EIPC 2017 Winter Conference Review of Day 1


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Cold! The Austrian city of Salzburg was venue for the EIPC 2017 Winter Conference. Close to the border with Germany and divided by the Salzach River, the city offers spectacular views of the Eastern Alps. The Old City, with its many mediaeval and baroque buildings, birthplace of the famous composer Mozart. A nice place to visit in the summer….

Alun_Morgan.jpgThemed to address the question: “The Future Needs of the Global Electronics Industry: What Solutions will Europe Provide?" the conference was a truly international event, attracting delegates from thirteen countries, to hear a well-chosen programme of twenty presentations in five sessions, introduced by EIPC Chairman Alun Morgan.

Beginning with figures borrowed from Walt Custer, showing growth rates of the global key end use electronics markets, Morgan highlighted three leading growth sectors: Internet of Things 21.0%, medical electronics 6.5%, and automotive 4.0%, all of which had great significance in the European industry. Morgan described the IoT as a combination of small things to make big systems, and demonstrated how self-learning systems relied on “things” with sensors sensing and transmitting data, to be stored, filtered, compressed and analysed, with decisions and actions fed back to the “things” in a continuous iterative loop, although relying on connectivity came with high costs and limitations.

Bosch had forecast that the car as we know it would soon be history, and that cars of the future would be an active part of the IoT, able to communicate with other connected modes of transportation. Self-driving cars would be good news for the safety of Morgan and his motorcycling associates, because eventually motorcycles would communicate with all the other vehicles on the road, constantly reminding them where they were, where they were heading, and at what speed. “We can use that to build an electronic safety cage around a motorbike.” Still fun to ride, but less hazardous!

Morgan referred to the recent highly successful EIPC workshop on BioMEMS as his illustration of developments in medical diagnostics, and the concept of “lab-on-PCB” microfluidic systems, which would result in diagnostics and patient monitoring beyond the hospital or doctor’s surgery, into the home and connected to the cloud, all ready for the emerging connected world.

And all these key growth sectors offered enormous opportunities to the European PCB industry.

Walt_Custer.jpgDespite any precedent that might have been set by Donald Trump, Walt Custer resolved that his presentation would not be based on “alternate facts,” as he introduced his Business Outlook for the Global Electronics Industry with a cautionary reference to “Stressful times in Europe” as the UK prepared its exit from the European Union.

Custer’s view on the 2017 situation was that, except for automotive, medical and semiconductor equipment, the global electronic equipment volume markets had been stagnant and emerging new volume products were not yet large. His global Purchasing Managers Index indicated a positive end to 2016, with year-on-year industrial production increases of 1.9% in the UK, 3.2% in the Euro Area, and 0.5% in the USA, compared with 6.0% in China and 5.7% in India, and suggested continuing growth in early 2017. But political uncertainty was strong in the USA and Europe, and there were ongoing concerns about the Middle East, Russia, North Korea and China. Growth in PCB production was being hindered by copper foil shortages. The US dollar had strengthened significantly, resulting in cheaper imports and more expensive exports for US-based companies, but the strong dollar complicated global growth rate calculations and whilst dollar-denominated global electronic equipment growth rates were near breakeven when calculated at constant 2016 exchange rate, they dropped to a preliminary estimate of minus 3.6% at fluctuating exchange in the fourth quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter of 2015. Electronic equipment growth in general had flattened and the ODMs were feeling the impact. Custer expected that global electronics growth would be modest until the development of another volume end market product to rival PCs, media tablets and smartphones. In his opinion, the automotive market presented the best near-term hope.

In summary, Custer concluded that business conditions were improving globally, although they required careful monitoring, and that Europe was relatively strong. End markets were growing, especially automotive, medical and semiconductor fabrication equipment, and it was realistic to expect corresponding growth in European PCB manufacture. He predicted that 2017 would be a reasonable year, but that the geopolitical situation remained a major worry. 

Stig_Kallman.jpgTheme of the first technical session was “New system designs and impact on materials and processes,” moderated by Alun Morgan, who introduced as his keynote presenter Stig Källman, global component engineer for PCB from Ericsson in Sweden, describing a PCB materials toolbox for today’s 3G and 4G networks and future 5G compliance.

“With the right recipe, the taste is the same wherever you go…” Källman applied McDonald’s Big Mac logic to the selection and standardisation of raw materials for PCB laminates—glass, resin and foil—to ensure that Ericsson’s needs were consistently and uniformly met throughout the group, with cost-effective materials in good supply that had properties matched to performance requirements.

His toolbox recognised three application levels: Level 1 being for general purposes; Level 2 for groups of the same category; and Level 3 for supplier-specific data. Standard procedure for selection of core dielectrics was to use the thickness as the input value in the build. For prepreg, the priority was to nominate the glass weave, then leave the supplier to use resin content to meet the nominal thickness.

Källman showed charts illustrating the impact of conductor geometry, dielectric spacing and dielectric constant on impedance for microstrip and stripline designs, and listed cost index values for a range of core thicknesses and prepreg glass styles, then showed the whole range of halogen-free materials and their properties to meet Ericsson’s current and future needs, from basic FR4.1 through to advanced microwave substrates. 

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