At the recent HKPCA & IPC APEX South China Fair, I spoke with Gillad Galor, founder and general manager of AOI maker Optima LTD, about the his company’s technology, and what’s driving product innovation in the AOI space. He also talked about the benefits of in-line AOI systems.

Stephen Las Marias: Gillad, let’s start by your telling us about Optima and your responsibilities at the company.

Gillad Galor: I’m the general manager of Optima, and I’m also the founder. We are focusing at the moment only on one product—advanced AOI for PCBs. AOI is our field, and right now we do automatic AOI. When we say automatic AOI, we mean in-line AOI.

Las Marias: What’s the advantage and benefit of it?

Galor: In-line AOI is actually an AOI machine attached to the DES line, the develop-etch-strip line. That brings a variety of advantages and, the way we see it, zero disadvantages. First of all, the capacity is very high because the DES line is very fast—about four times higher than traditional common AOIs. Second, it scans both sides simultaneously. The third and most important one, I believe, is it saves manpower. You don’t need many people standing next to many machines, loading panels, flipping them and unloading them and waiting for the machine to scan.

Another advantage is you scan the panels once they are fresh, so you don’t need to handle all the technologies for reducing false alarms from oxidation and from dust. Other advantages are it saves space and it saves maintenance contracts. It also saves on power.

Las Marias: A few months ago, we did a survey from our readers regarding cycle time reduction. One of the bottlenecks they mentioned in their process is inspection. What can you comment on that, from the perspective of an AOI supplier?

Galor: It’s very easy to go to an AOI room and see piles of PCBs waiting for inspection. It’s very common. That speaks for itself, so I definitely agree with that. AOI is another station that takes a lot of time. At least we save one station—we save the scanning station. At the moment, we still need a repair station. Once there is a quality issue, we still need to take the board offline and repair it.

Las Marias: But you should not compromise between quality and speed, right?

Galor: Right. We don’t see any quality disadvantage for in-line, actually. It’s a little bit better than off-line, because you don’t need to find the settings for oxidized and dirty panels.

Las Marias: What technology or market trends are driving the product innovation at your company?

Galor: Automation. Automation is a necessity. Basically, I would say automation is the key for growth today. Tomorrow, automation is the key for survival.

Las Marias: A lot of people are saying that the way forward is automation.

Galor: It doesn’t matter, I believe, if you are high-end or low-end. All of them need to be automated. I believe the future is automation. That’s why we’re here.

Las Marias: Speaking of this region, for the past few months it’s been quite challenging, from a business perspective. Have you seen any impact on your business here?

Galor: Yes we have. It mostly comes from the size of the pockets of our customers. The customers’ mood is volatile. It’s not only bad, but the psychological effect is there. I believe it’s only psychologically in our product, because even if your business doesn’t grow, you still need to buy this automatic machine and replace the existing machines. I believe still, at the moment, anyone who can afford buying a machine needs to buy from us, even if the outlook is a bit blurry.

Las Marias: Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you would like to address?

Galor: I think sometimes people just need to act—they need to move on. I believe every printed circuit board factory should come to us. It might sound arrogant, but it’s not, it’s just my belief.

Las Marias: How do you stay ahead of your competition?

Galor: At the moment, we are the only supplier for automatic in-line AOI. The amount of spending we are doing now is increasing, because we want to have a gap once the competition begins, and we want to be far ahead. We want to be four to five years ahead.

Las Marias: What kind of innovation should we expect from your R&D?

Galor: An increase in level of automation. Right now, we still need an operator to run the machine. Of course, it’s one instead of four people, so it’s already a big savings, but we want eventually to eliminate the one.

Las Marias: Earlier on, you mentioned something about the need for repair on the board once quality issues are found?

Galor: Yes, at the moment it is still manual; but we are looking into automating that process. But that will take time.

Las Marias: Thank you very much for your time, Gillad.

Galor: Thank you.

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