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Barry Matties interviewed Thomas Walsh and Travis Houchin of Integrated Process Systems regarding industry trends they’re seeing in capital expenditure and the changes they have noticed in their customers’ requirements.
Barry Matties: You have added some new people in the last year or so. How many people are now at IPS?
Thomas Walsh: We have over 60 now. The company wanted to expand the sales, service, and engineering teams—we added a few engineers, inside service, parts, and our plan is still to add more field guys. IPS has enough equipment in the field now which demands that we have traveling service employees. That is a focus right now.
Matties: You’re coming in as the national sales director of technical sales. What’s your background?
Walsh: I started in PCBs at Hewlett-Packard in Loveland, Colorado in 1993. I was an engineering manager at Unicircuit, then I was in international technical service for Uyemura for several years before going into semiconductor manufacturing and metal finishing.
Matties: You’ve gained a lot of experience about the processes employed. How is that translating into the work that you’re doing now?
Walsh: When I was inside a shop as an engineer, I worked with our equipment suppliers very closely to help design our line so that it fit our manufacturing needs. Being in the field and working in multiple industries helped me understand that there are many different ways to tackle similar issues. I think it’s a great fit, for both me and IPS.
Matties: In terms of the equipment, what trends are you seeing in customer requirements? What’s different between now and then?
Walsh: For horizonal processing equipment, panels are getting thinner, and they’ve been getting thinner for decades. Additionally, copper via fill was starting to really pick up in the mid-2000s, and now you’re almost required to have it. If you want to do any kind of military or aerospace, you are expected to have copper via fill. We’re seeing more of that, as well as manual lines, manual tanks.
Matties: Do you find it surprising that there are so many manual tanks?
Walsh: Every chemical supplier has a different requirement for what they want, and they are innovative in how they do it. We work with them all. Everybody has a similar feel, but they’re all a little unique. Manual tanks are just so versatile, and so expandable. You can start with one and, as your equipment needs grow, you can add two, three, or four more. It’s not just manual tanks; we are fabricating a few of our automatic plating lines to incorporate that same technology as well.
Matties: What trends are you seeing in terms of what’s being purchased?
Walsh: There are a lot of automatic plating lines being purchased, but most of our customers are looking for U.S. service and support.
Travis Houchin: I think we’re getting a pretty good mix. I can tell there’s a lot of cleaning and bonding going on. We’re seeing a high need for that.
Walsh: We are also getting a lot of alternative oxide lines.
Houchin: It seems like most of the alternative oxide lines are because the lines have been so old and outdated that now it’s finally time to either increase capacity or just get something newer in there. They are buying IPS due to our thin core transport capabilities.
Walsh: IPS still has several lines in the field that are 20 to 25 years old. At some point, you need to pull the trigger to get a new line.
Matties: I find it quite surprising in this industry that many are building boards on decades-old equipment. Is it because of lack of investment or lack of need?
Walsh: It’s both. Some companies have tightened the belt over the years. That money has been flowing a little better now, however the materials are requiring new equipment. It says a lot about a printed circuit board shop that can keep a piece of equipment running for 20–25 years. That’s impressive.
Matties: It is impressive. But it’s also concerning because we are not staying up to date. When a fabricator is looking at their CapEx plan, are they falling short or are they making compromises where they shouldn’t be?
Walsh: Many shops have bandaged equipment together over the years just to keep things running. Some shops are still using 5-mil or 10-mil frames and leaders to get material through a horizontal line—but with a modern horizontal transportation system you can run a piece of 2 mil all day without a leader.
To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the October 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.