Nolan’s Notes: Where Are the Golden Eggs?

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PCB-May2022-cover250.jpgWe all went through the simultaneous transitions in our industry in the last three years. To be clear, I’m referring to supply chain issues due to the pandemic, manufacturing channel resiliency, parts shortages, people shortages, governmental investment in infrastructure, and above all, a huge demand for manufacturing capacity. All that demand, all those hurdles, and the all the constraints can leave one a little dizzy.

The reality is that we’ll feel both short- and long-term impacts from these trends. Over the past couple years, the I-Connect007 magazines have covered these topics extensively. I encourage you to go back through our coverage. The U.S. government is following the lead of other nations to fund domestic expansion of semiconductor production, and now printed circuit boards as well. Kudos to IPC and the nascent PCBAA for their work to educate the government agencies on the importance of PCBs in the strategic plan.

It almost goes without saying, but we’re all in business to make money, and our industry is evolving in overdrive right now. The money is coming from new sources; increasingly it’s coming back home to Europe and North America. Even if you’re not thinking about expanding your capabilities, you’re probably thinking about how to expand your capacity, or you’re sorting out how to respond to the human capital challenges that came to a near crisis with the pandemic. If your facility is looking to respond to customer demand for new technologies, then you’re just adding that to the list, right? A brand-new additive process line, for example, may meet your customer demands, but it doesn’t run itself. We simply must look at our business processes and change them to meet the times.

So, what to fund first? Where do I start my investment in my company? Do I fix the staffing issue, so I have all my capacity back? Do I remove process steps with new equipment so that I don’t need as much staff, and reclaim valuable floor space I can use later for new capabilities? Perhaps my company needs to follow yet a different path? Where exactly is that golden egg in my facility?

With all these opportunities (demands?) on our investment budget, what provides the greatest return on investment? Where is the hottest area that will maximize the payback to help fund further investment? As is often the case in this complex, constantly-shifting real world, the answer isn’t really that simple. As we spoke to the experts, we frequently heard, “Well, it depends.” Everyone’s mileage will vary, of course. What we determined was that, while there wasn’t just one singular hotspot for ROI, there were a few that bubbled up to the surface.

The team at Technica, for example, shared their perspective on the “golden egg” potential they see in the marketplace. That conversation shed light on inkjet printing technology throughout the fabrication process, direct imaging, and robotic automation. Our wide-ranging discussion with all4-PCB’s Torsten Reckert also highlighted automation and direct imaging solutions but added waste management systems as an unexpected ROI hotspot. We went deeper into specifics as well. For example, Sunny Patel detailed Candor’s initial experience with its brand new Indubond induction press. I’m also including a discussion with Atlantic Microtool’s Neil Robinson and Bruce Siemering, who joined Chemcut’s Christopher Bonsell and Jerry Reitz to discuss a highly approachable robotic material handler. Perhaps you saw this unit in action in the Chemcut booth at IPC APEX EXPO 2022? Depending upon your own organization, there ought to be at least one golden egg opportunity for you out of these discussions.

Not to be outdone, of course, our columnists weigh in on ROI-complementary topics. Todd Kolmodin looks into the future of electrical test. Luca Gautero slices his way through PCB cross sections. Our young engineer columnist, Page Fiet, shares simple secrets to make mentorships more effective. Christopher Bonsell examines the interaction between wet processes and Industry 4.0, and Happy Holden’s column on copper etchant regeneration reminds us that there is ROI in cost containment as well. Finally, Travis Kelly’s PCBAA column details some of the market forces in play now.

There is much to be optimistic about in PCB fabrication right now, and those of us who capitalize on the coming confluence of demand and revitalization support, will thrive in the coming years. So, what is your first golden egg?

You can always contact us with feedback or topic suggestions. Your comments are part of the conversation driving our industry forward. I hope to hear from you.

Preview or download your PDF copy of the May 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine today!


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