Talk of Eastern Europe overshadowed fabrication equipment rollouts.

It's remarkable how a region that has been reduced to a shell of its former self can still turn out the people when the show comes to town. While Productronica remains the king of trade shows for all things assembly, it has fallen behind competitive events in Shanghai, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul and elsewhere as the place to see new fabrication equipment. Still, the Munich exhibition opened in November to strong crowds, massive booths and general optimism.

Much of the business talk centered on Eastern Europe. While some opined that the region, in particular Russia, has the potential to compete with China, others asserted that high inflation, the lack of Western investment and a dearth of large OEMs would negate any location and logistics advantages. Although engineers from the region are considered highly competent, and the cost structure is low, most of the technology is garden variety single- and double-sided boards, with capabilities for flex and four-layer boards just coming online. The hot gossip was the folding of the largest Eastern European PCB maker. Founded as a JV between Videoton and Fuba, VT Circuits (2004 sales: $13 million) reportedly closed. A better story is that of Eldos Co., the Poland-based fabricator that has reportedly nearly doubled staffing to 105 employees in the past year and which is now selling to Volvo and other large auto suppliers in Europe. Turkey seems to have cornered the local market on TV manufacturing, with three single-sided board makers of decent size. Among those companies showing strength is HMS Höllmüller (, who showed the ComPlate G4, a horizontal plating line with contacts on both sides and that is capable of low current densities (10 ASF combined), which managing director Joe Kresky says does not stress the system or chemistry. Interestingly, Kresky said a few customers are considering using the machine for pattern plating, and even using plated tin as a solder resist (5 µm thick). HMS has rebounded from the 2001-02 crash, with sales expected to reach 30 million euros this year, and the firm is building a factory – its fourth overall – to be opened in June.

Pluritec ( debuted a high-speed modular drill capable of processing panels up to 24.8 x 30.12" and with positioning accuracy of 0.0002" and drilling accuracy of +/-0.00059". Up to six machines can be linked side by side. It also launched a 250,000 rpm, four-spindle double-gantry drill capable of 0.002" holes.

Lauffer ( showed a four-opening vacuum press sized for 24 x 27.5" PCBs and capable of operating temperatures up to 716°F, and a high-performance six-opening press, of which it said units had been sold to Ruwel and Circuit Stampati.

Concoat (, fresh off a Nov. 14 merger with Chase Corp. (the parent company of Humiseal), unveiled a UV curable conformal coating and a water-based cleaner for lead-free. It's "business as usual" for Concoat's sales and distribution, company officials said. Now that it has finalized the purchase of Concoat, expect Humiseal ( to make a global push. In a press conference, Isola CEO Ray Sharpe said the laminate supplier is pushing hard into higher-performance materials. Although those products made up just 8.4% of the company's revenues in the third quarter, that figure is trending up toward the company goal of 25% of revenues within three years. Isola's ( drive toward Six Sigma manufacturing has helped cut laminate scrap rates to about 3.5% from 6% in the past year, and prepreg scrap has fallen from over 6% to under 4%.

Taiyo America ( is launching an LDI soldermask. The company is starting its push into Europe.

Over at Atotech (, the Berlin-based chemicals supplier said it foresees use of ENIG as a finish growing, especially for automotive and backplanes used in routers and servers. HASL will drop, predicts manager of electronics marketing Harald Ahnert, but lead-free HAL won't gain much share. Currently, immersion silver and immersion tin are about 5% each of surface area processed, he said. He expects that will grow to 15 to 20% each. The company debuted InPulse 2 HF, a horizontal plater for filling buried microvias and through-holes.

Meanwhile, the transition to lead-free solders for assembly is happening much more slowly than anticipated. One leading vendor, Kester (, said 30% of the company's global production is lead-free alloy, and the firm expects to reach 50 to 60% this month. Henkel ( says sales are currently 80% SnPb and they expect 30 to 40% to be lead-free by April. The IPC Solder Products Value Council previewed a soon-to-be-released report on voiding in lead-free solder joints. In what is likely to stir some controversy, the Council (made up of most of the world's leading solder vendors) found no correlation between voids and failures.

Fresh off its wildly successful TraceExpert manufacturing execution system, Valor ( is looking to expand into manual assembly and box-build. "We want to create meaningful data for customers, and help them turn SPC databases into knowledge," Europe president David Bengal told PCD&M. "We want to create a ‘dashboard' for the manufacturing manager who sits outside the floor and helps with decision-making based on real-time and historical data." Stay tuned for that.

Adeon (, the Dutch software vendor, introduced CXInsight, a project and content management system for electronics designers, fabricators and assemblers. (Adeon is a longtime distributor for Valor.)

Not seen – yet: Equipment brands made by Chinese OEMs. However, one president of a major equipment company told PCD&M he thinks knockoffs of Western SMT equipment brands would surface soon in North America.

This was Productronica's 30th year, as illustrated by a large memorial with pictures of past events. Walking the dimly lit and eerily quiet exhibit proved a brief but welcome breather from the bustle of the rest of the show. With Apex on tap next month, the respite will be all too short. PCD&M

For the assembly report please see

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