It’s like winning the Cup!

February 20, 2009

By Tim Fryer

17 February 2009
If you support a football team that always loses it is sometimes hard to remember what the good times were like
My local team as a boy was Partick Thistle, often the butt of ridicule, and so I know what it feels like to be on a losing streak. Sometimes in such circumstances the gallows humour sets in to the point where success seems an impostor. When Partick Thistle beat Celtic 4 –1 in the Scottish League Cup final of 1971, my vague recollection is that the joy was tempered by disbelief, things like this didn’t happen to a team that was affectionately known as Partick Thistle Nil. That boyhood memory was Partick’s last moment of glory to date.
Possibly not the best analogy ever, but the plight of Partick’s long suffering fans is not that dissimilar to how the besieged electronics industry feels at the moment. The relentless procession of negative headlines about the economy as a whole affects us all and those of us in the electronics industry are far from immune.
But then comes along that Cup Final, out of the blue, to lift spirits. And the industry got such a boost last week at the Southern Manufacturing and Electronics Exhibition at Farnborough. I wrote about this in my column last week, before taking myself off to the event itself, proclaiming that it provided a good mix of products and services to satisfy the various interests and demands of the electronics designer.
The good news is that it lived up to its billing. People came to do business. There was no indication of an industry in decay, let alone with a terminal illness. Instead there was a buoyancy that was not even in evidence at the event last year before the first credit had been crunched. Indeed, early figures indicate an attendance of around 4600 – up 5% from last year.
Everyone I spoke to was feeling, admittedly with the same bemused expression of those Partick Thistle fans all those years ago, that the good times were returning. One exhibitor told me that it could have been better, but such is the low cost format of the show that it would only have taken one of the several good quality enquiries to be realised for the show to have been worthwhile. Everyone else had no reservations – there was still plenty of life in the electronics industry.
I am not proposing that we bury our heads in the sand. I was at a conference at the beginning of this week given by analysts iSuppli who dissected every part of the global industry. The outlook was fairly gloomy, but then being realistic it is not great on a global scale. The electronics industry is estimated to be worth $1.2 trillion and a third of that is tied up in the mobile phone, PC and laptop markets. No wonder the performance of the companies that make these items, so dependent on consumer confidence, make the headlines when they are not performing as well as they have become used to. But then in the UK these are not the sectors that define the success of the domestic electronics market as a whole. The upbeat visitors to Southern Electronics are more likely to be those involved in defence, medical, industrial control and so on – industries that don’t ‘move the needle’ as far as gauging the fortunes of the global industry is concerned, but that are the backbone of the industry in our own backyard.
My point is only that we are allowing our views to be distorted by global figures that are less relevant than the local ones and, as Southern Electronics demonstrated, some of the local ones are quite encouraging.
And for the record, like so many Scots at the time, I supported whatever team Kenny Dalglish was playing for, and so became a Liverpool fan in 1977. It may be shallow but it has meant there have been a lot more cup finals along the way!

Electronic Product Design EPD Magazine – It’s like winning the Cup!

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Pioneer Exits TV Business

February 17, 2009

Pioneer is leaving the TV manufacturing business. Pioneer has been working hard to turn the ship around toward profitability. About 5900 employees were laid off from March 31, 2008 through the end of 2008. In the same period, Pioneer reduced the number of temporary employees by 4000. But even these measures weren’t good enough. The company’s factories based in the US and the UK will be shut down this year: UK factories will be closed in February and US factories in April. TV product development will cease as well. PDP (plasma display panel) production activities will cease in Japan by March 31, 2009. By March 2010 Pioneer plans to completely exit the display business. The good news is that Pioneer will continue service its TVs after completely exiting the display business.

Pioneer’s KURO plasma TVs have been hailed as one of the best TVs with insanely dark black levels, which are important when you want the best contrast. Even the best TVs from Sony and Panasonic fell just a bit short compared to the KURO. However, not all is lost. Panasonic has been downloading all KURO intelligence from Pioneer and I’m sure Sharp has benefited too. Hopefully Panasonic the KURO sub-brand will somehow continue to live along with the stunningly black technology.

Source: Pioneer (PDF) via Engadget

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Defiant manufacturing show snubs recession

February 17, 2009

Over 500 exhibitors and strong attendance figures defied the moribund economy this week at the biggest manufacturing and electronics exhibition in the South.

Manufacturing News, Source : British Industry
Published : 13 Feb 2009 10:57

Southern Manufacturing & Electronics Exhibition in Farnborough, organized by ETES in association with the Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) South East, hummed with busy stands, demonstrations and seminars on February 11 and 12. The 3,500 m2 venue, adjacent to the Farnborough Aerospace Village, was bigger than the 2008 venue and the stands were sold out by Christmas, according to the show’s PR manager Adrian Jones.

“The show has been a big success,” says Jones. “At the height of the financial sector problems last year we were concerned the venue might not be filled. But then by Christmas it was practically sold out. And companies here are doing real business – it’s a very different story to that you read about in the mainstream press.” Additional space had to be provided for nearly 40 late applicants.

Most of the exhibitors came from the south of England, but a big proportion came from further afield, including the Midlands, Derbyshire, Notts, Yorks, Lancs, Scotland, several from Wales and Germany, with one company – a lightning forecasting business – from France. The show hosted 24 separate seminars, 12 each on engineering and electronics subjects, many of which were fully attended.

Several seminars, such as those on lean tools and techniques and designing demand, were run by show co-sponsors MAS South East. "This year we delivered ten seminars on different topics and were able to meet many of the manufacturers who came to the event looking for practical support, business opportunities and new ideas," says Stuart Wood, a MAS South East specialist. "Despite the downturn, manufacturers in the region are still exploring new technologies and innovative ideas which will make sure they remain resourceful and competitive, and we’re confident that the industry has a vibrant future."

In contrast to the general economic gloom, the mood at the exhibition was upbeat and industrious. “This show attracts very few tyre-kickers,” says Jones. “Clearly people here are buying and selling – they wouldn’t spend money attending if they weren’t confident of doing business.”

Several manufacturing companies that TM spoke to supported this view. DJJ Precision Engineering, a CNC engineering firm from Pontypool, was sceptical about the show until very recently, having made a £750,000 investment in a new Citizen cutting machine in October, part of a £1m total investment in the last 18 months. “We came at the last minute, but we’re delighted we came,” says managing director Shirley Jones. “We’re a small firm and it cost a lot of money but I didn’t expect this. We had 40 enquiries on the first day and nearly as many today.”

The reaction is typical of the positive energy, and business reality, on show at Farnborough that is bucking the manufacturing feel-bad factor saturating the national media. Despite a small workforce of 12, since investing in more advanced machinery DJJ has reduced production time by four to five times, exemplified by its showcase product that is being produced at the rate of one every 14 secs for 29p. “Before the investment we were losing business to China; now we’re getting some of that back and there is interest returning from European customers and more UK-based enquiries,” Jones adds.

Don’t believe the hype

Jim Rosseter, managing director at ALR Printed Circuits, a broker/supplier for printed circuit boards worldwide, was similarly chipper. Despite the gloom of a world recession, ALR reports very good business on the first day, where its main new product launch, the panel sharing prototype, has proved very popular. Rosseter says matter-of-factly: “Of course everyone is finding it harder, but we just have to try harder.” ALR’s client base is split 40:60 UK and rest of the world, but business continues to feed in from both sides. While Asia provides the high volume low technology, and also very high tech PCBs, the UK supplies mainly medium-volume production on fast turnaround, and low volume on very fast turnaround. “The UK suppliers are still busy, partly because there’s loyalty in that market and also they supply to sensitive markets such as defence,” says Rosseter. And what about the negative national news?

“Don’t listen to it and concentrate on what you’re doing!” he adds.

Another company with a positive outlook was Haas Automation, a big US CNC machine tool maker and distributor. It produces 85 different machine models from manual operation to more advanced 5-axis machines, supplying sectors from education to electronics, aerospace and automotive that shape metals, wood and plastics. Regional sales manager John Crawford acknowledges a fall in monthly orders due to the recession, but says that specific sectors are very buoyant. “With the green movement we have orders for product to make valve bodies for wind turbines, and colleges and universities is also a busy, and steady, sector.” The credit crunch has affected its clients’ ability to purchase machines, but Haas has a finance arm that has helped customers while bank credit has dwindled. “We are lucky as we have a vast range of products, and public sector applications, while some other companies are more exposed,” says Crawford. “You have to look further and concentrate on the sectors where there is business.”

Green forces

Environmental corporate action and lean operations have helped manufacturers win contracts. HepcoMotion is a well-known manufacturer of linear motion systems. Now in its 40th year, the company exports 60% overseas, much of it to Germany, and has won the Queen’s Award for exports. John Palmer, UK sales manager, identifies food, pharmaceuticals and packaging as growth areas. “Driven by waste and cost reduction, packaging companies are redesigning their machines to be more efficient and we are benefiting from that,” he says, highlighting the milk industry and the production of aircraft wings at Airbus as two examples where more efficient automation design has driven business. Palmer is unimpressed with the public perception of the state of UK manufacturing. He says very few people, least of all the government and the media, understand how the manufacturing industry works. “As design engineers, we have some of the most innovative people in Europe – and I’ve worked with German engineers!” he says. “This is my fourth recession, and every time we talk ourselves into a worse position – it’s a British disease. Let’s focus on the positives; that we offer specialised, higher value products in which we have comparative advantage.”

In one of the seminar theatres, Rob Holdway of environmental consultancy Giraffe Innovation, and star of Channel 4’s ‘Dumped’ social experiment, explained some of the technicalities of calculating carbon footprints, packaging economies and product labelling. The room fills up and Holdway is plying the audience with a steady stream of facts and figures, from the depressing to the entertaining. Giraffe calculated that US retail giant Wal-Mart could save $3.4bn from a 5% saving reduction in packaging, then highlights the irony of the case where one management consultant’s carbon reduction literature was printed on laminated card – making it commercially unviable to recycle. Through the seminar, the residual theme is less reducing carbon emissions, more saving businesses money. Other seminars were equally strong and relevant to manufacturers: rapid manufacturing in the future, Six Sigma approaches for large and small companies, CE marking, 21st century supply chain and more.

As the show began to unwind, the event’s public relations man Adrian Jones emphasises the number of companies that were here last year which have returned this year, as well as the new visitors like DJJ Precision: mostly highly lean companies, doing business and well placed to take the recession. “Contrary to a widely held view, UK manufacturing is very much alive and kicking,” Jones says. “It will help to save the UK economy.”

Defiant manufacturing show snubs recession – The Manufacturer.com – Promoting best practice in Manufacturing

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ALR Services announces new scheme for shared panel prototypes

February 9, 2009

From BOARD TALK

Reducing development costs through using a shared panel PCB prototyping service is proving increasingly popular. But the results can sometimes be disappointing and, in some cases, actually turn out to have been a false economy: A simple mistake at design time, poor quality control, or the use of inappropriate laminates can easily lead to prototype boards having to be re-worked – or worse – scrapped altogether. But a new scheme from ALR Services Ltd. promises a high-quality alternative to cut-price shared panel schemes.

Announced this week at Southern Electronics 2009, ALR’s new panel sharing prototype (PSP) service delivers production-quality prototype PCBs at prices comparable to the low-budget services available elsewhere. In what’s believed to be the first PSP service of its kind in Europe, the Oxfordshire-based company will employ the same rigorous standards it applies to its normal production services, including carrying out basic design rule checks to help avoid expensive pre-production errors. All PCBs are produced in the UK on top-quality, high Tg FR4 laminate, overlaid with solder resist and screened with component identity markings. Finally the boards are bare-board tested prior to delivery. ALR is offering the service on double-sided and four layer boards, with an impressive five day turnaround and no tooling charge.

"There are a number of suppliers already offering a ‘no-frills’ panel sharing service," says ALR’s sales manager Jo Saltman. "The idea is that by sharing a panel with others, customers can get their prototypes produced at greatly reduced cost. But with no design rule checks, no printing and no bare-board testing, customers have, up to now, just had to accept the risks associated with a ‘what-you-see-is-what-you-get’ service. If a mistake is made, the price of the supposedly cheap prototype boards starts to look quite expensive once the costs of replacement and time are factored-in."

"However there is no reason why customers should have to compromise on quality just because they are sharing a panel with others," continues Jo, "And with our service, they don’t have to. High-quality materials, pre-production design rule checks and post-production testing help to ensure the finished prototype board is as good as we can get it, which actually saves the customer time and money in the long run."

The shared panel boards from ALR Services are produced on 1.6mm High Tg FR4 (Ventec 150) with 1oz finished copper. Green solder resist and white silk screen component identity markings, are available on one or both sides if required. PCBs can be routed and/or scored and employ Lead Free HASL or Nickel Gold with a minimum hole size of 0.3mm.

ALR Services Ltd. is one of the largest printed circuit board brokerages in Europe, providing a wide range of circuit board technologies sourced from both UK and off-shore PCB manufacturers. Established over 14 years ago, the company has built-up a loyal customer base though its innovative business methods, technical expertise and its commitment to customer service. The company continues to grow, recently acquiring an additional 2000ft² of environmentally-controlled warehouse space and taking on extra staff to cope with increasing demand.

BOARD TALK