12 Aug 2015
Measurement/Inspection Gear Dominates at National Electronics Week
Measurement and inspection technologies, particularly those designed to improve ease of testing, reduce R&D time and improve accuracy, were very much to the fore at this year's slightly under-subscribed UK National Electronics Week.
The subdued attendance numbers at National Electronics Week disappointed many exhibitors at the event and, while there was a good variety of electronics suppliers and some new technology on display, a number of attendees bemoaned the lack of any heavyweight seminar content or keynote speakers.
Many of the exhibitors focussed on measurement and inspection technologies, particularly those built to improve ease of testing, reduce R&D time or improve accuracy, Others, however, majored on speed and efficiency, looking to cut costs by boosting throughput and productivity.
Steve Playdon, Regional Sales Manager of Milton Keynes-based PACE Europe, confessed himself disappointed with the shortage of genuine prospects, saying: "This show is getting smaller each year and seems to be suffering from a lack of advertising."
PACE has been involved in the repair of printed wire assemblies since 1958 and was the first to create a vacuum de-soldering system. This year, the company was highlighting its soldering and re-soldering circuit board range, both for rework and repair. The company currently serves the advanced electronics market through a network of distributors around the world.
Focussing on the test and measurement side was Munich's Rohde & Schwarz. Explaining its back-story, Neil Reynolds, the company's UK Account Manager, said: "This is a family-owned business with just under 10,000 employees in over 70 countries and a turnover of EU 1.75 Billion. We're involved in many sectors of the electronics business, but the main area is test and measurement." With this in mind, R&S were showing off its new, top-performing R&S RTE Oscilloscopes with 1.5 GHz and 2 GHz bandwidths.
Coming from slightly further afield was Yoshiharu Tanizawa, Technical Adviser for Japan's Fuji Machine Manufacturing. In town to support the company's UK reseller, Innovative SMT, Tanizawa was particularly keen to promote Fuji's NXPT intelligent compact screen printer.
Huw Spiller, Engineering Manager for ISL, a UK-based electronics manufacturer, confessed himself a big fan of the Fuji machines, describing them as leading the market, with the NXPT machine having a remarkable accuracy of +/- 0.010mm. Explaining his enthusiasm, Spiller said: "Fuji started life making machine tools back in the 1950s. Based on this expertise, they then developed SMT machines – systems for placing electronic components onto boards."
One of the most eye-catching stands at the show came courtesy of ATE Solutions. The UK-based company debuted its new corporate identity at the show, with its vivid graphics proving unmissable. According to Peter Wilson, the company's Sales & Marketing Director, the visibility of its stand and products was all part of its current promotional strategy.
Wilson maintained that, behind its vivid green packaging, its range of test systems had built a strong reputation in the military, aerospace, power and automotive industries. He said: "Our Flex small, entry level test system enables ATE to configure a solution that exactly meets any customer's needs. We provide a full turnkey operation for automated solutions that continue into long-term partnerships, an important element in on-going test development."
ATE has strong partnerships with a number of other companies, allowing it to provide a high level of support for its products. One of its key clients is Texas-based National Instruments, a multinational testing and measurement company that had its own presence at the event.
While its stand at the event was comparatively small, National Instruments has had a huge impact on the electronics industry over the past 35 years. Describing its involvement in the sector, Kirtesh Mistry, a Sales Engineer for the firm, said: "We work with scientists and engineers to provide technology that helps solve problems and speed-up the development of electronic products. We are here today to support many of our customers." NI currently works with innovators in 50 countries around the world and employs more than 7,000 people.
Another company with a truly international reach was UK-based Detech, a company that provides solutions for the manufacture of high quality PCB throughout Europe. According to David Erskine, the company's managing director, the business offers a complete turnkey solution across a selection of brands.
The firm's stand at the exhibition highlighted two of its top selling products – the Scanner Based In-Line and Desktop AOI, both sourced from Ohio-based AOI Systems. The 'ScanSpection' software featured in both products uses two algorithm groups to inspect components and solder automatically, greatly improving both ease of inspection and the level of consistency between different inspectors. Erskine said: "At under £20,000 this product is a top seller and costs considerably less than its competitors."
One of the more unlikely exhibitors at the show was PPG Industries, the Delaware-based coating, glass and fibreglass giant. Explaining its presence, John Parkinson, the company's Sales Manager, said: "Through our range of Semco Packaging products, we provide solutions for packaging speciality chemicals with a specific use in the electronics industry.
Another fringe exhibitor was UK flooring maker, Ecotile, with its Sales Manager, Richard Potts, explaining that its interlocking floor tile system is non-conductive, dissipative and anti-static, thus providing highly suitable flooring for the electronics industry. Ecotile is manufactured in the UK and sells throughout Europe, both via distributors in local markets and through direct sales online. The company's ESD flooring system is priced at £38.50 per square metre.
LPKF Laser & Electronics – a German company with subsidiaries in USA, China, Japan and Korea – was represented at the show by its UK distributor, Tracks Laser & Electronics, with Tina Baker, Track's Marketing Manager, keen to demonstrate its ProtoLaser 3D. Explaining the product's unique LDS Laser Direct Structure (LDS), she said: "The automotive industry has taken on board MIDs technology (Moulded Interconnection Device), typically in steering wheel construction, which sees electronics lasered into the mechanical function."
The ProtoLaser 3D was developed specifically for LDS prototyping, originally based on the PhotoLasers used for PCB printing. This embedded electronic technology is seen as likely to become ever more ubiquitous as manufacturers seek to reduce the weight of components and make better uses of resources.
Similarly upbeat about future prospects was Nigel Watts, Managing Director of UK-based ISMOsys. The UK-based company offers a bespoke sales and marketing facility across Europe and currently works with 34 companies in the electronics industry. Its portal (www.ismosys.com) links to its partners' micro sites, while an online store, a technology centre and a variety of other micro-sites service the design community with the aim of boosting the development of next generation technology products.
Explaining his company's role in the promotional mix, Watts said: "SMEs can see an immediate benefit through our outreach into pan-European markets. Our sales and marketing team is immediately available to them."
National Electronics Week took place at the Birmingham National Exhibition Centre, UK, from 21-22 April 2015, attracting more than 1,800 visitors from some 800 companies across the UK and Europe. For 2016, National Electronics Week will run alongside MACH and Drives & Controls, establishing it as a far bigger event for the electronics and manufacturing sector.
David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, Birmingham