Sales of fiber optic components—and the equipment to assemble them—will recover in the next few years.

The market for fiber optic components bottomed out in the second half of 2002 and should grow quickly during the next 3 years, predicts Jeff D. Montgomery, founder and chairman of market research firm ElectroniCast Inc. (San Mateo, CA).

During the fiber optics boom from 1999 to 2000, photonic components were produced faster than they were consumed. When the market turned south in 2001, telecommunications equipment manufacturers met their needs for photonic components from existing inventories. "This excess inventory has been exhausted, and new component deliveries will be required next year and beyond," Montgomery told an audience of more than 100 people at Assembly West, Fiberoptic Automation Expo and Nepcon West, which were held Dec. 4 to 6 at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, CA.

Manufacturers of fiber optics assembly equipment should benefit from the revived market. Montgomery expects worldwide sales of automated assembly equipment for fiber optic components to triple, from $405 million in 2002 to $1.178 billion in 2006. "Production of this equipment will be dominated by North American vendors," he added.

Montgomery was one of two keynote speakers at the combined trade show, which featured some 260 exhibitors spread across 43,000 square feet of floor space. The other keynoter was Michael Mace, chief competitive officer of PalmSource Inc. (Santa Clara, CA), the company that supplies the operating system for the PalmPilot and other handheld computer devices.

Mace discussed how handheld computers, or personal digital assistants (PDAs), are being used today and how they will be used in the future. "There is no one ‘killer’ application for handhelds today," Mace told an audience of some 150 engineers. "There are different ‘killer’ applications for each person."

Indeed, PalmSource surveyed 12,000 consumers around the world to learn how they primarily used their PDAs. The company found that the main applications for PDAs were evenly split between information management, communication and "lifestyle" uses, such as games and electronic books.

That leaves plenty of room for enterprising engineers to develop new products, said Mace, who augmented his speech with slides presented with the help of his own PDA. While only 7 percent of Americans own PDAs, 26 percent are interested in buying the devices.

In addition to the keynote speakers, the combined trade show offered an extensive conference program. Conferences covered such topics as lead-free electronics assembly, flip chip assembly, automated optical inspection, in-circuit testing, small-scale resistance welding, lean manufacturing, and automated assembly of optoelectronic components.