department. Given its shoulder shrug of TTM’s Chinese ownership, will the DoD even bat an eye over this, or will it be concerned enough to throw a wrench in the deal?
  • On the assembly side, ASM purchased DEK, which had been readied for sale since late 2011. The acquisition gives ASM top-of-the-line print-to-placement equipment offerings and positions it to compete with the major Japanese players such as Panasonic, Yamaha, Juki and Fuji.
  • Nordson acquired Dima Group, stretching its traditional dispensing and, later, AOI and test focus into SMT placement. Will Nordson keep the pick-and-place lines, or package that unit up and sell it?
  • Likewise, Amtech Systems has a pending agreement to buy BTU, stretching its semiconductor and solar production focus to include SMT reflow.
  • And just yesterday Kulicke and Soffa made a deal to buy Assembleon for $98 million in cash. While Assembleon had been expected to be acquired since Philips first put it on the block several years ago, K&S’s entry into the printed circuit board equipment space was unforeseen. Does it plan to continue to roll up other companies (Speedline?) and build a worthy competitor to ASM?

Most of the major deals that took place in 2014 happened on the supplier side. Does that presage a similar consolidation on the manufacturing end in 2015? Will some of the units long-rumored to be in play (Multek, Hitachi) finally be consummated? Will EMS, which took a breather in 2014 after major deals involving Natel (Epic), Benchmark (Suntron, CTS) the year before, catch a new spark?

We can’t wait to find out. Happy New Year!

 

GKG: Westward Ho?

Southeast Asian assembly process equipment companies have approached Western markets in fits and starts.

A few have made inroads: From time to time, we have seen JT and Fulongwin soldering equipment at US plants, usually smaller ones (Flextronics is an exception) and often on the US West Coast. But while we’ve been reporting for more than a decade on the availability of literally scores of Chinese-made brands, some of which are very popular in Taiwan and China, it’s still highly unusual to see any make it across the ocean.

Many have been stymied by patent issues that effectively have blocked them specifically from the US and European markets. Another problem is finding good channel partners. From time to time, firms ranging from independent reps like FHP Reps and Bill West to solder paste vendors like Qualitek have tried, with limited success. Service and access to spare parts have been limiting factors.

That’s what makes Friday’s announcement from GKG so interesting. GKG has named Juki as exclusive distributor of its screen printers in the Americas. Known primarily for its placement equipment, Juki has been inching toward a full-line offering for the past couple years, having begun distributing Intertec’s selective soldering equipment in 2009.

For years, DEK and Speedline have dominated the Western printer markets, with Asys/Ekra in third with an estimated 10% share. Juki’s track record and never-say-die approach to selling makes it a formidable competitor. However, Juki has many of the same distributors as Speedline, and it is unclear that they will give up the latter for a new player.

But the real prize may be the emerging South America market. As Juki CEO Bob Black told us, “In Latin America, out major competitors are offering complete lines. To be competitive, we need to do the same.” And Juki has the breadth and depth in its service department that many standalone reps have not.

Keep an eye on this.

Munich Madness Not So Crazy

Attendance at the.four-day Productronica started slow today and built as the day went on. Still, the drop in traffic is noticeable. Americans and Asians are in very short supply.

Spoke with more than 25 exhibitors today. Most say September and October sales were improved and some capacity buying is occurring in Asia.

Some interesting developments seen thus far: a new modular placer from Juki, the KE-3020RL, now in beta and due out next summer or fall; DEK’s Sentinel post-solder inspection unit, which fits on any of its post 2005 printers and features 8 2MP cameras; and Asymtek’s Simultaneous Dual Jetting setup, which is aimed at high volume PCBs. (Asymtek had, as usual, several new machines, and also is pushing hard on its new corporate identity, in which parent company Nordson’s name is prominent. More on them later.)

Ran into old friend Keith Favre, the ex-Speedline and Electrovert sales wizard who was last seen running PhotoStencil. He has launched a rep business under the name FHP LLC and is handling Foulongwin and Mirae, among others. Also, his neighbor in Texas, Bob Stevens, the ex-Speedline Asia president, is alive and well.

Also seen: A women pushing a baby stroller — complete with sleeping baby — down the show floor. That’s a first.