Positive Productronica shows progress
16 November 2009
The feet may be aching but the spirit could not be in better shape following last week’s Productronica exhibition in Munich.
I sensed there was a real sense of trepidation going into Productronica amongst the suppliers. Productronica is the only contender for the title of THE global electronics exhibition and therefore, despite its European background, is the only one that can give a reasonable representation of where we, as an industry, are at.
Clearly it was hoped that the mood would be positive, as this would signal to everyone that the belief that ‘things have got to be better in 2010’ was not just wishful thinking, but actually based on solid foundations. I dread to think what would have happened if the mood continued to be pessimistic. I suspect many would have shut up shop there and then, the reality of having to survive such a difficult year would prove unsustainable if it were to continue for much longer.
It was very much the former mood that prevailed. After a slowish start on the Tuesday morning it became apparent that engineers were once again gearing up to build more electronics goods and were needing to buy more electronics manufacturing equipment to do so. I have to be fair and say that there were people, two of them, of all the companies I talked to that believed that 2010 would continue to be flat and real growth would not return until 2011, but that really was only two out of many, many people who I met in Munich. Others predicted slow growth while the majority showed real enthusiasm almost to the point of believing that when the new year turns the date over to 2010 the investment budgets will be released and business can get back to normal.
This mood would not have prevailed unless engineers and purchasers had not turned out in their thousands – they did and they showed genuine intentions to buy. There were even some cases of machines being bought straight from the stand and it has been a while since any trade show in the electronics manufacturing industry can say that!
It probably helped that Productronica is held in Germany. Apart from the Germans’ traditional appreciation of trade fairs, the feeling of a market, and an economy, on the up was almost tangible. As Europe’s manufacturing powerhouse, Germany is bound to lead this continent out of the doldrums and in broader economic terms, only the UK and Spain (of the major industrialised countries) remain officially in recession. My impression was also that there were many American accents to be heard and people do not fly across the Atlantic unless there is business to be done. In truth I might have expected to see more representatives from Asia, but again, at this stage these are only my impressions. Official attendance figures will no doubt be released in the near future.
From a technology viewpoint there was nothing to make anyone gasp with astonishment, but there was still plenty to appreciate. Once again we are talking about evolutionary rather than revolutionary. In a show with over 1000 exhibitors all I can do in my week in Munich is to scratch the surface, but my impressions were that much of the current focus is on reliability – in both the sense of the end market and the actual manufacture. Reliability of the end product is obviously critical in military, medical and automotive products and combined with ever-increasing miniaturisation, the issues surrounding cleaning and coating are becoming ever more relevant. The chemistry of cleaners, particularly in light of environmental pressures, and the integrity of conformal coatings and their associated dispensing technology are likely to become talking points in 2010 if Productronica is anything to go by.
The other side of reliability is the reliability of the manufacturing process. With cost pressures forcing manufacturers to make their processes as efficient as possible, it is imperative that rework is kept to a minimum and first time right wins the day. The test strategy then becomes one of the most interesting decisions the production test engineer needs to take. Do BGA’s really need to be tested with the resulting penalty of X-ray costs, can solder paste inspection make substantial improvements to overall pass rates (there were several new optical inspection machines dedicated for this purpose in Munich last week), and has AOI improved enough to do away with fixture-based testing altogether? Again, the interest was there at Productronica and we will follow them through 2010 to see if they emerge as actual equipment buying trends.
All things considered, this was an interesting exhibition that could have tipped the industry deeper into gloom or given it cause for optimism going into 2010. I think the latter prevailed and has given us good cause to talk positively about the short and medium-term future. And for those who think the days of the exhibition are over, Productronica has demonstrated that a good show is more than just a shop window and meeting place, it also plays an important role in the whole mechanics and psyche of the industry itself.
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