The Best It’s Ever Been, Every Year: The Goal for IPC, Part 2


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Editor's Note: This is the continuation of the article, "The Best It’s Ever Been, Every Year: The Goal for IPC, Part 1," published yesterday.

In the continuation of this interview, John Mitchell and Phil Carmichael discuss the areas of focus for IPC in the upcoming year, first and foremost being education and welcoming a new generation into the industry.

Mitchell: In the PCB area there's still that sense. IPC has done a lot of very effective things to help PCB business in the U.S., but the PCB business in the U.S. will likely not return to the days gone by.

Matties: One of the greatest concerns and issues that we hear about is communication.

Mitchell: Patty loves saying to me, "So, John what have you done for PCB lately?" And I'm able to tell her, but she still believes we're not doing enough for PCB. At our IMPACT event in D.C. last May, there was an attendee who said, "Most of what IPC does is for the PCB industry, what have you done for EMS?" And I said, "I really want you two to walk and talk together for a while." (Laughs)

Matties: Great. Let's talk about IMPACT. A lot of work going on in government relations and I think John Hasselmann…

Mitchell: John Hasselmann just took another position, congratulations to him, we wish him well. We're in the middle of hiring. I've seen some amazing candidates so far. My hope is, if all goes well, we'll have new person by APEX EXPO.

Matties: The thing that struck me from all of Patty's interviews at IMPACT is the change in attitude in Washington, "Oh, you're in manufacturing? Come here, we want to talk to you. How can we help you?" Talk to me a little bit about that.

Mitchell: It's refreshing. It's nice. Especially representing manufacturers. I think there's a lot of people who always cared about manufacturing, it's just very public right now. The press has picked it up. It wasn't sexy enough before, and now it is moving that way. What got Trump elected was manufacturing, really.

Matties: Jobs.

Mitchell: It was a key factor. We have the attention of the administration because, guess what? IPC members in the U.S. are manufacturing, they're doing technology, and it's right up their alley. But the same thing is true in Europe. There's the Skills Agenda over there. I was on a panel in Brussels and we talked about it a year ago and they face the same issues. In Asia, I was meeting with universities and they said, "We have too many people going into this field, not enough into that field." It's a problem everywhere. Manufacturing is necessary. We can't have all this cool stuff, all the necessary stuff, without manufacturing happening. We're just glad to be part of an industry that's getting a little more attention. I've been pleased with the attention we're getting within Brussels and then in DC, and somewhat in Beijing as well. We haven't had as much effort in Beijing as it's a little different structure there. But, kudos to the Board of Directors, when I joined five, six years ago almost, one of the things they said is, "Help the membership understand the benefits of working with governments and how it can help their business."

We've invested significant resources and funds, that's why there is a vice president of GR at IPC now. We’re focusing on GR because it's a challenge and it's also an opportunity. We're trying to grab the opportunity to educate and then impact positive change for the industry.

Matties: From the efforts there, are there any tangible takeaways that have already manifested from the effort?

Mitchell: Oh sure. There was some legislation on the Toxic Substances Control Act, which was almost 40 years old and referencing out-of-date information. IPC, through our efforts, and working with the House Energy & Commerce Committee, was able to have specific language included in the bill, which became law. At the EPA, we had a meeting with Secretary Pruitt, directly as part of IMPACT, where we could say, "Here are our top three issues the EPA needs to work on." And they're paying attention. In Brussels, we're working on RoHS and REACH and ratcheting up the awareness on chemicals and their impacts from a science-based perspective. We're at the table more because our presence in Brussels is keeping us and our members informed of what's going on. We're having an impact and a more effective exchange as well. Just lots of good dialogue and exchange of ideas and information.

Matties: In general, a lot of deregulation is going on as well.

Mitchell: In the U.S., yes. But, even though there's deregulation in the U.S., most of our members manufacture for the world. So even if you eliminated something like conflict minerals in the U.S., Europe has adopted it. We'll fight the good fight, but we also have to go in eyes-wide-open. Unless you win a global battle, you really haven't changed too much because people don't want to make a product for the U.S. and then a different one for Europe.

Matties: APEX EXPO is right around the corner. How is that going?

Mitchell: It's going great. The exhibit floor is almost completely sold out. We have the problem of trying to find more space. It's a good problem. The team has done a great job working with people and obviously the value is showing in an up year. Very similar to HKPCA. The number of exhibitors at the HKPCA & IPC Show actually went down this year. That's because they all bought bigger booths and there wasn't enough space for the smaller guys to have booths anymore. So, the number went down slightly. But the total size of the show and the footprint went up.

Matties: And the attendees...I don't recall seeing such a large crowd in recent years.

Mitchell: Yes, the market being up has been very good for shows.

Matties: You've been at your job coming up on six years. What are some of the highlights for you?

Mitchell: All of it. This is a great industry and it’s a honor to be part of it. I'm having a good time. I'm really excited about where we're taking education. That's a passion of mine, and I'm pleased the Board is supporting the efforts there as it's an industry need. With that need, we're trying to work with governments to do it because a lot of them feel like it's their role, but often they're too slow and our industry needs help now. We're going to move forward, and hopefully we'll get some assistance along the way from governments all over the world; it’s not just the U.S. government we're looking to. We were talking to Indian government agencies last week about how they can help us and they said, "We can help!" They're interested in helping and so we're trying to be, not only the catalyst, but the vehicle to realize that vision. Education is one thing. I'm really excited about the team I brought in. Oh, here's Phil Carmichael, just as I started talking about our great team. Perfect timing.

Matties: Phil, have a seat. We were just commenting on reaching a thousand members here in China. Fantastic. Can you give us some thoughts on that?

Phil Carmichael: Well, one of the things is that we have recruited a really good team here. And it's the team that does it, not me personally. One of the differences that we have with IPC in China or Asia versus in North America is that there's a lot more face-to-face interface, and so we have a team of people who go and talk to our members proactively. Every other month, we have somebody going to talk to them to make sure they're satisfied, that they know about the next meetings, do they want to get on a new standards committee? And that process has been ongoing now. This is the fifth year. That's what's really driven growth, and the fact that success also drives success.  

Although China can now be considered a developed country by some people, I don't think the U.N designates them as “developed” yet. One of the challenges for international companies is that the China market still equates cost with value, and that's always a challenge. If I'm going to become an IPC member and I'm going to spend the same amount of money that I spend in the U.S. to do that, what am I getting for my money? And they want to actually see hard, tangible stuff. So that's always our challenge is to be able to do that. I think that the flipside is that I recall looking at some internal surveys from IPC that say, "One of the major benefits to a North American IPC member is networking."

Mitchell: It's either number one or number two.

Carmichael: And they're trying to say, "There's no way I'm going to give you my network because that's my intellectual property. Why would I want to do that? That's not in my interest." So, we must craft the value proposition a little bit differently in China and in Asia than we do in the U.S. But we could do that, and because of that we've been able to become successful.

Matties: And the value proposition really is around education?

Carmichael: Yes, partly around education, because one of the differences between IPC in the U.S. and here is that the education in the U.S. is being outsourced to certification centers. Here we do it through IPC China. Being able to do it ourselves allows us more flexibility in dealing with the customer. IPC staff are well-trained and we're very confident in the quality they give and it's in our own environment. It's in an IPC facility with IPC equipment, so we know that they're getting the right thing. Our member customers appreciate that.

Matties: The people that are going through the training, are they seeing personal gains in terms of compensation? I know with the solder competition, if you win you get status, you get higher wages.

Carmichael: That depends on the company, but a lot of times that's the case. One of the interesting things that happens in our training is that everybody who comes to our training has a technical question in their back pocket they come up with and their bosses sent them to this training understanding they are going to get this question answered at some point.

Mitchell: And only good, qualified training centers can do that. If you don't have good people they can't answer those questions. If someone is just teaching to the book, you're not going to get as much value. You have to have a real talent teaching.

Matties: What about online? Is that something that's becoming bigger here? For many years, people said that the online classroom and environment was not going to work.

Carmichael: It's still in transition here. I mean, there are some things that I would call repetitive and maybe not as technical that people are willing to do online. We did our own survey looking at this and there are some things that people don’t want to do online and with the example I just gave about bringing something in my back pocket to ask, that's hard to do online.

Matties: We were talking about APEX EXPO; how are the technical sessions going?

Mitchell: Very well. In fact, we're adding a track we've never had before. It's more U.S. defense supplier-focused. Some of the regulations required to do business with the defense industry have changed. These changes are critical to the point where you won't be able to be a supplier anymore unless you’re compliant with them as of January 1, 2018. We're partnering with Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane to help us formulate a track around understanding these requirements. I believe there will be a Wisdom Wednesday in January describing that track. We’re holding the same track twice that day, so the morning will be the same thing as the afternoon in hopes that you can catch one or the other. I'm excited about that because so many people in the U.S. do defense work, especially in the PCB arena—this is important. If you don't have the right systems in place you could lose your defense business. We needed to inform them and NSWC Crane has been great in working with us to develop this track.

Matties: I don't know all the history of IPC, but it sounds like this could be described as the best it's ever been.

Mitchell: I hope every year it's the best it's ever been. I still hope I look back in five years and say, “Wow, that was an average year compared to now” because we're doing so many more things for the industry.

Matties: Yeah, but what you're doing is laying foundation of education and it all starts there. You know, the standards, etc., none of that matters unless we have a workforce that’s educated.

Mitchell: I use the analogy of going to school. You can buy the textbooks, but until you know what's in the textbook it's just going to sit on the shelf and it's similar for standards. The standards, if you buy them, that's great. It doesn't mean you're using them. You can get trained to them. And even if you're trained to them, if you don't have enough people trained to them you're not necessarily sure your own process is using them throughout. You need somebody to come in and assess first, if you've been trained and then if that training is being implemented in the processes and procedures. IPC does that through our validation and our standards gap analysis programs.

Matties: John, thank you so much. It's great to catch up with you. Phil, thank you for joining in, as well.

Mitchell: Thanks, Barry. Always a pleasure.

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