Visited: ElectroneX Expo (5-6th September 2018)

Every two years, the ElectroneX Expo comes to Sydney. This expo is like a trade show for those involved in electronics design and assembly with a number of stalls from relevant vendors, free talks and is held in conjunction with conferences from the SMCBA (Surface Mount and Circuit Board Association). This time, it was held at Rosehill Gardens rather than at the Australian Technology Park. This was closer to home, but entry to the venue wasn’t as straightforward as we had hoped, with a few people coming by bus from Parramatta getting a little lost (and eventually, decided to follow me … an equally clueless bloke with a plan – get to the train station to cross the tracks).

The Expo

Rather surprisingly, this time, the show seemed more vibrant than in previous years. It seemed there was more show-floor area, more exhibitors and crucially, more people. Arriving at the registration hall, it was unusual to find myself queueing behind a number of people to get my badge. It was only a few minutes past opening!

Unlike previous years, I took a few more photos of the event, but not in a serious effort to cover the event. After all, it was a chance to see “old friends” in the industry who I might not know by name and new technology alike. I was there to help, learn and enjoy – and I think I was able to achieve that quite well.

In what follows, I’ll discuss a little bit about the companies I talked with and the things I learned about their operation. Note that links and discussion are provided as a courtesy to the reader and their mention does not represent my endorsement of their company or services. The post will only mention companies which I’ve conversed with and had some interest in – unfortunately, not everyone will be mentioned but the list of exhibitors and stuff on show is online.

One category of companies on the floor were contract manufacturing companies who were willing to take designs and bill-of-materials (BOMs) and source, fabricate, populate and test. Exhibiting this time were OnTrack who were based locally in Mascot but do their PCBs overseas, Leach (SZ) Co. Ltd. who are based in Shenzhen with a long track record of experience and GPC Electronics who manage the process with Asian manufacturers and have done work for some rather recognisable brands. Owing to the issues surrounding products and intellectual property, it seems that all companies are now willing to sign NDAs, however how “watertight” this may be remains to be seen.

This year, when it comes to electronics component suppliers, it seems a few big names are around again. Mouser were on show, with a small stand and a few representatives. My favourite element14 was back again this year, with a small stand as well and mostly fresh faces. I’ve had some concerns about their acquisition by Avnet, but it seems that after a period of uncertainty, the Australian arm is actually doing well. That’s great news for us “down under”. I was also told about a few new products “on the way” which should be interesting for those looking for good value, but I’ll keep my lips sealed so as not to spoil any potential surprise. ADM Instrument Engineering were back again this year, representing MeanWell power supplies as our local supplier. It’s good to be reminded that we do have “local” options for these things. One group I wasn’t aware of was Fairmont Marketing who are able to obtain components through multiple sources, claiming to get a “better price”. They were also here representing Mornsun power converters and ICs. Finally, for those who are interested in passives, magnetics and connectors – Würth Electronik are back again this year, reminding us all that we can order directly from them and save some money along the way. Finally, there was also Altronics, although I’ve not dealt with them much.

There were a number of specialist component manufacturers on show as well. As with previous years, it was nice to see both OKW Rolec and Hammond Manufacturing at the show again with a large sample of enclosures on show and a few free samples (if you’d like). The Hammond case I got last time became my Hearing Loop Receiver. As with previous years, it seems like the main showbag was sponsored by WAGO Technologies, a very reputable connector company. There was Mastercut Technologies, a local company who specialise in fabricating thin metal parts such as signs, solder mask stencils and shims. I also spoke to Reid Industrial Graphic Products who are a local manufacturer of a number of interesting things including flexible electronics substrates/sensors/input panels. When it comes to specialist PCBs, it was good to see Lintek (another local company) on show with their mesmerizingly-complex and fine designs. So many of these companies are local, it proved to be surprising to me.

When it came to embedded systems, it’s no big surprise to see Congatec on show – it seems they’re at almost every show I end up attending. As usual, the wall of Intel-based and i.MX based boards was on show. This year, I came across Glyn High-Tech Distribution (a company I wasn’t aware of) who seem to carry a lot of different embedded systems development boards and system-on-modules, including wireless solutions. I also stopped off at Outerspace Design, an industrial-design company that helps bring prototypes to market. They showed off a smart dog-treat dispenser which plays games with dogs … which seemed pretty cute, almost like a miniature cement mixer.

Saving the best to last was the category of test equipment manufacturers and distributors, with a good representation across the board, another surprise for a “small” market such as ours. At Trio Test and Measurement, there were a number of different devices from a range of brands. There was a number of “value segment” Siglent equipment which didn’t look too bad at a glance, alongside some Keysight (formerly Agilent) equipment. Interesting how they’ve just plastered the brand over the Agilent logo. But that DC electronic load underneath looks familiar … I suspect the B&K Precision Model 8600 I have is actually a Maynuo rebadge.

Surprisingly, the Keysight representation doesn’t end there – Keysight had their own stand where they showed off a number of their new oscilloscopes including their new Streamline Series USB-connected devices. It seems maybe traditional vendors are at long-last, challenging the likes of Pico Technologies rather than leaving that market untapped. They were also demonstrating the FieldFox, which I’ve seen several years back. I just didn’t know back then that it was a cable-tester as well with VNA capabilities – not just a portable spectrum analyser. I had some time with the representative chasing several “narrowband” signals near a UMTS carrier in the ~850-900Mhz band, wondering what they were. I suspected they may be the result of unfiltered harmonics or intermodulation and the representative proffered the suggestion they could be wireless microphone signals. Reducing the RBW, we could see it was a little asymmetric but similar to NFM in width, but a decode produced just noise. Reflecting back on it, that may be expected if the microphone is a digital system – however, such microphones should operate in the 520-694Mhz region nowadays. Whatever it was would have very likely been quite out of band.

National Instruments had some representation, but I didn’t have the time to stop off and take a peek. I probably should have stopped, but I decided to make a bee-line to a stand that was showing GW Instek and Newton’s 4th equipment. GW Instek make a lot of power supplies, which are commonly deployed in teaching labs, so their brand is familiar. That being said, I didn’t know they also offered various digital storage oscilloscopes and mixed signal oscilloscopes as well. I didn’t have the chance to play much with them, but it seemed fairly similar to what Rigol might offer. At the low-end, it’s a bit of a dogfight, with other brands like Siglent, Hantek, Uni-Trend and others trying to break into the market – but this means that consumers are finally able to afford a decent oscilloscope at a good price.

The next stop was the Emona Instruments stand to check out the latest from Rigol Technologies (the almost undisputed “value” choice) and a VNA from Pico Technologies. It seems that since my review of the Rohde & Schwarz RTM3004, some people were wondering if Rigol actually had a comparable “value” offering. I managed to spot an MSO7054 on the show floor which has a lower bandwidth (500Mhz) but claims a higher 10GSa/s sample rate (interleaved, with only 2.5GSa/s in four channel mode and only 8-bits) and deeper memory at up to 500Mpts (with 100Mpts standard). It had some superficial similarities – 10.1” touch-screen operation (but only 1024×600 resolution) and support for USB mouse, with three ports (which is nice) instead of one as on the RTM3004 necessitating the use of a hub. On the downside, the button panel layout and labelling was a little ugly and misaligned in places. Not the prettiest of units in my opinion. Not having lived with such a unit, I have no idea whether it has any issues – but on paper, it isn’t quite as well spec’ed as the RTM3004 and the price didn’t seem too special either.

Vicom were back as well, representing the Tektronix and Keithley brands (as they’re basically one-and-the-same now). The Keithley half of the stand had a number of interesting products including the 2400 SourceMeter unit – a “four-quadrant” power supply that measures as well. They also had their DMM6500/DMM7510 (I can’t remember which) touch-screen high-accuracy DMM that could also do graphing. Of course, you bring out your most powerful stuff for a show.

On the Tektronix side, it was quite exciting too – the RSA306B was on show (one I’m familiar with, as I had tested the RSA306 in the past) alongside a TTR500 PC-connected VNA. The representative was having a little difficulty in setting up a nice split-screen with Smith-chart with VectorVu-PC, so I had five minutes to have a tinker. I’d have to agree, as a user that’s never used the software nor read the manual, that the menus are a bit confusing as a “nest of nested menus”, but I was able to get there in the end. It seems that Tektronix have no problems embracing PC-connected instruments, at least in the RF arena. But the big attraction was the 5-series MSO with its massive touch-capable screen and (at the show) 6-channel input. Not a cheap unit, for sure, but mighty impressive to see they’re not being left behind when it comes to the user interface design.

But of all the stands, the one I was most eager to see was the Rohde & Schwarz stand. They sure didn’t disappoint! There was a lot on show, including the RTM3004 oscilloscope (which I recently reviewed, and am still waiting for a few firmware fixes for) – I felt at home as soon as I saw it. But seeing as I never had a chance to see what their other units were like, it was actually nice to have some time to play with an RTO-series unit (a much higher-end, compliance-capable unit) and examine the menu layout and play with the history navigation. I’d have to say, navigating between history records with the dial was actually quite a pleasurable experience compared to pressing a touch-button on the screen. There was the “flagship” RTP unit, which boasts rather impressive specifications – I didn’t play much with it but I did notice that the exhaust air was quite a bit warm so the unit is probably working quite hard. At the lower-end, they had an RTE-series unit as well, but it wasn’t the star. Alongside these oscilloscopes, it was also impressive to see a microwave signal generator (I suspect it was the SMB100A) hooked up to an FSH portable spectrum analyzer showing a 10Ghz signal or so. I flexed the coax, the signal changed … I even got to tweak the modulation width setting on the generator. It’s nice to have a chance to go hands-on.

So I didn’t let the chance escape – I took my time to play with the FPC1500 1-port VNA – a unit offered for RoadTest that I missed out on. Its wide screen and performance was quite impressive, although the menu system being different to the other equipment did take a little getting used to at first. I also got to play with the buttons on the HMP4030 power supply and explore the menu. This was a unit I applied to RoadTest, but am awaiting the outcome. It was a nice outcome to be able to preview the unit in person – the unit on display still bears the Hameg brand, which R&S acquired. They also had a more advanced HMC-series supply on show with a colour LCD, which made the HMP4030 feel a little dated in comparison. Definitely have to thank the representative for being so accommodating of my inquisitive nature … I managed to crash the ZNC-series (?) VNA on show as well but apparently that’s a known issue that’s awaiting resolution. Sometimes I just feel that some companies might be a little lax on their QA procedures – after all, test equipment is one category of equipment that probably shouldn’t have bugs … but every vendor is guilty to some degree – I can definitely say the same of products I’ve tested from the “majors”.

Also of mention is Silicon Chip, the Australian electronics magazine that still survives through to today when its peers have long perished. I suppose if you enjoy electronics and you can afford it, it might be a good idea to take out a subscription. Another is the UNSW Sunswift car, which seems to be getting plenty of mileage at trade shows.

In the end, the haul was pretty substantial despite trying my best to resist taking things home.

What is missing from the shot is about 1.5kg of catalogues, magazines and promotional material.

Conclusion

ElectroneX for 2018 has come and gone – the next chance to see it in Sydney will be in 2020. That being said, this year’s show was unexpectedly good – in number of exhibitors, in the amount of things on show and in the number of people attending. It’s refreshing to see signs that the electronics market in Australia is still alive and great to see familiar faces even if I’m not on a first name basis with them.

Best of all, to everyone who I spoke with – it was a pleasure to chat with you all, thanks for your time! See you in another two years!

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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