Weiner’s World—May 2017

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Editor’s note: This blog was originally published in May 2017 at www.weiner-intl.com and is being reprinted here with special permission from the author 

Big News!

China’s central bank is effectively anchoring the yuan to the dollar, a policy twist that has helped stabilize the currency in a year of political transition and market jitters about China’s economic management. The yuan weakened more than 6% against the dollar in 2016; this year, it is up roughly 1%, and the expectation that the currency will fluctuate—a gauge known as implied volatility—is around its lowest in nearly two years. The focus seen in recent weeks on stability against the dollar, whether it goes up or down, means pressure on the yuan to weaken could get dangerously bottled up, potentially bringing bouts of sharp devaluation.

Moody’s Investors Service cut China’s sovereign credit rating[1], citing the peril of rising debt as growth slows. The effort to keeping up with the dollar could add to the challenge by forcing the central bank to keep burning through its foreign-exchange reserves to support the yuan. (Wall Street Journal)

This comes after China’s foreign-exchange reserves rose for the third straight month in April, edging up on the back of a less bullish U.S. dollar and Chinese government controls on money moving offshore, economists said. The foreign-currency reserves increased by $20.45 billion from the previous month to $3.03 trillion, according to data released by the People’s Bank of China.

Note: Hong Kong’s dollar has been anchored to the U.S. dollar for decades.

SEMI | FlexTech and the Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association have signed a memorandum of understanding to support each other’s programs and drive the continued development and adoption of printable, flexible hybrid, and wearable electronics (PE and FHE). The announcement was made at CPES2017, taking place the last week of May at Centennial College’s new Conference Center in Toronto. CPES2017 is Canada’s premier conference and trade show for PE.

Reed Electronic Research says that the European EMS Industry is expected to reach Euro 11.7 billion in 2020, up from Euro 10.8 billion in 2015. The market will increasingly focus on the aerospace, defense, automotive, medical, control & instrumentation, industrial and telecom (ADAMCIT) segments.

The May issue of The PCB Magazine continued the discussion on the difficulties of attracting, training and maintaining the needed workers for our industry. Various interviewees provided their views of the problems that they face with recruiting and maintaining millennials to succeed the retiring grey-heads. They spoke of culture changes, lack of training tools from their professional societies or colleges, and a host of other perceived challenges. They spoke of outreach programs. They spoke of new business models. They spoke of rapid technology shifts. They wondered how they could attract young people into a job that required following instructions rather than innovating on the fly or providing some new challenges.

Last month several readers of Weiner’s World suggested bringing back retirees to fill the gap or assist in training. After all, isn’t 65 the new 50?

However, I did not see a situation analysis properly defining the problem (including management’s apparent continuing to live in the past). I did not see a clear picture of what is needed today and what will be needed in five years. I did not see a prediction of how much of “the process” would be automated. There was no demand forecast by product/technology type. There was no prediction of an employee’s life cycle in a particular company that recognizes that the old idea of having a career that only spanned a few jobs has become just that—old! There were no innovative solutions offered to offset some of the recognized problems.

An interview with Shelly Phelps, the human resource manager at Saline Lectronics, by Davina McDonnell, pointed out that, “… millennials have high expectations, low patience, and struggle when technology is limited or restricted. This generation grew up with rapid change of computer access and all forms of technology. They prefer and expect rapid change when processes do not work. They have little tolerance and patience for changes that are delayed for long durations. They would prefer to streamline and speed up the process of learning their job and don’t seem to embrace putting your time in for “moving up the ladder.” Most millennial employees have significant difficulty going for long periods of time being disconnected from their cellphones. Hands-on training seems to work well for millennials, if sufficient time is allowed. However, the written trainings seem to pose an issue. Reading multiple documents posted on the company server, without any way to verify if they understand them, seems to leave major gaps.”

Today the situation is becoming more critical. Unemployment is at its lowest level since the 1980s. The demand for high-tech and semi-skilled workers will increase after recent approvals of “the pipeline,” promised factory expansions in the automotive and other industries, and as new orders are placed resulting from the new agreements in the mid-East and elsewhere. Will industry take advantage of its retirees to help? Will that be sufficient? Will America have to “import” foreign labor to meet its new needs? What do you think?

Global Material Shortage Update

After a year of uncertainty, the global copper foil shortage is beginning to take effect for the PCB industry. Copper foil is used as the main conductor in PCB laminate; however, it is also a key material used in batteries, in particular car batteries for which there is particularly high global demand. With predicted triple-figure growth rates, it is no surprise that available copper stock is being prioritized for these lucrative products. And copper mines are struggling to keep up with the growing demand—so here we are now with a global shortage of material and a serious situation that forces change.

Mark Goodwin, CEO of Ventex International commented: "Our market assessment is that the copper foil shortage has resulted in approximately 2.8M sheets per month CCL global material shortage. This is approximately twice the total rigid demand of USA and Europe combined. We expect the situation to last at least until the middle/end of 2018. Now is the time to work closely with your material supplier to secure your supply, and to pass on the inevitable increases in cost in your finished board prices.” (Source EIPC)


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