Will Juki-Sony Talks Get Others Going?

Industry chatter has long said M&A activity among the major placement companies is inevitable.

Yet throughout the gut-wrenching downturn of 2001-02, the widespread pause in 2008-09, and the subsequent fallout starting last spring, nothing concrete took place.

Sure, a few companies have changed hands — Mydata was bought out by Micronic, Dover divested Universal Instruments to Francisco Partners, which in turn sold it to Patriarch Partners, ASM took Siplace off Siemens’ hands, and H2 Equity Partners did the same for Philips with Assembleon.

But there are more than 25 pick-and-place OEMs around the world, and despite fierce competition the number is actually growing.

Today, Juki and Sony announced the signing of a non-binding memorandum of intent to discuss the possible integration of their respective surface-mount technology equipment and related businesses. Will this finally get things rolling?

Under the MOI, Sony and Juki would integrate their SMT businesses under a newly established company, whose name is yet to be disclosed. Both companies are ponying up cash for the “startup,” Juki presumably providing the lion’s share as stands to receive two-thirds of the shares in the new venture.

The deal could be consummated by September if everything holds up.

It’s unclear what a merged entity’s worldwide market share would be, but I suspect it would be the largest in the world. Juki currently is neck-and-neck with Yamaha and Fuji in Asia, and is probably the current leader for new units sold in the US. Sony hasn’t been able to penetrate the US, but has done well in Mexico, where many Japanese OEMs have or had larger factories. It also sold thousands placement machines to Foxconn, reportedly as part of a an arrangement under which Sony outsourced production of various consumer electronics. Latin Americas is up for grabs. Siplace and Assembleon continue to hold sway in Europe, but others have made inroads of late.

This could also affect Juki’s deals as a full-line distributor for other suppliers. Sony currently makes everything from screen printers to placement machines to AOI. Juki resells printers (GKC) in the Americas and Europe, as well as various soldering equipment lines.

The bigger question, however, is will this spur other M&A? Not many companies align so neatly as Juki and Sony. So while many placement companies have been on the block for some time, and the lure of better share, less competition and — hopefully — greater margins is always on the CFOs’ minds, the merging of differing technology, approaches and cultures (not to mention the acquisition price) haven’t been enough to seal any deals thus far. And we don’t see that changing any time soon.

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.

Productronica, Day 1

Initial thoughts from Productronica:

Traffic was a bit slow relative to past years. The show itself seems smaller — and again, this is relative, as it remains bigger than almost all the other major electronics assembly trade shows combined — with traditional powerhouses like Siemens, Universal Instruments and other placement companies occupying booths that, while they would still qualify as monstrous at any other show, no longer fill entire halls on their own. (This is a good thing.)

Assembleon introduced its iFlex placement line, consisting of two multifunctional (with up to eight heads each) machines and a high-speed chipshooter. The dual-lane line uses the same feeders as the A series, is well-priced for all regions and is said to be capable of 400 cph placement speeds and less than 10 defects per million.

Speaking of Assembleon, the company reupped its licensing agreement with Yamaha, which, according to CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY sources, is for one year with a one year option. We saw Scott Zerkle, the new GM of Yamaha IM America.

Other products of note on Day 1:

  • Juki introduced multiple lines and made upgrades to several others, including a new vision system (called Sentry), which combine multiple cameras in the pick-and-place head with an integrated AOI, all of which reportedly require no additional programming time. Also on display was the JX series of low-cost high-speed placement machines; the JX-200 features a high-resolution camera for vision placement.
  • Kyzen debuted  the E5321 alkaline cleaner for pallets and general maintenance.
  • Speedprint added a glue and paste dispenser to its SP 710 printer.
  • Goepel’s Opticon AOI can handle up to 32 devices under test simultaneously.


  • Chris Fussner, whom readers will remember from TransTechnology, is setting up a US division.
  • Aqueous Technologies CEO Mike Konrad says 85% of its customers are cleaning no-clean flux.
  • News out of Bangkok is that the flooding was so bad, some factories are soaked even on their second floors. Expect a big wave of new machines to replace the thousands lost in the flood.
  • The big drop in the solar market will claim many victims. Some folks think, once all the bloodletting is over, there will be only a handful of companies left. Others aren’t so dire, but the clear consensus is that there is tremendous overcapacity in solar (estimates run north of 35%) and that it will be two to three years before demand and supply reach equilibrium again.
  • Most equipment advances seen so far are evolutionary, with incremental improvements in speed and accuracy.


CyberOptics’ Coup

It’s always a good deal when you can simultaneously supply an end-product to end-customers and critical components from said end-product to competitors.

And that’s the situation CyberOptics now finds itself in after inking a deal last quarter to put its sensors in erstwhile AOI competitor Viscom’s solder paste inspection products. (CyberOptics acknowledged a deal in February but did not disclose the company until today.)

It’s a great move for CyberOptics, which continues to impress under Kitty Iverson’s leadership. The company, which by most accounts trails privately held Viscom in terms of annual revenue in the uber-competitive electronics assembly AOI market, has rebounded steadily from the market slide of 2008-09 and the tragic death of founder Steve Case. Sales doubled in 2010 to $57 million, and by becoming a supplier to its AOI competitors, CyberOptics triangulates its customer approach. Given that CyberOptics also supplies sensors to DEK for printers and Juki for placement machines, the modest company is positioning itself to become a true bellwether of the electronics assembly market health.

The Right Place

I don’t usually toot my own horn, but I’m proud of this interview with a number of leading placement companies. Unlike the usual industry “interview” — which consists of written answers to a list of emailed questions — we managed to get all the parties in the room for a face-to-face sit down. And kudos to Greg Berry from Assembleon, Kevin Clue from Universal, Bob Black from Juki and Steve Pollack from Essemtec for keeping their competitive instincts in check long enough to provide a candid discussion about today’s pick-and-place platforms.

We’ll try to organize something similar with a group of soldering equipment vendors in April. If there is something you would like to see asked or otherwise covered, feel free to email me or post a comment here.

Watch Me

Juki has introduced what it is calling an online video library to show off some of its machines.

I really like this move, and in fact, am surprised more companies haven’t done it.

Now to be sure, these videos are product demos, not true training aids. There is the occasional nugget of good technical info shared, but not so much that someone could consult the library to answer a specific question.

That said, I think this is headed in the right direction. The web has decent video capability, so let’s take advantage of it! The future of training lies in having a full-fledged series of videos showing operators just how to perform a task. It’s cost-effective, quick for users, and allows a level of detail topped only by a service visit. A few enlightened companies like BEST Inc. have been doing this for years; more should follow their lead.

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.