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'Trekking on': after a week in San Diego, Las Vegas seemed a strange old world.

A new location, a new lease on life.

Three tepid years in Las Vegas left many observers wondering if, when it came to the IPC Apex Expo trade show, Elvis had left the building.

But the move to the San Diego Convention Center was a revelation. It was as if all it took was a little sunshine (and a few fewer slot machines) to breathe new life into the doddering show.

From the opening bell, attendees swarmed keynote speaker William Shatner, some sporting Trekkie gear and other paraphernalia as they lined up by the hundreds to get photos and autographs from the famed Star Trek actor.

On the show floor, the vibe carried over, with attendance and attitudes perked up. Was it the improving economy, a different mix of attendees, or the new site? Hard to say, but exhibitors weren't complaining.

Attendance seemed strongest the first day, and the momentum carried over through the middle of the second day. Things slowed a bit that afternoon, but picked up at the show-floor reception. Day 3, as usual, crawled.

We noticed the show itself was not as well organized as in the past. Previous shows grouped fabrication suppliers more or less in one place and assembly suppliers in another. That all changed this year. While industries (fabrication, assembly) were delineated (sort of) by the color of carpet in the various exhibitors' booths, there was a nearly random nature that made trying to visit all the suppliers of a certain product inconvenient. Having the show split across two floors didn't help either.

Most of the products shown at Apex Expo were introduced at Productronica and have already been covered by this magazine both in print and online; we will focus here only on new releases, with a couple exceptions as noted.

The most interesting developments included a new inline printed circuit board assembly cleaner from Aqueous Technologies. Named Typhoon, the short (12' linear length) machine is considered safer than many traditional models, thanks to magnetically conductive pumps that permit it to run (at reduced cleaning performance, of course) up to 36 hr. without water, whereas most models' pumps freeze up after a few minutes under such conditions. The machine features rotating air knives, a 24" wide conveyor, and zero or filter discharge.

Speaking of cleaning, we also viewed our first full demo of Speedline's new Aquastorm batch, cleaner. Speedline's engineers came up with the novel idea of firing water at the board straight from the rack's spindles, providing ample power, always the bane of batch systems.

Two companies (SMT and A-Tec) are now supplying inline convection reflow ovens containing vacuums, which are said to help reduce voiding. Matt Holzmann at Christopher Associates proudly displayed the MEK S1 SPI, reportedly with 50pm resolution and 5D vision, claimed to be the fastest SPI on the market.

At Juki, the biggest news came just ahead of the show opening, when the placement company inked a deal to distribute JT's reflow soldering equipment in the Americas. Now armed with a printer (courtesy of January's deal with GKG), and a complete line of soldering machines, Juki seems armed to do battle in the full-line fight. (Heller, with which Juki had previously teamed on an informal basis, seems the odd man out.) CEO Bob Black also privately showed a startling development that, while we cannot yet reveal, is likely to shake up the process equipment market down the road.

Yamaha made for an interesting presence, with a large booth and several machines, not all of which were for placement. The company, which is slowly separating from its longtime Americas distributor Assembleon, also had an AXI machine on display. (Assembleon, we should note, did pick up an NPI Award for its new iFlex placement platform, debuted at Productronica, as well as a Service Excellence Award--its tenth in a row.)

Several AOI OEMs, KohYoung, Mirtec, CyberOptics and Viscom among them, are doing a much improved job of tying SPI and post-reflow inspection data to the screen printer. The efforts in this area to make the data captured during inspection meaningful for in-process production were noticeable.

Fears of a lingering slowdown seemed overstated: Soldering oven manufacturers such as BTU and Speedline Technologies, as well as CyberOptics and BPM Microsystems, indicated strong demand, especially since January. Automotive seems to be driving much of the recovery. BTU is planning an expansion at its Shanghai-based campus.

Aegis Industrial Software has a slick new tool called inForce, a touchscreen and I/O unit thar monitors and controls boards as they proceed down the conveyor, and feeds the data back to the Aegis MES factory software, aiding traceability.


We spent considerable time with the materials vendors. AIM noted sales were up 41% year-over-year in 2011, while Cookson saw sales at its Alpha unit rise about 18%. (Raw metals price inflation contributed strongly to the increases.) AIM will open a plant in Poland for blending powder, liquid flux and bar solder, and plans to expand its Montreal and Juarez operations as well. Henkel rolled out four products, including underfill brands for jetting (seeing more of that, too) and traditional dispensing. Many materials companies noted the huge potential in the LED market, although one suggested some lower-energy, higher-brightness alternatives such as ITO should not be ruled out.

There's some disagreement as to how much the conversation over low-silver solders will translate into actual use, however. Some vendors said that low-silver is starting to transition from the discussion phase into actual production. However, other vendors say it's mostly hype, adding that the cost-savings tradeoff versus the amount of process development work that needs to go into characterizing each alloy makes change questionable at best. We also are hearing SAC 305 is losing popularity. An iNEMI project team led by Dr. Greg Henshall of HP is evaluating 16 different alternate solder materials; it could be that once that group has completed its work, the picture will become clearer for users.


The EMS companies exhibiting, including STI Electronics and Divsys, were generally bullish in 2012, saying most of the pain from military spending delays should be worked through by the second quarter.

Apex Expo is a misnomer: The "Expo" part is a throwback to when the show was aimed at board fabricators. Those days went the way of Gene Roddcnberry. Finding fabrication equipment on the show floor is unusual, and vendors said new sales are going to replace old machines, not to add capacity. Dow, Oak-Mitsui, RBP Chemical, Ventec, Park Electrochemical and Rogers were among the materials companies with new or soon-to-be released products. Isola revealed it completed the beta testing and internal qualification for I-Speed, a Pb-free compatible, low-loss, high-speed digital laminate. The company has also teamed with Circuit Foil on Ultrathin, a 40pm glass-reinforced laminate said to eliminate the thermo-mechan-ical mismatch issues commonly associated with unreinforced films. The Tg tops 170[degrees]C, and Young's modulus and CTE are said to be similar to high-Tg systems.

LPKF has a new, versatile UV laser (Protolaser U3) said to be for depaneling, drilling, marking and surface etching on FR-4, ceramic or other high-frequency RF substrates. PCB cleaning equipment OEMTeknek will double its headcount in Asia and has added a small number of staff in Germany as well.

We had a nice long talk (for the show) with iNEMI president Bill Bader, who provided a rundown on the consortium's programs--and there are a lot of them. iNEMI officially launched three new projects in medical in January, with three more in "definition." UL Research is leading a project to update its standards and specifications methodology. Also, a white paper on harmonization of environmental data management is underway. (The full interview is online.)

On the move. At Universal instruments, George Westby has semi-retired from the UIC Consortium, and Dave Vic-ara has been named to run the lab Also, Jeff Mogensen, last seen with Speedline, has joined Parmi, and his former colleague Greg Lefevbre has joined Cardinal Circuit. And another Speedline alum, Shean Dal-ton, has launched his own rep firm.

Brian O'Leary, formerly of KIC, has joined Trans-Tec (Yamaha's distributor in the Americas) as general manager, and Lino D'Andretti has joined him in sales. Seho appointed Alexander Riedel director of customer service, and Europlacer named Chris Round global marketing manager. Rogers named Jeffrey Grudzien vice president of its Advanced Circuit Materials division, replacing Michael Bessette, who is retiring after 37 years with the company.

IPC has narrowed its search for a new president to three candidates, none of whom is reportedly from the IPC staff. All have association backgrounds, but some are said to have various degrees of indirect industry experience. A decision is expected in the next few weeks.

Longtime MacDermid engineer Denny Fritz was inducted to the IPC Hall of Fame, and Dr. William Coleman of PhotoStencil and Mike Bixenman of Kyzen received the President's Award for their contributions to the organization.

Overheard. Spokesmen from Nor-dson Dage and OK International acknowledged their respective companies are seeking acquisitions in the coming quarters.

A bid has been made for a major ($500 million-plus) publicly traded US-based EMS company, but so far the company's asking price is higher than market value.

There was some chatter that the US Department of Defense is considering lifting the ITAR ban on PCBs, which would dramatically shake up (read: eviscerate) the US PCB market. TTM, the largest PCB supplier to the Pentagon, and others are said to be pushing back on the DoD.

All in all, a good week. The show remains in San Diego next year, then back to Las Vegas. So much for boldly going where no one has gone before.



In San Diego last month, CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY revealed the winners of its 20th annual Service Excellence Awards at IPC Apex Expo. Electronics manufacturing services providers and electronics assembly equipment, materials and software suppliers were recognized for top-notch customer service. Each firm's own customers rated them in an online survey process during the months leading up to the trade show.

EMS winners with the highest overall ratings included EPIC Technologies in the large company category (revenues between $101 million and $500 million), Applied Technical Services in the medium company category (revenues between $20 million and $100 million), and Burton Industries in the small company category (revenues under $20 million).

EMS companies with the highest scores in each of five individual service categories were honored as well. (Overall winners were excluded from winning individual categories.) In the large company category, last year's overall winner Mack Technologies swept all five individual awards (dependability/timely delivery, manufacturing quality, value for the price, responsiveness, and technology).

Electronics Systems took first place in dependability and value, and tied ACD for responsiveness in the medium company category. ACD also scored the technology award. Western Elec-tronics took home the quality top prize.

In the small company category, Spectrum Assembly took top honors for dependability and responsiveness, and tied Accu-Sembly for first place in quality. Accu-Sembly also won for technology and value.

Electronics assembly equipment award winners were Assembleon America for pick-and-place; DEK International for screen printing; Kyzen Corp. for cleaning/processing materials; Nordson YesTech for test and inspection; Nordson EFD for materials; Nordson Asymtek for dispensing, and KIC for soldering equipment. Aegis Industrial Software received top honors in the automation/manufacturing software category.

CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY and PCD&F also announced the winners of the 2012 New Product Introduction Award for electronics assembly equipment, materials, software, and PCB fabrication at the same event, held on the show floor.

The NPI Award, in its fifth year, recognizes leading new products during the past 12 months. An independent panel of practicing industry engineers selected the recipients.

The winners included Cognex in the process control tools category for the DataMan 500 and Speedprint in the screen/stencil printing equipment category for Speedprint SP700avi. Seika Machinery won the screen/stencil printing peripherals prize for the Sawa Ultrasonic Stencil Cleaner SC-AH100F-LV Low-VOC Model. AqueousTechnologies was honored for cleaning equipment with its Trident XLD, while Data I/O took home an award for device programming with its RoadRunner 3 with FIS.

For dispensing equipment, GPD Global took top honors for PCD Dispensing on MAX series platform. CyberOptics scored the number one spot for AOI test & inspection with the QX100. ICT test & inspection went to Datest for the SPEA 4060 Flying Probe Tester with Goepel Boundary Scan.Test & inspection--functional test was awarded to Agilent Technologies forTS-8900. ViTrox Technologies won for itsV810 In-Line 3D AXI in the AXI test & inspection category.

AIM was honored for soldering materials with NC259 solder paste, and LPKF Laser & Electronics was awarded for its LPKF MicroLine 1120 P in the automation tools category. Multifunction component placement went to Assembleon America for iFlex, and Juki snagged the award for high-speed component placement for its Sentry tool. Speedline Technologies' Closed Loop Nitrogen Control was honored for reflow soldering, and Seho Systems' AOI system to be embedded in a selective soldering machine was recognized for selective soldering.

Kyzen's Aquanox A4638 took top prize for cleaning materials, and Cogiscan's LabelScan Automated Vision System was number one in labeling equipment.

Juki's second award was for production software for its Juki IS NPI+ Bundle. Microscan was awarded in the process control software category for its AutoVI-SION machine vision software.

In the soldering--other category, EVS was given a plaque for its EVS 7000LFHS solder recovery system redesign. Nihon Superior was honored in the cored wire category for (SN100C (551CT)) lead-free flux-cored solder wire, while Semblant won for its SPF (Semblant Plasma Finish) in the coatings/encapsulants category.

Christopher Associates took home a plaque for the Magnus HDTrend in the rework & repair tools category, and KIC was honored in wave soldering for its KIC 24/7 Wave.

Finally, for surface treatment, Dow Electronic Materials won for its Circu-posit Hole Prep 4126 Sweller.

Congratulations to all of 2012's honorees. Join us again next year, when IPC Apex Expo returns to San Diego, where we'll recognize a new batch of industry standouts during our 2013 event. Check back to and for more details soon.--Chelsey Drysdale

MIKE BUETOW is editor in chief of PCD&F and CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY,
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Title Annotation:APEX EXPO RECAP
Author:Buetow, Mike
Publication:Printed Circuit Design & Fab
Date:Apr 1, 2012
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