Upsurge in demand for reflow ovens in India

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Reflow ovens constitute a crucial part of the surface mount tech­nology (SMT) process as they help in evaluating the consistent sol­dering quality of a product. Even small manufacturing units cannot do without reflow ovens as no one wants to com­promise on the quality of their products or devices. With India’s growing stature as an electronics hardware manufactur­ing base, more and more SMT manu­facturers are now eyeing India as their amplification-earning mechanism and are seriously contemplating shifting to SMT-based processes.

By Atanu Kumar Das

Thursday, March 19, 2009: An SMT reflow oven is an integral part of a typical SMT process. Infact, each process has its own importance and due diligence must be exercised in implementing each stage of the manufacturing process. According to Amit Madan, country manager, TransTec India, “There is a generic tendency to attribute most SMT defects to the reflow oven. This is true to an extent, but not entirely. The requirement for reflow ovens in India will continue to be strong on the back of ascending gross domestic product (GDP) statistics. However, most of the manufacturing is catering for the domestic market alone. Aware that the volume consumer in India lives in the hinterland, the products that are manufactured for domestic consumption are ‘vanilla’ versions, across categories. If the export components were increased to balance the portfolio, it would result in heightened demand for reflow ovens that are more refined.”

L Sampath, CEO, EMST Marketing, says, “Reflow is one of the main proc­esses in SMT, second only to printing. These two processes play a vital role in SMT processing and hence, more emphasis should be laid on these dur­ing the equipment selection process. Demand has been on the rise for reflow ovens, along with other pick and place machines, as every line needs a reflow oven. Compared to China though, our growth is quite low.”

Prasad Gurjal, managing partner, Drive Technolgies, mentions, “With the increasing popularity of SMT, reflow ovens have become indispensible to any electronics manufacturing setup. For example, a small assembly set up can do away with a stencil printer and pick and place machines but a reflow oven is imperative for the perpetuation of consistent soldering quality and cannot be dispensed with. SMT reflow ovens, particularly the conveyorised variety, are also extensively used to cure glue dispensed on the solder side for hold­ing surface mount devices (SMD) while being wave soldered.”

India has witnessed a phenomenal advancement in the last seven years, during which many products like mobile phones, power saving devices, lighting luminaries, IT products, entertainment electronics, etc, have grown tremen­dously vis-a-vis their expansion in other Asian countries. All these products have gained popularity because of their min­iaturisation, which is an outcome of the developmental strides made in the SMT arena. This, in turn, has animated the demand for value for money and quality reflow ovens in India.

According to Ashutosh Agate, CEO, Agate & Agate, “An SMT reflow oven is an eminent soldering equipment in an SMT line, which is used for the reflow process of solder paste. Unlike other Asian countries, which predominantly use higher-end reflow ovens, in India there is a growing need for low end bench-top reflow ovens as well. Also, steady growth in the market of higher-end reflow ovens in India has been noticed since big electronics manufac­turers have set up their plants here.”

Technological advancements

With every passing day, we witness the longing of customers for products which are smaller, sleeker, lighter and more trendy. SMT manufacturers should be lauded for their efforts to enable manu­facturers to deliver the best products to customers. Miniaturisation has been possible primarily because of SMT and hence, invariably, an increasing number of indigenous manufacturers will also be pushed into using these devices if they want to compete in the market.

“With the increasing volume in In­dia and lead-free also becoming more of a standard, customers are looking for lengthier ovens with long, heated tunnel length. This trend is likely to continue. Apart from this, other issues getting more importance are power saving and environment friendly ovens, both of which are seriously addressed by our Principals SMT Germany. Their ovens offer the lowest cost of operation with low-power consumption thru-power nozzle technology. Other features like intelligent nitrogen control again ad­dress the cost of operation. The ABS process gas cleaning system ensures less fumes and less cleaning at lower operating costs,” adds Sampath.

“There are a number of challenges that confront several reflow oven manu­facturers; namely, power consumption; and maintenance, which consists of flux cleaning, cooling capabilities against process load, nitrogen consumption and ROHS compliance. Most manufacturers today are working towards these five challenges because customers expect all of the above from reflow ovens,” feels Madan.

“During the early years, reflow sol­dering was based on infrared heating technology but has now evolved into va­pour phase and full convection heating technology. Full convection technology is extremely popular and has been used in all advanced technology reflow ovens. This technology involves efficient heat generation and circulation in a closed environment. This technology makes it possible to control temperatures starting from ambient to as high as 3500 degree celsius, allowing users to reflow even lead-free solder pastes. All advanced reflow ovens use PID controllers/al­gorithms to facilitate efficient control, thereby also ensuring control over heat and time cycles. Soldering of lead-free alloys using reflow soldering technique may also need nitrogen atmosphere and such features are also available in many reflow ovens,” informs Agate.

SMT market in India

Production volumes, technology aware­ness, affordability and component availabilty have proved to be be key drivers of SMT equipment in India. Small companies that started out mod­estly are now easily purchasing high end machinery worth millions. The future of the SMT industry is becoming increasingly positive with the passage of time.

“Though large EMS companies are setting shop in India with huge invest­ments, what is more interesting is several small and medium speed SMT lines are being installed for in-house manufacturing. For companies like ours this growth is more important,” says Sampath.

“SMT is a global phenomenon. I don’t think India alone is arousing the change. What can be said is that, India is a very unique market with its diverse demographic profile. You will find customers who are extremely sen­sitive about quality and are willing to pay the price for it. At the same time, you will come across clients who let the dollar sign alone influence their decisions. Having said that, the past is somewhat indicative of the growth of the SMT business in India. The current economic slowdown notwithstanding, the domestic market alone is sufficient to propel our manufacturing rate into a growth trajector,” claims Madan.

“Indian electronic manufacturers are now embracing SMT, having used conventional leaded components in the past few decades. This transition to SMT has accelerated the demand for SMT equipment and this trend will continue in the years to come. Manufacturers should now focus on adaptation of more sophisticated technologies to further sharpen the competiveness of products manufactured here,” opines Agate.

Almost all distributors and manu­facturers we spoke to felt that this is the opportune moment for Indian SMT players to flourish because electronic hardware manufacturing in India is at its peak and most manufacturing proc­esses are incomplete without SMT. Even more encouraging is the fact that small and medium players have also started to value SMT, which is making India an attractive destination for SMT players.

Now let us have a look at some of the players in this field.

TransTec India:Transtec India is a fully owned subsidiary of Transtechnology Pte Ltd, Singapore. It is owned by Christopher John Fussner, an American who is based out of Singapore. The group is 20 years old and has the experi­ence of working with Heller Industries since its inception. It has been active in India since 2001 and has had a fairly successful run here.

EMST Marketing Pvt Ltd: It is part of the Rs 2500 million Electronica Group of companies, which has been the pioneer of manufacturing capital goods for different industry segments; e.g., machine tools, plastics, electronics, metal cutting, etc, and is renowned for its electric discharge machines. EMST Marketing Pvt Ltd is a recently formed company, from the joint venture com­pany EMS Technologies Pvt Ltd. Its focus is on sales and support of both EMS Technologies machinery as well as traded products from leading manufac­turers in the world. It operates through two segments – PCB assembly equip­ment and cable processing equipment and has been involved in this business since the last 15 years. It also has a demo centre at its Pune headquarters, where it houses machines for trials and demonstrations. It has a total installed base of more than 800 machines of various types, since 1991.

Drive Technologies: Drive Technolo­gies is a 13 year old company dealing in a diverse range of PCB assemblies, cleaning and testing. Drive Technologies has one of the largest installation bases in India. It has approximately 100 clients in India, some of which include Renu Electronics, UPL, NTL, Xylon, Shree Pacetronix and several others.

Leaptech Corporation: Leaptech Corporation is one of the leading sup­pliers of PCB assembly automation and other automation solutions to electronics and automotive industries in India. The company was founded in and has its head office in Mumbai. Their distinguished clientele comprises Titan Timeproducts, Hical Technolo­gies, Essae Electronics, Essae Teraoka, Kaynes Technology, Raltronics, Kobian ECS India, Videocon Industries, Bhag­yashree Industries, Nulite Products amongst others.

Agate & Agate: Agate & Agate is one of the key players in the SMT space. It has SMT automation equip­ment like automatic pick and place machines, stencil printers, lead-free reflow ovens, lead-free wave solder machines and conveyor lines. It also has SMT consumable materials like SMT adhesives, SMT splicing tapes and tools, solder pallet material and stencil wiping rolls. The company has several clients across India like GM En­terprises, Minilec (India), Hirel Circuit, Motwani Manufacturing, Precision Electronics, Keetronics (India) Three D Micro Systems, Talema Electronics, Minda Industries, etc.

Manufacturers’ Information
Company Brand Clients Factory location/ warehouse Price range Last year turnover Website
Trans-Tec India Heller Industries Flextronics, Pricol, Avalon, Coramandel, Nestronics, etc Gurgaon $35,000 to $135,000 NA www.trans-tec.com
EMST Marketing SMT Germany Nokia-Siemens Network Systems, Osram, Rangsons Mysore, Vinyas Mysore, etc Pune 25,000 to 2,00,000 euros NA www.emstonline.com
Agate & Agate TWS Automation, Italy GM Enterprises, Minilec (India), Hirel Circuit, Motwani Manufac- turing, Precision Electronics, etc Pune Rs 1,50,000 to Rs 18,00,000 NA www.smt-india.com
Leaptech Corporation Tangteck Titan Timeproducts, Hical Techno- logies, Essae Electronics, Essae Teraoka etc Mumbai $15,000 to $60,000 NA www.leaptech.in
DriveTechnology EPS Worldwide PVT. LTD. Renu Electronics, UPL, NTL, Xylon etc Pune Starting fromRs 4,00,000 NA NA

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