Back in Person

The Covid-19 vaccine rollout has begun and we can’t wait to get back to seeing old and new friends in person.

To that end, I want to call your attention to the return of PCB East to the Boston area in June.

We will head to Marlboro, MA, for some 55 hours of training across three days (June 15-17) of printed circuit board engineering training. There, SI expert Lee Ritchey will have a couple of tutorials: Printed Circuit Board Stackup Design for High Performance Products, and also Power Delivery System Design.

We also will offer two full days of Rick Hartley, including a brand new talk titled, “PC Board Design for Optimum Fabrication and Assembly.” As Rick notes, Happy Holden has presented at PCB West a few times where he’s explained how fabricators determine pricing for bare boards and how EMS suppliers determine pricing for PCB assemblies. Happy shares what he calls a “Fab and Assembly Report Card,” which is how manufacturers assess and weight the variables that drive cost.

So, for instance, as most readers know, board size is a major cost driver. But, as Rick explains, what most designers don’t know is that aspect ratio of length to width also has a major impact. Two boards with the same number of layers and same number of sq. inches but with a difference in their respective aspect ratios – say one is much longer than wide – will push up the bare board cost. Same with assembly, which has even more cost drivers than does fab. Rick is going to do is discuss these major cost drivers.

Rick also told me that at PCB West he had discussions during the chat sessions with some of the bare board fabricators in attendance. One of them said (I’m paraphrasing here), “At any point in time as many as 90% of our jobs are on-hold, waiting for correction or clarity from the customer, so we can proceed.” In Rick’s opinion, designers are flying blind when it comes to many the cost drivers and what suppliers need at both the bare board and assembly level, hence the reason for so many delayed PCBs. These delays also add cost.

What Rick wants to do is to highlight and talk about the factors that Really drive up cost, like board size and aspect ratio, layer count, Z-axis uniformity, copper balance, etc.

And Susy Webb will have brand new, two-day tutorial for design engineers, “A Comprehensive Guide to PCB Design Necessities.” Her class will feature an overview of the entire process of board design, from start to finish, addressing the EE designing their own boards or the new designer who needs to thoroughly understand all the steps and processes. She’ll cover everything from the electronics and physics involved, how the rise time and controlling the energy fields impact the signals on the board, choosing parts types, schematics and signal and constraint issues, mechanical issues, and so on. Susy is also doing an all-day webinar.

We are looking forward to these any other presentations, and also to the exhibits on Jun. 16. Registration is now open, so visit pcbeast.com for details.

Slow Train a Comin’

Where are the next generation of good engineers going to come from?

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked this …. well, you can do the math.

A good friend asked me this just today. He has noticed many of the 25 to 45 year old engineers have left the SMT industry, and questioned where the new ones would come from.

My response: The same place they always have — they will be poached from other companies, or trained in house.

Twenty years ago, we had the same problems we face today regarding the availability of qualified process engineers. But we looked at it differently. Then, with the industry in its relative infancy and growing 15 to 30% per year, we accepted that hiring novice engineers and training them was simply part of the cost of doing business. Somewhere along the line (get it?) the mindset changed. We started to expect that experienced yet affordable engineers would always be available, and when they weren’t — especially after the tech meltdown, when many left for greener, less cyclical pastures — we as an industry went into a collective mode of “woe is us.”

What we forgot, however, is that the electronics industry has traditionally been self-reliant. We don’t need universities to send us mechanical and industrial engineers ready minted and prepared for action. We need to get back to recognizing that every industry has its learning curve, and we need look no further than ourselves for the solution.

It’s time to stop worrying about the next-generation of engineers and get back in the business of recruiting, mentoring and shaping the orbs as they exit college, engineering degrees in hand, into insightful and careful process engineers.

Companies that do well in this regard will have a competitive advantage over those that don’t.

And if we are lucky, we may just learn something along the way.

 

 

Electronics Assembly in Action

Folks,

Struggling to find a good, royalty-free, video of electronics assembly, my Dartmouth ENGM 185 class on manufacturing processes decided to make our own. I think it is pretty good considering our limited ($0) budget.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=afmz9-D4IPg

It was filmed at PCM in Springfield, VT. The young woman in the video is my ENGS 3 student from last summer, Ruthie Welch. The entire ENGM 185 class participated in the production.

As an aside, PCM’s assembly process uses lead-free solder paste.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron