APEX Conference Highlights

DCA Manufacturing is a circuit board (PCB) assembly manufacturing company serving Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois and the Upper Midwest. Three representatives from DCA Manufacturing attended the IPC APEX EXPO, the premier electronics industry conference and exhibition in San Diego, CA  from 2/17 – 2/22/13.

The event showcased more than 400 exhibitors displaying the latest technology for the printed circuit board and electronics manufacturing industry, dozens of educational programs, full day technical courses, and meetings to generate and review industry standards.

Industry professionals gathered Monday for a day long EMS Management Council meeting. In the morning various industry consultants and economists presented their forecast for the industry, the consensus of which averaged around 4% growth in 2013 for the electronics industry. Challenges remain consistent for the US industry – off-shoring, regulations, overall industry headwinds.

Other morning speakers discussed changing government regulations affecting the electronics industry, including Conflict Minerals, RoHS, REACH, and other governmental regulations. It is clear from these discussions the Conflict Minerals policies generated from the Dodd-Frank Act, while with good intention, were not well thought out. The policy charges all public companies to disclose the source of all products and components used in manufacture of their product that include certain minerals, including Tantalum, Cassiterite, Wolframite, Coltan and Gold. PCB contract manufacturers may have tens of thousands of individual components they use from over a thousand component suppliers. For contract manufacturers serving public companies, the Dodd-Frank Act tasks these CM’s with tracking down Conflict Mineral disclosure statements from thousands of suppliers. The meeting at APEX focused on the logistics of this massive undertaking, and what role component wholesalers (like Digi-Key and Arrow) and organizations like IPC can play to ease the burden.

The day concluded with topics including: “Preparing a Disaster Preparedness Plan”, “EMS in India” and “Best Practices of Program Management.” Tuesday was kicked off by a look into the future with theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku (often seen on the Discovery Channel and Science Channel). The hour long presentation was a look at what the next 50 years of innovation will mean for the electronics industry. Representatives from DCA Manufacturing each attended various seminars on Monday and Tuesday on topics such as ITAR, Conflict Minerals, Cleaning, Counterfeit Protection and other technical seminars.

The show exhibit hall opened Tuesday morning, showcasing over 400 vendors, and this year the theme was definitely Automated Optical Inspection (AOI). There were 47 different vendors with AOI technology at their booths – which made getting through the demos at each booth become somewhat tedious after the first 10 or so AOI demos. 3D technology was being pushed by several major exhibitors, however these systems come with hefty $200k USD + price tags. There has definitely been a move from image-based technology to algorithm-based technology on AOI machines. While algorithm-based AOI systems rely more heavily on initial programming, the result in fewer false calls. A number of vendors such as MVP and Omron were showcasing similar 2D systems that rely on three different color light sources to generate near 3D capability.

Surface mount exhibitors were also plentiful at the show. Over 30 different exhibitors showcased surface mount technologies at the show. Popular booths included: MYDATA, Panasonic, Juki, Hitachi and Assembleon. Most of the surface mount machines offered similar features, and companies were really talking about their components per hour (CPH) speeds, in some cases of over 100,000 CPH. Interestingly, none of the companies talked about how they help CM’s reduce setup times, which is really what it is all about for small and mid-sized CM’s.

In this writer’s opinion, the most interesting piece of equipment showcased at the APEX show was the Flying Scorpion. Not only does it have a great name, it is also an amazing piece of (very expensive) equipment to watch operate. It is a double-sided flying probe tester, and it really looked like Edward Scissorhands in operation.

Next year’s APEX conference is in Las Vegas, NV. We are looking forward to another great show!