About Gene

Gene Weiner has spent his entire career -- spanning more than 50 years -- in the printed circuit and semiconductor industries. He spent the early part of his career in R&D as a student technician at MIT Lincoln Laboratories, then became employee no. 4 at Shipley, and later vice president of sales and marketing at Dynachem and president of New England Laminates. He has been a consultant to leading materials, circuit board and semiconductor companies for several years, and sits on the board of Wong’s Kong King International and the MBA advisory board of the Malcolm Baldridge School of Business at Post University. He was inducted to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2006.

Reshoring

I am often asked by those in the printed circuit and electronic packaging industries about reshoring. My response generally is that reshoring is a myth. It seems that whenever I try to contact someone by email I get an automated response stating, “I am currently in China and will return to my office on ….” Many of the facilities and much of the equipment that would be needed to reshore have been auctioned off or sent to the scrap heap. Those that operated them have moved on to other jobs. Some have gone to work for Chinese companies.  Further, reshoring intimates bringing back something. However, technology does not stand still. Advances in fabrication processes and equipment require major expenditures to produce today’s, and tomorrow’s products.

Major firms such as Apple have announced intentions to establish independent research facilities in China. Production often follows within the region of successful R&D.

What seems to be occurring is not reshoring but new activity to establish new companies, manufacturing operations and produce product — albeit on a very modest level. However, with a sluggish economy, high corporate taxes, and overly burdensome government regulations there are few venture capital sources available for such efforts – especially in the uncertainty promulgated by the current election year. In fact, affordable financing to modernize and upgrade America’s smaller PCB enterprises is largely unavailable.

We must also consider the question posed by Andrew Strong an associate director of Cambridge Consultants when we think about reconstituting older manufacturing plants for potential re-shoring: “Repair, Replace Or Re-Invent?” I would suggest, assuming that the products to be made have sufficient competitive market longevity, replace with improvements based on recent developments, automation, design changes, new materials, and lean manufacturing principles — assuming sufficient financing is available.

Reshoring continues to be a very “hot topic.” A member of our 2,500+ Linked-In network members wrote the following thought-provoking and incendiary comment: “Reshoring for electronics manufacturing doesn’t make sense due to high levels of process automation, extensive and effective supply chain already established, end product unit value to weight ratio enabling low unit shipping cost and relatively smooth global logistics.

The issues with establishing new manufacturing for other products in the USA are highest corporate tax rates, increasingly difficult regulatory positions discouraging small businesses and startups, government interference in attempting to “pick winners,” and uncertainty about the sustainability and competitiveness of our free market capitalism as we continue to follow the European socialists countries into oblivion.”

Another colleague of the past half-century sent an interesting response to the “silent  complaint” story linking it to reshoring. We posted it on our “Comments & Discussion” page.

What do YOU think? Do you wish to engage in this vital conversation? Should we redefine the challenge? Do you have a workable solution? Let us know!

Industry 4.0: The Great Equalizer?

Gen Consutling Co. (GCC) has issued the Radiant Insights report “Global HDI Printed Circuit Board Market Forecast and Analysis 2016-2021.” The report provides a detailed analysis of worldwide markets for HDI Printed Circuit Board from 2011-2016, and provides market forecasts for 2016-2021 by region/country and subsectors. It covers the key technological and market trends in the HDI Printed Circuit Board market and further lays out an analysis of the factors influencing the supply/demand for HDI Printed Circuit Board, and the opportunities/challenges faced by industry participants. GCC states that the major players in the global HDI market are Unimicron, COMPEQ, AT&S, TTM, Zhen Ding, Ibiden, Tripod and Unitech.

Multek, a wholly owned subsidiary of FLEX, launched its new Zhuhai automotive division on May26 to support its rapidly growing automotive business. The company also announced completion of ISO/TS16949:2009 quality accreditation for its high layer count factory, and now delivers TS16949-grade automotive offerings at all of its manufacturing facilities globally.

Industry 4.0 is advancing rapidly in the Kunshan, China, electronics manufacturing hub. Will Industry 4.0 be enough by itself to make other areas of the world more competitively suitable for  sourcing?

Kunshan in Jiangsu Province near Shanghai attracts much of its investment from Taiwan. It is now accelerating growth by replacing workers with robots. Thirty-five of the 4,800 Taiwan companies in this area, including Foxconn, spent $610 million on artificial intelligence last year. Foxconn reduced  its labor force there from 110,000 to 50,000 by the introduction of robots. AS many as 600 more Taiwanese companies in  Kunshan are reported to have similar  plans.

Reality 4.0 – Are you missing the boat?

Some of our North American smaller fabricators facing difficult times and decisions sit back on their haunches and vociferously state that the IPC does nothing for them. They are missing the boat. The IPC provides the structure and support that allows virtually any group to band together, and work collaboratively to overcome obstacles and handicaps, and succeed in a rapidly changing and challenging environment. The IPC Ambassadors are creating an Executive Forum just for them and their supply chain. It will explore new technologies and trends, support opportunities,  and provide answers to many of the questions posed by these smaller enterprises of which there are more than 100 in the US. Additionally, the IPC will provide a new membership opportunity that will be difficult to refuse. Remember, there is strength in numbers! Stay tuned!

The IPC’s 3rd Reliability Forum held in Dusseldorf this month was a resounding success. The 2-1/2 day event started with a presentation on building in reliability by IPC director and ambassador Mike Carano, vice president of RBP Chemical Technology. Other prominent presenters included DuPont, Fraunhofer Institute, Atotech, and Park Electrochemical. The first full day focused designing for reliability, while the second addressed process. A half day on government relations activities was also included.

The Boston Chapter of the SMTA held its May meeting at Cirtronics, which graciously opened its doors (and factory for a tour) to host the event. Though held in New Hampshire, it attracted IPC and SMTA members from Massachusetts and the Western part of Connecticut. Cirtronics is an employee-owned contract manufacturer founded by its CEO Gerardine Ferlins. The busy facility was up-to-date and spotless. The profitable 176 employee company has progressed to the point where 70% of its business includes box-build. It has just acquired several new screen printers and is evaluating several new 3D AOI systems for purchase.

The meeting program featured Leo Lambert, vice president and technical director of EPTAC Corp. He covered key changes in and amendments to the IPC-A-600, IPC-A610, and J-STD-001 standards and how they affect our industry and the latest training and certification programs. Somehow the live presentation provided a far different result than the typical webinar. Humor was used to highlight specific points, problems, difficulties and the current situation. The result was very effective – at least to me. For example, amendments have been made that are different or in direct opposition to the original document. Yet the certification programs and manuals still contain and teach the unmodified or corrected items. Lambert well presented the need for peer review of training – if not standards – documentation so when the users receive it, they are not confused by any inconsistency.

The first Innovations Forum Hungary: Automation in Electronics Production “– building a competitive advantage in the region” will be held on the 16th of June, 2016 at the prestigious Academy of Sciences in Budapest.

The International Federation of Robotics (IFR), which represents robot manufacturers and research institutes, says China has surpassed Japan to become the world’s biggest market for industrial robots.

There is increasing concern about the secure availability of advanced printed circuits for America’s defense industry. These are needed to provide the platforms for high tech electronics. R&D for new systems seem to be progressing well. However, the US base of smaller fabricators that produce more than half of military boards is hard-pressed to fund the new equipment needed to build these circuits. Costs are often more than 20% of annual turnover. Some fabs in the Northeast as well as in California continue to report difficulty in acquiring the skilled workers needed for production. Others cannot modernize or add capacity due to local (state) “environmental” laws and restrictions. Congress is slow to act and too busy with the election to do much of anything this next year. It has funded some major items but do not consider printed circuits a big item. PWBs’ importance is still not yet well-enough understood. Do you have a comment, recommendation, or solution?

When will 3-D printing for prototyping be at your favorite circuit shop?

Sooner than you think — at least for prototyping. One system utilizing an ink containing nano silver particles for fine line printing will be made available commercially by the end of this year. It will be demonstrated at the CES show in Las Vegas January 2017. The deposited circuit traces may be photonically cured (sintered). HP announced a 3-D new system that is 10 times faster than its predecessors. The insulating substrate may be UV cured epoxy. One such system for epoxy has already been demonstrated in the UK. Get your 3-D circuit printing update at the IPC Ambassador Council Executive Forum for fabricators and their supply chain at IPC Apex Expo in San Diego on Feb. 13, 2017.

Financial news from Taiwan

Chin-Poon Industrial, with more than 70% of its revenues coming from the automotive industry, announced consolidated revenues for April 2016 increased 5.4% over April 2015 to $58.7 million. The company’s cumulative 2016 sales through April increased 9.3% from a year earlier. Consolidated revenues at Tripod Technology’s sales were up 1.1% from a year ago to $107 million in April 2015 Compeq Manufacturing had consolidated revenues of $93.9 million in April 2016, down 0.1% from April 2015 PCB producer Apex International’s April 2016 revenues were $21.4 million a 9.4% increase over last year.

Board maker Zhen Ding Technology Holding’s net profits declined 88% on quarter and 77% on year to $9.52 million in the first quarter of 2016.

The UK’s HK Wentworth, parent company of Electrolube, which supplies sprays and coatings to protect, clean and lubricate electronic circuit boards, switches and sensors, is spending £500,000 to build a new factory to make protective coatings in Bangalore, India.

It’s a new era and all about “the Car”

SEMI and Georgia Tech, in partnership with iNEMI, IMAPS, and IEEE, will launch a new workshop called FUTURECAR: New Era of Automotive Electronics Nov. 9-10, 2016, in Atlanta, GA. The new era of automotive electronics is the most complex electronics technology to date. It includes not only computing and communications electronics, autonomous driving electronics, sensing electronics but also high-power and high-temperature electronics. It is expected to account for a third of the value of “the car”, creating a market of approximately $1 trillion within a decade. The challenges to address this market include: 1) research and development of key technologies, and 2) technology ecosystem stewardship to enable swift and cost-efficient commercialization. The basis of this workshop is the synergy between Georgia Tech in R&D in partnership with its 50 supply-chain companies and SEMI in technology stewardship. This is complemented by the strength of co-sponsors such as iNEMI in roadmaps, and IEEE-CPMT and IMAPS as global electronics societies.

The European Institute of Printed Circuits (EIPC) meeting on “Strategies to maintain profitability in the European PCB Industry” will be held June 9-10 in Glasgow, Scotland.

The European Commission said growth in the euro zone and the wider European Union will be slightly weaker this year than previously forecast, as it warned that the economic slowdown in China and other emerging markets, geopolitical tensions and uncertainty ahead of the U.K. referendum on EU membership could weigh on the economy. Economic growth in Gulf States is forecast to slow to 1.8% this year as the oil dependent region cuts spending to battle fiscal deficits reaching 11.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

A new China target?

French oil and gas producer Total plans to sell Atotech. “Atotech no longer falls within Total’s strategic vision,” chief executive Patrick Pouyanne was quoted as saying. Total is reported to be seeking a buyer that was “committed to sustaining Atotech’s current strategy.” Berlin-based Atotech, which generates annual sales of about $1 billion, manufactures specialty chemicals and equipment for printed circuit boards and semiconductors. It is Total’s sole remaining specialty chemicals unit.

Apple lost the trademark suit in the Beijing Municipal High People’s Court, which ruled that Xintong Tiandi Technology can continue to use the phrase “IPHONE” on its leather wallets and accessories, according to China-based Legal Daily. Chinese regulators reportedly shut down iTunes Movies and the iBooks Store last month.

Billionaire investor Carl Icahn sold his entire stake in Apple, citing the risk of China’s influence on the stock.

SEMI continues to strengthen and broaden its supply chain reach

SEMI has announced the appointment of Melissa Grupen-Shemansky, Ph.D., as chief technology officer for the FlexTech Group and for SEMI’s Advanced Packaging program. With over 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry, Grupen-Shemansky will oversee FlexTech’s flexible hybrid electronics (FHE) and Nano-Bio Manufacturing Consortium (NBMC) R&D programs and technology advisory councils. Grupen-Shemansky will also serve as technical advisor to SEMI’s Advanced Packaging initiative and as technical liaison to NextFlex, the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Nepcon China held in Shanghai the last week of April was surprisingly the best in years. Pent up demand for pick-and-place equipment led the surge in active buying interest after a near drought in purchasing the past few years of the economic slowdown there.  The next few weeks will tell just how real the show activity was as stated interest converts to orders.

Firan Technology Group (FTG) is buying the assets of Teledyne Technology’sNew Hampshire’s printed circuit technology business (Teledyne PCT) for $9.3 million in cash. For approximately 50 years, Teledyne PCT has designed and manufactured rigid-flex printed circuit boards and assemblies used in the defense, aerospace and oil and gas industries. For each of the last three years, the unit has generated between $15.0 to $20.0 million of annual revenue. FTG has two operating units: FTG Circuits is a manufacturer of high technology, high reliability printed circuit boards. FTG Aerospace manufactures illuminated cockpit panels, keyboards and subassemblies for original equipment manufacturers of aerospace and defense equipment.

New Motivation?

On the eve of the industry’s largest PWB show, I have begun to reflect on what the American expats whom I will meet here are doing for their Greater China employers. I wonder what they could not have done in the United States, and the reasons why. Now the game has changed. Labor costs are up. Automation is advancing. Business continues to consolidate rapidly as “blue chips” have vanished. Others are in jeopardy. Those remaining are few and far between.

One thing is certain. The days when Asian companies would buy old, tired American facilities and fix them up as a potential method of market entry are long gone. They have learned that it is better to invest in the newest technologies at the outset and not waste their funds patching and fixing near-obsolete operations. This could be one of the motivations for some American corporations to design and install new state-of-the-art automated and “green” captive PWB operations. One such venture is even predicting a bare board cost reduction of greater than 30% over his currently outsourced panels.

Comings and Goings

Big news: IBM will “sell” its chip operations to GlobalFoundries according to a joint statement by the companies. IBM will pay “the buyer,” owned by the government of Abu Dhabi, a reported $1.5 billion over the next three years to take the chip manufacturing business “off its hands.”

The world’s dozen or so leading chip foundries that account for more than 90% of global production (including IBM) will all be foreign-owned when this deal is completed.

Who benefits the most? Who will protect the innocent (chip users)? Is leaving America “foundry-less” good for the United States?

Back to the future. Lockheed is reported to have three captive PWB shops in the US. Northrup Grumman has an in-house board operation. Whelan is establishing a new highly automated in-house PWB operation. Intel is said to be planning a new captive board facility in Arizona and said to be offering a bounty for “successful” job referrals. Is it to develop new technology that independent shops cannot afford? Is it for secrecy? Is it to shorten supply lines? Is it to gain time to market or some other competitive advantage? Is it the start of a trend?

Is it still just the price? After visiting the Design-2-Part Show  (D2P) we revisited the concept of using value propositions to offset cheaper prices. We were astounded at the number of people that effectively stated that they would the cheapest system rather than the lowest cost equipment. Yes, there is a difference, and sometimes the added cost of using the cheapest system is substantial. We also found that those that bought the newer system with greater productivity, ease of use, updated software, and smaller footprint often ordered more of the units of the newer system after a short (several months) of running production along side of the “older” competitive models who tried to protect their business by simply lowering the price and promising future improvements.

Some things just never seem to change. When one visits some of the leading board makers making advanced substrates and assemblies in Asia today, one usually sees the latest production equipment. Then I thought of the New Jersey manufacturer that I met at D2P show, and wondered what I will see when I visit a new “highly automated” board maker in the U.S. next month.

Move over Amazon. Dragon Circuits in Texas announced that it successfully completed 14 test runs of delivery by drone of packages weighing up to several pounds. It did not state the range of the drones used in the test runs. Dragon has a drone division that builds a wide variety of these systems.

We need more industry participation and on campuses collaborations like the new Raytheon-UMass Lowell Research Institute (RURI). Plans for the center were announced in August. It officially opened on the campus on Oct. 10 in the school’s Mark and Elisia Saab Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center, the school’s new $80 million research center.

Kyle Homan, a doctoral student in electrical engineering, gave a presentation on printable electronics and nanotechnology at the opening. Raytheon has already embedded employees on site and plans to commit $3 to $5 million over 10 years to support the collaborative operation. It’s a great way to move critical technology forward while simultaneously training candidates for the company.*

Have you seen the TPCA’s (Taiwan Printed Circuit Association) first class promotional video on its interconnect industry? Take nine minutes and watch the video on the following link. ??????? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8w_jIpYu54A

 

*Raytheon currently employs about 1,000 UMass Lowell alumni.

 

End of Summer — End of an Era?

Which is the way forward? New or renew?

Nepcon in Shenzhen Aug. 26-28 was “OK” in terms of attendance. Lots of prospects/”tire kickers” but very few buyers.

Japan’s high-tech PWB volume in June increased  8.6% over that of June 2013, but revenue declined 4.1% for domestic build-up types of multilayers — a typical sign of declining business, a maturing industry, cheaper foreign sources, and overcapacity. According to DKN Research, prices for these types of circuits used in cellular phones dropped 12% in Japan during the past year.

Japan manufacturers are also engaged in a price war with Taiwanese and Chinese competitors with double-sided and multilayer flexible circuits. Selling prices on these dropped more than 33% in the past year. Overall, the forecast for the Japanese circuit industry for 2014 is not better than 2013’s, which was the worst since 2008.

The world’s top 100 printed circuit makers account for approximately 80% of global demand.

Nothing is forever. The interconnect industry (PCB and PCBA) has had a good run and matured. It has progressed technically, shifted geographically, consolidated, thrived and suffered due to geopolitical shifts as well as technical advances. Some well-known domestic companies are undergoing inversions. Others are shrinking or struggling to regain a profitable (albeit smaller) status after squeezing suppliers, inventories and eliminating much of the R&D funding for future improvements. Renewing appears to be more difficult as competition for “more of the same” continues to increase and value differentiation declines. In fact, some of the cost reduction activities have actually removed value from many of the offerings making them less attractive in the long run.

Change is inevitable! We can contribute to it or be the “victims” of it. We can invest in the future or have no future. We believe that today’s survivors that are experiencing declining options for their current offerings must seek out new directions, new alliances, new wares, new  cooperative development activities and support for the future.

Opportunities do exist! 3D packaging has stalled due to both economic and technology issues. Mitsubishi Heavy Industry has started a new room temperature wafer bonding service for MEMs and biosensors for firms designing 3D packages and are unable to make them themselves. 2.5D appears to not be faring much better. New improvements in packaging appear to be filling some of the current needs and gaps. We can extend product life cycles with product/process improvements while developing new disruptive or not-in-kind technologies.

New flexible substrates with 14 micron thin cores and 9 micron Cu surfaces provide the reality of 25 micron line and space volume production and, along with new technologies, the opportunity of PCB and IC substrate makers, and their supply chains to work more closely with the packaging industry.

Future success will require a total reassessment of your company’s core values, mission statement and goals. It takes a new strategy and action plan. It will require you to question your managements’ styles. Procedures will have to be reviewed, too. Why were these established? Are they still needed? Should they be modified to meet today’s Lean manufacturing needs and technology requirements? Do they support speed to market? Should you change or create new areas of focus? Do all your managers feel the urgency?

What are you doing to ensure your future?

New cooperative activity. The newly established liaison between the IPC and the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC’s) Standardization Management Board (SMB) should be a boon for the rapidly growing printed electronics industry. All concerned parties have something to contribute and something to gain from this collaboration to create international standards. One must, however, keep an open mind for new potentially disruptive technologies that could potentially bridge some applications of the areas encompassed by printed electronics, printed circuits, and other packages.

It’s time to get serious. The Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA) has asked for government support to help Taiwan’s PCB industry develop next-generation products to counter slowing growth rates. The nation’s industry (including output from its factories in Mainland China) will generate sales of $18.3+ billion this year. The TPCA is likely to receive a good audience from the government as the nation’s vice president has been a keynote speaker at the annual TPCA show’s opening ceremony the past few years.

Shortly after announcing a new $30 million share repurchase program this month Plexus held an opening ceremony for its $40 million 265,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Guadalajara, Mexico. The company has stated that it is now actively recruiting to fill employment opportunities. Full employment at this facility is expected to exceed 700 workers.

The increasing costs in China and elsewhere, the stability and availability of a skilled and semi-skilled work force, locally established supply chains, and the proximity of five universities are all sure to have contributed to the decision.

SEMI announced another positive book-to-bill IC equipment order ratio for the month of July. Where will the equipment go? What types of chips with what nodes will it build? What industries will consume the added production? When will the PCB/packaging industries partake in the results?

Who is building the packaging substrates and where are they built? Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, yesterday said its revenue hit a record high $2.16 billion last month up 7.6% from June and 24.6% higher than a year earlier. The company also forecast a sequential revenue increase next quarter because of its strength in 28nm and 20nm process technologies as well as strong demand for flat panel IC drivers and tablet power management chips.

United Microelectronics Corp. (UMC), Taiwan’s second-largest contract chipmaker, posted its lowest revenue in three months last month, down 7% to $380 million due to lower contribution from its solar business.

Conversations with several major circuit interconnect and packaging supply chain members in Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan indicate that business is “spotty” at best. KCE in Thailand is having record sales participating in circuits for the automotive after market, now the 2nd biggest in Asia. Unimicron Technology’s second quarter net profits were up 377% from the previous quarter to $9 million. Gold Circuit Electronics and M-Flex are still working to restore profitability. Viasystems lost money the second quarter of the year. The second half of 2014 looks promising for Taiwan-based circuit makers. Global Innovation has restored its Lone Star name with a statement that it will only provide domestically produced circuit boards.

SEMI has forecast double-digit growth for equipment makers for the next two years. What will the applications be? Will Intel’s new 14nm node be part of the surge, or will the cost/benefit ratio not be good enough? How much of an effect will “wearable electronics” have?Which substrate/board builders will benefit? When? Where?

Samsung’s smartphone market position in China has been supplanted by Xiaomi  and in India by “home-grown” Micromax in the 2nd quarter of 2014. The latter is offering a 6-inch screen with magnetic flip cover, 1.3 GHz dual-core Media Tek processor, and an Android 4.2.2 Jelly Bean operating system with a 5-megapixel camera and a 6-month movie subscription for $140 (8,500 rupees)!

How is your crystal ball? Are you monitoring and re-evaluating your attainable markets and shares? Are you redefining your businesses? have you found creative ways of extending product life cycles? Are you noting major shifts in supply chains and aligning your companies with the king (or prince) makers of the next few years? Are you redefining your markets and stepping “outside” the traditional boxes? If not, I suggest (re)reading Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne (2005, Harvard Business School Publishing, 2005).

As a supporting organization of the China Sourcing Fair Fall 2014, Electronics & Components, to be held on October 11-14, 2014 at AsiaWorld-Expo, at the Hong Kong Airport, the HKPCA is offering its members VIP Buyers’* privileges to this Fair.  These include:
– Free admission to the fair;
– Free transportation arrangements to the fairs;
– Coupons for F&B & shopping discounts at the Hong Kong International Airport area and AsiaWorld-Expo;
Exclusive use of onsite office suites to its invited VIP buyers (Wifi connection, office equipment, etc);
– A free Octopus Cash Card with HK$150 stored-value for transportation or purchases.

 

Looking Forward

The Taiwan Printed Circuit Association (TPCA) announced at a press conference attended by nearly 100 members of the government, industry, research institutes, academia and the media that it will publish a white paper in September to address the future Taiwan PCB industry challenges – both in Taiwan as well as China. It will take on production constraints, labor shortages (including skilled and semi-skilled), and end-of-market changes.

TPCA is calling for its government to lead the country’s PCB industry to develop next-generation products and to promote (sponsor?) industry upgrades. Taiwan’s PCB makers have lost its momentum and are likely to generate a CAGR of only 1.2% in the 2010-2014 period. The targeted goal for 2014-2020 was said to be 6% to 7%. Sales of Taiwan owned production at home and abroad (including China) is forecast to be $18.3 billion this year.

Dateline July 23, 2014 5:40PM EST: It is with great sadness and deep regret that I must inform you of the passing this morning of Dieter Bergman, Global Industry Icon of the printed circuit industry, colleague, and friend of the past half century. He worked selflessly and tirelessly with great charm and wit his entire life in behalf of the industry, enabling the impossible to become the possible. The accolades that are sure to follow will be dwarfed by his actual accomplishments.

Do Not Penalize! – Motivate! Incentivize! Negotiate!  License!
Renewable energy is the way of the future. Make no mistake about it. Achieving a cost-effective path is the challenge. Slamming China and Taiwan with enormous duties on assembled solar PV panels shipped to the US is the wrong approach. We should be grateful for the support of China’s  and Taiwan’s governments to their industry that allows us to buy them cheaply. The whole industry is based on government subsidies. The net effect of this new DOC action is to increase prices to the American consumer. The  US government has thrown away hundreds of millions of dollars by investing in unproven, doomed-to-fail companies during the past few years. It should have been providing job creating tax incentives for the manufacture of such panels in America.

Let’s see if the USA will be the first to commercialize (in high volume) the very efficient multi-juncture PV solar panel technology shown at the recent SemiCon West in San Francisco.

Wake up America! It has been 5 years since we have been the world’s leading innovator!

Report: The United States not even close to being top global innovator. By Pam Tobey July 23 at 5:39 AM – Source: The Washington Post

Switzerland is a four-time champ when it comes to global innovation. The United States? Not so much lately — the country last achieved that spot in 2009. The United Kingdom jumped ahead of Sweden to claim the No. 2 spot behind Switzerland in the recently released Global Innovation Index 2014, put out jointly by the business school INSEAD, the World Intellectual Property Organization and Cornell University. The index covers many variables that contribute to innovation, including institutions, human capital and research, infrastructure, market and business sophistication, knowledge and technology and creativity. It gathers data for 81 different indicators in 143 economies to come up with rankings. In 2007, the United States was at the top of the list. In 2010, it plummeted to 11th place, partially due to the battering of the economy by the financial crisis. Among the regions in the report, Europe holds the top spot, followed by North America.

 

The Post-Silicon Era

Masamitsu “Matt” Aoki has updated his detailed charts of “Build-Up Types of Printed Wiring Boards and Their Applications in Japan” (Version 14.1) and “Thin Types of Printed Wiring Boards and Their Applications in Japan” (Version 24.1). They are both now current through June 2014. Write to us at gene@weiner-intl.com if you wish a copy.

 Who will share in IBM’s vision of the future? During the next 5 years IBM will invest $3 billion in R&D for “the post-silicon era.” Which equipment and material suppliers will partner with it? Who else has such a forward looking budget? According to CIO Bernie Meyerson, the investments include programs in areas such as III-V materials expected to be used around the 5nm node, which some say could be the last generation of silicon-based chip technology. They also include a broad set of programs ranging from 3D chip packaging to computer architectures such as quantum and neural processing and post-silicon chip materials such as carbon nanotubes and graphene. “This is not about semiconductors per se but a broad statement about reinventing computing,” he said. Today’s silicon CMOS processes will hit atomic limits (a brick wall) somewhere around the 5nm node in about 2020. Many of the IBM programs are about finding new techniques that will drive hardware performance beyond that point. “The real issue is silicon goes quantum mechanical at these dimensions. It no longer works. At this time, there is no consensus on what’s next.” However, “we still have a 5-10 year horizon” to find solutions.

 Someone forgot to tell them…

…about the economic recovery. Microsoft will chop 18,000 jobs in the next year as it lays off 14% of its workforce. 2/3 of the cut will come from the phone and tablet work force in order to eliminate the post Nokia acquisition bulge. I guess CEO Satya Nadella won’t be running for US president in the near future.0

It was not too long ago when “everyone” just wanted a very small cellphone. Smartphones with screens larger than 5.5″ seem to be cutting into the tablet market, especially those with 7 to 7.9″screens which accounted for 58% of the market in 2013. Tablet shipments the first quarter of 2014 declined about 5% from the same period last year. This is the first time such a drop has been noted in tablet sales since their introduction.

Good move, Ray! Have you noticed the shortage of RF substrates? Isola announced increased production of and a 24-hr response service to provide designers with a turnkey solution for all the calculations, testing, characterization and material recommendations to fill the gap with its “low loss materials.” Target applications include 23GHz, and 76-79Hz frequencies used in advanced driver frequencies.

It is not too early …

… to start planning your participation and attendance at the early key Fall events. Have you wondered if the lost board business has all gone overseas or if something else is occurring? Have advances in packaging and system technology supplanted portions? Are segments morphing into newer technologies? Do you know what these opportunities (threats to your conventional business) are?

You will have an opportunity to view, discuss, and evaluate, these at the rebranded 2nd annual Electronic Systems Technologies Conference and Exhibition to be held at the IPC TechSummit in Raleigh, North Carolina October 28-30. Some of the topics presented and discussed at the original held in Las Vegas have already begun to move into the mainstream. Chaired once again by Intel’s Dr. Senol Pekin, this year’s event has already attracted key interconnect industry figures who will discuss trends, what matters to them, and new technologies.

It is also worth noting that Dr. Michael Osterman, director of CALCE at the University of Maryland will chair the 8th Annual Tin Whiskers Conference during TechSummit.

It’s a cut-and-paste world. One of my Korean business associates, a retired research engineer, says that Korea is a “Copy and Paste Technology” country. Korean companies buy the minimum order for state of the art equipment from Japanese companies and conduct a detailed tear down analysis. From this reverse “R&D,” they build their own equipment with minor modifications. There is no innovative idea in the new machines — the only difference is a much lower cost. The executive teams from Samsung Electronics recognize the lack of innovation from their engineering staff, and are encourage its R&D departments to generate new ideas. Unfortunately, nothing new has come from them over the last several years. One R&D director told me that he has more than 50 engineers with PhDs from universities in Japan and the US, but none of them can come up with any creative ideas. From the engineers view, one R&D manager grumbled that his department forwards many proposals to the executive managing teams, but none of them are ever accepted. The executive teams ask for accurate forecasts from potential products or ideas, but the R&D teams cannot accurately forecast the potential for a product that is not in the market. — Dominique N.

 

Bypassing 2.5D

Did Nvidia’s announcement that it would use 3D packaging with silicon-through-vias on some forthcoming Pascal graphics processors to make more memory available with minimal delays signal the start of a general acceptance of stacked memory chips?

IPC Apex Expo was the best in many years. Attendance was good, both in the conference as well as on the show floor. Even Thursday morning saw potential buyers visiting exhibitors in their booths. Capital equipment buyers were twice as optimistic as in the prior year — about 65% stated that they planned to buy equipment this year versus about 30% last year. Exhibitors stated that they were making sales and getting commitments for future trials in their booths during the show — event though there was little in the way of new systems to be seen in the hall. One independent equipment sales rep stated that he had more customer meetings at this show than at the five previous events combined.

New product introductions and improvements abounded. EarthOne Circuit Technologies Corporation (dba eSurface Technologies) created quite a stir with its sponsorship of the Tuesday luncheon to announce its new additive printed circuit board process.

Six OEMs responded to the IPC’s effort to get them more engaged at the management level. The Ambassador Council held its first meeting to explore how it could provide help to further the knowledge and success of IPC members. The executive management meetings’ programs were excellent but still failed to bring in more than a handful of bare board fabricators. Counterfeit components was one of the hot topics throughout the event.

On the other hand, a number of historic names (Christopher Associates, Multiline) were missing from the show — victims of the business conditions and America’s continual decline in the bare board market as well as direct incursions by foreign capital equipment producers. Some exhibitors were still introducing their “new” systems and processes after three or more years of failing to gain traction. However, it warmed my heart to see the resurrected Dynachem name and logo back in America in Osvaldo Novello’s booth, Automatic Lamination Technologies S.R.L.

The IPC event has appeared to have morphed into an analog of the old Nepcon West in terms of massive entertainment activities. The major corporate exhibitors not only took large booths but also used to arrange major hospitality events, receptions, and cruises which captured many of the show attendees. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at Nepcon. This put the smaller exhibitors at a distinct disadvantage.

When the IPC established its first trade show it decided to level the playing field a bit for the smaller exhibiting members. It banned major hospitality events during the show that would take attendees away from the event. Some companies that violated this rule were even penalized by having their chance to select the following year’s booth moved to the last position. The IPC arranged for cruises (in San Diego). It produced major galas with music, food, entertainment, and other activities. It solicited sponsors — who received credit for their participation. The price for admission to the event was reasonable. Many companies bought tickets for their customers. It was a great night for all.

But, things have reverted. Companies with deep pockets have already started to reserve ballrooms, night clubs, and to plan other major events for IPC Apex Expo 2015. I do not think that this is a good trend.

Bob Black of Juki Automation said that sales closed during the first two days of the show actually “more than paid” for the show. He said that although January was a bit slow, February sales were strong and he expected March to also be a good month.

Chris Fussner of Yamaha (TransTech) stated that he expected a good year in 2014 as his American distributor organization achieved a positive cash flow in second year (2013).

Don Walsh stated that Ueymura had a record year and a strong start in 2014.

Nihon Superior’s Tetsuro Nishimura said that his booth was busy throughout the show and that he was glad that he came. He’ll be back next year to exhibit with the IPC for the 15th time.

OMG’s Mike Carano (admitted to the IPC’s Raymond E. Pritchard Hall of Fame, the IPC’s highest honor, during the awards luncheon) stated that his company has now captured a 30% share of the North American market for its products.

Dr. Bill Elder introduced Maskless Lithography’s (MLI’s) direct imaging system for liquid photoimageable solder masks (LPISM).

Crunch time

Early reports from the CPCA show state that it is a “disaster.” One of the major exhibitors said that no one came to their booth on Day 1, and only a dozen or so – but no buyers – on the second day. Another stated that Day 1 was awful and that Day 2 was a bit better, it was just terrible in terms of attendance. Semicon China held in Shanghai at the same time was reported to also have experienced the same malaise — a dearth of customers, prospects or visitors of any type.

Can the international uncertainty be the cause? Can the economic woes and diplomatic strife in the world be the reason? Could the international cultural differences and distrust as shown through the investigations of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 be at fault? Are the rapid changes in the electronics industry coupled with continued closures and consolidations be the reason? Could it be that potential buyers are tired of sending armies of their troops to exhibits to see much of “the same old stuff?”

Do these events need to change for today’s and tomorrow’s technology, markets and products? Is the gravitation of business to fewer larger enterprises at fault? If so, how? We believe that ALL of these — and more — are at fault. At the same time, we note that technical conferences, which do not need to draw volumes of visitors to consider them successful, generally continue to attract members of their particular buying public.

 

Defining the New World

Where are 2 1/2D and 3D going? How will “active” interposers be defined — and where will they be used? What’s the real scoop for TSVs (through-silicon vias)? The Pan Pacific Microelectronics Symposium held this month seemed to confuse some attendees and point out the apparent need to sort out the terminology used in various packaging schemes. One must wonder how the discovery of “artificial graphene” reported by a European university will affect the development of applications for the real thing?

Value and change — topics for consideration and discussion. How do you determine value? How much is a semiautomatic printer for LPISMs worth if it can produce better than 2.0 mil (50um) dams in 1.0 mil (25um) thick solder mask? How much is a system that exposes a “standard” mask in less than 7 sec. worth? At what point does one replace a fully depreciated piece of equipment or a line with a more advanced capable system? What is the ideal or minimum practical “payback” time in your facility? How much does it truly cost you to evaluate a “free” sample of a material or specialty chemical? Can you determine the value of a new system/product simply by yield improvement? Or by throughput? Or reduction in energy usage? Or waste disposal costs? What would it take for you to install a new “not-in-kind system” replace an old “standard”? How do you respond to an offer of a “new” technology? What claims or benefits would motivate you to take action to evaluate it? Let us know!

No New Lessons for 2014

Here we go again! It is 2014 and I have read the obligatory half dozen or so 2013 reviews about our industry. I searched for something unique, something significant, and something that would provide me with lessons learned that would indicate a direction to better face the future. I found none.

I then proceeded to read the rash of standard prognosticator “forecasts.” And I discovered what may be the treasure among the, well, I won’t say trash, but will say banal vague sameness. It is Dr. Jennie Hwang’s “New Year Outlook.” Hwang provides a broad look at the global and local economic impacts on our industry, notes (what I consider to be) a monumental event in the IC industry, provides a valuable perspective on China today – and tomorrow, itemizes important points to consider in hardware manufacturing, touches on print and optoelectronics, forecasts a PV market upturn, touches on regulatory environments, and proposes an interesting definition for “advanced manufacturing.”

My job is done. I no longer feel the compunction to generate a forecast. Instead, I will focus on assisting innovators to commercialize their products, solving business and marketing problems, helping companies to grow globally – and locally, and building a successful future for select participants in our industry. This includes evaluating existing and future supply chain strategies.

One must remember that China may not be the lowest cost source for various global markets, but it is certainly the best positioned site for providing products to its burgeoning domestic consumer market — the world’s largest — for automotive and wireless electronics. One must also consider what the renewed interest in regionalization may mean in terms of electronic manufacturing. It may be that another adjacent or nearby location would provide the best option in terms of regulation, taxes, labor, stability and infrastructure to serve the target market. It appears to me that if this were not so, then China would not be investing in operations in Europe and Latin America.

Do you remember when drilling services thrived in America to provide low-cost accurate drilling for PTH circuit boards? One would think that some astute businessman would create something similar to help companies get into the production of HDI boards. Well, it has been done — in South Korea. In 2013 Daewon Innovation started a laser drilling service for HDI boards with eight Sumitomo systems. Daewon is also a distributor of MacDermid’s specialty chemicals used in making holes conductive and filling vias.

Can America’s spirit and ability to develop an assembly line for high tech multidiscipline manufacturing be rejuvenated? Turn on your sound and watch the complete production of a complex system with over a million parts at the rate of one every 55 minutes – in early 1941!