Alun Morgan on the EIPC Summer Conference 2016
Each year, the EIPC puts on two conferences for their members. I recently attended their summer conference in Edinburgh and had a chance to speak with EIPC President Alun Morgan about the topics covered at the conference and the connectedness and networking that is always present at EIPC events.
Barry Matties: Alun, we’re here at the EIPC Summer Conference in Scotland, and it’s raining.
Alun Morgan: It's hard to tell when summer is in Scotland. Maybe it just rains a bit less.
Matties: First, let's just talk a little bit about the EIPC. What's your mission, goal, and charter?
Morgan: Our job here basically is to support the electronic spaces in Europe. That's our primary function. We deal largely with the PCB sector, but also their suppliers and designers now more and more, and also assemblers. We believe there is a unique value in Europe, especially from a design point of view. We understand that volume manufacturing for our sector is now not so much in Europe, but we think there are unique areas that we can work on.
Our job really is to help people survive in that climate and support the members that we have in the industry, and we have a couple companies where there are members that have different needs. Some are small, some are large, some are OEMs, some are PCB manufacturers, but all of them operate in Europe, and all of us have a duty to try to help each other in Europe to make what we have better and stronger.
Matties: You're talking a lot about Europe and this is my first time attending your conference. It's truly a global event when you look at the regions that are being represented here.
Morgan: Yes, I say Europe, but of course we have a lot of North American visitors coming over here. We have a North American board shop here. We have a Japanese manufacturer with their American representatives over here as well. We have Canadian visitors.
Matties: I think you have some Russians.
Morgan: Yes, we have some Russians. We have some Greeks further south in Europe. We have the Germans here, Dutch, Belgians, and French. We have the whole range. We are European, and we see it that way, but actually it doesn't limit us to be just in Europe. The last time we had a conference we had also some Asian visitors as well. Because I think one thing that we certainly see is when guys do electronics in Europe, they do the design preps here, they may make small volumes, prototypes and that scale, and they get the product approved, but when the volumes come, we don't have the infrastructure anymore to produce or deliver the volume.
There's always a linking required somewhere, and the linking can be typically to Asian countries, and I think it's important that this can be facilitated. We of course represent it around the world as well. We are part of the World Electronic Circuits Council. We have links across the world. We go to all the major exhibitions in the world, and we do actually help people find partners.
I think this linking and this kind of interface between different technologies and even different volume scales is something that we can facilitate, and we have done it with quite a few. There is one member we have who actually said if he hadn't done this, he would not have survived in the business. He would have had no chance. But because he had found a partner in Asia, they worked together, and now he can deal with the needs of his customer from the prototyping, design, through to the full production scale. That way, he keeps the customer and everybody is satisfied.
I think knowing the positioning is crucial for people in Europe, and I think possibly all around the world everyone needs to know what they do and do what they do well, and what they don't do, find someone else to do it for them.
Matties: You really get that sense of connectedness here for sure. The program itself has a nice range of topics, from Walt's market report to back drilling.
Morgan: Yes, and that's also crucial for us. We try to have at least as two threads. One of these is the economic and markets side, so the commercial side, and then one which is technology-driven, and we always do that. Walt is a long-term and fantastic contributor to the EIPC. He's on our board as well. Walt always gives us a really great view of the market. He focuses of course on Europe when he comes to see us, but he does give us the world view as well. We know where we sit in the world dynamic. That's very, very important for us. On the technology side, we have a diverse range of papers as well.
You will have noticed there were some universities presenting some really academic research, and I'm very grateful to Martin Goosey for bringing that aspect into the EIPC.
Matties: Yeah, I think you had three or four from universities here.
Morgan: We did. There are quite a few students as well, and we asked students to come to the conference for free. We invite them, and then they can come and join in. We're really keen to involve the younger people and those with the new ideas. You saw the work on the deep eutectic solvents for use in PCB surface finishing and electronics assembly. That was fascinating. This is innovative, and it really is something that can make a difference. In the past we may have focused more on process optimizations, but now we're looking at trying to always have something in there that's brand new and may lead to other developments as well, along with press optimization and things like back drilling. Back drilling is new or newish, but that was a paper on existing technology.
Other ones you've heard today were on technology that doesn't exist yet or that’s just coming to fruition, like the stuff on biosensors and the micro-fluid management, where there’s actually a lab on the chip or a lab on the board. It’s fascinating work. That was very interesting, because after the paper somebody came up to the speaker and said, "I know somebody is working on that as well, actually in Germany. We've got a colleague there." And someone else added that they knew somebody else, too. So actually we've decided now, based on that, to do a seminar and a workshop and bring together academia and industrial partners to see whether we can move this on to the next stage. That was a really great result. I was delighted with that.
Matties: I bet. I know you have your forms where the audience can rank them and I wouldn't be surprised if the ones from universities are among the highest rated.
Morgan: Probably, I think it depends. I get to see all those, so we'll see. It depends on who's here. One thing we have to think about and that we've discussed a lot in the last couple of days with different people is how the PCB is the interconnect, and it’s seen as a component and a boring thing, but actually this isn't true at all. The interconnect is fascinating. Those of us who know about this really find it interesting still.
The thing we have to do is actually get people to understand this is an interesting industry to be in. It is sexy. It is interesting, and it will give you a very fulfilling career. I think many people don't see it as that, so we see our role as somebody who can actually outreach to get younger people from universities to come in to talk to us, and then us going to talk to them as well. We are doing some of that now, like the presenter from Stevenage Circuits who's worked for Coventry University through the Innovate program in the UK. She's 26 years old. She said to me last night that she was one of the youngest here. I said, "Yes, you are, but there's no reason why there shouldn't be others."
Actually, there were some other students in the room as well. If we can engage people in that kind of age range in our industry, then perhaps we will be able to rekindle something in Europe. Because if you go to China, the place is full of young people who are really actively involved. They're doing great things. Here, I think people have to understand the hardware is really interesting as well. The software maybe is seen as more sexy, but actually the hardware is where it's all happening. That's where the innovation technology is really occurring, and the advances in hardware are phenomenal with the chip packaging, the interconnect and how it all works and fits together.
We've decided to try and work on that, and actually just try to at least explain that to people. Then we can see if we can encourage more people to come along and get involved. We thought even of having a young board for the EIPC. We have a board of the great and the good, as many organizations do, but why not have a board of all people under 30 years old that can be like a shadow board that can meet and just say, "Hang on a minute. We see where you're going, but have you thought of this?"
Matties: That's a wonderful idea.
Morgan: That was an idea put forward yesterday by one of the board members, and I think that's a great idea. We invited the young lady from Coventry University to come and join us straightaway. I think she probably can’t say no now. But we have to hear their voice and we have to act on what they tell us as well.
Matties: Good leadership would look to that. We’ve talked about the presentations, but the other part of this whole event is the networking side. I don't know how you've done it in the past, but yesterday was a nice field trip out to the Falkirk wheel and then into the scotch tasting room. That was great social event.
Morgan: The networking is a huge part of the event. As I mentioned, even just talking to most people, we certainly find a reason to have another symposium. Many people find connections here, and they find things that are good for their business as well. For me, networking has got to be at least half of the event, so we have to have opportunity for that and to have a social time as well. We like to work hard, but I think we also like to enjoy ourselves.
We're in Scotland, which is my adopted country. I've lived here for nearly 20 years now. My great grandmother was a Scot. My children were both brought up here, so I feel pretty Scottish, and I wanted to at least have a good time in Edinburgh. Edinburgh is the capital city. It's a beautiful city, a wonderful city. We do have some whisky, which we quite enjoy. The Whisky Heritage Center we went to is a place I did go to many years ago, and it's a great venue. They did such a good job. I was so pleased. They looked after us so well. They gave us a very cool geo-atmosphere where we could all sit and chat together and have a very nice evening. Actually, I think this helps to bond us as well, because we have people here from the whole supply chain. There are designers here, assemblers, suppliers and materials, and PCB companies.
Actually, just to have the chance to get together and talk about the issues that we face and what we can do together I think is a huge benefit. I really like to do that. We always have had that at the EIPC, way before I got involved. The EIPC has always had a social program and the so-called bonus program, so we try to do something interesting and go and see something. It can even be a part of what we do. We went to CERN some years ago. Last year we went to see the Eurofighter production line in Munich. But it doesn't need to be electronics or industry related. It could be something else. Something that's interesting and that people can see. Yesterday it was an engineering visit. It was a piece of unique engineering.
Matties: Quite remarkable.
Morgan: It was good to do that, and I enjoyed doing that as well. I think everyone at least could appreciate the engineering design and skill that went into producing that.
Matties: Your team here has done a great job.
Morgan: Without question.
Matties: And now you have one retiring.
Morgan: Yes, we do. Sonja is leaving after 14 years. We have basically two employed staff.
Matties: So you've lost half your team?
Morgan: We have lost half the team, yes. They're punching above their weight so much though. You cannot believe what they do for the things they organize. We will manage somehow. Back when Sonja was pregnant, we had a lady who used to work for us previously, Carol, come in. She's going to come back and work with us on events. Actually we have another couple of people as well. We're going to probably bring more people in to deal with the events, and then have less staff when we haven't got events. We have two big events a year, the two conferences, but then we have a series of workshops. This can be between 10 or 20 workshops as well. We're going to focus so much more on events now than having a flat staff.
Matties: It was well-organized and everything worked well. Congratulations.
Morgan: Thank you. They do a great job. We're so happy to have them and we're lucky that we have them, really.
Matties: Any final thoughts that you want to share with the industry?
Morgan: That's a good question. We have the FED present here. The FED is a very large design organization in Germany. We had Dieter Weiss here, who has been an industry figure for many, many years. I think probably what I would say is I'm very happy to form partnerships and form collaborations with other organizations and try to work together. In Europe, we have many different cultures. I'm sure you know our history. It's sometimes easy to be separate and just do our own thing, but I think the days are now where we have to be seen as a European community actually working together to solve issues that we all face.
We're seeing a lot more of that now. We have such an engagement from the FED, which is such a great engagement to our organization. We are now going to go to their conference in Bonn. We're going to have an English track, which is the first time they've done that. They also want to just move their boundaries a bit, because they have been German focused, which is great, but now they want to work with us to expand that a bit. We also have other partnerships we're trying to link in. I think probably if there is something I'd like to say it’s let's try and work together more in our regions. That would of course include North America as well, I'd say. We know there's a juggernaut in China, chugging away, producing nearly half the boards in the world, and Asia overall does 90%.
It doesn't mean there's nothing for us to do. There's a lot for us to do. Even if it's only a small percentage now of the market, we still have great innovation here. We have things that we can do, things that we must do. I do think going forward together is the right way, and that's what I would like to build on further.
Matties: Great. Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
Morgan: You too Barry, thank you.
Click here for the slide show of the event.