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In an interview with I-Connect007, Alden Lewis, vice president of sales at Transition Automation, discusses how their squeegee technologies address the manufacturing defects caused mostly by solder paste printers. He also talks about their activities at the SMT Hybrid Packaging 2016 event in Nuremberg, Germany this week.
Stephen Las Marias: Alden, please explain a bit about Transition Automation for our readers who may not be familiar with the company.
Alden Lewis: Transition Automation has been in business for almost 30 years. I think it was 1989 when we started out building manual and semiautomatic stencil printers. From that, we developed a part called Permalex, and these are metal squeegee blades made from spring steel and they have a tempered nickel infusion on the edge of the blade. These blades last a lot longer than the typical metal squeegee blades in the industry, and we were the first company to ever build metal squeegee blades for stenciling. Prior to that, companies used polyurethane squeegees.
The metal squeegees provide better deposits of solder paste on the circuit boards, which is necessary of course for fine pitch devices and small devices that are now used regularly on the circuit boards. We build squeegees not only the squeegee blades, but we build the holder and blade assemblies to fit many of the major printer manufacturers in the industry.
Las Marias: How was business last year?
Lewis: We had a very good year. Sales were up over the previous years. I would say especially the second and third, and the first part of the fourth quarter were excellent with much higher sales volumes. I would attribute that to a growth in the automotive industry. We do a lot of squeegees for the automotive industry.
Las Marias: How about 2016?
Lewis: This year has been very good so far. I would say it’s a little less than last year. The sales are down slightly, but still it looks like a very good year at this point.
Las Marias: I understand you will be exhibiting at the SMT Hybrid Packaging show in Nuremberg, Germany. Do you have any new product to showcase there? What will be your activities there?
Lewis: We actually do. We have just started a relationship with two different distributors. One distributor is primary focusing on two printer machines that they distribute in Germany. So they are buying the Permalex squeegees to utilize on their machines as they sell them, primarily due to costumers really liking Permalex squeegees for their quality and the long life of the squeegees. So we will be showing the Permalex squeegees that will fit the HIT large area printer that is sold by ANS, and that will be the first time that that squeegee has been exhibited in the industry.
Then we have another distributor that we have appointed that will handle all the other squeegees for the other stencil printers in the industry. It's a company that has been in business for a very long time. So we are establishing new relationships with two different distributors. This distributor is Microtronics.
Las Marias: How important is the European market for Transition Automation?
Lewis: The European market is actually quite important for us. We have done very well in the European market for the life of the company, and we've got an expansive distribution network throughout Europe, as well as other countries including Israel, South Africa and throughout Asia.
European business is a big part of our market and a big part of our sales; and Germany, being the largest market in the European Union, is very important to us to have good distribution and good visibility.
Las Marias: Alden, the solder paste printer still provides the majority of the manufacturing defects on the SMT line. Where does Transition Automation come in to help the industry or the customers address that particular issue?
Lewis: I think that is one of the primary benefits of the Permalex being a metal squeegee with a tempered nickel edge. It provides better deposits of solder paste and you can depend on the Permalex squeegees to last a long time and give the same quality of print throughout the life of the blade, because it does not degrade over time.
The whole main thrust of the Permalex is to improve the quality and it takes that out of the equation to obtain better stencil printing results.
Las Marias: And precision and accuracy are among the key features of the products, right?
Lewis: Correct. We provide a number of options for our customers in order to get the best results. We build several different thicknesses of squeegee blades and we provide print angle options on the squeegee so the customer can get the best results that they can for their process.
Las Marias: Other than automotive, what other markets are driving growth for the company?
Lewis: Well, obviously we do a lot in the contract assembly marketplace which services the full market, but we do a lot of aerospace, military, industrial controls and high reliability electronics. Medical is another field we have been doing a lot of business in as well. We cover the full range in the industry. We do a lot of enclosed squeegee blades. Speedline builds stencil printers that have enclosed squeegee heads and we do all of the blades for their enclosed print heads.
Las Marias: Alden, how do you work with partners to drive innovation to the market?
Lewis: Usually companies will come to us should they require a high-quality squeegee based on what they need for their design. For instance, Speedline approached us because they wanted a high quality squeegee blade that would basically fit their desire to have high-quality printing. So they approached us and we designed the appropriate blade with the appropriate thickness to get the results they were looking for. Like I said, we have options, so we can vary some of the specifications of squeegee blades in order to get the results that the customer is looking for as far as the thickness, width variations, etc.
We also build squeegees to fit OEM holders. Not only do we build holder blade assemblies, which have benefits over the OEM holders, but we build our blades to fit the OEM holders. That can mean having blades with hole patterns to match the original equipment manufacturer’s hole patterns, and we keep a record of all those so that when customers need to buy a specific squeegee blade, we have all the specifications and they just have to tell us what model of printer and we can provide them the appropriate blade. They give us the length of the blade required and we've got all the specifications. So we make the job easier for our customers as well.
It’s not a difficult task to buy from us because we have obtained a lot of information over the years, and as new printers come out we obtain information on the new printers in order to stay up to date on the squeegees required for those printers.
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