The I-Connect007 team had the pleasure of meeting with Takayuki Hidehira at the MicroCraft booth at productronica, where they had on display their new eight-probe flying tester, fully equipped with autoloader and new ease-of-use software. Takayuki discusses where flying probe testers currently stand in the market and MicroCraft’s observation of the rise of captive PCB shops in Japan.
Barry Matties: First, tell us a little bit about MicroCraft.
Takayuki Hidehira: We are an equipment manufacturer for the PCB industry, and we have been in business for more than 40 years. We currently have 100 people working for MicroCraft, with most of them in Okayama, Japan, where we are headquartered. Our EMMA electrical tester and also the CraftPix inkjet is very popular in the industry.
Matties: Here at productronica for the European market, you have your latest eight-probe flying tester. Tell us a little bit about what you're doing here.
Hidehira: In this exhibition we are exhibiting our eight-probe flying probe tester with auto loader. In the center of the machine we have a tester part. Also, on the left side, we have a loader part, which can hold up to 200 boards. The boards are loaded from the loader part into the center part, then we do the test. After that, we go to the right side, where there is an unloader, and we store the boards. The good boards come in the front, and the defective boards, NG boards, go in the backside.
Matties: Everything is, of course, computer controlled. Somebody could just set a stack of boards in and come back after a period of time and the job is complete.
Hidehira: That's correct.
Matties: Now, in terms of the software interface, what sort of data are you capturing? What are the demands from your customers these days?
Hidehira: Mainly, the customer wants to see the functionality and the very easy-to-understand UI. There are no major changes from the previous versions. We are trying to make it as simple as possible so that the operator can understand what they are doing very easily. From the off-loader model, the main user interface is very similar, but operators can also specify the different jobs and the number of the boards in the software very easily.
Matties: You have been selling testers for many years. You must have hundreds, if not thousands of these out there in the marketplace. You have a lot of industry knowledge. What advice would you give to a fabricator when it comes to testing?
Hidehira: The basic part is the speed. We have improved the testing speed a lot. Some of the customers recently tried to replace the grid type or fixture type tester with a flying probe tester. That would give them more flexibility and also they can keep production.
Matties: This really isn't for a high-volume production facility. Do you ever see a day where probes will be fast enough for production?
Hidehira: Yes, depending on the production. Honestly speaking, for the really big mass production, still the fixture type tester is faster. But since our tester became faster and faster, probably middle-sized or the big-sized production can also be done with a flying probe tester. For example, we have sold this tester to a company in Germany and they are considering replacing the fixture type tester with this eight-probe flying tester.
Matties: That's interesting. The technology is great. The market here in Germany and Europe looks like it's doing very well. What about the market in Japan? What's going on there?
Hidehira: The market in Japan is really good right now. The recent few years have been very good. Many of the big PCB shops in Japan placed multiple orders, like five machines at a time, even seven or eight.
Matties: How many PCB shops are still in Japan?
Hidehira: I don't know the exact number, but somewhere around 200–300.
Matties: Are there any new facilities being built in Japan, and is investment going on?
Hidehira: Yes. Some of the biggest Japanese companies have decided to build PCBs inside of the company. They are becoming captive shops and building big facilities for them. We recently had a Japanese customer who placed a very large order for us.
Matties: What advice would you give a PCB fabricator when they're considering buying a tester? What do you think the important consideration is?
Hidehira: The importance is the stability. The testing is a very important part of the products. If there is any defect, or missing defect, or if the machine goes down it will affect the production a lot. What the customer wants is a very stable machine that doesn't break down, and doesn't make any missing defects. We are known for the stability of the machine. Also, recently we got many requests for higher accuracy because the board is becoming denser. So the test pitch will become smaller and smaller. We have that high precision model, and recently we released our E4S series, which will have very high accuracy. If a customer has a need for smaller and smaller pitches, then we have the right equipment.
Matties: Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel like we should share with the industry?
Hidehira: The reason we have exhibited the autoloader at productronica is that mostly in the European market, more and more customers want to reduce labor. Our tester line-up has various kinds of autoloader types so we can help customer to reduce the labor cost, and the auto loader type can reduce human errors, also.
Matties: This is very impressive, and I appreciate the time you took with us today.
Hidehira: Thank you.