‘The Past is Prelude’

“The past is but a prelude to the future”

In 55 BC Cicero was attributed with saying, “The budget should be balanced, the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.” Amazing! We never seem to learn!

This is the time of year that all of our industry seers reflect upon the past and forecast the future. It is an all but impossible task this time. Economic woes, political game playing, power plays, personal attacks, and continued posturing and bickering of elected officials in “Foggy Bottom” (Washington, DC) all remain with us — without problem resolution. They took an 11th hour step at year-end (2012) and beginning (2013) that defers major decisions, leaves the future of federal employees in doubt, eliminates the some tax increases for the”middle class” while increasing their payroll taxes. They deferred facing the issue major cuts of sequestration for another two months while further dividing the country.

Meanwhile, there is talk of Japan’s “new” (he was there once before) prime minister Shinzo Abe nationalizing the electronics industry in an attempt to save it.

At the same time, China’s manufacturing unexpectedly expanded in December at its fastest pace in 19 months, boosting optimism that a recovery in the world’s second-biggest economy is gaining traction.

As a result, I must admit that my crystal ball is not only broken, but it also appears to be cracked.

We note that the prognosticators take a “long term” view and state that production of printed circuit boards will reach $76.2 billion by 2015. The IDC’s (International Data Corporation) Semiconductor Applications Forecaster states that semiconductor global growth for 2013 will be 4.9% to $319 billion following a 1% increase in 2012. It is expected to reach $368 billion in 2016.

What will the major drivers be? Automotive electronics, tablets, “smart” phones, and new displays.

What will a fabricator need to improve his ability to succeed in the future (in addition to cleaning up his act, stabilizing his work force, and training it better)? Most likely he will need a strong process engineering team and a very close communication link to designers to ensure that new boards or systems are designed for manufacture. Available processes and materials as well as cost options and the final package must all be considered.

Suppliers will have to provide materials with greater and finer dimensional tolerances and stability through a wider range of manufacturing cycles and environments.

ODM and OEM companies will have to re-evaluate the business strategy of partial or full regional manufacturing to provide product in within a particular geographic marketplace.

Assembly and fabrication equipment makers will have to consider new cost-cutting manufacturing strategies. E.g., noncompeting organizations could share overhead and direct costs by using a common custom “toll” manufacturer for machine assembly.

All segments of the interconnect and electronic packaging industries supply chain will have to evaluate solving problems in providing products and technical support services to maturing or growing manufacturing areas as well as to local markets, e.g., Thailand and India.

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.
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