Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Pietro Vergine, the chair of the leadership team for the new Italian IPC Design Chapter. Pietro is an MIT who has more than a decade of experience in electronics manufacturing and is the president of Leading Edge, a Milan-based EDA solutions provider that also focuses on design, verification, and analysis at both the IC and PCB level. Pietro is passionate about training and design engineering education, and as part of Advance Rework Technology, Leading Edge has been an active certified IPC training center. Pietro was one of the first volunteers to open a pilot IPC Design chapter.
His combined expertise and drive made him a perfect candidate for leadership within IPC Design, and he accepted an offer to join the Design Community Leadership—IPC Design’s panel of industry leaders—in early May. In early July, the Italian IPC Design Chapter opened its virtual doors to affiliations, with designers from all over Italy invited to take part. I spoke with Pietro about the design space in Italy, as well as his plans for the Italian IPC Design Chapter.
Patrick Crawford: Hello, Pietro. Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions. I know that this is a busy—or should I say insane—time for everyone. Let’s start off with the big picture. Can you tell me a little bit about what the design landscape looks like in Italy, in general? What industries are most common?
Pietro Vergine: Hi, Patrick. We have big companies as well as a lot of mid- and small-sized companies working in different domains, such as aerospace, automotive, consumer, and IC manufacturing. There is also military, but that is less than the others. There was—and still is—a tendency for big companies to use design service houses for PCB design. In the past, this was to satisfy the lack of internal designers, and that is still the case. However, they also do this because they feel that this reduces the cost of the design. This isn’t always true, in my opinion.
Crawford: There’s definitely an opportunity for smaller design companies to be successful as well as the larger companies; it isn’t only locked up in-house with the major players. That’s a good segue to my next question. If there are a lot of smaller design houses, then there are probably a lot of designers who may not have an equal understanding or access to training across all of them. To that end, in your opinion, what do board designers need across Italy or at least in your area in Milan? What problems might be solved by better cooperation across these smaller companies and designers?
Vergine: If you ask designers in general, they rarely admit to their limits. But I see that there is a lack of knowledge in terms of the flow of design information from the designer to the manufacturer. There are different scenarios. As for the big companies, most of them are fractured into divisions, and who does the schematic is very often not involved in the decisions regarding the PCB. You can imagine what may happen.
Crawford: Absolutely. That’s a lot of emails to solve a simple problem if it does get solved before a design is completed.
Vergine: In the case of smaller companies, unless they do very high-end products, they normally rely on what the PCB manufacturer or assembler tells them regarding the materials and assembly processes. In some cases, the designer does not even know the potential issues they may face until they do a functionality test, or worse, it only randomly works. Of course, I am telling you the worst-case scenario. We have excellent designers, and they are usually extreme experts.
Crawford: I understand, and I would hate to generalize an entire nation of board designers. But I also understand that there can be issues with the information flow, and I think that this is common in most markets—not only in Italy. There are technical solutions to this, including standards that streamline how complex information is transmitted within the supply chain. An example of that would be the IPC-2581 DPMX standard for communicating design-to-fab product information. Speaking of communication, how well does the supply chain play nice? Is there a lot of competition?
Vergine: Because the market is relatively small, competition is very high, and I do not only mean from the competing design services point of view. There is also a bit of competition within the larger companies them-
selves: “What I know is my power, so why should I share it with you?” Do you see what I mean?
Crawford: I do, and that is definitely not unique to Italy. However, I’m not sure how we can standardize ourselves out of that one. But maybe through education on sound design techniques and methodology that is available to everyone, regardless of their station at their respective job, we can decrease that delta in understanding and make all designers more competitive. During our Design Community Leadership meetings, we have all agreed that this kind of education doesn’t necessarily have to be didactic; there are opportunities to enhance your skills through an open forum with other designers, experiential learning, etc. That brings me to the topic of the day—the Italian IPC Design Chapter. How can a cooperative program like IPC Design help designers in Italy?
Vergine: As we only started advertising our chapter a couple of weeks ago, we are still seeing affiliations and have not had the opportunity to meet. However, as I ask people to contact me in order to affiliate, the feedback I am receiving is that this is really a laudable initiative. For the reasons that I mentioned, the designer community is missing the networking and sharing of information to make everyone competitive. Knowledge is power.
Crawford: I couldn’t agree more, and that’s why I’m so invested in this. I’m really happy to see that you are invested in this, too. Can you share some of your goals for your chapter?
Vergine: Of course. I have a lot of ideas and expectations about the chapter, but I’d like to start working with the affiliates and discover their needs. I realized that what makes a lot of sense to me is not always exactly what others are looking for, or at least they know that they have a specific need but they might not admit it. Personally, I am coming from a place of the electrical design, so for me, the design is the place to start to create culture, methodology, standards, etc. Last but not least, I would like to involve schools and universities, but probably in a way that is different from the STEM programs that work great in the United States but are difficult to implement here. There is a different culture in Italy.
Crawford: Being adaptive to the needs of your area is what we’re looking for, so that’s great. As to your last point, what works within the United States even varies from state to state and across colleges and universities, so we’re constantly trying to adapt to those sub-cultures. I think that the IPC Education Foundation (IPCEF) does a really good job at that, and I am working on integrating IPC Design into those IPCEF student chapters. I think that something similar can work in Italy, where we adapt even at the university level. Speaking of adapting across cultures, how do you envision the Italian IPC Design Chapter will interface with designers across the world?
Vergine: That is actually something that I hope IPC can implement in cross-linking different chapters. I’d like to create a twinning with other chapters that might have very similar needs to Italian designers. Of course, we don’t just “do anything for anything,” as we say, and in the end, this also represents a business opportunity for everyone involved.
Crawford: Absolutely. If we make everyone more competitive, then their businesses become more competitive, and hopefully more successful. I hope the same for all involved. With that, I want to thank you for your time and for the insight that you’ve provided into what’s going on in Italy. I really look forward to what we can do and where we’re going. Expect another one of these conversations soon. Take care, Pietro.
Vergine: Thank you, Patrick.
This column originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Design007 Magazine.