Live, from Productronica!

We will be reporting from the Productronica trade show in Munich next week. For the uninitiated, Productronica is the largest electronics assembly show in the world, filling more than six halls the sizes of aircraft hangers at the Messe Fairgrounds.

Each day, I’ll report what I saw and heard at the show for our new podcast, PCB Chat. Tune in at for the recaps. And for real-time updates, follow me on Twitter ( And if you are headed to the show, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] or connect with me via LinkedIn.

Safe travels!


The Return of PCB Chat

After a hiatus, we have relaunched PCB Chat as a podcast.

Our first guest is Mike Konrad of Aqueous Technologies, who shares his experience with what happens when a contract manufacturer follows its customer’s instructions to the detriment of the product. The outcome: Product failures, blame, drama, and a really big lawsuit.

We apologize in advance for the imperfect audio; we are still getting up to speed on the editing tools. But we think you’ll enjoy this, the first in what will be a regular series of interviews and conversations.

‘Mike Buetow Humor’

When the reader titles their email “Subject: Mike Buetow humor,” you know I’m opening that one first.

Reader TE writes:

Just going through the July 2016 issue when I came across two (well, three really) very interesting announcements.

On page 14 is a small blurb in the first column: “Canadian mining firm First Majestic Silver says a surge in smartphones and tablets is creating a silver shortage that could send prices up 775%.” Now go over to page 15, first column and you will see not one, but two different articles, one on smartphone sales slowing by 2.6% and the second that tablet shipments will decline by 9.6 % this year.

These opposing announcements seem to be right up your alley regarding the irony of our industry, and even perhaps our times. Both can’t be true, so now I am wondering if either is. It’s a big lol from my corner.

Well played, TE: I loved the note, and your observation absolutely appeals to my sense of irony!

I can possibly account for why both could be true. The silver market, like any commodity or precious metal index, changes daily and can be highly speculative. If you look at the Metals Index chart on pg. 15, the Handy and Harman Silver index jumped 15% between Apr. 4 and May 9 this year, then fell 6% by the end of May.

Second, smartphone growth appears to be declining in terms of its rate, but still rising overall. So growth this year will be 3% instead of 11%. I wouldn’t call that a “surge,” but who knows what goes through the minds of those good persons at First Majestic Silver. Also, overall handheld phones shipments are actually growing — probably in the high single digits this year. And it’s also possible that silver speculators are guessing there will be a spike in the second half because of new models that will overcome the lackluster first half sales.

As for the tablets, well, I don’t have a good rationale for that one. We have two in my house and both are used as expensive coasters.

All that said, I highly doubt the silver price will “surge” (or even grow) 775%. At least not because of electronics demand, anyway. After all, election years do play funny tricks on things.

But that’s a column for another day.

HDPUG Event Offers ‘Unbeatable’ Data, Networking

Thanks to the High Density Packaging User Group and the invitation from long-time industry veteran – and friend– Jack Fisher for the invitation to attend one of their open meetings on Sept. 9.  One of several annual meetings, this daylong event was held in my “backyard” in Atlanta, and sponsored by Engent.  This particular day was “open” to the industry; the second day of the event limited to member companies.

For those not familiar with the group, HDP is a 22-year-old international, project-oriented, nonprofit trade organization/consortium whose stated mission is “to reduce the costs and risks for the electronics industries when employing the use of electronic packaging.” Membership is offered to companies involved in the supply chain of producing products that utilize high-density electronic packages.  And lest phrases like “project-oriented,” “consortium”  and “trade organization” strike a bit of fear in your heart or bring to mind unwieldy committee meetings,  this particular meeting – and all such meetings – according to members in attendance – are  characterized by a refreshing lack of bureaucracy.  Numerous projects – and updates of – were discussed – and the meeting itself was nicely moved along under the watchful (and firm!) eye of Jack Fisher.

Members suggest projects, then gather a team together, set objectives and deadlines, and then report back to fellow members with regular updates and final data during members-only meetings.  It’s a value proposition that’s pretty unbeatable.  These activities are run, according to the HDPUG, “ in a domain where members are able to gain much more by joint activities rather than duplicating work in each member company.”  Visit to see more information on current, completed and new projects.

It was great to see old – and not so old – friends Tony Senese, Panasonic; Eric Moen, Akrometrix;  Paul Houston, Engent;  Glen Oliver, DuPont;  and Neil Chamberlin, Polar Instruments, along with HDPUG executive director Marshall Andrews. Larry Marcanti, marketing director for HDPUG, reminded  me he used to serve on the PC FAB review board, and we reminisced about the days of Continental Circuits and Velie Circuits.  And, kudos to Kim Andrews, who organized this event – I know what it takes to move people from point A to point B…well done! I promised Laurence Schultz a personal shout-out (he wins “best radio voice of the day”!) and to Alun Morgan, project facilitator and also Chairman, EIPC, who has offered me a place to hang my hat in the EIPC booth during Productronica!

Selfishly, on behalf of CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY, PCD&F and UP Media, I must claim the “highlight” of the day was the presentation by Mike Buetow, our editor in chief.  He was webex’ed in with a presentation “The Changing Electronics Market and Customer” – a provocative and thought-provoking look at the changing roles and opportunities for EMS, OEMs and ODMs.  Suppliers were advised now may be the time to “seize the day” – and attendees bemoaned the fact that Mike was unable to attend in person so they could “pick his brain.”

All in all, a day well spent. Many thanks to HDP Users Group for including CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY and PCD&F.



Modularity and Standards

Eons ago, (well, it seems like eons) when IBM designed its original PC, it took note of the success of the Apple II with it’s modular expansion system — easily accessible card slots with loads of clear documentation — and added its own variety of modular expansion system. By doing so, the cost of accessories to consumers stayed low, the cost of installing or replacing said accessories stayed low and a whole new industry emerged to create compatible accessories.

I just read a Twitter Tweet (“Tweet” sounds too cutesy to me, so I’m never quite sure what to call those; maybe a “Twoot”?) from Mike Buetow that linked to an article about the latest Toyota recall. It seems that there are a couple of specific solder joints prone to cracking in the ECM (Engine Control Module) of certain models.

The last time I had any real data on the cost to replace an ECM, it was on the order of $1,500. Just scanning around the Internet, I found numbers ranging from $1,000 to $2,000. I’m guessing (I am speaking from near complete ignorance) that maybe two or three hours of that are labor at $90/ hour. That’s a lot of cost in the electronics as well as labor hours that can’t be used for billable hours. With so much of new cars being electronic, this issue is only going to become more extreme.

So, why can’t the auto industry take a cue from the PC industry? Create a standard, easily accessible, electrical bus with standard, easy to manipulate mechanical attributes. Even if they were just standard within each manufacturer, it would still be a big improvement.

Consider this scenario: Buy a Toyota mid-size-car ECM at the local auto parts store. Take it home, plug it into a USB port on your home computer. It auto-runs a link to a specific web site. Enter your car’s VIN number and the site loads firmware that matches the ECM to your car. Take the ECM outside, open your hood, flip a few latches on the water-tight electronics box, pull the old one out and plug the new one in. There you go. Done.

Instead of what is pretty much a massively expensive dealer-only operation, you have half a dozen standard bus ECMs to choose from and about 15 minutes of work that’s not much more difficult than installing a new printer on your PC. And, you’d have less expensive aftermarket options as well. And, a new industry would emerge to design and build those aftermarket options.

Duane Benson
Sadly, not in my lifetime, Batman…