SMTA Atlanta: Peachy in the Peach State


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I attended SMTA Atlanta Expo and Tech Forum last week, and it’s safe to say that this industry is definitely back in business in the Peach State. The last SMTA show was held in Atlanta three years ago, so I had the feeling that plenty of designers, fabricators and assemblers would attend the April 20 event.

And attend they did. The show took place in Atlanta Tech Park, a small business incubator in Peachtree Corners, just north of Atlanta. Half of the building is set up for small trade shows and conference classes.

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It felt a bit like a homecoming. I ran into old friends and new ones, many of them unable to make it to big events like SMTA International, IPC APEX EXPO, or DesignCon. I noticed that many of the exhibitors here also exhibited at the Dallas SMTA show two months ago.

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The show floor was full; I don’t know if SMTA can add many more exhibits in this facility. The aisles were busy all day, and the presentations were well attended. Bill Bradford of Flip Electronics gave a keynote speech on current semiconductor issues, and Indium’s Bill Leary discussed e-mobility challenges and opportunities.

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Later, I joined Sanmina’s Gary Erickson and Joe Gibson for the PCB Supply Chain Roundtable, which drew a mix of technologists. Many attendees wanted to find ways to bring their manufacturing work back to the United States. A few people said that U.S. fabricators often send their jobs to Asia anyway, no matter what your preferences might be. One frustrated purchasing agent asked, “How can we get out of China?”

Al Gaines, owner of Hi-Gain Design, noted that China’s fabricators are also becoming pickier about the jobs they will accept. As Al said, “Not only do you have to get in bed with them, but you’d better be wearing the right pajamas.” Al has a way with words.

Much of the back-and-forth focused on ways to mitigate supply chain issues, and some designers said that the latest “design for” has become “design for supply chain.” Some companies have instigated “resiliency plans” for each project, leading designers to source backup components, laminates, and manufacturers, just in case.

The roundtable had the highest attendance yet—it’s usually just 12 designers complaining about how no one understand them. (I say that with affection, of course.) But this year, by including fabricators, we drew about 30 people. I saw quite a few “a-ha” moments as everyone realized that we’re all on the same team and facing the same challenges.

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The Atlanta Tech Park just happens to be across the street from a microbrewery. Not saying that’s why this venue was selected, but it certainly worked out well, and anyone not on a hard deadline headed over to blow the froth off a few handcrafted IPAs.

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