APEX day two - from the floor
Feb 24, 2005
The general feeling on the show floor today was that of guarded optimism - optimism for the market generally and some optimism for the US industry in particular.
Equipment makers in both the assembly arena and the bare board arena both talked about improving sales and good numbers of serious enquiries. Indeed some manufactures were sporting "SOLD TO" signs on there equipment.
Levels of visitors were also good, although the show seemed a little less busy than yesterday. Some commented that the wet weather of yesterday may have kept more people in the halls for longer.
As always the optimism was guarded by nervousness about the future. The day had started with some numbers and projections from industry watcher, Walt Custer, and anecdotally people seemed to understand that this year was probably going to be one of little growth. It is interesting that this is the show at which many discuss the year coming, whilst at Electronica or Productronica (in the fall) the discussion are largely about the year almost complete. Analysts generally seem to except that 2005 is a year where growth will be limited, whilst predicting 2006 as a strong year again. Only time will tell.
On the show floor the subject of lead free is higher and higher on the agendas of suppliers of consumables and equipment as well as that of visitors. It is interesting to see that it is also being considered from more and more angles. For example, what will the impact be on cleaning? What will the impact be in screen printing? And what will the impact be on bare board manufacturing processes?
With a little over one year to go until the lead ban is enforced in Europe, many seem to be leaving the issue later than perhaps they might. The suppliers are all aware and they all have programmes in place to inform and educate, but all seem concerned that their customers are underestimating the size and complexity of the issue.
Bare boards technology drives sales
In the PCB section, which makes up around a quarter of the exhibitors at the show, it is clear that many are seeing technology as the driver to rebuild the business that they once had in the USA. As an example Sanmina exhibited bare board technology rather than any manufacturing services. They were certainly not promoting a me too approach to PCB fabrication, but rather the very highest end of technical capability within the realms of circuit board application.
Such areas as high speed circuits, RF techniques and large panel high layer count boards are the staples of developments at their Silicon Valley facility. They are rolling this technology out globally through their own organisation as well as through licensing agreements with other PCB makers.
At this show, and at recent events in Europe, including Electronica, it was clear that the PCB industry is hoping to maintain some market ownership by staying at the front of the technology curve, and perhaps the Asians need not concern themselves with these smaller numbers of boards. But, looking back at Michael Marks' presentation yesterday, I can not help but wonder about the impact of moving product design to lower cost regions in order to get close to manufacture. That design knowledge and expertise can surely only speed up the process of expertise migration. Combine that with the relatively low logistic cost of moving lower volume boards and I believe that technical leadership is a tenuous thread by which to support an industry.
Clearly innovation is a wholly worthwhile strategy, and clearly both North America and Europe have the skills to develop the generation of PCBs, with greater density, performance and sophistication.
More tomorrow as we wrap up and head out of California...