Sunday, February 25, 2007

APEX tradeshow feedback

I spent Tuesday and Wednesday of last week at the "IPC Printed Circuits Expo, APEX and the Designers Summit" with the fine young gentlemen of Cogiscan, one of our portfolio companies. I spent most of the 2 days on the APEX / electronics manufacturing side of the Expo, where Cogiscan's booth was neatly located between Siemens' and Panasonic's, two of our major OEM partners. Cogiscan's smart feeder RFID technology was also displayed in Juki's booth, giving them great visibility.

Some thoughts:
  • It was my first time attending, but everyone says the show is getting smaller every year, becoming more of a regional affair. A lot of the decision making still happens in North America, but the bulk of the production is now in China and a handfull of other developing countries. Asian and European tradeshows are getting more traffic. Productronica seems to be growing fast.
  • China has most of the high volume / low mix production, but the EMS there are also starting to offer more flexible, limited run, production.
  • North American (and Mexican, even, it seems) EMS plants are more and more focussed on highly specialized, verticalized, more complex, low volume / high mix, higher margins manufacturing.
  • Walt Custer's conference on industry trends and macro-data was a powerpoint slidefest like I hadn't seen in a while and if you e-mail him, you can probably get them. Bottom line: a small lull in growth this year, back at higher levels in 2008-9.
  • The tradeshow moved from Anaheim to L.A. and apparently this negatively affected attendance. From Cogiscan's booth, though, I have a feeling that attendance (and sales leads) was of better quality than before... less people in town to just browse and kick the tires before taking the kids to Disneyland. I saw a lot of people from EMS and OEMs looking for solutions to specific problems and they seemed to have budgets for new technology.
  • The area around the L.A. Convention Center is incedibly bland and boring. I guess I can recommend the Figueroa Hotel, 3 blocks away. Interesting decor and very affordable, but don't expect either luxury or friendly staff.
  • I am pretty much an outsider to the industry and don't get some of the subtleties in the different tech offerings but it looks to me like a lot small and larger guys offer very comparable products. There's probably going to be a wave of consolidation and acquisitions in the next few years, where the major players (Siemens, Panasonic, Fuji, Juki, Yamaha) acquire technologies left and right to try and give themselves an edge.
  • Finally, I didn't see one other VC in attendance. Low margin industries usually don't attract much VC money.