'Coatings Uncoated!' Webinar Series and Automotive Industry Trends

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Phil Kinner, global business/technical director of Electrolube’s coatings division, tells Pete Starkey about the positive impact of the “Coatings Uncoated!” webinar series and comments on how the company has responded to the changes in the focus of the automotive industry.

Pete Starkey: I’m delighted to have the opportunity to speak with Phil Kinner, who I normally speak with much closer to home in the U.K. or in Europe. Phil is the global business and technical director of the coatings division with Electrolube. Phil, it’s great to have the opportunity to see you over here. Welcome, and thank you for sparing some time to talk with us.

Phil Kinner: That’s my pleasure.

Starkey: Phil, you’re seriously considered as the leading authority and information provider on the uses and applications of conformal coatings. You’re a popular columnist and familiar face to I-Connect007’s readers. And you’re now setting a new trend with the “Coatings Uncoated!” series of five-minute webinars, looking at conformal coating chemistries in further detail from technical and practical points of view.

Kinner: It’s an amazing opportunity to me, and it’s pretty humbling, what you were saying. The truth is I’ve just been doing this for a long time. I’ve seen a lot and done a lot, trying to convey some of the complexities—and maybe the nuances—of coating and help get across the message that the material is one part of it. The process that’s applying the material is important. And then—on the design side of things and how designers put their boards together—all of these things combine to give the end result and the ultimate reliability. I found out that it’s really hard to say things that I want to say in five-minute webinars, so there may be a second series in there somewhere.

Starkey: I think you’re very modest. Your webinars are brilliant. And, as you say, you’ve been in the business for a long time from a product development point of view, an applications development point of view, and a technical service point of view, and you’ve gathered an enormous amount of experience. And, to your credit, you’re more than happy to share that experience with people.

Kinner: I think that if you’re not prepared to share, then there’s no real point in having all of that experience. Every time I go to a show, I’m always surprised at the fact that there are not as many young people coming into the industry as one would expect. It concerns me that I go to a lot of the IPC meetings, and I’m an old guy, but I’m one of the youngest guys in the room. At some point, there’s going to be a lot of experience that disappears. I’m not 100% sure that people have made the necessary preparations to pass on those things. History has a habit of repeating itself, so getting out there and trying to share some of these things helps upcoming generations and stops—or eases—that transition.

Starkey: There’s an effort and a lot of concentration from lots of directions now encouraging STEM people, IPC Emerging Engineers, etc. It has probably come a little late in the day, but there is a big awareness that we are an aging industry, and we have to make the industry sufficiently attractive to encourage young people to join it rather than taking their talents elsewhere.

Kinner: That’s right. Certainly, in England, where we’re from, the emphasis really is on accountancy, management consultancy, and financial services—things where you could add a lot of money without doing very much.

Starkey: Unless you have people physically making things, you’re not generating any money to manage.

Kinner: You’re quite right. Some other countries may have done a better job of ensuring they have the manufacturing and not just outsourcing all of those issues somewhere else. It’s never too late. As you said, I’m in a very niche part of this industry, so I don’t expect to see too many of the new emerging engineers. There’s surface-mount, soldering, and design; everyone does that. Coating, plotting, and thermal management—those kinds of things—are more niche. Maybe we’ll see that come through in time, but you’re right. Making it more attractive is definitely a good thing.

Starkey: I’ll repeat that I think you’re very modest. You have an enormous contribution to make and an enormous base of knowledge and experience to disseminate and use to encourage these younger people in the industry.

Kinner: If we manage that, then good.

Starkey: We see a lot of your new conformal coating products that are UV-cured, solvent-free. They’re VOC-free, harsh environment, high resistance to cracking on thermal cycling, and fast curing. There have been some enormous changes in automotive, electric vehicles, and LED applications. What’s your observation in that direction?

Kinner: It’s very surprising to me that what we see at the moment was the focus for the last 10–15 years, which was very much on diesel and gas engines, and making them more efficient and more powerful as well. Now, that has completely changed, almost overnight, to be a real focus on electrification and electric vehicles. That brings some new applications and challenges, but a lot of the applications for our products are to do with sensors, cameras, entertainment systems, and controls that will be required whether the car is ultimately a combustion engine or not.

Starkey: Not necessarily directly related to the mechanics of the motorcar but more to all of the electronic peripherals of the motorcar.

Kinner: From that point of view, we don’t see too many significant changes, but what concerns me more is the autonomous vehicles that people have been talking about and are starting to become a reality. The reality of a lot of these business models—where cars drive you around, and they’re on-demand to pick you up, take you somewhere, and then pick somebody else up—is it’s a different mission profile. The lifetimes that we’ve become used to—and have maybe become comfortable with—are going to be pushed out. When I was a kid, if a car in England did 100,000 miles, it was done. Now, I know people that drive their cars 500,000 miles, and they still work.

Starkey: That reliability tends to be taken for granted becomes a really critical consideration.

Kinner: Absolutely. If the car drives itself, then you’re probably not paying attention, and getting in to override any problems is a challenge. For me, that’s something that’s going to require a lot of changes to the way that we test and the way that we think about product development.

Starkey: Because a lot of—and possibly the majority of—your product range is directed at improving reliability.

Kinner: On safety-critical things, so that becomes more important, the less the driver is involved in the operation of the vehicle. It’s an interesting time. And it’s good because, as you were saying, I’ve been doing this a long time, and it’s nice to see new challenges and opportunities to make a difference and do something that helps move the industry.

Starkey: We are confident that you will be helping the industry to move on for a long time to come. Phil, thanks for joining us. It’s great to have the opportunity to talk to you.

Kinner: It’s always a pleasure. Thanks, Pete.

To watch this video interview from IPC APEX EXPO 2020, click here.

Download your free copy of Electrolube's book, The Printed Circuit Assembler's Guide to… Conformal Coatings for Harsh Environments, and watch the micro webinar series “Coatings Uncoated!


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