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36 SMT007 MAGAZINE I NOVEMBER 2019 And I think that the investment went predom- inantly into direct imaging, optical inspection, and a lot more automation. At Adeon, we're not involved in wet chemistry, but we've seen many customers make large investments in plasma and vacuum filling of microvias. One of the biggest changes we see is in the level of automation. Years ago, I told you that we foresaw a lot of automation coming up; that is now happening. But we also see higher demand from end-users who want to get more involved in the processes of the PCB manu- facturers. They want to see how traceability is controlled so that they can make their judg- ment on the types of materials and processes and try to translate that into any of their poten- tial future problems. We still see the increasing influence of the Asian market through more brokers and agen- cies. As a result of all that we have seen unfor- tunately over the last couple of years, some smaller companies could not stay up to speed with all of the investment in new technology and faster and more automated equipment; they've had to close their doors, which is a shame since the landscape in Europe is already fairly small. But we have also seen people who have found a good niche and are doing very well in the European market. Starkey: What sort of challenges are your cus- tomers currently facing? Bodegom: Human resources is one challenge. In recent years, we have seen a lot of experience leave the industry—more than we've seen enter the industry. Becoming a PCB specialist means that you have to get involved with manufactur- ing. There is no PCB school that I know of, and you can only really learn from seasoned engi- neers and by doing through hands-on experi- ences, but there's never enough time or money available anymore to do so. The manufactur- ing industry is small and involves disciplines in mechanical, electrical, and software engi- neering. And with companies already not hav- ing enough experienced engineers, it becomes increasingly difficult to train new ones. Another challenge is the pressure from Asia, of course. People always like to talk about the price pressure from Asia, but I don't think that's the predominant pressure anymore. The Asian market operates at a lower cost, but through the volume it has achieved and its ability to invest on a much larger scale, it has gained a technology and capability advantage. The big challenge in Europe is in finding and maintaining a niche market area if you're not a volume shop. I'm not saying that vol- ume shops have it easy, but they can focus more on a certain market, and their custom- ers depend on them more. The amount of investment required by PCB shops, in gen- eral, is relatively high due to the multitude of different systems and machines they require. Investing your money in the right sort of area is crucial; wrong investments won't be eas - ily repaired or forgiven. You can really only spend it once, and, as I said earlier, we've seen some smaller companies who could simply not stay up to speed with the invest- ments required. Starkey: Looking to the future, how do you think the European PCB industry is going to change over the next few years? Bodegom: That is a tough question to answer because changes don't usually happen very quickly in our industry. And it's not only a tech- nical perspective; there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainties in the political and financial landscape too. Technically speaking, I think that we see more connections with the semi- One of the biggest changes we see is in the level of automation. Years ago, I told you that we foresaw a lot of automation coming up; that is now happening.

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