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Brighter Days(HKTDC Enterprise, Vol 02,2008)

Productronica 2007

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Electronics market prospects for 2008 are good, according to attendees at one of Europe's leading industry trade shows

The global electronics sector may have had a harder time in 2007 after a banner year in 2006, but respected researchers are predicting better times ahead.

Analyst Walter Custer, for example, forecast a growth rate of about 7% worldwide in 2008 for electronic equipment and printed circuit boards (PCBs), while he expected semiconductor revenues to increase 4%.

"Asian growth will be very rapid, but I expect slower rates in Europe and the US," Mr Custer said at the recent Productronica 2007 fair in Munich, which showcased innovative electronics technologies.

Host country Germany continues to be one of the biggest markets in Europe, and the German Electrical and Electronic Manufacturers Association (ZVEI) predicted a modest growth rate of 0.5% for 2007, with a far stronger 4% for the next year.

"However, consumer electronics and telecommunications sectors in Germany will stagnate, while data services, automotive and industrial applications will grow," said ZVEI Chairman Martin Stark.

Gartner analysts meanwhile estimated that worldwide semiconductor capital spending would rise slowly during 2008 and more quickly in 2009.

They expected spending for automated test equipment amounting to US$3.9bn for 2007 and US$4.2bn this year, with revenues for packaging and assembly equipment in this segment reaching US$5bn in 2007 and US$5.2bn in 2008.

"Some US$34.7bn is estimated to be spent worldwide on wafer fab equipment during 2007, with US$34.3bn in 2008," the company announced.

Productronica provided an overview of the complete product range of equipment required for the production of electronics, from pins for test equipment and lasers to X-ray machines and anti-static clothing.

Rofin-Sinar showed its new generation of pulsed YAG lasers, which are used for bonding and offer very small spots with a diameter of 0.1mm, while test equipment specialist Rhode and Schwarz displayed an all-in-one-solution for mobile Wimax devices.

The SFE broadcast tester introduced by the company is a single generator for analogue and digital TV and numerous sound broadcasting standards.

The instrument combines an RF modulator, a universal real time coder and baseband signal sources in one instrument, and allows the installation of up to three standards.

A major product focus at the fair was stencil printers, with Speedline Technologies exhibiting its Momentum printer, which includes a digital camera with a look-up/look-down capability, and its Camalot dispenser.

Stereomicroscopes presented by Zeiss and Leica included the Leica M205C that has a 20.5x zoom range and increased resolution to 1050 lp/mm, which corresponds to a resolved structure size of 472mm.

Another hot topic at Productronica was compliance with the European environmental guideline, RoHS, which bodes well for the Leadtracer XRF system from RMD Instruments.

This can analyse the entire body of a set of components almost instantaneously, speeding RoHS screening and improving throughput, while X-ray technology is used to monitor production lines.

Many buyers were also interested in equipment for detection of PCBs, which included Hipert Electronics' Landrex Automatic Optical Inspection (AOI) system.

The system is suitable for assemblies built with lead-free solder, and includes five cameras that provide full coverage of all detectable faults at full production line rates.

Agilent also presented a complete AOI platform that the company says matches first-in-class machines and can be adapted for inspecting ever-shrinking SMD packages, courtesy of a post-reflow solution design that is optimised to stay robust even in the presence of dust and grease.

Phoenix X-ray Systems offered a fully AXI-compatible inspection system in the booth for automated 2D-X-ray inspection and 3D computer tomography, while Machine Vision Products highlighted its Supra M AOI system that can be configured for 2D or 3D inspection.

Sony's SI v200 PWB for visual inspection can handle large board sizes and combine libraries for the flexible handling of various types of chip components thanks to its large field of view and high image-capture speed.

Organic electronics and solar energy was an exciting new trend that included a demonstration of how quickly organic displays, polymer chips and organic storage can be built up, with Varta and Agfa exhibiting printed batteries and displays while BASF presented a transistor.

One of the first-day highlights of Productronica was an Executive Round Table that reviewed the perspectives of the electronics industry in China, India and Eastern Europe.

The gathering concluded that China still plays the lead role as a production centre and consumer market and India still has a strongly subordinate role compared to China, but both have considerable potential for software development and electronics production. "Hong Kong companies should keep in mind countries like Vietnam as a production base as well," Mr Custer concluded.

TEXT BY PIA GRUND-LUDWIG