Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Five—2020 Reprise of MTU PCB Course

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a series on the university course in PCB manufacturing at Michigan Technological University (MTU). Marc will chronicle the progress of this class, interview the guest lecturers, introduce the students, etc.

My first column announced the plan and startup of the spring 2019 PCB fabrication course. In the second update, I shared thoughts of some of the students participating in getting this effort started. In the third installment, I acknowledged the contributions of many organizations and individuals that willingly and freely contributed their time, materials, and support to make this first “prototype” effort a success. The fourth chapter provided a recap of the lessons learned in the first year and discussed early efforts to develop parallel collaborative programs in other parts of the country.

In this chapter, I will provide some feedback in the form of testimonials from students who participated in the 2019 classes, as well as a preliminary look at the upcoming “new and improved” 2020 reprise/expansion class at MTU.

Student Feedback

Dr. Middlebrook surveyed students who participated in the spring 2019 class, asking if they were:

  1. Actively working in the area of electronics?
  2. Pursuing a career in this area?
  3. In graduate school in the area of electronics?

The hope was that this would “help us plan better for future offerings and showcase the impact on potential employers and guest speakers.” Four of the students agreed for their responses to be published here (student names omitted for privacy reasons and edited slightly for clarity).

Testimonial 1

I am actively working in the electronics industry. I had an interesting experience during my first week of work. My company had set up a tour of one of their primary board houses, which I was able to attend. Since they brought one of their PCB designers for this tour, it was longer, more in-depth, and more technical than the usual tour. Part of it also included a 2+ hour highly technical presentation and Q&A with their sales rep and primary CAD/CAM engineer. Because of the PCB fabrication course, I was able to track through the entire experience and understand most of the technical jargon used. Without the background knowledge and hands-on experience from the course, I would have been lost very quickly.

The PCB fabrication course provided a solid introduction to PCBs with a lot of practical and highly useful information. Of all the courses I took at MTU, it is one of the most relevant to my current job. The course is incredibly valuable for hardware engineers, and, despite the amount of work that goes into offering it, I sincerely hope that MTU continues to offer both the classroom and lab components going forward. It is a wonderful opportunity for MTU to be at the forefront of PCB education and fill such an important industry need.

Testimonial 2

I'm on my last semester at MTU, and I've accepted a full-time position at a manufacturer of power tools in the battery and chargers department. 

Testimonial 3

I am pursuing a career in the area of electronics. Currently, I am completing a co-op with an industry company, and I hope to continue to stay in the electronics field and continue to develop my skills. The PCB manufacturing class has been extremely helpful in understanding the intricacies of the PCB that we are using on my project. Being able to read the board's stackup based on the concepts we learned throughout the class helped me to streamline the information that I was trying to gather to simulate some of my circuit's parameters and run an effective decoupling analysis. 

Testimonial 4

I have not graduated yet, but this is my last semester. I will be working with a commercial company, focusing mostly on electronics design for satellites. I am also still designing hobbyist PCBs and have been using the things learned in class to improve my designs with consideration to how these PCBs are manufactured.

2020 PCB Course at MTU

The following are excerpts from the MTU 2020 spring semester undergraduate catalog: 

  • EE 2230 (Printed Circuit Seminar Series): Seminars and lectures relating to the design, layout, fabrication, and assembly of printed circuits will be presented by the instructor as well as industry experts.
  • EE 2231 (Printed Circuit Fabrication): Printed circuit board fabrication techniques are presented and explored utilizing wet-chemical process techniques. Single and multi-layer boards using internal layers for power and ground planes, as well as plated feed-trough via structures, solder masks, and silk screens will be discussed. While hands-on fabrication will be the main focus, students will be introduced to software design packages specific to circuit layout and design. Final testing and evaluation of the fabricated boards will be performed. 

The majority of the classroom hours consists of guest lecture presentations by industry subject-matter experts. We are in the process of pulling together the expanded (39 lectures) roster of guest presenters, and the support has been incredible. Some of the lecturers are donating their time and expertise, and employers are underwriting travel expenses, and diverting critical personnel from their immediate commercial needs to support this effort. Without exception, they have all said they recognize the critical current (and worsening) shortage of qualified new staff at all levels, and by supporting this effort, they’re addressing at least one aspect (future engineering staff) of that much larger problem. So far, students from the EE and Ch.E. departments have registered.

The preliminary guest lecture calendar is as follows:

  • January 13: Class overview, Dr. Chris Middlebrook, MTU
  • January 15: Introduction to the PCB industry and market, Calumet Electronics
  • January 17: PWB 101, Marc Carter, Aeromarc LLC
  • January 24: HDI design strategies and materials, Happy Holden, I-Connect007
  • January 27: Front-end data conversion to DFM, Jose Cordero, Calumet Electronics
  • January 29: TBD
  • January 31: TBD
  • February 3: Photo-resist/image transfer, Marc Carter, Aeromarc LLC
  • February 10: Additive vs. subtractive, Audra Thurston/Brian Hess, Calumet Electronics
  • February 12: TBD
  • February 14: Operations of PCB manufacturing, Todd Brassard, Calumet Electronics
  • February 17: Connecting circuit layers with copper, William Bowerman, MacDermid Alpha
  • February 19: PCBs are 100% chemical, Donald Cullen, MacDermid Alpha
  • February 21: Environmental: Wastewater and recycling (tentative), Happy Holden, I-Connect007
  • February 24: Digital processing: Solder mask and beyond, Audra Thurston, Calumet Electronics
  • February 26: Assembly considerations: Solder paste selection, dispense, Brian Barksdale, Gentex
  • February 28: Assembly considerations: Components (prep, verification, placement, reflow), Brian Barksdale, Gentex
  • March 2: Chemical effects on signal integrity (tentative), TBD, MacDermid Alpha
  • March 4: Assembly materials (tentative), TBD, MacDermid Alpha
  • March 6: Microvia reliability, Audra Thurston/Lee Mayra, Calumet Electronics
  • March 16: Electronic failure mode analysis, Kirk van Dreel, Plexus
  • March 18: Assembly process design and optimization, Kirk van Dreel, Plexus
  • March 20: Connectors: Design and manufacturing, Doug Schueller, Abelconn/Atrenne/Celestica
  • March 23: Design considerations: Design for solvability, Mike Creeden, Insulectro
  • March 25: Design considerations: Design for manufacturability, Mike Creeden, Insulectro
  • March 27: Design considerations: Design for reliability, Mike Creeden, Insulectro
  • March 30: TBD
  • April 1: Process control: General concepts, goals, and objectives, David Sullivan, Retired
  • April 3: Process control: Practical applications of SPC, CpK, etc., David Sullivan, Retired
  • April 6: Flex and rigid-flex technology, Lee Mayra, Calumet Electronics
  • April 8: Smart factory and Industry 4.0, Happy Holden, I-Connect007
  • April 10: Future electronic technologies, Happy Holden, I-Connect007
  • April 13: Flexible hybrid/3D-printed electronics, Girish Wable, Jabil Inc.
  • April 15: Electrical engineering and PCB design: What your future employer wants you to know, Judy Warner, Altium
  • April 17: Industry standards: Just another manufacturing tool, Marc Carter, Aeromarc LLC
  • April 20: TBD
  • April 22: Class review, project presentations, etc., Dr. Chris Middlebrook, MTU
  • April 24: Class review, project presentations, etc., Dr. Chris Middlebrook, MTU

We could also use more on the decisions and trade-offs in the early stage of design, for example, early in the class. If you or your company have an interest in filling some of those gaps, please contact either Dr. Middlebrook or me. The schedule is still somewhat flexible, so if your only availability conflicts with one of the tentatively scheduled lectures, it may be possible that we can rearrange schedules to accommodate you.

As always, I encourage you to look for opportunities in and around your own communities to nurture future talent, and I would be happy to share lessons learned to smooth that path for you. Doing something now, even in a small way, is better than hoping for somebody to provide the perfect, comprehensive solution to the future workforce skill shortage. Tailor collaborations based on your local industry, expertise availability, and academia needs, such as in printed circuits, microelectronics, flexible/hybrid/printed electronics, electronic materials, or something entirely new. But to quote a famous shoe manufacturer, “Just do it.”

For further information, you can reach Dr. Chris Middlebrook at or me at

Marc Carter has worked in the electronics interconnection industry since 1984 in a variety of roles in fabrication and assembly materials, processes, environmental compliance, and supply chain management activities around the world. He has had the honor and privilege of working with and learning from many of the true giants of this industry in multiple functions over many years. His experience includes a major mil-aero OEM, field and development work at materials suppliers to the printed circuit industry, and an educational stint as the sole proprietor of a manufacturer’s agency representing multiple high-tech mil-aero material suppliers.




Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Five—2020 Reprise of MTU PCB Course


Continuing his series on the university course in PCB manufacturing at Michigan Technological University, Marc Carter provides some feedback in the form of testimonials from students who participated in the 2019 classes, as well as a preliminary look at the upcoming “new and improved” 2020 reprise/expansion class at MTU.

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Better to Light a Candle: Using Industry Standards as Another PWB Manufacturing Tool


Some people will say, "Standards are so boring!" To that, I might respond, "Well, that's kind of the point." When you're in production manufacturing, a "boring" day (i.e., everything works smoothly with no disruptions, and everybody shares clear expectations) can be a welcome relief from your usual. But what should we do with all of these standards anyway?

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Four—Next Steps for Developing the Future Workforce


This fourth installment of Marc Carter's column series will give the prospects and status of repeat (perhaps even expanded) classes at Michigan Tech, and report on developing contacts at other prospective university, industry, and government nodes for similar efforts to ensure basic printed circuit technology familiarity of college graduates over the next few years.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Three—First-year Recap of the PCB Fabrication Course at MTU


In the third installment of this column series, Marc Carter acknowledges the many organizations and individuals that willingly and freely contributed their time, materials, and support to make this first “prototype” effort a success. This article also gives a sneak preview of some of the efforts underway to expand the efforts at MTU and to start similar grassroots, industry-academia supported programs elsewhere.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Two—Introduction to PCB Fabrication


As a reminder, “EE4800: Printed Circuit Board Fabrication” is a hands-on class intended to give engineering undergraduate students an introduction to the basics of printed circuit design, fabrication, and assembly, which started on January 14 of this year.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter One—Prepping the Next Generation


There has been a considerable amount of (electronic) ink and words shared in our industry bemoaning the graying-out of our industry and the growing shortage of skilled people at all levels. (See the May 2017 PCB007 Magazine column “Help Wanted—and How!” for just one example). As is usually the case, though, when all is said and done, more has been said than done.

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