Help Wanted With IMI’s Peter Bigelow

Reading time ( words)

Goldman: Do you find them useful at all?

Help_Wanted.JPGBigelow: For new employees, they often are good to show that we’re not alone in how we do things. The basic processes have not really changed. Many things have changed in those processes, but you’re still following a process link through. When you hire someone to be a plater, you still want them to see the entire manufacturing process. You might not be able to take the time to walk them through your plant and watch a job go through, but you can pull a video out, even if it’s a very introductory video. But you still need to have a more in-depth training.

Goldman: A video on etching shows you how to run the etcher, or shows you that this is etching, but it doesn’t really show you how to control the etcher parameters for a particular job.

Bigelow: Correct, and everyone controls things differently. Everyone needs to control things. It’s important to know that you need to do that. Now, you’ve got to go back into your own company’s recipe book and say, “Follow our procedures.” Because every company does it a little bit differently, and every job is a little bit different, but it’s a good overview of the industry and how things go together.

We also have had many conversations about what happens to product once it leaves ourbuilding as we’re not an assembler—especially when dealing with thermal shocks. A circuit board is going to go through a lot of thermal shocks between the time it comes into our facility as a piece of bare laminate and the time we fabricate it. We throw it through our thermal shocks, then it goes out the door to a UPS truck, into a warehouse, into the assembly plant, and then they operate on it, and in many cases, much more severe thermal shocks, such as putting it through their wave solder four or five times, because of the nature of what is going on.

Goldman: People might have more of an appreciation of what they’re doing if they know where it’s going.

Bigelow: Absolutely. They also need to know that it’s going to go through some rough processes. If things aren’t right, it’s not going to get better, folks (laughs).

Goldman: You’re not insisting on this training just to make life difficult for them. You’ve got some real reasons behind it. Any other thoughts on this subject of employees, hiring and training, and the difficulties? How about finding process engineers? Same deal?

Bigelow: Same deal. Every process engineer wants to work for the biggest company they can, and have a staff job rather than be active on the shop floor.

Goldman: They all want to be managers, right?

Bigelow: This industry is an on-the-shop-floor manufacturing type of industry. We’re a handson industry. I do think, and I’ve had a lot of conversations with my management team, with other companies, that this industry is getting long in the tooth. We all have the same issue where every company has a great team of people that has tremendous tribal knowledge from years of experience. They’re all at the stage, or reaching the stage, where they want to look at retirement. The industry is going to have an unprecedented number of hiring needs going forward, probably around the same numbers as in the ‘70s, when the industry was really in a growth mode.

We all need to get good people. We need to have people who can learn, and can understand the complexity of a circuit board. One of the things I love about this industry is that it looks so simple, but it is not.

Goldman: It is not. Of course, you’ve got that moving target as things become more complicated and more complex.

Bigelow: Everything tightens up, and so you now have to be making 3-mil line and space, which is kind of a standard in the industry, where it was seven or eight mils 10–15 years ago. That keeps changing, and yet you’re using, in many cases, the same equipment. You have to adapt that. If you’re replacing with newer equipment, which does things “automagically,” it creates an opportunity for, “What else can you do with it?” which is a new process. It’s a very dynamic environment.

Goldman: On the issue of training, there was a community college, Saddlebrook I think, that had PCB type classes.

Bigelow: I’m not familiar with that. But again, 20 years ago, when I was in Connecticut we put together an educational collaborative. That educational collaborative was with a combination of companies that were assembly companies, OEMs, and we were fabricators. We had a couple of machining companies there as well. We worked with a local community college, we took IPC courses, and we took whatever the machining association courses were. We took things like English as a second language, blueprints for idiots, and things like that.

We would hold classes with instructors, and we would do it at one of the collaborative member companies. Each company could send one or two people, so you didn’t have to clear off your shop floor to get certified in various areas.

We did that, and the community college was getting rather excited about this being a possible curriculum base. Unfortunately, at that point in time, it wasn’t a large enough need for that community college to continue. There were other needs that they had. As our industry is so geographically spread out, today it would be very difficult to do such a thing.

Goldman: So many shops have closed too. Now it gets even more difficult, because there isn’t that little community of printed circuit board facilities within a reasonable radius.

Bigelow: Unless you can get someone like the University of Phoenix to do something, where it’s an online course, and then you might have an option, because it’s no longer contingent upon being within a local area of the employer.

Goldman: Yes, then you don’t have to worry about the geographical area. That’s an interesting thought. That’s something the IPC could perhaps spearhead.

Bigelow: Absolutely. Once you have the learning base, and you have it digitized, that’s how you could distribute it.

Goldman: Whenever that person wants to take a particular class, there it is. It’s not like everybody meets at a certain time, necessarily.

Bigelow: None of us want to be like a Foxconn, where if your employees aren’t working, they have to be studying. But the other side of hiring people is making them realize that, “I don’t care what job you take, whether you’re a banker, whether you’re in construction, or whether you are in electronic manufacturing. You need to be on your own, spending some time to better educate, better train yourself.” That’s very important.

Goldman: You don’t move up automatically. Always be bettering yourself. Make yourself as valuable as possible to the company that you work for.

Bigelow: It’s a big issue, and it’s an issue which we’re going to have to deal with and will be hearing a lot more about in the next few years. It’s one that is a common challenge for everyone in the industry. All through the supply chain we have that same issue.

Goldman: Thanks so much, Peter. I really appreciate talking with you on this.

Bigelow: Thank you, Patty.


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