ASSEMBLY magazine's annual technology trade show is set to begin September 28.

For 25 years, Assembly Technology Expo has not just been about seeing the latest developments in assembly equipment and tools. It's also been about learning how to use them to improve productivity and reduce assembly costs. This year's ATExpo will be no different, with 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.

Among the many product catogories featured will be automated assembly machines and systems; assembly workstations, benches, seating and lighting; welding, brazing and soldering equipment; power and hand tools; pick and place machines; parts feeders; fasteners and precision-formed parts; robots and end effectors; and conveyors and material handling equipment.

An accompanying 4-day technical conference, which begins Sept. 27, offers 27 courses on topics such as lean manufacturing, automated assembly and materials joining. A number of free educational sessions are offered daily, and a trio of keynote speakers kick off each day of the conference at 9 a.m. In addition, the SMTA is again colocating its international conference at ATExpo.

On Tuesday, Sept. 28, the keynote speaker will be John Ratzenberger, star of the television series "Cheers," and the producer and host of the Travel Channel series, "John Ratzenberger's Made in America." In his address "Made in America," Ratzenberger will discuss the fact that manufacturing is not just an abstract concept, but a way of life and a source of pride that ties communities and generations together. The son of blue-collar working parents, Ratzenberger worked as a carpenter before turning to acting, and holds five patents for a packaging process that he invented. As part of his presentation, 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.

On Wednesday, the keynote speaker will be Christopher Salvo, mission manager of the Mars Exploration Rover at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In his address and multimedia presentation, "A Tale of Two Rovers-Integrating, Testing and Operating the Mars Exploration Rovers," Salvo will give an overview of the mission on Mars, including how the rovers landed on Mars and what they've discovered. As part of the presentation he will demonstrate the rover's robotic arm, which can move in five degrees of freedom.

Thursday's keynote speaker will be Karl Eberle, vice president and general manager of Harley-Davidson's Kansas City, MO, assembly plant-a 358,000-square-foot facility that employs more than 900 workers to produce the Sportster, Dyna Glide and VRSC families of motorcycles from fabrication and finishing through final assembly. In his address "Relationship Driven Leadership-A Unique Manufacturing Environment," Eberle will describe how both hourly and salaried employees at the plant work in a self-directed environment that empowers them to run the business. Eberle will explain the various manufacturing and assembly processes at the plant and illustrate the individual and collaborative skills necessary to produce each Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He will also share the plant's successes under this relationship-driven leadership model.

Among the free educational sessions will be a presentation on Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to noon, by Ross Robson, executive director of the Shingo Prize for Excellence in Manufacturing. Then, from 1 to 3 p.m., Austin Weber, senior editor of ASSEMBLY magazine, will chair a panel discussion on "Offshore Assembly Challenges and Opportunities." The panel will address the true cost of outsourcing assembly to places like Brazil, China, India and Mexico. 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.

On Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon, Pascal Dennis of Lean Productivity Systems will examine the "human side" of lean manufacturing. And 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."

On Thursday, from 1 to 2 p.m., Richard Godin from Improvement Is People will moderate "Distributing Manufacturing into the Supply Network for a Competitive Edge," a discussion of product customization and the advantages of shifting the responsibility for product differentiation into the distribution network.

As in past years ATExpo will include a number technology-specific pavilions, offering attendees myriad opportunities for hands-on learning. The Electronics Assembly Pavilion, for example, will feature 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.

As part of this display, attendees will be able to study the EASi line, a fully functional PCB assembly line incorporating 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. As in the past, the EASi line will be performing actual product assembly. This year's product is a "light chaser" game that tests eye-hand coordination.

Similarly, the Robotics Pavilion, endorsed by the Robotics Industries Association and the Automated Imaging Association, will display state-of-the-art industrial robotics, machine vision and related technologies. For wire processing equipment, the Wire Harness Pavilion will be the place to be. Endorsed by the Wiring Harness Manufacturers Association, this pavilion features new products and services for electronic cable assemblies, cord sets, wiring harnesses and other products.

Finally, for those interested in networking, or just having fun, there will be a free ATExpo 25th Anniversary Networking Reception from 5 to 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 28, and a free OktoberFest, sponsored by Global Automation, Stein Automation, MTA Automation, Visicontrol and Bartec from 3 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

The highlight of Tuesday's Networking Reception, which includes complimentary hors d'oeuvres and beverages, will be ASSEMBLY magazine's presentation of its inaugural "Assembly Plant of the Year" award. True to form, the OktoberFest will include cold beer and hard pretzels as well as other hors dóeuvres-not a bad way to mark 25 years of hard work and fun.

Please stop by and see us in Booth 1642.

Don Hegland, Editor

John Sprovieri, Senior Editor

Austin Weber, Senior Editor

Adam Cort, Associate Editor