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During the recent NEPCON South China tradeshow in Shenzhen, Thomas Lau, sales manager for Southeast Asia at Koh Young Technology Inc., speaks with SMT Magazine about the challenges, and developments happening in the AOI sector. He also discusses industry trends, why manufacturers are increasingly looking into strengthening their inspection capabilities and putting AI into AOI machines.
Stephen Las Marias: Thomas, what can you say about the current SMT landscape in Asia?
Thomas Lau: In terms of the overall market situation, the market was quite slow for the first half of the year, but things seem to be picking up. When it comes to machine investment, a lot of customers are pretty skeptical. A lot of them are still adopting a wait-and-see attitude because there are a lot of external factors affecting the market right now. For Southeast Asia, there’s always a lot of ups and downs. We do not have any high picks or low picks. Overall, it's pretty stable. One thing we have observed for PCB manufacturing is the trend of more industries actually shifting to less developed countries in order to produce more low-cost products. We are seeing more activities in Indonesia, in the Philippines, and also in areas like Vietnam and India. For Malaysia and Thailand—we term those as small mature markets because they started PCB building right from the very early years—they’re actually leaning more towards retooling and what we call replacement opportunities.
Las Marias: What are the challenges you're seeing?
Lau: The greatest challenge that we see is that things are getting cheaper. A lot of customers are demanding even cheaper machines. If you look at SMT production and PCB manufacturing, a lot of the focus is actually on the pick-and-place machine. For inspection machines, a lot of customers still believe that this is not really a necessity, but we do see that this phenomenon is changing. More customers have come to realize the true value of the inspection machine especially when PCBs are getting smaller and PCB layout are getting denser. Rework becomes almost impossible and even more expensive if the defects are picked up only after the reflow process. Inspection machines play an important role: they serve as a gateway to pick up any defect right from the solder printing process.
Overall, the customers they are expecting the machine to produce more, because by producing more they are actually reducing the overall manufacturing cost. That's why there are more demands from the inspection machine.
Las Marias: So manufacturers were not really concerned about the inspection side before, but now they're trying to look into it more closely. Perhaps because failure is really costly?
Lau: That is one of the reasons behind it, definitely. Nowadays, PCB sizes are getting smaller and smaller and the placement of components are getting denser and denser, so there is a need to have 3D solutions. We used to have 2D inspection solutions, but those are just inspecting right from the top view, and actually what they are doing are comparisons. These are subject to a lot of failures due to lighting as well as gray scale comparison. We are doing 3D so that not only are we inspecting, but we are measuring. We are able to determine every single component’s height and volume for SPI.
They are still many PCBA manufacturers who believe that their 2D inspection machine is enough for now, but we do see a trend for a lot of customers moving from 2D to 3D.
Las Marias: What is your outlook for the AOI and SPI equipment market?
Lau: I would say that the demand would be more for the AOI. SPI has been one of our core products; in fact, Koh Young is the market leader in SPI—and our market share is always maintained close to 50%. We see 3D SPI much more commonly used now, while 3D AOI is growing fast.
To read this entire article, which appeared in the October 2016 issue of SMT Magazine, click here.