Dr. Carl Miller, 89, US Air Force radar genius who helped design the first successful launch of a live animal into space.
Dr. H. Edward Roberts, 68, father of the PC and mentor to Bill Gates.
Vincent D. Russell, 78, founder of PCB manufacturer R&D Circuits.
Jack Bradley, 57, sales representative, Bradley Representatives.
Dr. Fritz Sennheiser, 98, founder and longtime chairman of Sennheiser Electronic, a leading maker of high-end audio equipment.
Gordon Arbib, 67, former chief executive of Multicore Solders.
Rich Freiberger, 62, chief operations officer at ZF Array Technology and former vice president of technology development for GSS Array.
David Armstrong, 53, CEO and president, Armstrong International, owner of EMS firm Computrol.
Jack Robertson, 78, electronics industry journalist at Electronic News and EBN for some five decades.
Richard Vieser, 82, former Varian Medical chairman, and longtime director of Fisher Scientific, Control Data and Viasystems.
Dr. John Roy Whinnery, 92, retired director of the University of California-Berkeley Electronics Research Laboratory; innovator in electromagnetism and communication electronics; author of Fields and Waves in Communication Electronics.
Special consideration for the 14 employees who died on various Foxconn campuses this year.
This paper discusses work in each of these three areas. Environmental conditions in numerous data centers were assessed and steps recommended to improve air quality. Component manufacturers have developed alternative materials or constructions to improve component robustness when exposed to high sulfur environments. Mitigation techniques to apply a barrier such as a conformal coating have been developed and evaluated for effectiveness, and laboratory evaluation techniques have been explored to assess and rank component robustness for use in high sulfur environments. (SMTAI, October 2010)
“Laser Direct Imaging Method of Creating Electric Connections on High Density PCBs”
“Biobased Composite Resins Design for Electronic Materials”
“IPC-4761 Via Plugging Guideline: Careful What You Ask For”
Author: Saturn Electronics; saturnelectronics.com/via-plugging.htm. Abstract: IPC-4761 reflects IPC’s work toward standardizing the via plugging process. The document classifies seven different types of via plugs. Two are dedicated to the use of dry film solder mask, which now has only limited usage and applications, primarily older military applications. The remainder could be separated between via plugging and via-in-pad, as these two types of via plugs serve very different purposes. (Company white paper, October 2010)
This column provides abstracts from recent industry conferences and company white papers. With the amount of information increasing, our goal is to provide an added opportunity for readers to keep abreast of technology and business trends.
North America’s “other” assembly trade show had reason for cheer.
The SMTA International trade show in late October was a good show. A good regional show – Orlando is not the center of the electronics assembly universe, after all – but a good one nonetheless. Traffic on the show floor was strong the first day, and not bad the second morning before slipping off to the usual end-of-show vacancy. (SMTA said attendance was up 20% over last year’s show in San Diego.) The technical sessions were very strong; the session on EMS that I chaired drew about 30 attendees, about as high as ever.
Tom Sharpe, vice president of component distributor SMT Corp. (smtcorp.com), gave a scintillating keynote on a trip to China, showing just how systemic counterfeiting operations have become. He notes some 29,000 incidents of counterfeits were reported to the US Department of Commerce between 2005 and 2008. And he warns that the process by which some are marking fake parts now renders the ink impermeable to scratches, which means simple tests for isolating counterfeits may no longer work.
As is typical of regional shows, there was not much new in the way of technology. What did make the trip was worth seeing, though. DEK (dek.com) debuted its ProActiv squeegee, which oscillates during the print stroke in order to pack more paste into the apertures. My old friend Phil Zarrow points out that the concept isn’t exactly new – roughly 25 years old, perhaps – but sometimes good ideas take awhile to find their place. Essemtec (essemtec.com) is beta testing its Cobra system, scheduled for released in January. It features 220 inline intelligent feeders that can be changed (“hot swapped”) during production and 30 µm accuracy at 3 Sigma.
Aqueous Technologies (aqueoustech.com) debuted its Trident One Shot system, the lowest cost defluxer the company has ever manufactured. It offers fill-and-drain for low-volume applications, and uses a minimal 4 oz. of chemical every cycle. Mirtec, which sold an MV-3L desktop AOI system at the show, introduced its ISIS system with five 10-Mp top-down/side angle cameras.
Those who blanch at the thought of placing 01005s better sit down. Assembléon’s (assembleon.com) Greg Berry, global director, medium volume solutions, talked about the next-generation of chip packages: 005005 (or metric 0201). Half the size of an 01005, they should reach production within two years.
There was more than a little handwringing over the prices of tin and other metals, which at press time were skyrocketing. Some materials vendors intimated that China may be holding on to stocks, as it has cut its export quotes by 10% for 2011. On the product side, Cobar (cobar.com) president Stan Renals mentioned three new fluxes are coming, probably by March. FCT Assembly (fctassembly.com) has completed a study on paste shelf life that revealed certain products can last up to nine months and can be exposed to air for up to 24 hr. without degradation. President Tetsuro Nishimura proudly showed photos of Nihon Superior’s (nihonsuperior.co.jp) new R&D center in Osaka, Japan.
There were a few notes to share on the qualification side as well. Acculogic (acculogic.com) showed its ThermalScan product that features an IR camera to scan the board, conduct a thermal signature and show hot spots. SolTec Electronics (soltecelectronics.com) is putting decapsulation specialist Don Davis’ background in failure analysis to good use through a new non-destructive service to help EMS companies determine whether chips are counterfeit. DivSys (divsys.com), a new company run by former managers of Diversified Systems, discussed its third-party bare board qualification services.
Juki (jas-smt.com) president Bob Black said the leads were much better than last year. Juki is now back to its 2007 sales and production levels, he added. Dynatech’s (dynatechsmt.com) Mike Foster, who handles Samsung’s placement equipment in the US, added that machine backlogs reached 600 this year. Mirtec’s North America unit (mirtecusa.com) had its best October ever, and revenues are up about 70% over last year in Korea.
One last note: As he received the SMTA Founders Award, given to individuals for exceptional contributions to the industry and support of SMTA, Libra Industries (libraind.com) founder Rod Howell made an extraordinary gesture with a $5000 donation to the Charles Hutchins Grant. The grant underwrites the costs of a student doing post-graduate work in the fields of electronics packaging or assembly. And the SMTA has renamed its best paper award in honor of the late Rich Freiberger, a former director of the trade group and one of its most avid supporters. A nice touch.
The cross-functional decision team cares about solutions, not flash.
Our economic roller coaster is not the only face of uncertainty in the electronics manufacturing services account acquisition process. Traditional marketing channels are continuing to evolve. Media companies and trade show organizers are consolidating. Publications are disappearing (or reappearing with new looks). More content is delivered online.
All this change has disadvantages. EMS has always chased a niche audience: the cross-functional decision team. Most of these people aren’t sitting in cubicles surfing the net, reading promotional emails, frequently attending industry trade conferences or scheduling meetings with the salespeople hanging out in their lobby. Over the past several years, they’ve seen their departments downsized and budgets cut while their workloads and performance targets increase. They aren’t interested in flashy messages or slogans, but they are interested in solutions that address the challenges they face.
While consolidation continues in EMS, more available options for reaching the cross-functional decision team ensure it constantly is bombarded by messages from far more EMS providers than it needs to explore. Relevant messages get lost in the “noise.” Worse, methodologies for really understanding true readership or attendance at an event are deteriorating. The speed at which publications and trade shows change focus or venues makes it difficult to assess accurate readership or attendance prior to purchasing ads or leasing booth space. That said, properly structured, the ability to track readership of a given ad or white paper is far better than it was even five years ago. Trade show data for a show that stays in the same place year-to-year are also good.
The rules of the game haven’t changed. EMS is still an educated sell. If you can reach the decision team and deliver a focused message that clearly addresses how your company will solve their problems, you will compete on quality of solution rather than price alone. In the absence of a clearly defined solution, OEMs select the contractor that represents the safest choice in terms of lowest price, position in the industry, or geography they are told to source. The trick is selecting the best channels for message distribution: Typically, that is an integrated sales and marketing strategy.
While publication selection remains highly variable depending on services sold, industries targeted and decision team member focus, there finally is a little clarity in the trade show realm. How long that will last is anyone’s guess because the economy will ultimately determine what show attendance looks like in 2011. I’ve just come back from IPC Midwest and SMTAI. Since I’ve been critical of the number of shows in past columns, I think this is a good time to discuss some positive trends I’ve seen in these venues.
This year IPC combined with Canon Communications (now UBM Canon, thanks to a recent merger) to present Electronics Midwest. In my opinion, this was a great move for EMS companies, as well as attendees of both shows. Having IPC Midwest run in Schaumburg, IL, while Canon’s MDM Midwest and associated shows ran simultaneously 20 minutes away in Rosemont was confusing to attendees and split the potential attendee base. The combined shows use the conveniently located Rosemont Convention Center, present a strong technical conference and have enough diversification in exhibits to attract good potential prospects for EMS providers. The MDM series of shows reaches the EMS decision team far better than any IPC show. However, the IPC-led technical conference does a far better job of delivering “must see” content to technical members of the decision team. Most important, overworked decision teams have a regional venue where they can look at a variety of exhibitors and catch up on relevant technical and business issues.
Former IPC Midwest exhibitor comments suggested that leads were significantly better than the prior year’s split show. Compared to Apex, the latter is more of an equipment show than a venue likely to attract a strong number of pure EMS prospects. As with SMTAI, Apex’s technical conference provides networking opportunities with OEM personnel that may be able to provide insight to their companies’ sourcing plans, but neither show is a strong EMS lead-generating option. Electronics Midwest stands as a good regional play for reaching medical EMS prospects, with possibly some attendance from other OEMs looking for equipment or attending the conference.
Traffic was up at SMTAI this year, and a number of smaller equipment vendors exhibited for the first time. While not a great EMS show, it is a good networking venue. While it is hard to predict what next year will bring as the show moves to Dallas, I think the move is positive.
Overall, traffic at all electronics industry shows increased this year. Part of this is economic recovery. Part is more focused show options. And probably the biggest part is component allocation and uncertainty over what the economy will do next. People are networking and listening in higher numbers than last year. It is a good time to put out a strong message: Trade show exhibits and conference presentations for now are viable options.
To attract real talent, we must commit to look and act like a world-class tech industry.
One of the more enjoyable activities this time of year is to get together with old friends and business colleagues. Maybe it’s a sign of age, but it sure seems that I know more people who “were” in the industry than who “are” sharing the trenches with me. It's concerning to realize how many bright and talented people have left and how few seem to be stepping in to take their place.
The talent drain is real. Our industry was created by technologically bright people with entrepreneurial skills and business savvy. They developed processes, created products and forged an entire industry. Between normal aging and shrinking numbers of companies in historic industry epicenters, the talent pool is, shall we say, thinning.
For years the industry has contracted in terms of employees and shifted toward “production” economies (vs. “innovation” economies). With the West relatively light on companies and the East’s uncontained growth, developing a solid talent pool that is mobile and readily available has become far more difficult. So many new businesses focus almost exclusively on ultra high-volume applications, and the game is truly changing.
Where are the industry leaders of the future? Not the financial or sales leaders, but industry technology leaders – the people who understand materials, application and process, and know how to make them all work together? And when we find them, how are we going to keep them?
If recent history is any indicator, we have our work cut out for us. For an industry that has been the poster child of “high tech,” technical people are scarce. Most companies – OEMs, EMS and fabricators – are managed by generalists. Management may know how to engineer a balance sheet, but they are not competent in shop-floor processes and end-customer applications that drive our industry. Most companies have sales staff that boast technical degrees but have never held positions on the technical side, with the possible exception of their first job. The days of the designer or process chemist starting a company are long gone. Ditto for the founding entrepreneurs who may have had their management skills honed while with Tier 1 entities, but who had enough faith in their technical expertise to start or manage companies that redefined process technology.
Do you need the same level of technological talent today as you did back then? Maybe one reason margins have eroded is that the sales and marketing model has shifted from technological expertise to the more commodity-focused “don’t ask, don’t tell” cyber-portal approach. Those selling to technology-driven applications and customers may actually need a technologically competent sales staff! Ditto for manufacturing. When acceptable yields are measured by process excellence, you need a technologically focused staff to balance capability with first-pass yield.
How can we replace the retiring technical ranks? I have heard many voice frustration over finding talent and few who have had great success. Even for large companies, hiring and retaining top talent is daunting. For those near the bottom of the industry pyramid, the financial wherewithal to hire can be close to impossible.
Emerging companies in Asia, where educated engineering talent is readily available, have it easier. These companies just need to provide the environment to learn, experiment and contribute. Like any business, the entry staff needs to feel their contributions will be valued, with a path for promotion. And yet, the dynamic environment of technology combined with emerging market offers provides the setting for high turnover and low employer/employee loyalty. The sheer numbers of available talent may look appealing, but with those numbers come challenges too.
Mature markets – regions that are less dynamic but still demand excellence – have a different challenge. Our challenge is twofold: to believe in your company, and to inspire new and veteran employees to make a difference, today and long-term.
That is only the beginning. Why leave a position at an established company in a different industry or graduate from college only to work in a company that looks physically and attitudinally dead? To attract talent means making the commitment to look and act like a world-class technology industry. Too many companies look like old mills about to fold. And you often act how you look. A little enthusiasm and some elbow grease can change the appearance and attitude in a way that will attract talent.
Which brings me back to those who are no longer in the industry. Too many left not because they wanted to, but because they were victims of kneejerk budget cuts by non-technical management of struggling companies. It is clearly documented that many of those struggling companies failed because they did not have technically competent people to round out the capability and make the improvements needed to compete. More than ever, we need technical people in all facets to ensure we remain a value-add industry.
We can’t outsource engineering, CAM services, process management and all else that makes up our technical value-add quotient without, at some point, losing control of our destiny. Sans a concerted effort to attract, develop and reward technologically talented people, innovation, profitability and overall success will become more elusive – no matter where you are located.
The past 12 months have been highly transitional for the printed circuit industry. After years of vast migration of manufacturing to Southeast Asia, some stability has been achieved, and in some cases, programs are coming back to North America and Europe.
Even in China, the upheaval has been pronounced, as companies flee the southern coastal region for more inviting (read: lower labor cost) climes inland. Still, given the uncertainty that comes with volatile swings in orders, shaky financial footings and scarce employment, it’s no surprise many workers cast about as if they have been in a war zone.
Some literally have. And if a pair of New England companies has their way, hundreds more will soon.
Veterans Assembled Electronics (vaellc.com) is a service-disabled veteran-owned small business that trains, certifies and starts veterans on careers in electronics manufacturing. Founded last year, VAe has teamed with the Department of Veterans Affairs VR&E Program to provide a six-week electronics training program, under which veterans obtain the five major IPC certifications.
Founder John Shepard, who has spent 30 years in the computer and biometrics industries, says he originally set out to assemble a team who could win a piece of the millions in Department of Defense contracts set aside for disabled veterans. In the face of uncertain pricing and component availability, however, he shifted VAe’s model to training veterans to do that work. A US government plan known as the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) VetSuccess Program (or Chapter 31) provides funding to train veterans whose disability otherwise interferes with their ability to be employed. Shepard received authorization by the VA for the training, and while initially he planned to offer training in-house, he quickly saw the value in leveraging existing infrastructure.
Enter EPTAC. Shepard approached the longtime IPC training center, recalls president Mark Pilkington, pitching certification for disabled veterans. “That first day, we talked for several hours. He needed a partner to help execute this. I thought it a viable opportunity to give back. You can start to lose your perspective in making a difference. This is a little more tangible: You can see the progress [of the students]. They are self-sustaining. They have contributed to serving the country. It feels good to do something worthwhile.”
EPTAC, which cut its typical training fees, provided the VAe students with the whole gamut of certifications, from basic hand soldering to IPC-A-600 qualification. Working with novices was daunting at first, Pilkington admits. “We train business to business. Most of the people have a background in electronics manufacturing. These guys were brand new to the industry. It was kind of intimidating, but they performed really well. IPC-A-600 is a difficult program, but they made it through. “And when they are done,” he adds, “they have every single certification IPC has to offer. It’s the first time I’ve given so many certificates to one individual.”
To date, seven vets have passed the program, and the placement rate has been high. If Shepard’s vision is realized, some 300 veterans will be certified in all five programs over the next 24 months. But he is measuring success not on the number trained, but the number hired and the sustained value they deliver to the employer.. To that end, Shepard has been in contact with Jabil and Plexus about their future needs, reasoning that he could help provide a steady flow of certified operators. “We would do the training at our expense specifically to their headcount and criteria, so they get a highly trained mature veteran with all five certifications for bare boards through rework and hand soldering. They won’t pay any [additional training costs]; the VA pays us to train that veteran. It’s a great opportunity for the veteran and for the employer.”
Pilkington says the arrangement has given him new admiration for EPTAC’s instructors. “Their ability to deliver this material to people who had no previous exposure to it and successfully get them through the certification has been satisfying,” he says.
Shepard, who came home from combat in Vietnam with a variety of ailments from hearing loss to a knee injury, sees opportunity. There are dozens of VAs and thousands of disabled vets across the country, and each one he trains and places is further validation of his vision.
The tragic suicides of so many workers at Foxconn’s China plants cast a harsh light on the conditions at electronics factories. Yet the swell of criticism helped force wages higher, and may over time spur better lives for hundreds of thousands of lower-paid employees in a variety of industries. We may well look back on 2010 as the Year of the Employee. If so, VAe and EPTAC will have helped make it so.
Rewarding experience. Entries are being accepted for the annual NPI Award, given to the best products for design, fabrication, assembly and test introduced in the past year. We are pleased to announce the 2011 NPI Award will again be presented at Apex. Visit circuitsassembly.com/cms/npi-award or pcdandf.com/cms/component/content/category/229-npi-award for more information.