“Bogatin’s Practical Guide to Transmission Line Design and Characterization for Signal Integrity Applications” – A Review

Everything you ever wanted to know about PCB transmission lines – and more – in a digestible format with just the right amount of math to back up the illuminating practical illustrations.


Ed.: Martyn Gaudion is managing director of Polar Instruments Ltd. He began his career at Tektronix in test engineering on high-bandwidth portable oscilloscopes. He joined Polar in 1990, where he was responsible for the design and development of the Toneohm 950, Polar’s multilayer PCB short circuit locator. He became CEO in 2010. He also develops tailored content for the Polar YouTube channel. He reviewed this book for PCD&F.

Hot off the virtual press – a copy of Dr. Eric Bogatin’s new guide to transmission line design appeared in my Artech eBook account.

Do we really need another transmission line book? That’s what Dr. Bogatin asks right at the outset. After reading this new tome from virtual cover to cover, yes we do. This is a thoroughly practical book an peppered with links to Bogatins’s brief informative video explanations which expand and add dynamic content in a way that printed matter alone cannot.

Whether you are a recent graduate who wants a more practical insight to the behavior of transmission lines after doing all the hard work of the pure math side of study, or an experienced electrical engineer moving into the high speed arena – or even a PCB technologist or fabricator wanting an insight into all the mysterious terminology that surrounds the subject – this is a resource book for you. It is equally valuable whether you are dipping into chapters of specific interest, or taking a deep breath and reading from (virtual) cover to cover.

In my day job I spend most of my time helping customers who are new to transmission lines ensure that they document and design them correctly for fabrication, and I confess over the years much is taken as given. By reading Bogatin’s new book I have gained insight into transmission line behavior that is very familiar but I didn’t know the why – and the why makes everything make more sense. 

It is staggering that the electrical behavior of a simple pair of copper traces with a sandwich of dielectric material can generate a book running to 600 pages without loss of interest, but this is exactly what Bogatin does with the subject. Along the way you will find out why you should always think of signal and return paths and not in terms of signal and ground. You will find that while the RF and digital design spaces may run at similar frequencies, the design considerations for both are poles apart. (No pun intended.) You will also discover that simulators and field solvers don’t design circuits – you do – and you best have an idea of what you intend to happen and the expected outcome before reaching for the simulator. Words are important, and Bogatin stresses that though digital and RF and EMC specialists all deal with high-speed signals – and a lot of the jargon is similar – there are often situations where technical terms overlap while their meanings don’t. Bogatin takes an important stance in defining and understanding the terminology to ensure you are understood when working across disciplines.

On measurement – there are many precision tools for measuring high speed signals and time and frequency domain information, all with accuracy beyond your dreams – but as with simulation – Bogatin cautions that unless you understand what you are measuring and how to design your test vehicle, any or all of that expensive equipment can lead you to the wrong answer. Time spent in the measurement section of the book is well invested and will enable you to extract the best possible measurements from whatever TDR/sampling oscilloscope/vector network analyzer you have to hand.

I personally like the examples where Bogatin mixes electronic timescales in nanoseconds with human relatable timescales (days) to bring tangible meaning to his explanations. I also like his informative section on why intuition in the frequency domain does not translate easily (at all?) to the time domain, and that while both are valid and useful you need to work with a degree of selective schizophrenia while working in these domains.

Last but not least, alongside the video links and examples are links to both evaluation versions of commercial tools and useful no cost utilities so you can run the simulations and experiment for yourself.

Martyn Gaudion, June 2020

Bogatin’s Practical Guide to Transmission Line Design and Characterization for Signal Integrity Applications

by Dr. Eric Bogatin

Available from Artech House

Covid-19 is Creating a Perfect Storm for Manufacturing

By Rafael Gomez, Director Product Strategy, Bright Machines

The pandemic’s economic impact started as a supply chain shutdown in Wuhan, China, but rapidly became a three-tier global disruption. As the virus spread, worldwide supply chain was interrupted, followed by an unprecedented shift in product demand and most recently by mandated factory shutdowns imposed on non-essential product manufacturing lines.

Let’s discuss the impact of these disruptions and explore how we can mitigate these forces that threaten to destabilize manufacturing.

Disruption #1 – Manufacturing and the supply chain

The first disruption to manufacturing and the associated supply chain was in China. This was due to the outbreak of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) forced workers in that county to stay home rather than return to work after the Chinese New Year holidays. The resulting impact was that a significant amount of the world’s manufacturing capacity was essentially shut down for an extended period, more than two weeks in most of China, and much longer in Wuhan.

This manufacturing and supply chain shutdown turned out to be just the start.  As the virus spread, manufacturing shutdowns rapidly spread throughout Europe and the US. We are now faced with the challenge to scale additional capacity or rapidly move production from one facility to another, neither of which are feasible in the manufacturing industry.

Disruption #2 –Demand volatility

Just as China’s factories started to come back online it became abundantly clear that the challenges were global and that certain products like PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and medical devices were in unprecedented demand in terms of volumes and urgency. Meanwhile, workers, who are themselves consumers, were staying home and not shopping, sending economic shockwaves around the world, resulting in a dramatic downturn in market demand for non-essential or discretionary products. Add government and administrative intervention, including the loosening of FDA regulations and the use of the Defense Production Act in the USA, and it’s easy to see how the manufacturing industry was suddenly forced to deal with the unprecedented reactionary shift in market demand.

Disruption #3 – Workplace challenges

The third disruption came in the form of government directives to shelter in place and enforcement of workplace social distancing (including new OSHA guidelines).  Furthermore, non-essential factories have been shut down for an extended period. Once factories reopen, manufacturing plants will need to adhere to new and complex regulations. For example, when factories re-opened in China, they were mandated toto demonstrate ten-day supply of face masks for each worker. For example, a factory of 500 operators would need 10,000 masks to be authorized to continue operations. For many factories, an ongoing supply of PPEs in short supply and can be challenging and costly to obtain.

Once manufacturing companies receive authorization to restart operation, workplace social distancing on the factory floor will impact every discrete manufacturing function Traditionally, manual assembly lines are designed with minimum operator to operator spacing to facilitate the passing of product between stations and to minimize required floor space. With the new OSHA directives, these manual lines will need to be redesigned to increase operator spacing.  factories have met these challenges in creative style, like running extra shifts to redeploy staff and keep them distanced.

The data-haves and data-have-nots

Manufacturers that have embraced digital transformation, and the associated software-controlled automation, are best equipped to succeed in light of these disruptions. Real-time data drives visibility, which allows these “digital haves” to see the impacts of disruption sooner. Meanwhile, smart automation provides tools to adapt and adjust course quickly. Not only are these companies able to adapt production to meet increased demand or comply with new regulations, they are able to rise to the challenge of manufacturing the machines, devices, and consumables needed to help fight the virus, perhaps offsetting the loss of orders for ‘non-essential’ products.

The Future is agile and resilient

This perfect storm of disruption has exposed limitations of traditional manufacturing ecosystems and their associated supply chains. It has become clear that manufacturers need to move away from traditional analogue operational models, where production takes significant and costly time to set up on a line and requires constant tweaking or adjustment by experts with tribal knowledge of manufacturing processes.

To minimize the impact of economic disruption, manufacturers need to operate in a new paradigm.  This new version of manufacturing is fully data-enabled and software-driven to deliver an automated solution that provides the resilience to cope with disruption and the agility to react and adapt when that inevitable disruption occurs.

Considering previous viral outbreaks and natural disasters, Covid-19 isn’t the first global event to disrupt manufacturing and the supply chain, and it certainly won’t be the last. One key learning from this unprecedented event is that companies that have embraced digital transformation of manufacturing are the most robustly equipped to survive this economic disruption. These forward-thinking manufacturers will surely reap the prosperous benefits of their proactive digital transformation.

https://www.brightmachines.com/blog/

How Does Turnkey PCB Assembly Reduce Turn Times?

You’ve probably heard of turnkey PCB assembly, an all-in-one solution design and specifications are sent to the PCB manufacturer and they return the assembled PCBs to you (or your client) ready to use. It sounds convenient compared to doing all the legwork yourself, or having one of your engineers do it, but did you know that turnkey assembly also offers the shortest possible lead times for PCBs?

Let’s take a look at some of the ways that turnkey PCB assembly can shave time off of the design process and reduce turnaround time.

It Saves Engineers Time

Turnkey assembly saves engineers time in a couple of important ways. First, time spent hunting for components and availability is eliminated. Manufacturers that offer turnkey assembly have teams dedicated to component sourcing. This also extends to component substitution and BoM management. If something isn’t available, your turnkey team will be able to deal with substitutions for you and check that all substitutions are compatible with the overall design.

Second, and maybe an even bigger time savings, is the reduced communication load. When an engineer is organizing multiple component suppliers, a PCB fabricator, an assembler, and shipping among all of them, keeping everything sailing smoothly can eat a lot of time. Keep your PCB designers focused on their main job—designing and revising PCBs.

That will mean that prototypes are designed, tested, and redesigned faster. No time spent following developments with assembly; no logistics work organizing the movement of boards or components between vendors.

With turnkey assembly, engineers have a single point of contact to deal with any and all questions related to the development of the product. They will keep you up-to-date on the process, and any changes that need to be made can be addressed quickly.

It Reduces Transportation Time (and Costs)

When dealing with multiple companies for every aspect of the production process, the time that goods spend moving from one stage to the next can really add up. Compare that with a turnkey assembly solution:

  • The PCB manufacturer already has ties with component suppliers and knows which parts to find from each one.
  • They have a store of common components already on hand and can handle component inventory storage for you.
  • The assembler is either in-house or nearby.

Instead of orchestrating businesses across borders and possibly continents, the entire process is localized, moving quickly from one stage to the next. That leaves shipping the final product as the only major shipping time.

There Are Fewer Quality Concerns

With a turnkey assembly solution, there are fewer quality concerns to deal with, especially when shipping between vendors.

In a multi-vendor scenario, if you instruct your PCB fabricator to ship your bare boards to an assembly house and they arrive with an error or a large percentage of damaged boards, your only option is to make a new order and wait. With turnkey assembly, this situation is impossible.

The company you deal with is responsible for your project from PCB creation to final testing, if they make a mistake with one step, they catch it and fix it in the next. As we mentioned before, you have a single contact or team within the manufacturer overseeing the progress of your order and checking for quality at each stage.

Not to mention, you’re dealing with a single organization. Internal teams are familiar with each other and have experience working together. Miscommunications and mix-ups are reduced and it’s in the manufacturer’s best interest to make sure that each stage supports the next and products move through the process as efficiently as possible.

Of course, it’s possible to run into a bad manufacturer, which could cause you even bigger problems than one bad vendor might. So, it’s important to vet your potential manufacturer carefully, and find reviews or references if possible.

Scale Up Quickly

The benefits go beyond the turnaround time for your initial prototype. Once you’re satisfied with your PCBs, the manufacturer can immediately start to produce them in quantity.

Think about it. Instead of juggling multiple suppliers and manufacturers to finish the prototypes and then searching for a manufacturer for production, you could finish prototyping quickly and move forward immediately with a company with which you have already developed a relationship.

Not all PCB manufacturers that offer turnkey assembly offer large-scale production, but if your needs fit with the manufacturer’s capacity, turnkey assembly could offer a truly seamless production process. Some manufacturers can even ship to clients for you or offer drop-shipping services.

With turnkey PCB assembly, you get a single, devoted team backing you up as you take a design from PCBs to working products. With less time spent on logistics and organization, you can expect much faster results. It could turn the design process around by reducing product turnaround.

Contributed by Chris Dickey, vice president of sales and marketing at SVTronics

At AltiumLive, Lots of Sun (and One Big Cloud)

by Brooke Anglin

One of the first things I heard when I arrive at AltiumLive last week was was how much they loved the recap of the event my colleague Chelsey Drysdale wrote last year. They added that Chelsey truly captured what AltiumLive is about. Talk about pressure!

Let’s start at the beginning.

The Piano Arc contains a total of 12 PCBs.

Drinks are on Them. The week (well, three days, but they really pack a lot in!) kicked off with a great reception on an outside terrace at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort.  Dave Starkey, the engineer who designed and built the Piano Arc — the circular piano used by Lady Gaga’s pianist, among others — was there. So was the pianist. They displayed the unit, a 360-degree custom keyboard, with one of the panels removed, exposing the PCBs.  Altium director of community engagement Judy Warner met Dave at a user group meeting in San Diego, heard his story and recruited him for the event.  In case anyone wants to know the piano has 288 keys, a total of 12 circuit boards and only cost $57,000.

I saw our customary PCB West speakers Suzy Webb, Rick Hartley, Gary Ferrari and Eric Bogatin and met a lot of engineers.

Getting Younger. One of the things you note about AltiumLive is the demographics. It’s a younger crowd than you typically see at industry events. Eric Bogatin noted this in the first keynote (AltiumLive had not one, not two but three keynotes). He brought some of his students, had them stand up for recognition and encouraged hiring companies to talk to them.  That drew a good laugh from the crowd.  In his talk, he pointed out that while many designers will be retiring in the next 10 years, AltiumLive gives us reason to think a new generation is coming on strong.

Keynote #2 featured a celebrity from outside our industry. Jor Grand of Grand Idea Studio has a short-lived TV show called Prototype This! on the Discovery channel. The concept, which was similar to Mythbusters, was about the viability of gadgets and technology and how engineers feel a since of winning when a product doesn’t work the first time, but they don’t give up until their creation finally works successfully.  While the show lasted only one season, Grand shared several clips and generated lots of laughs.

Finally, the main event: Altium rolled out its much-anticipated Altium Designer 20 ECAD. VP of marketing Lawrence Romine detailed the new “push and shove” capabilities that enable routing of complex HDI boards and ramp up design times over 20%. (For more on the tool, click here.)

Cloud in their Eyes. This was the third year of AltiumLive, and the multi-city event (another is being held in Frankfurt this week) draws 500 designers. The company grow is equally impressive. Last year 2018 Altium saw over 8,000 new users for its Designer PCB CAD tool, and on average Altium users do over 10 designs a year.

Looking ahead, Altium wants to move toward the cloud, something the industry has been avoiding for years. Its has added real-time collaboration, and hopes to bridge the gap between manufacturers and designers.

Not surprisingly then, AltiumLive focused as much on tomorrow as on today. The highlight of the event was the Robot Build and Battle. Attendees split into teams of six or more. Ours had nine; eight engineers, from all of the country, and me. I was cheerleader, motivator and general handyperson. (They said I sounded like each of their bosses … I beg to differ!) Team Sierra beat last year’s record, but we weren’t far behind.  Amit Bahl of Sierra Circuits told me he didn’t realize just how geeky our industry was until the robot build. Such a fun and educational event!

Brooke Anglin is senior sales associate with PCD&F/CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY.

Designing User Experience for the Factories of Tomorrow

by Olga Zinoveva, Senior Software Engineer, Bright Machines

The User Experience (UX) discipline in the technology sector has evolved rapidly over the last two decades and we’ve all witnessed the changes.  For example, the transition from button-based phones and keyboard-only interfaces to increasingly powerful yet easy-to-use, touch-based smartphones and tablets. A parallel change has been happening in factories, with industrial Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) evolving from physical push buttons, lights and switches in the 1980s, to the multi-touch screens of today. And we are not done evolving yet!

I have worked on various consumer applications in the past, including games and websites, and was directly responsible for building the UX on a couple of those projects. My experience in consumer UX gives me some insight into the many exciting opportunities that lie ahead for industrial UX. Here are a few I’ve been thinking of.

Defining UX in the factory context

In a setting where a vast array of hardware devices are connected to each other in complex ways, and users range from operators on the factory floor to project managers in remote offices, UX goes far beyond a single screen. Instead, it encompasses the full experience of using the system, from any interface or device that connects to it. Industrial UX is a mix of software (dedicated touchscreen panels or apps) and hardware (buttons, feeders) interfaces controlling the machines on the floor, monitors giving real-time status updates about the production line, and services generating reports based on data collected in the cloud over many weeks. Almost every component we build becomes a part of the user experience, so we must approach design holistically. Every software and hardware engineer, product manager, and data scientist must think like a UX designer.

Increased software capabilities mean increased complexity

The role and responsibility of software in manufacturing is growing rapidly. But with more software capabilities comes more UX complexity. As more tasks move from hardware to software – whether running on the device itself, in a local server, or in the cloud – the number of ways that users can interact with the system and their complexity increase. Yet the UX we build cannot simply hide this complexity from the users. A core concept of UX design is that people always form mental models of how a system operates, whether we want them to or not, and if their model sufficiently differs from reality, it will lead to frustration and mistakes.  Therefore, the next-generation factory UX will need to be intuitive and straightforward, but never oversimplified. The goal is to design a UX that helps users build the right conceptual models from the start to maximize productivity and minimize training time and mistakes.

The high bar set by consumer devices

Almost every worker in a modern factory has used a smartphone or tablet – this year, global smartphone usage is expected to hit 2.5 billion (and it’s growing)! As a result, today’s factory workers have a high level of technical literacy and familiarity with certain interaction standards. This represents an incredible opportunity for industrial UX because it can reduce training time for any UX that follows these standards. At the same time, the ubiquity of thoughtfully designed consumer devices has raised the bar for the quality of user interactions, responsiveness, and UX clarity in the factory context. Workers now expect industrial interfaces to work as well as their personal smartphones.

Building UX for the factory of tomorrow is no small feat, but it represents a massive opportunity and an exciting time for UX professionals as they help inform the next wave of industrial innovation.

An edited version of this article also appeared in Design World on June 3, 2019.

Is Dangerous Dan Darting Down Your Hall?


How to deal with a loose cannon in a leadership position.


His team calls him “Dangerous Dan” for good reason.

Dan self implodes in a New York minute.

Perhaps it’s that inappropriate comment Dan is prone to blurt out. Or maybe it’s that significant lapse in his judgment that triggers the first domino. It doesn’t matter. The explosion is immediate and the outcome is far-reaching. And as Dan’s manager or teammate, you needn’t wonder. You will be blindsided by the flying debris.

Oh, he’s not a terrible person. In fact, Dan typically has the best of intentions. He’s just an eternal optimist. And he never seems to notice the aftershock following behind him. Dan has what you might call “intermittent blind spots.” And he lives in a constant state of denial. My, that’s a deadly combination!

To make matters worse, Dan’s boss can seldom anticipate the timing of Dan’s next calamitous move. Even more troubling, Dan won’t bring a brewing catastrophe to anyone’s attention. But in this age of the virtual water cooler, people still talk. And the delay between when Dan pulls the proverbial pin from a nearby hand grenade and the time his boss hears the explosion only adds to the collateral damage.

So why does Dan’s team tolerate him?

It’s simple. On nine days out of ten his contribution to his team is substantial. And every time he does something helpful, teammates are once again tempted to forget about his recent faux pas. But when Dan bungles it, he offsets every positive action he’s taken in one fatal blow! And it’s a vicious cycle.

The first time I met Dan he showed up at our house out of nowhere. He instinctively made himself as comfortable as a long lost friend. It was an unusually quiet summer evening.  Dan spied our spinet piano in the corner parlor. Impulsively responding to some mysterious melody in his mind, Dan lunged and launched into a loud, busy boogie that rattled our rafters.

He never asked if we cared. He never considered our toddlers asleep in a room nearby. After all Dan was on a roll entertaining us, his new friends! In his mind’s eye he was Billy Joel the Piano Man! In our remembrance, he set off pandemonium.

I painfully learned over the next few years that Dan was and is semi-oblivious to the world in which he lives. He careens off the walls of life like a drunken bull in your mother’s precious china cabinet.

Sure, Dan’s technically awesome. But on a practical level, Dan is blind to the subtleties of his behavior. He doesn’t mean any harm. He’s just being Dan.

So, is there a Dangerous Dan Darting Down Your Hall?

Don’t answer too quickly. The ramifications are worth considering.

When it comes to business, Dan is amazingly self-assured. He’s a problem solver. In those magical moments when Dan saves the day, you want to hug him. But when the stakes are most high and you can least afford a miscue; the carnage Dan creates is legendary.

How can you spot a Dangerous Dan before he wreaks havoc in your living room or lobby?

Answer these ten questions and you’ll know if you have one.

Think of the person you know who most resembles Dan. Ask yourself:

  1. Do his jokes often strike a jangled nerve in an unsuspecting bystander?
  2. Do you see evidence that his family’s patience has worn thin?
  3. In the past, have you considered promoting him but decided against it each time?
  4. Do you feel sorry for the fact that he frequently undermines his own success?
  5. Do you continue to discover new and different things that he can do?
  6. Are you often tempted to give him just one more try?
  7. Do your team members frequently surprise you with startling new stories about Dan?
  8. Are you allowing your soft heart to guide your logic?
  9. Has he randomly cost you a small fortune in unintended consequences?
  10.  Would you say “NO!” if he asked to marry your daughter?

If you answered yes to seven or more of these questions, here’s the inconvenient truth. You can’t afford to have Dan on your payroll. No matter how much you would love to rehabilitate him. It’s not worth it.

Here’s an even more sobering thought. You will likely have to fire Dan if you don’t take action. So what can you do now if you are dead set on keeping your Dangerous Dan?

Here are five suggestions listed in order of importance:

  1. Reassign any people who report directly to Dan so that you limit his legal liability.
  2. Put Dan in charge of special projects with limited downside.
  3. Role play any important customer interactions before Dan leaves the office.
  4. Check behind Dan to ensure he’s following agreed upon processes.
  5. Avoid any temptation to promote Dan. He will be even more lethal with more responsibility.

Remember… A little power goes a long way in the mind of a Dangerous Dan!

I ran into Dan’s ex-wife not long ago. She and I laughed about all of the good times we had enjoyed with Dan. They were many. But there was a deep sadness in her spirit as she relayed her decision to finally divorce Dan. He, of course was off on a new adventure leaving his former family far behind.

I’d like to say Dan will learn how to handle life one day. And I’d like to say I’ll soon leap tall buildings in a single bound.

 But I’m reminded of the time a good friend approached Dan and begged him not to apply for another promotion. “Dan, you’ve tried managing people on two other occasions and it didn’t work out. What did you learn from those experiences that will help you be more successful this time around?”

Dan turned. He stared upwards in thought. The he asked, “What do you mean???”

His team calls him “Dangerous Dan” for good reason.

Dan self-implodes in a New York minute.

Don’t let him shake your confidence in you!

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Finance, Hotwires, Circuits Assembly, and Printed Circuit Design & Fab. For more information visit: www.KeithMartino.com.

The Inevitability Of Software-Defined Manufacturing

From 2003 to 2006, I worked at a contract manufacturing company as a robotics engineer. I was the first software engineer hired by the company, an opportunistic hire by a visionary CEO who saw the importance of automation in manufacturing. The CEO wanted to reduce downtime in manufacturing, improve quality, and empower the folks on the factory floor to be more efficient.

That period of my career was a fascinating experience. I was coming from a Fortune 500 energy company, where I had been a database programmer working with many highly capable engineers on scaling large data models. In that environment, continuous improvement through software automation wasn’t aspirational, it was our explicit mission. I took the role in manufacturing because I wanted the opportunity to define and deploy a software roadmap from scratch. I learned a lot during that time. As successful as the company was, software didn’t really exist inside the company, aside from an arcane enterprise resource planning (ERP) system that was poorly supported and badly used. I did everything from programming robots by hacking into them (APIs in manufacturing equipment didn’t really exist at the time, and still don’t), to developing web-based workflow software, to educating employees on how to use not only the tools I built, but software such as Microsoft Excel. Along the way, I discovered these existential truths, so to speak, as they applied to manufacturing as a whole:

  • Everyone saw the benefits of automation and wanted to automate as much as they could
  • Very few people understood the role software played in automation, even at the highest levels of the company

Fast-forward 16 years and much to my astonishment, manufacturing as a whole has not progressed. In learning about Bright Machines and our opportunity space, I encountered a lot of the same problems I faced 16 years ago. In manufacturing, the bulk of inspection remains largely manual. Instead of data being collected across the factory to be analyzed, it is mostly hostage to a particular machine, or worse, not collected at all. The concept of transforming data across the factory floor into actionable information that enables building higher quality products faster is at best an ambition. From designing a product to setting up a job, there is very little automation throughout the process of building physical products. In fact, setup and deployment take weeks, sometimes months, leading to significant product delays. That’s just the beginning of the list of problems with manufacturing today. It’s a very long list indeed.

When we compare manufacturing to other industries that have not only embraced technology, but pushed its boundaries to innovate and succeed, we can’t help but wonder why this key economic pillar remains stuck in time. I posit that this is for several reasons. Manufacturing is a demand-driven industry with low margins. For most manufacturing companies, it has simply been easier to throw humans at any given problem, knowing that labor costs can be scaled up and down based on demand. At first blush, the calculation seems rational. Investing in sophisticated hardware powered by equally sophisticated software at an industrial scale carries a lot of expense, not only in upfront costs, but maintenance, ongoing upgrades, support, and so on. Then, there’s the problem of time. Customers want things manufactured quickly. Who has time to invest in equipment set up, calibrating machines, setting up networks, securing the data, etc.? Human workers, on the other hand, can be deployed on an as needed basis.

Except that things really don’t work this way anymore. Humans, rightfully so, decided they are no longer willing to work in arduous and monotonous jobs, leading to reports of “voluntary turnover rates exceeding 300%” in some parts of the world. That is an astonishing statistic. The cycle of innovation in industry has evolved and sped up so much that having the ability to not only deliver product in near-real time, but perform meaningful reactive as well as predictive data analysis is an absolute must in order to operate efficiently in manufacturing. The increasing sophistication of the products being developed require the precision of machine automation and the power of not only software, but artificial intelligence, for higher product quality and predictability.

Which brings us to today. Manufacturing is crippled by these pain points, but ill equipped to solve them, for the same two fundamental reasons I encountered 16 years ago: manufacturing companies certainly understand the value of automation but have not historically utilized software to implement automation. Manufacturing companies are, after all, not software companies. And until now, the lack of demand for software-defined manufacturing has led to few external companies that are actually positioned to deliver holistic software solutions that act as both immediate relief as well as business accelerators to manufacturing companies. Thus, we are at a critical inflection point where manufacturing as an industry is not only ripe for disruption, it is virtually begging to be disrupted in order to save itself.

So what does disruption look like in this space? In fact, what is software-defined manufacturing, really?  Is it artificially intelligent robots? Is it data platforms with state of the art business intelligence? Is it cloud-based platforms, remote deployment and troubleshooting, machine-learning driven analytics? These things definitely comprise the concept, but Software-Defined Manufacturing is really just the beginning.

Software-Defined Manufacturing will happen simply because it has to – it is the immediate cure to manufacturing’s already existing pain points. The true disruption in manufacturing will involve not disrupting manufacturing per se, but actually disrupting the very idea of software-defined manufacturing itself. And it will happen by industrializing all the technologies that make up software-defined manufacturing, deploying them as a scalable platform and delivering them to customers in a service-based model that grows and modulates with the needs of the business. True disruption is extending software-defined manufacturing to a hardware/software ecosystem, with minimal to nonexistent single points of failure, where multiple components work harmoniously with the single purpose of enabling fast, high quality delivery at lower cost; where data is assembled, collected and turned into predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence is effectively used to solve repetitive human tasks.

When will this happen? At Bright Machines, the call to innovation has been answered, and the transformation in manufacturing has already begun. For us, software-defined manufacturing is just the beginning, the building blocks of delivering an ecosystem of products that will not only disrupt but redefine an entire industry. It’s an extraordinary challenge and truly a generational opportunity. And it’s Day One of our own journey to change the world.

— Nick Ciubotariu, SVP software engineering, Bright Machines

Profits or Politics: Where’s Your Company’s Focus?

On paper, Bryce was a rock star.

In person, Bryce was a costly mistake.

When Bryce strolled through his company’s headquarters sipping his gourmet triple latte and waving to the little people (as he dubbed them), every front line employee noticed. They snickered at his confident strut leftover from his days fronting a band. They recognized his disdain for real work. And they were appalled by his self-serving power plays. Sure, Bryce flashed plenty of smiles. He slapped high fives and offered up empty promises like a candidate running for mayor. But poor follow-through was Bryce’s legacy. He seldom kept his word. In short, Bryce was a leadership disaster!

How does one spot an emerging “Bryce” before his decisions crater your company?

Here are five ways to detect a political player like Bryce in the making.

1. Political players fixate on the wrong numbers.

Take our buddy Bryce for instance. Bryce kept “real-time stats” on the total number of employees who reported into his organization. Bryce frequently boasted that a significant portion of the operation reported to him or one of his people. That’s how Bryce boosted his shaky self-esteem. He added people while he talked a great game and tried hard not to mess up in front of his boss. Bryce figured as long as he had an adequate number of people to throw under the bus at the opportune moment, he would be too big to fail. Bryce fixated on employee count, not profitability.

2. Political players recruit, hire and promote people like themselves.

It’s true. Birds of a feather flock together. Self-absorbed power junkies are obsessed with protecting their titles at all costs. Consequently they try to hire people who are singularly loyal to them. Often they find themselves at odds with an underling more loyal to the company. When they do, they will quickly take any measure imaginable to rid their team of those who are looking out for the good of the whole.

Fortunately, oil and water don’t mix. Employees and leaders who are truly concerned about the welfare of the whole are turned off by those who seek to play the system. Case in point. Bryce’s demise began when his peers became as disillusioned with him as his front line employees were. Bryce’s hiring and promoting of other politically minded employees initially went unchecked because his colleagues were immersed in their own immediate concerns.

3. Political players manage up and cover up.

After all, the Bryces of the world tend to perform for an audience of one. Their boss! Political players will often freely (and unnecessarily) sacrifice their team’s welfare for the sake of keeping the boss happy or shielded from the truth. This is not always a reflection on their boss. He or she may have been misled about the details two or three levels down. The political player likes vagueness and fuzzy business practice. Transparency is not typically part of their game plan. They operate in the shadows where almost no one has insight to their treatment of the people.

4. Political players encourage a zero sum mentality.

Some got to win, some got to lose. That’s the chorus to every song for a corporate politician. In their world, there is no such thing as a win-win outcome. And their department heads also propagate this win-lose mindset. The political player seldom takes the time to seriously evaluate a balanced option. They want to win at all cost.  And their politically-motivated direct reports know instinctively not to cross the boss. It wouldn’t be prudent. Political players win by short-changing the organization.

5. Political players come with plenty of hidden costs.

As I later met with the CEO’s management team, we inventoried the true cost of having Bryce in power. It became apparent that he had made dozens of unnecessarily costly decisions. Bryce built a division that could never reach profitability. He pushed technology that he preferred versus exploring for new IT solutions that would best serve the company. Bryce delegated all authority to managers who were either asleep at the switch or pandered for his favor. As a result, the company was paying extraordinary sums for expensive logistics initiatives that delivered a poor customer experience. Bryce’s salary and benefits were only a tiny fraction of his real cost to the company.

Sooner or later the results speak for themselves. The results of Bryce’s self aggrandizing moves were draining the company’s balance sheet and delaying success. Once realized, Bryce was given a fair severance package and hustled out the door.

Avoid the heartache, headache and howling that political players bring to their companies. Ask yourself these five questions about each member of your management team:

  1. Does _____ fixate on the wrong numbers?
  2. Does _____ overlook or ignore loyal company employees who do good work?
  3. Does _____ recruit, hire and promote individuals who pander to them?
  4. Does _____ quickly adopt the easy solution that best serves their self-interest?
  5. Does _____ make costly decisions because s/he is self-absorbed?

If any of your leaders (or employees for that matter) cause you to answer “yes” to three or more statements, you have an opportunity to lower your operating cost substantially. Consider replacing that person with a competent leader who really cares about your company. If you must, look outside your company. Remember… hire for character and train for skills.

Ironically, Bryce’s follow-up gig gave him the spotlight to swagger like an actual rock star. You can catch Bryce and his new band playing weekends on the Jersey Shore. At least now the only cost for watching Bryce perform is the cover charge.

Don’t let a political player on your payroll. Today is the day to shine the spotlight on each of your leaders and objectively evaluate their performance.

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Financial, the FedEx Worldwide Manager’s Pak, and several metropolitan business and industry trade journals. For more information visit keithmartino.com.

Think Like the Owner (and One Day You Will Be!)

How to Maximize Your Value to the Boss

Jerry wasn’t your average engineer.

While his college classmates fascinated on academics, Jerry raced down the sidelines snagging sizzling passes for the Baylor Bears. Soon he scored a much sought after intern offer from NASA and bought an acoustic guitar to serenade the boot scooters. What could have been more thrilling than to see an inspired young man from Shreveport, LA reaching for the stars and achieving success?

But, ultimately talent is finite, youth is fleeting and good looks are quite common.

As he rose through the corporate ranks, the traits that made Jerry his company’s most valuable player year after year had little to do with his athletic prowess or his love for a catchy tune. Jerry’s secret formula was his priceless perspective. His worldview.

Jerry thought like a business leader. Every day. In every situation. And when the opportunity presented itself, Jerry overcame all the challenges of an economically distressed childhood to buy majority ownership in his company. Jerry thought like an owner and became one.

Could you do the same? Could you propel yourself into another universe by changing the way you approach your job. We believe you can. We hope you will. But, hope is not a strategy.

As it turns out, there is no average engineer. There are only engineers who think like employees and engineers who think “like a boss.” The daily choices you make are indicative of the path you’re on. So test yourself while there’s time to adjust and ramp up your game.

Here are 12 questions you can quietly ask yourself to predict your outcome.

True or False:

_____ I do what is right for my customer, company, and team regardless of personal sacrifice.

_____ I press forward with good ideas, even if they are unpopular.

_____ I aim for goals higher than any manager will set for me.

_____ I do not give in to group pressures simply to avoid confrontation.

_____ I consistently give truthful feedback to customers, superiors, and teammates.

_____ I adhere firmly to a code of business ethics and moral values.

_____ Change always brings opportunity. Stagnation limits opportunity.

_____ I practice a disciplined approach to self-improvement.

_____ I have a method for prioritizing my opportunities today.

_____ I successfully make others enthusiastic about opportunities that require extra effort.

_____ I transmit a sense of purpose about all that I do.

_____ I am accountable for my actions and accept responsibility for my mistakes.

If you answered true to nine or more of these statements, you are on the right road to wind up steering your own endeavor. If you answered false to three or more of these statements, you’ll likely always report to someone else. It’s all a matter of your objectives.

Jerry knew from early in life that he wanted to reach his full potential, whatever that might be. I have no doubt that if you asked him today, he’d tell you that he’s still in the relentless pursuit of excellence. In other words, he isn’t done! He’s still streaking for the goal line.

Baylor University recently built a stunning new stadium in Waco, TX, with world-class amenities. On any given Saturday night, you’ll find Jerry up in the stands. His heart is always in the game. And if you wander up to Jerry, ask him if you should aspire to own your own company. He will likely chuckle, wish you much success and suggest that you will have to make that decision for yourself. But regardless of your goals, Jerry will say, “be the best YOU that you can be.”

 

Keith Martino has a passion for helping engineering executives achieve stellar results. Martino authored the book Expect Leadership in Engineering. In addition, the team at Keith Martino has designed and launched Leadership Institutes at multiple engineering firms across the US. Martino is quoted in Young Upstarts, Entrepreneur Magazine, NewsMax Financial, the FedEx Worldwide Manager’s Pak, and several metropolitan business and industry trade journals. For more information visit keithmartino.com.

 

 

 

 

It All Adds Up at Count on Tools

When you work from a home office, nothing is more enticing than an opportunity to “get out” and see a customer and take a facility tour. So, last week, “get out” I did and hit the road from Fayetteville, GA, up to participate in a tour of Count on Tools in Gainesville, GA.  (For those unfamiliar with Georgia geography and traffic – yes, that is a bit of a drive, but, thankfully, I-85 has been repaired.)

This tour was organized by the Georgia Manufacturing Alliance. This group serves manufacturing businesses in the state and provides monthly plant tours, educational sessions and networking opportunities  “designed to help make profitable business connections for our members.” They put on all sorts of very cool tours throughout the state – including one I was sorry I missed of the KIA plant. Jason Moss, the founder and CEO of GMA, has, in fact, been a great supporter of our local SMTA Atlanta Chapter as well as a featured keynote.

But, I digress. Back to Count on Tools – longtime CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY friend, supporter and 2017 Service Excellence Award winner for Automation and Handling Equipment. I was greeted warmly at the door by Curt Couch, president and CEO, and we chatted about how nice it was to see each other outside the confines of a busy trade show.  He and his wife, Rene, started this business about 26 years ago literally in their backyard. And what an amazing success story from such an unassuming but obviously visionary guy. He said he never expected this level of growth, but here they are today with about 40 employees and a 20,000-sq. ft. facility.

For those who may not know, COT is a precision component manufacturer specializing in CNC Swiss automatic machining using standard to exotic materials including stainless steel, titanium, Inconel and PEEK. They are a global supplier of precision engineering components to a wide range of industries. And, of course, in our industry we know them for their nozzles and tooling, automation tooling and component handling equipment. Just this month, they finished an expansion of their manufacturing facility.

The consistent comment from the tour group (which was comprised of professionals from other manufacturing and service facilities throughout Georgia) – “what a beautiful, clean facility, well run and organized.”  And, the camaraderie among the Count on Tools employees was evident as well.

Zach Shook, operations director, Marketing and IT was also on hand, and we discussed our upcoming travel plans for SMTAI and Productronica. I caught up with my friend Tom Foley from ASM, who is a customer of COT. Prime, a contract manufacturer here in Georgia, was also represented as well. (Shameless plug  – our next SMTA chapter meeting will be held at Prime, and our speaker with be Jeff Timms, managing director of ASM Americas.  He will speak on “Enabling the Digital World” which highlights many of the upcoming and future technologies which will drive the electronics assembly industry into the future.)

All In all, Count On Tools is an impressive manufacturing success story and a day well spent!  Thank you Curt, Rene, Zach and the Count on Tools team for your hospitality.

Frances Stewart is vice president for PCD&F/CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY.