Nepcon World 2007 - In the Mix


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The Tokyo Big Sight exhibition center was crowded with exhibitors and attendees to see the latest in components, equipment, and materials for electronics manufacturing from January 17-20. Really a co-location of 6 different shows, Nepcon World is geared towards the <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />EMS and OEM customer, and offers the ability to see a lot of suppliers in one place. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

The aisles were packed and business was brisk. Unlike IPC/APEX or Protec, the booths tend to be smaller and the focus closer to the customer's immediate needs. While many manufacturers do roll out their latest technology, others reserve their big splash for the more extravagant exhibitions. The show has grown by almost 20% in exhibit space, with over 1,000 companies participating, but the estimates for attendance of 50,000 may well have been significantly exceeded as evidenced by the difficulty in navigating the aisles. The attendees are primarily from Japan, but several exhibitors commented on the huge number of Chinese engineers and managers attending.

The Internepcon Japan area was the largest, with the emphasis on PCB assembly. Pick-and-place manufacturers such as Yamaha, Mydata, Panasonic, and IPulse all had large booths, and reported strong interest. The manufacturers of reflow soldering and materials handling systems were also busy. Materials suppliers were abundant, many with very large booths and regularly scheduled presentations that were almost always well attended. Selective soldering and robotic soldering manufacturers such as Pillarhouse, Japan Unix, and Tutsuya all did live demonstrations.

Test and Inspection was across the hall and was a dense and exciting nexus of activity. Over 75 companies exhibited inspection and test systems, and the atmosphere was exciting as companies competed with some very advanced technologies. In x-ray inspection, several companies hinted at computerized tomography applications, taking lessons learned in the medical field towards manufacturing applications. Processing power and algorithms are king, so there is much work to be done yet. However, the groundwork is being laid now, and it was a glimpse of the future not seen often in the West.

Reed Exhibitions, the organizers, added a Laser and Optics section this year. As the interconnect adds functionality, these are a natural extension of the integration of the assembly into smaller and more flexible packages--think 4G. EMS and ODM houses were also exhibiting, as if they were embarking on a new Industrial Revolution. Taiwanese companies such as Hon Hai and Chinese companies such as Haier all look to Japan for the new and innovative packaging technologies. HTC in Taiwan is plugged in to the cutting edge, looking not to the West, but regionally, for the breakthrough technologies that will enable the next great innovation. 

CMK and Casio exhibited a new form of manufacturing enterprise, the Integrated Package Manufacturer, where actives and passives are integrated into the printed circuit board. They can offer embedded wafer level packages, SiP's, and ASIC + memory modules, and heat sinking, all of it in an assembly that measures an inch by an inch. The end product exhibited was a watch for runners that measures speed and distance. As Dr. Seuss quipped, "Oh the Places You'll Go!." Clover, nearby, touted the fact that they have shipped over 3,000,000 IP's with embedded large scale IC's since 2003. This is truly amazing technology that enables whole new generations of consumer, industrial, medical, or military products.

Somewhere in the past 15 years, the western OEM and manufacturing community made a willful decision to stop innovating. The thrust was "we can buy it cheaper." Well guess what? If you don't have chips in the game, you lose. This author did not attend Nepcon World 2007 expecting any very revolutionary products. In fact, most of what was on display was simply evolutionary. But in Japan, unlike the West, the attention to detail, to technology, and to cost is completely focused. The result is amazing.

The technology was in most cases invented elsewhere. For example, MIT Lincoln Labs was designing embedded circuits in the late 1950s. Most of the lab work is still being done at western universities and institutes, but the drive for quarterly profits and just plain greed have isolated the Western economies to the point that there is a serious structural imbalance.

Only by interacting with others can we learn. There is a trade show in Los Angeles called IPC/Apex. Perhaps 5,000 people will attend. Many, if not most of the same people who exhibited in the interconnect-related halls will be there with the same products, and the same people in many cases, who were in Tokyo this week. The enabling technology is global. Are you?

Matthew Holzmann is the president of Christopher Associates Inc. He may be reached at matt@christopherweb.com

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