ATExpo marks its 25th year of leadership in showcasing the state of the art in assembly technology.

For 25 years, Assembly Technology Expo has been the place to see the latest developments in assembly equipment and tools, and learn how to use them to improve productivity and reduce assembly costs. This year is no different; ATExpo will feature working displays by nearly 600 companies, allowing manufacturing and design engineers to get a hands-on look at new products and learn about new methods.

The show will be held Sept. 28 to 30 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL, conveniently located just east of Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. The accompanying technical conference, which begins a day earlier, features a broad range of educational sessions developed specifically for assembly professionals.

An entertaining and informative keynote address, free to all attendees, will launch the conference program each day. Television star John Ratzenberger, one of the stars of Cheers, will get the conference program underway at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, with the keynote, "Made in America." Ratzenberger is the producer and host of the Travel Channel series, John Ratzenberger's Made in America.

For Ratzenberger, manufacturing is more than an abstract concept. It's a way of life and a source of pride that ties communities and generations together. The son of blue-collar working parents, Ratzenberger grew up with the idea that Americans were hardworking inventors. Before turning to an acting career, he worked as a carpenter, and holds five patents for a packaging process that he invented.

Ratzenberger will share insights that he has gained from visiting American factories and working alongside the men and women who produce many of America's best-loved products.

Christopher Salvo, mission manager of the Mars Exploration Rover at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratories, opens the second day of the conference on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 9 a.m. Titled "A Tale of Two Rovers-Integrating, Testing and Operating the Mars Exploration Rovers," Salvo's exciting multimedia presentation will give an overview of the mission on Mars. He'll describe how the rovers landed on Mars and what they've discovered. He'll also demonstrate the rover's robotic arm, which can move in five degrees of freedom.

A 15-year veteran of deep-space missions, Salvo has been the lead test conductor for assembling, testing and launching the Opportunity Rover. He has been on the operations team since the launch.

On Thursday, Sept. 30, at 9 a.m., Karl Eberle, vice president and general manager of Harley-Davidson's Kansas City, MO, assembly plant, will share his manufacturing successes in the keynote "Relationship Driven Leadership-A Unique Manufacturing Environment."

The 358,000-square-foot Harley-Davidson facility was built in 1998. More than 900 employees produce the Sportster, Dyna Glide and VRSC families of motorcycles from fabrication and finishing through final assembly. Every day, hourly and salaried employees work in a self-directed environment that empowers them to run the business.

Eberle will explain the various manufacturing and assembly processes and illustrate the individual and collaborative skills necessary to produce each Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He will also share their successes under this relationship-driven leadership model.

Free Educational Events

On Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to noon, Ross Robson, executive director of the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing, will present "The Shingo Prize Approach to World-Class Manufacturing."

The Shingo Prize is named for Japanese industrial engineer Shigeo Shingo, who distinguished himself as one of the world's leading experts in improving manufacturing processes. Robson will describe the Shingo Prize model and discuss how it evolved into the most rigorous manufacturing program in North America.

Also on Tuesday, from 2 to 3 p.m., Austin Weber, senior editor of ASSEMBLY magazine, will chair a panel discussion on "Offshore Assembly Challenges and Opportunities."

Outsourcing is a fact of life in manufacturing today. By assembling products in Brazil, China, India, Mexico and other countries, manufacturers hope to take advantage of low-cost labor. However, this is often a shortsighted decision that is driven by market pressures and misperceptions. What appears to be a quick way to cut costs and appease shareholders can turn out to be more expensive in the long run. This panel discussion will address the true cost of offshore assembly. Panelists will examine the economics of outsourcing and explain why offshore assembly may not be the "bargain" it appears to be-and what engineers can do about it.

Free educational events continue on Wednesday. From 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., Pascal Dennis of Lean Productivity Systems, will discuss the "Human Side of Lean." Lean implementation has proven harder than expected. Success with lean manufacturing is 90 percent people and 10 percent tools. A panel of lean manufacturing professionals will share their experiences on how this strategy has changed the way they do business. You will hear compelling discussions on their successes and failures and on what their journey has taught them.

On Wednesday afternoon from 2 to 3 p.m., Eric Miscoll, senior consultant and chief operating officer at Technology Forecasters Inc., will discuss "Original Design Manufacturers: A Viable Outsourcing Alternative With Distinct Business Practices." Original design manufacturers (ODMs) are companies that provide not only manufacturing services but also product designs and design services. These companies may, or may not, sell their own branded products. The vast majority of ODM activity takes place in Asia. The use of ODMs has dramatically increased over the past 5 years, and the trend is expected to continue. Discussion will include an overview of the ODM industry, including its history, size, unique characteristics, advantages and pitfalls.

On the last day of the conference, from 1 to 2 p.m., Richard Godin from Improvement Is People will moderate "Distributing Manufacturing into the Supply Network for a Competitive Edge." At most assembly plants, product customization is often postponed until the final customer order is received. This is not always the most efficient practice. This session will focus on shifting the responsibility for product differentiation into the distribution network. Among the topics covered will be product design, delivery responsiveness and reliability, transportation and planning system considerations.

Two Ways to Learn

The conference program offers cutting-edge educational sessions for every level of employee. Sponsored by such organizations as the Adhesive and Sealant Council, Edison Welding Institute and Wire Harness Manufacturers Association (WHMA), these sessions are taught by leading manufacturing experts. And for the first time at ATExpo, the Automated Imaging Association (AIA) and the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) have joined the list of conference organizers. As part of an agreement to colocate the International Robots & Vision Show with ATExpo in 2005, the AIA and RIA are sponsoring five conference sessions on robotics and machine vision for this year's show.

With many educational sessions to choose from, engineers can create their own curriculum. They can attend individual technical sessions or full-day workshops. Sessions are organized into six tracks:

  • Lean manufacturing.
  • Automated assembly.
  • Manufacturing management.
  • Materials joining.
  • Adhesives.
  • Wire processing.

The ATExpo show floor, including technology-specific pavilions, offers attendees myriad opportunities for hands-on learning experiences.

The Electronics Assembly Pavilion features state-of-the-art equipment for every phase of the electronics manufacturing process-from design, packaging and fabrication, to printed circuit board assembly and test.

The Electronics Assembly Pavilion also contains the EASi line, a fully functional PCB assembly line. The line will incorporate such technology as material handling machinery, stencil printers, pick-and-place units, reflow ovens, wave soldering machines, X-ray inspection equipment, robotic soldering machines, packaging equipment, and factory simulation software.

The EASi line allows spectators to watch actual product assembly. This year's product is a "light chaser" game that tests eye-hand coordination.

The Robotics Pavilion is where attendees can go for robotics and flexible automation. Endorsed by the RIA and AIA, the Robotics Pavilion displays state-of-the-art industrial robotics, machine vision and related technologies.

For wire processing equipment, the Wire Harness Pavilion is the place to be. Endorsed by the WHMA, this pavilion features new products and services for electronic cable assemblies, cord sets, wiring harnesses and other products.

Networking at ATExpo

Everyone has heard the expression "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Well, all work and no play at ATExpo could mean a missed opportunity for making new business contacts. To ensure that this doesn't happen, attendees and exhibitors are invited to the 25th anniversary networking event on Tuesday, from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Enjoy complimentary hors d'oeuvres and beverages courtesy of ATExpo.

The highlight of the evening will be ASSEMBLY magazine's presentation of its inaugural "Assembly Plant of the Year" award.

Another networking opportunity will take place in the Electronics Assembly Pavilion on Wednesday, from 3 to 5 p.m. The "OktoberFest" is sponsored by Global Automation, Stein Automation, MTA Automation, Visicontrol and Bartec. Visitors are encouraged to stop by and enjoy a mug of cold beer, hard pretzels and delicious hors d'oeuvres.

Show admission is free if you register by Sept. 24. Register by Sept. 24 and you will receive your badge in the mail prior to the show. After Sept. 24 and on-site, the fee is $45. For more information, visit

SMTA International Technical Conference

Engineers from the electronics manufacturing industry can update their technical skills at the Surface Mount Technology Association's SMTA International Conference, which will be held concurrently with ATExpo Sept. 26 to 30.

The conference features eight new courses, more than 120 technical papers, 32 tutorials and workshops on many leading-edge technologies. SMTA certification will be offered at the conference.

SMTA International also offers two symposia on contract manufacturing and lead-free soldering technology. In addition, the Emerging Technologies Summit will return to this year's show. SMTA International will also feature seven free educational sessions, including "Lead-Free: Where We Are Now."

For more information, call 952-920-7682 or visit