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Marcy’s Musings: Productronica 2023 and Coming HomeNovember 20, 2023 | Marcy LaRont, PCB007 Magazine
Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Productronica has concluded and I have wrapped up my first two weeks back on the I-Connect007 team. I’m exhausted, and I am looking forward to bit of a “lie-in,” as they say around here. It’s time to be home.
It was a great week in Munich. The show had 42,000 visitors, all descending on 88,000 square meters of show space over eight sprawling halls, to see some 1,400 exhibitors, representing 45 countries worldwide and all parts of the PCB/SMT provider supply chain. It appears the show has regained pre-pandemic levels of engagement, and we congratulate them.
Our team walked over 30 miles on an unforgiving concrete floor from Tuesday to Friday. Our sore feet were counterbalanced by opportunities to see many colleagues and industry friends, some whom we will not see again until 2025. For me, I could not have been happier to be thrust immediately into the action, to see first-hand all that is being accomplished in our industry to make our factories and products better, stronger, and faster. Process/factory automation, artificial intelligence (AI), workforce shortage, the CHIPS Act, and the economy were recurring topics as we walked and talked our way through the halls at Messe Munchen. After some time away from the industry, I came into the show with relatively fresh eyes. Here are some things that stood out for me.
Robotic Arms Are Everywhere
If I have one visual take-away from this show, it is that of robotic arms—bright colors, large and small—all moving deliberately at their specific tasks, reducing scrap levels from human error, and filling some of that gap in the workforce. Most of the robotics were for handling boards, but there seemed to be arms for all manner of process applications, again highlighting the industry’s need for increasingly more plant automation (the overarching theme of the show, if there was one). Especially as we continue to grapple with a small to nonexistent skilled workforce in United States and Europe, plant automation, Smart plants and ultimately Plant 4.0 are the goals of most manufacturers.
Consistent to this line of discussion, I saw a lot of cool machinery on display, but particularly enjoyed a demonstration of the Pluritec X-cut S1 which conducts the nine process steps between lamination and drilling in one machine, processing at a rate of approximately two minutes per panel, and all with total traceability through the QR code labeling system. Not only is each individual panel labeled and identifiable, but each individual core as well, with all data stored and easy to access. If an error occurs at this point in the process, the manufacturer will not see it until AOI, resulting in much scrap. Though still programmed by human techs, of course. The X-cut S1 significantly lessens the opportunity for human error within these nine stages of the bord manufacturing process. Lino Sousa told me, “It’s a no-brainer,” and reported an estimated ROI of two years.
AI, AI, and More AI
Everyone talks about it and almost everyone claims to be using it in some form, but this week, I learned the term “neural network.” (I personally like IBM’s definition.) Barry Matties and I visited the Delvitech booth, saw their AOI machines, and spoke with owner and founder Roberto Gotti, who states emphatically that they are not so much an AOI machine supplier as they are a technology solution supplier. Naming their line of AOI machines after Greek gods and with two new patented AOI cameras, it is actually their cloud-based AI software they talk about the most, promising that they are (for now), far ahead of the pack when it comes to machine self-learning. Case in point, his patented software and algorithms are something Gotti plans to apply far beyond the electronics industry. Be sure to watch for our interview with Roberto, and I’d love to hear your feedback on his thoughts about the future of AI.
Who doesn’t love simple solutions to big problems? Alltemated’s product, in essence, is a small, sophisticated adhesive strip that allows a bad component to be replaced on a loaded board as opposed to an entire board being scrapped. The cost-saving potential is staggering.
Being the Machine/Virtual Reality
From the standpoint of sales and marketing, we saw some clever things as well. At the Rehm booth for instance, surrounding their high end VisonXP+ VAC reflow convection soldering system and the CondensoXC vapour phase soldering line was their clever and colorful “the art of” campaign featuring digital iterations of famous art while bringing the message fully back around to Rehm’s solutions. But beyond just good old visuals, they also provided booth visitors with 3D virtual reality glasses to experience their machines from the inside. Well done!
As someone coming back into the PCB industry after a break, I have relished each opportunity to see an old friend or bump into a name from the past. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and touched to be remembered by some. In the end, the time went quickly. As I board my plane back to the United States, it occurs to me that I am “coming home” in more ways than one.
Check out Real Time with... productronica for our complete coverage of productronica 2023.
An attorney at DesignCon? I wasn’t sure I heard that right either, but it’s true. I sat down for an interview with international trade lawyer James Kim of ArentFox Schiff LLP. James was at the show to present a session entitled “Chips, Batteries & Charging Stations,” which highlights the Biden administration’s steps to secure the supply chain for the EV industry. James gave me a quick primer on international tariffs and trade laws, and much more.
It’s been another busy week in the industry. We lost another old friend last week. The EIPC show happened, and Pete Starkey provided us with complete and compelling show coverage, from start to finish. Recently, we posed the question, “When is it time to introduce embedded components into your PCB design?” which was asked and answered by design aficionado Kris Moyers in the latest issue of Design007 Magazine. We are proud to be a part of the exciting Global Insights weekly newsletter, which Nolan Johnson and Brian Knier explored in their interview, and we rounded out the week with some big merger news. Here are my picks for the past week’s must-read news items.
An important but sometimes overlooked aspect of flex and rigid-flex fabrication and assembly is the flex circuit tail, which is attached to a rigid PCB with pressure-sensitive conductive adhesives. This sub-assembly is becoming very common. We often see this applied to glass displays and microelectronic applications.
Like any great tech industry event, IPC APEX EXPO pushes us out of our busy 24/7 manufacturing bubbles. It forces us to pay attention to things that are important but not always present in our day-to-day lives. This issue of PCB007 Magazine previews many of the important events taking place at the show and highlights some changes and opportunities. So, buckle up. We are counting down to IPC APEX EXPO 2024.
We’re always hearing about PCB technology running into a wall. On the design side, Moore’s Law hit one such wall. On the fab side, features are now so tiny that the traditional subtractive methods have hit another type of wall. And we see OEMs who never planned to use flexible circuits wind up embracing them, because rigid boards just won’t fit into a new product’s form factor. In the February 2024 issue of Design007 Magazine, our expert contributors lay down the foundation of knowledge that designers need to be aware of to make intelligent, educated decisions about embedded design.