SMTA Atlanta is always a treat. This tabletop show in Duluth, Georgia, draws most of the PCB community in Atlanta, and exhibitors from all over the country. These shows are cheap for exhibitors; one good lead more than pays for your exhibit space, and you get to enjoy my neighbors’ Southern hospitality along the way.
The show had a pretty decent turnout, despite the extra traffic headaches caused by the “accidental” torching and collapse of part of I-85 last month, which forces motorists onto I-285 and surrounding arteries. (How does a highway burn in the first place?)
The exhibitors were all upbeat, many reporting a better-than-average Q1. One sales manager for a fabricator joked that the company had so many orders that he needed to take a vacation so they could catch up. Of course, he was hitting up potential customers the next day.
Many exhibitors said they were hiring. One capital equipment rep said the firm is constantly searching for new technicians to install and set up their machines. Talk about a small universe: How many people in North America now how to calibrate a pick-and-place machine?
But the highlight of SMTA Atlanta is always the Industry Roundtable. Norcross design bureau owner Albert Gaines once likened the roundtable to a “psychiatrist’s couch for PCB designers.” This year’s roundtable attracted about a dozen designers, electrical engineers and fabricators from companies like Siemens, NCR and Cisco.
Some interesting points from the very lively conversation:
· Some designers are forced to move up to 16-layer boards in order to fan out BGAs with pin counts of 1,600 and up. As one said, “Designers can drive the cost of the board, unless it’s a 1,600 pin-count BGA.”
· Every designer present was using FR-4 or a flavor of FR-4. None were designing boards with advanced materials.
· Only one person knew very much about printed electronic circuits. Most wanted to know what the fuss was about, and if anyone was successfully using PEC.
· At one company, the procurement department didn’t know that their designers could design .003” lines.
· An “Only in this Industry” story: One Tier 1 CEM convinced its customers that all boards require three re-spins. Why? It’s still a prototype if it’s still undergoing re-spins, and they charge more for protos. You have to admire thinking like that.
· One great quote: “DFM software isn’t perfect. It’s still a tool.”
· Only one company had plans to hire new designers: When two senior designers retire soon, the company plans to replace them with one PCB designer. Yes, you read that right. At least they won’t be farming out their PCB design work.
These SMTA tabletop expos are great regional shows. For all the people who don’t go to IPC APEX EXPO and DesignCon, these shows are really a must-attend.
To read this entire column, which appeared in the May 2017 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.