Sign of the Times

Does the future of assembly lead to Africa? And does the future of hand soldering lie on the hands of the deaf?

Hear me out. (Sorry.)

Efforts are being made by Europe’s SMART Group and others to educate Africans on the finer points of electronics manufacturing. South Africa, we know, has a modest electronics industry, focused primarily on industrial and defense applications. Research firm RCNOS last year pegged annual demand for consumer electronics in the Middle East/Africa at $7 billion, noting its “young population keenly attuned to digital devices.” So it’s no secret that there’s an emerging market to tap there.

Here comes an even more enlightening development from the sub-Continent.

A Montreal businessman has come up with a way to provide impoverished Africans with low-cost, long-lasting hearing aids. According to this story in Newsweek, two-thirds of the world’s deaf or partially deaf live in developing nations. A retired businessman who was trying to rebound from a stunning family tragedy, Howard Weinstein took on the awesome task of trying to outfit the sub-Saharan poor with low-cost but effective hearing aids.

Going even further, he is helping his clients help themselves. He recognized the manual dexterity of the deaf, who through their long experience with signing are attuned to such skills as hand soldering. “‘Because mastering sign language takes acute hand-eye coordination, deaf people are well suited to the fine soldering and microelectronics that go into making hearing aids,’ he says. Today the once empty room in the African semi desert has become the hub of a thriving nonprofit business.”

Today, some 20,000 people are using his product, Newsweek reports. And Weinstein now has his eyes — and ears — turned to Latin America and greater Asia.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow