The transition from startup to a going concern can be a tricky one, especially in the fast-moving, capital-intensive electronics contract manufacturing business. Canadian-based printed circuit board (PCB) assembler MARA Technologies Inc. (Markham, ON) made that discovery in 2004 during its first year of business.

Originally incorporated in late 2003, the company, which assembles boards for the computer, telecommunications and wireless industries, began operations in February 2004 with just three employees and a single surface mount assembly line. The next month, a contract to produce computer PCBs promised to push MARA's equipment and workforce to their capacity, threatening to hamper future growth.

"It was obvious that the line would be fully occupied, and we could not service any other customers. This is a no-no for a contract manufacturer," says company president Jack Vincken.

With an eye toward the future, Vincken and company vice president of operations Frank Lam invested in an AX-5 chip-integrated circuit pick and place machine, and an Emerald fine-pitch placer with tray sequencer, both from Assembléon (formerly Philips EMT, Eindhoven, the Netherlands). Although MARA could not afford a full-blown AX-5 with 20 placement heads, the company went with eight heads, giving it a 40,000 cph capability, which was sufficient for its workload. An advantage of the AX-5 is that, as business increases, the company can add more heads. With a full complement of 20 heads the AX-5 can place 100,000 cph.

"We are now at 40-plus employees and the workload is steadily growing," says Vincken. "We expect that pretty soon we can order additional heads and with relatively little expense, we can increase our output."

MARA originally began production using an Assembléon Topaz XiII multifunctional placer and Emerald fine-pitch placer. According to Vincken, it took 3 days to get the second set of equipment fully online, including integrating it with a board printer and a reflow oven.

"One week later, we more than tripled our production, and with only a few more people, we quickly became profitable as a company," he says.

The base model of the AX-5 can place 30,000 cph, and it can be upgraded in 5,000 cph increments by adding extra placement heads and robots that are quickly and easily exchanged. The machine can handle a variety of components, from 0101 packages to flip-chips to large, heavy oddforms. Automatic pick correction, zero-touch component pick, continuous component check, board warpage correction and artwork alignment for each robot ensure precise placement.

According to Vincken, investing in additional assembly technology provided another benefit in that it shows prospective customers that MARA is committed to implementing the equipment necessary to fulfilling its contractual obligations.

"One aspect of the success is that our customers, on their first visit, could see that we had spent a lot of money on very high-tech equipment, and we could demonstrate our capabilities on the most complicated PCBs," he says of the intangible benefit.

For more on contract electronics manufacturing, call 905-479-3434, visit or eInquiry 2.

For more on surface mount manufacturing equipment, call 31-40-27-23441, visit or eInquiry 3.