Ask the Experts
September 1, 2023 - Updated
July 4, 2007 - Originally Posted

Should we buy new low cost assembly equipment?

With many new companies designing and building PCB assembly machines (wave solder, reflow, stencil printers, etc) in China at lower prices, what are the pros and cons of buying this equipment for my assembly facilities.


Expert Panel Responses

It would be safer to break In-line Printers out for the reason of Vision Patents and the potential for infringement on the printers. This is an area that could have some significant consequences to the importer and the user, irrespective of the quality/cost situation.

On the issue of Chinese Wave and Reflow - the three concerns should be basic functionality, quality and local USA service and parts support. Most of the designs are un-ashamed copies and most are well executed. But Fit and Finish may not be as good as western made products, this has to be borne in mind. If you want to save 50% capital cost you should be prepared to expect a little less finesse.

The last issue which cannot be stressed enough is freight. Most of these machines are coming into the country by Sea. Crating and securing of the machine for the trip is a potential area of concern. Waves and reflows are heavy and if they are not secured in an adequate crate, what looked great at the factory can be easily damaged by the time it arrives.

It has to be understood that most of these processes today are well established and understood, even Lead Free. If you have a PCB design that falls into the mid section of the bell curve of design and you are budget sensitive, Chinese alternative products have to be considered, but questions of supplier longevity, local support and established customers need to be asked.

Allen W. Duck
ATEK llc
Allen Duck is a 20-year Electronics Industry veteran with Global experience in multiple fields of technology and management. He started A-Tek in 2006 to provide a sales and service channel for international equipment companies wishing to offer value based solutions to USA companies.


1) Low cost

Potential Cons:

1) Reliability - machines may not be proven over years of production

2) Lack of local support - some overseas companies will set up offices or agents in one or two major cities but manpower may be limited. So when you need a service call, you might have to wait a day or 5 for action. And they person who comes, may not have a long association with the equipment and may not be well versed in its repair.

3) Lack of Spares - it can be difficult to stock all the necessary spares in an overseas office. So you might end up in a situation where you have to wait a week for spares to come from China.

4) Reduced performance - sometimes you get what you pay for and low cost can mean low performance.

5) Documentation - China made usually means China documentation or shaky translations of Chinese documentation.

6) Non-conformance to U.L. or NFPA 79-in certain areas (like California) local code mandates conformance to U.L. or NFPA 79 and many of the overseas boys are not so familiar with this and/or don't conform.

7) Metric parts - note that these machines are typically made with metric parts. So if something breaks and you are used to running out to the Home Depot or other vendor it might not be so easy to find metric fittings, tubing, etc.

8) Shipping charge - note that there can sometimes be a $2,000-$4,000 shipping adder for freight from China so be careful when you see "FOB CHINA"

9) Lack of installed base-it is always good to check references. If you are the first to have one of these machines, it could be dangerous.

NOTE: I am saying "potential" cons. Some of the machines from overseas are really quite good. So the trick is to do your homework and check out these potential issues. If you can resolve them from the start and save some money in the process, then go for it!

Marc Peo
Heller Industries Inc.
Mr. Peo has been with Heller Industries for over 20 years and has been President for the past 8 years. Marc has authored several industry articles on Soldering, Flux collection, nitrogen use and Lead Free conversion.

While the benefit of purchasing capitol equipment is lower prices, the downside is the support network that is NOT present in the US market.

The OEM is not going to send a service technician in from China to support your operation, and with the time and language differences this will make communication nearly impossible.

Are you sending your personnel to Asia for in-service training? Business Class airfare is $5,000 per person and you cannot send just one.

You should also consider the residual value of the equipment, is there a resale market for it?

Edward Zamborsky
Regional Sales Manager
OK International Inc.
Ed Zamborsky is a Regional Sales & Technical Support Manager for Thermaltronics, located in New York. His position requires frequent customer visits throughout North America and the Caribbean and his position encompasses not only sales but the role of trainer and master applications engineer for all of Thermaltronics products. His expertise includes such specialties as hand soldering, convection and conduction reflow techniques, array rework, fluid dispensing equipment, and fume extraction. Ed has authored many articles and has presented many papers on topics such as; Low Volume SMT Assembly, Solder Fume Extraction, SMT Rework, BGA Rework, Lead-Free Hand Soldering, High Thermal Demand Hand Soldering, Lead Free Visual Inspection and Lead Free Array Rework.

There are a lot of ways to go with this question. Price is the main reason to look at the PCB assembly machines coming from Asia,or that is what I thought. Quality is also very high with some firms.

The equipment that the being handled by the Brick and Mortar companies seem to be a very safe bet. They have been arround and will still be arround when all the dust settles.

The parts in the equipment are purchased parts, ie controllers, relays, SCR's, contactors, controls, software well you get the idea. Service is the very next issue if price is #1 on your hit list.

There are a few Brick and Mortar companies with established service that can offer you the required comfort level required by your company.

Some very big named companies are having their equipment manufactured in China and sold with the name tag here in the USA.

These Asia built machines by the large Asia companies are quite safe for purchase. For a example companies like Jabil and Flextronics have entered into relationships with Asia produced equipment with service supplied by a Brick and Mortar company for installation and field service here in North America.

Parts via next day and service if required is available.

The not safe items are those who do not meet the requirements of the safe brick and mortar service providers.

Your local product representation is the most important, for they will not only address the cost issue, but most important the service issue after the equipment has a few thousand hours on it and they will be there when you need the assistance.

If you wish please e-mail me and I will try to get you in a positive direction for you and your company.

Terry Jeglum
Electronic Technology Corporation
Mr. Jeglum has 35+ years experience and is the founder of Electronic Technology Corporation. He is responsible for 22 years of program management for the Company.

The answer is maybe. Check carefully the quality of construction of the equipment. Then, as the most important, check the company who is importing, selling and servicing the equipment. How long in business? Financially stable? How many service people? Where are parts stocked? How many and how expensive?

The biggest problem with this type of transaction is being stuck without support.

"The joy of a low price fades quickly compared to the lasting pain or a poor quality, or poorly serviced, machine."

Bob Black
North America Sales Manager
Essegi Automation
Mr. Black was the President and Co-Founder of Zevatech in 1977 and introduced first Pick and Place System at Nepcon West 1980. Bob is now the President, CEO and Co-Founder of Juki Automation Systems. He is also a Co-Founder of the SMEMA Council of IPC. He serves as a member of SMTA and SEMI..

Purchasing capital equipment for electronic manufacturing operations should never be a purchasing/buyer function it must be an engineering function.

One of the most important factors you must consider when purchasing capital equipment for your facility is to understand the VALUE of the equipment in your operation not just the PRICE of the equipment.

Anyone who can distinguish between two numbers can purchase equipment on price alone. It takes good engineering and good investigation work to understand the VALUE of the equipment over its useful life. In my opinion anyone who is purchasing equipment on price alone is not doing their job and not performing a valuable service for their organization.

If you think all process equipment is the same then it is a commodity and you should purchase the least expensive equipment. But if you believe that all capital equipment is the same then you are wrong.

You are going to be "living" with your equipment selections every day so why would anyone select equipment that they feel is not the best VALUE for their operation?

When I worked for Motorola I was responsible for selecting and purchasing capital equipment for my division (Motorola Information Systems Group). I was involved in the purchase of tens of millions of dollars worth of capital equipment. I made my share of good decisions and I made my share of mistakes, but I never purchased equipment on price alone.

Consider that if a supplier gave you all the equipment you need 100% FREE and that equipment had excessive down time, that equipment was too slow, and/or that equipment produced excessive defects, that 100% FREE equipment is now the MOST EXPENSIVE equipment in your facility.

Remember, you are NOT purchasing just equipment you are purchasing the entire supplier of that equipment. What sounds like a "good deal" and a great cost savings for your company can quickly turn sour when the supplier does not support the equipment or is not able to help you with process issues, equipment options, equipment innovations, phone support, etc.

How long will your management be happy with the money you "saved" purchasing inferior equipment if excessive defects are being produced, it cannot achieve the required process cycle time, equipment is not operating, and/or no service and spare parts are available? The cost of equipment per unit/product produced is almost insignificant in most operations so I never have understood why an operation would purchase inferior equipment to save a relatively insignificant amount of money.

Having said all of that, there is a lot of good equipment and lot of good equipment suppliers. The best choice of equipment and supplier for your operation will most likely not be the best choice of equipment and supplier for another operation.

Take the time to understand what you need to optimize your operation and obtain your process goals and then carefully investigate the available equipment to determine what equipment will provide the best value based on your process goals.

As you most likely can determine by my comments, selecting capital equipment is one of my favorite topics. I feel this is an area that is very much mis understood and not given sufficient attention in our industry.

I recently wrote a paper that was published in Circuit Assembly Magazine that details all my observations and recommendations on purchasing capital equipment for electronic manufacturing processes.

If anyone would like my entire article on purchasing capital equipment please e mail me and I will send it too you.

Joe Belmonte
Principal Consultant
ITM Consulting
Mr. Belmonte has been a process engineer and process engineering manager in the electronic manufacturing industry for over 25 years, with experience in all aspects of electronic product assembly operations. He is well-known throughout Asia and SE Asia for both his process work and teaching engagements.

It almost goes without saying that the "cons" of buying Chinese-made equipment should be offset by dealing with a reputable supplier-one with an established, proven track record, a long list of customer references, and a support network capable of providing full service and spare parts when necessary. This is nearly as obvious as saying the "pros" are lower prices. Besides, do any of us really have a choice when it comes to buying from China? The fact of the matter is that everyone reading this uses or sells, whether directly or indirectly, goods made in China.

The formulas for successfully having product manufactured in Asia and importing it to the U.S. and other parts of the world are well known and were worked out decades ago. "Made in China" may still garner negative connotations for some, but many of us can remember when "Made in Japan" did not imply the high quality that it does today. It just takes time. The big difference between then and now is the Internet. Anyone who attempts to buy manufacturing equipment direct from an unknown Chinese supplier (or any unknown source for that matter) via the Internet is certainly taking a huge risk. But isn't the first step in limiting risk the application of some plain common sense?

So the question should not be as much about where the equipment is made, as it should be about who you are buying from and whether or not you feel comfortable dealing with them. Are you able to get all the information you need to make your decision? What kind of a relationship do you have with the salesperson? What level of trust do you have in the company? Are you able to get someone on the phone immediately when you have a problem? Unless you strictly "buy American," aren't the factors that determine whether you deal with Company A or Company B in any buying decision usually independent of where the product is made?

Over the past 50 years we've built our own equipment in the U.S. and utilized factories in numerous countries throughout Europe and Asia. It just happens to be China's turn. Who knows who will be next? The economic and political factors that determine where the future center of gravity for world manufacturing will be located are far beyond any of our control. Nonetheless, our mission has always been, and will continue to be, to provide our customers with the best equipment values available anywhere in the world and to back them with all the service, support, and fair treatment they deserve.

Chris Ellis
Sales Manager
Chris Ellis is a Sales Manager/Engineer for Manncorp with 19+ years experience in the PCB assembly equipment industry. Chris worked as a Manufacturing Engineer for 5 Years. Prior to going into sales, he was with PCB assembly equipment suppliers. Before joining Manncorp, Chris was an independent rep in the Carolinas for several years.

Reader Comment
I will not purchase any capital equipment from China. Allen Duck was on target.
Tim Swanson, NEMO Manufacturing

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