Knowledge and vision is the recipe to success in capital equipment distribution

26 February 2016

Fifteen years ago a group of ex colleagues and associates decided to form a business that concentrated on providing quality aftersales support services for capital equipment users as they felt this was lacking during this period of time.

Altus Group was formed to meet the requirements of those investing in equipment for the electronics assembly industry.

The company had a vision to bring more product choice to the UK and Ireland. In 2000, USA equipment suppliers dominated the SMT market in terms of technical features and innovation. Around this time Asian products began to emerge and Altus invested in building relations with these suppliers to bring them into Europe. 

Following the trends in electronics manufacture

Many of those suppliers, including Koh Young and YJ Link, are now seen as serious contenders in the industry. This evolvement has been seen mostly in the advancement of software, which has seen a huge impact on the products and how they work. In Asia there is also the advantage of low labour and fixed costs which are passed on to buyers in Europe. 

Currently Altus is seeing two technical trends. The first is 3D AOI and SPI inspection equipment. Richard Booth, Altus Group managing director said there has been growing interest in these products because they offer new and superior capability to the user. They have novel features and huge potential over the currently available 2D inspection systems. Altus believes that 3D will replace 2D system almost exclusively in the coming years. One of the leading brands in this sector is the Korean company, Koh Young. 

Koh Young systems provide full 3D inspection of components, patterns, holes, solder joints and even foreign material on assembled PCBs with true 3D measurement. It also offers accurate and fast 3D inspection and can compensate PCB warp in real time. Since introducing the technology to its customer base and at recent exhibitions, Altus has created a huge interest.

The newest 3D system from Koh Young is Zenith LiTE 3D AOI which offers accurate and fast 3D inspection with user friendly, innovative tools for easy programming. Another distinct advantage is the machine’s ability to compensate serious warp in real time, whilst not sacrificing inspection speed during the reflow process in applications using flexible PCBs.

Using 3D measurement values to program and to set inspection conditions, Zenith LiTE 3D AOI system provides results that can be reviewed together with Koh Young’s 3D SPI inspection results, to enable easier verification and analysis of defects.

The second main trend currently is the desire to implement automation in order to reduce the labour costs in any end product. This allows Altus to introduce its “odd” component insertion/ placement systems from Cencorp and the high quality board handling products from YJ Link.

Altus is seeing more and more customers choosing to implement equipment which provides automation as it offers consistent quality which in turn reduces costs. It also gives users the ability to accomplish tasks which would otherwise be impossible through manual methods. Together with the knowledge that precision and consistency will be improved, whilst increasing throughput it is understandable why it is dominating enquiries.

Refurbishing capital equipment

With the demand for these machines growing, Altus has seen increased interest in the purchase of second user equipment. Refurbished capital equipment is a line that the company has seen grow over the years. Only buying equipment from major suppliers where they have the knowledge and expertise, Altus engineers refurbish and include ongoing support and warranty with the added benefit of spare parts being readily available.

The most recent second user purchase has been in Cencorp PCB routing/de-panelling systems including the latest five model 1000 BR systems. The 1000 BR is a unique fixtureless high speed, flexible routing system ideally suited to users who require an inline or offline solution that is simple to program and maintain, which fits in with the most recent buying trends throughout Europe.

These new equipment movements are being developed further with products including Koh Young’s In-line Zenith 3D AOI being housed at the Altus demo centre near Birmingham. Equipped with a range of products, including working exhibits, customers have the opportunity to trial on-site, with highly trained staff available to advise on specific issues that may need resolving. 

Adaption is the key to success

Altus provide ‘first line’ customer support on all products, where most problems are solved with the supplier as second line. Altus continuously invests in engineer training to ensure it always has the expertise to help with any problem. It also allows them to get much closer to suppliers and more influential when it comes to the demands of customers. 

The UK electronics market is now relatively small but stable, after rapid growth in the 90’s and rapid shrinkage in the 00’s. This was mostly brought about by the multinational manufacturers. High technology and complicated processes are our strengths in the UK. The automotive, military and aerospace industries are especially important in the region.

There are technology changes in terms of miniaturisation which constantly brings challenges to suppliers who need to redesign their products to keep up with this growing development.

There are also the commercial challenges in a market which demands high discounts on equipment and cost reductions every year, whilst maintaining a first class support service. Altus work at maintaining the best relationship with suppliers to ensure the most competitive prices is offered to customers, whilst maintaining profitability to safeguard the long-term survival of the company.

Richard sums up by saying that the UK market is not big enough to grow on the basis of continuously adding new customers and loosing others. Altus concentrates on the best possible support of the current customer base and tries to leverage other equipment into those sites. 

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