Caveat Lector

Mike BuetowThe arrival of a new stock exchange for Silicon Valley tech companies raises the profile of the tech industry’s best and brightest (and perhaps notorious) even more – as if that were possible.

It also is a significant reminder of what – or whom – is not represented in the public markets: the printed circuit sector.

Has it really been 20 years since the investment banks surrounded our industry, sniffing out hot new buys and running up hearty banking fees – along with tremendous amounts of debt – while encouraging players to buy or sell? Scale and exit strategies were the name of the game then. It made multimillionaires out of folks who only years earlier were pumping gas on the graveyard shifts.

Reality was bound to re-clutch those out-of-body experiences, and it did.

In the years since the Tech Crash of 2001, however, something approximating sanity has returned. If anything, perhaps the pendulum has swung too far the other direction. The number of publicly traded PCB-related companies has been trending down for years. Often, this has been due to merger activity. Valor was acquired by Mentor, which in turn was consumed by Siemens, which previously nabbed UGS Tecnomatix. Amphenol digested Teradyne’s PCB operations. TTM now owns the formerly public DDI, Coretec, Merix and Viasystems. Circuit World disappeared as part of a reverse merger with Firan Technology Group.

Read more: Making a List

Mike BuetowDoes artificial intelligence make you concerned for your job? Are humans at imminent risk of being replaced by robots, or even software-driven functions?

Kyle Miller says no and no.

Miller is head of a team of product developers at Zuken in Bristol, England, that is working on AI-based place-and-route technology. In addition to the 20-plus years spent in CAD tools, he has a doctorate in artificial intelligence, which means he’s a lot better at math than me or you.

Speaking at Zuken Innovation World in mid-April, Miller outlined the headway Zuken is making in machine-learning tools. The short answer: quite a bit. Machine learning-based programs are very good at pattern recognition and converting data into usable forms. Everyday uses include Google’s Android-based speech-to-text tools. ML is also apparently superior in finding and exploiting bugs in software, to the extent the developers of the space-flight simulation role-playing game known as Elite Dangerous had to eliminate the function after their game’s ML exploited a glitch to create an unstoppable weapon.

Read more: In AI-Based CAD Pursuit, History Repeats

Mike BuetowIf your designer certification were suddenly rendered invalid, would you feel any less professional? Would you feel any less knowledgeable about your craft?

Those questions are at the root of an ongoing debate between IPC and the Designer’s Council Executive Board. The two parties have been at odds over the past several months due to a difference in opinion over the nature of the certification program.

Designer certification as a formality dates back to 1994. A group of industry professionals, along with the late Dieter Bergman, then IPC technical director, devised the original template. (Disclosure: I was the IPC staff liaison for design and was present at all the meetings where the program was drafted.) A consulting firm we’d hired advised us to use a consensus body of knowledge such as a standard as the foundation for the exam, as it would leave us less exposed to litigation from someone who might have failed the test. Thus, we wrote hundreds of questions for a test based on IPC-D-275, the prevailing design standard of the time, but steeped in good design practice. And we developed a multi-day workshop to prepare designers for it.

Read more: Designer Certification: An Ongoing Proposition?

Mike BuetowWith every Apex comes an outpouring of new standards, and this year’s conference was no exception.

As the demands of PCBs for automotive applications assert themselves as a unique class, the industry standards are being adapted in sync. To that end, IPC-6012, the longstanding bare board qualification spec, now has an automotive supplement, reflecting the “superclass” of reliability for that sector above and beyond Class 2.

Given that auto electronics are shrinking, the IPC task group has eliminated visual inspection in favor of AOI on all layers and recommends use of AVI (automated visual inspection) of the finished PCB.

The cleanliness testing requirement has also been rewritten. The automotive addendum includes a recommendation of tests to be used in Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) documentation.

Read more: ‘Cleaning Up’ Outdated Specs

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