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You would be hard-pressed to find a more knowledgeable and experienced group than that of Gary Ferrari, Gene Weiner, and Happy Holden. In a brief interview with Barry Matties, these three industry icons consider the past, present, and future state of electronics manufacturing while also offering advice to the newest generation of manufacturers.
Barry Matties: Let’s start with you, Gary. How long have you been in this industry?
Gary Ferrari: Too long. I've been in this industry since the mid-'60s.
Matties: Gene, when did you start?
Gene Weiner: I started in 1956 as a student technician at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. I met Happy Holden in 1969.
Matties: Happy, when did you join this industry?
Happy Holden: I joined when Gene introduced me to it in 1969.
Matties: There are many years of experience at this table right now. I'm not sure exactly how many, but if we do some quick math…
Weiner: That’s 150+ years of industry experience.
Matties: Yes, that's quite a lot of experience.
Ferrari: What about yourself?
Matties: I've been in the industry 36 years. Gary, what's been the most amazing or surprising thing that you have seen in your time in this industry?
Ferrari: The most amazing thing is this is such a large industry, but when you get into it, it's so small worldwide. You'd be surprised. I run into people all over the place, which is surprising.
Matties: How about for you, Gene?
Weiner: The most amazing thing has been its survival as a cottage industry for all these years, and also, the most surprising thing is how we have to keep relearning how to do business.
Matties: What do you mean by that?
Weiner: Well, lessons and history are lost, so people start over. No records are kept, and starting from the baseline, we go back below the baseline and start over many times. Now I believe we're on the verge of a major revolution on how we build and assemble PCBs. We're going from the bare board and assembly business to a systems-building business.
Matties: That's interesting because Happy just came out with his book Automation and Advanced Procedures in PCB Fabrication. Happy, what’s the most amazing thing for you?
Holden: I relate mainly to the products. I got to be part of the development of the HP-35 calculator, which is when I think miniaturization began because everybody said you couldn't put a computer in your pocket and things like that. Now they've miniaturized it, and the next big step was miniaturizing the big cellphones. It's been a constant innovation of products that OEMs came up with that amazes me and charges our industry. I guess we'll see in the next couple of years. Who can tell?
Ferrari: I'd like to add to what Gene said. What is really amazing to me is that over the years we've solved many problems. Today, they're trying to re-solve the same problems that were already solved way back then.
Weiner: That's history lost.
Matties: That's definitely an interesting take. I remember a conference a year or two ago where Happy was talking about some manufacturing techniques developed by HP in your days.
Holden: That's just what I was talking with Gene about—the fully additive circuits we had. They were steel boards that fostered innovation on the fully additive, which the Asians don't know anything about. If I mention that we had steel boards that were fully additive with no electroplating, they’ve never heard of such a thing, and they think it’s science fiction. No, this was a long time ago.
Weiner: I remember similar boards made at Western Electric in Kearny, New Jersey. They were steel boards formed with holes in place and coated with epoxy by a fluidized bed process. The boards were then metalized and imaged with a special photoresist liquid made just for them out of a block ester. The result after etching was an additive circuit, which worked great. The resist remained on the board as an insulating layer. The boards were natural born heat sinks and went in central systems. We're reinventing the wheel, but now we're reinventing it smaller, lighter, and faster.
Matties: You mentioned that manufacturing techniques are changing. Happy, what do you have to say to that?
Holden: We all have the computer to thank for that. I saw a cartoon once where there was an appliance war between the toaster and refrigerator. I hope it doesn't come to that by putting a microprocess on the internet in all your appliances. GreenSource mechanized and automated the PCB process, and it inevitably had to happen; we had been building up to it over the years. The big challenge now is going to be that they can only build something if they have a database. There's nobody there to read a blueprint or read a specification, even an IPC spec. So, it has to 100% digital data, or they can't build the product.
Matties: We could go on for hours with you guys, that's for sure. Looking back to the industry now from your career, what advice would you give to the industry today?
Weiner: Keep an open mind, communicate, collaborate, share your ideas, and work together. Check what you did and then recheck it.
Matties: Happy, how about you?
Holden: I think you have to have a ceaseless pursuit of knowledge, especially if you have to build electronics. Electronics never stop rolling, doubling, and tripling, which means that if you want to sit back and relax after school, this isn't the industry. It keeps increasing its knowledge and applications so fast that if you want to be a part of it, you have to learn constantly.
Weiner: If not, you must have a good artificial intelligence (AI) system.
Ferrari: What we see is we have a lot of new people coming into the industry, and companies are expecting them to start at the top. However, the companies have to allow them to get educated—you can't learn by osmosis. I'll pick on the designers. The designers are very rarely allowed to go out to conferences of any kind, but they're supposed to know everything about the latest technologies that we're talking about here, and it doesn't come in by osmosis.
Matties: We appreciate all the years of experience you've given to this industry, and we look forward to many more. Thank you, gentleman.
Weiner: And when it stops being fun, I’ll quit.