Additive Electronics Conference Set for October 2019
Tara Dunn, president of Omni PCB and I-Connect007 columnist, and Lenora Clark, director of autonomous driving and safety technology at MacDermid Alpha Automotive, discuss what can be expected from the upcoming Additive Electronics Conference in San Jose, California, the impetus and motivation behind the conference, and who can benefit the most from attending.
Nolan Johnson: Please tell us about the upcoming Additive Electronics Conference for which I-Connect007 is also a sponsor.
Tara Dunn: The Additive Electronics Conference is going to be held in San Jose, California, on October 24 from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We have an exciting conference planned. The idea behind the conference is to address the gap from 3-mil line space down to the integrated circuit (IC) level. As electronics have been driving the need for smaller, lighter-weight packaging, it’s starting to push the limits of the traditional subtractive etch processing for PCBs.
Locally and nationally, we have been getting a lot of feedback from people looking to investigate what options were available to them and what was emerging into the market. We decided to pull this together as an opportunity to bring together end users with their market need as well as materials, suppliers, fabricators, and alternative processes to the traditional subtractive etch.
Lenora Clark: The other thing that differentiates this conference is the fact that we’re speaking solely to electronics. As Tara said, we’re looking at techniques to bridge a gap that’s experienced in the industry right now. When we researched this topic, there was a lot of discussion on stamping and forming. There was also a lot of work being done on prototype levels. We want to offer the audience options they can use today in mass production, which is going to differentiate this conference.
Johnson: What motivated you to put together this conference?
Dunn: We had so many different conversations with people searching for alternatives to respond to market needs for lighter weight, smaller packaging.
Clark: And we’re also in a period of time where, because miniaturization has reached a critical point, the industry is trying to understand our options. Are we going to have to move away from chip subtractive? The handheld market is an obvious example, which recently moved from subtractive to a more additive style of fabrication to reach the miniaturization that they want. If you look into the medical sector, it makes a lot of sense there too, and we even see a number of instances now in military applications. It's a combination of understanding where the industry is right now as well as listening to the present and future needs of our audiences. We received this request through our SMTA International meeting. There was a strong desire to learn more about additive processing.
Dunn: You bring up a good point because the additive processing that we hear about with our handheld devices is primarily high volume and being done offshore. People are also searching for domestic, low-volume, and development options.
Clark: I completely agree. As we started to look for speakers and gather interest in this conference, there was a lot of feedback saying, “Where can this be done in the U.S.?”
Dunn: We should also point out that the International Wafer-Level Packaging Conference is happening three days before the Additive Electronics Conference in the same location.
Johnson: So, this is a one-two punch for people who are interested.
Clark: Right; it’s a bigger bang for your buck. Stay one more day and learn about additive.
Johnson: Who should be at the conference? Who do you see as your target audience?
Clark: It would be good for designers, purchasing people, materials suppliers, applicators, manufacturing engineers, and end users who are trying to understand what options are out there and what companies are doing this. The conference will speak to a wide range of engineers and job functions because of the way that we’ve structured it.
We’ve made a specific effort to talk about potential applications, and users will speak about where they’re using it now and what it has enabled. I also think it’s important because right now, no one knows everything that additive can do. But if a creative individual in the audience says, “I can see how it’s being applied here. We could use similar materials to do something in our application,” it speaks to a wide range of individuals.
Johnson: It sounds like we’re at an inflection point on subtractive versus additive for some key functions going forward. As this situation becomes much more apparent in the form of increased demand, it’s starting to touch job functions at all levels of our industry. Consequently, anybody who feels that they need to be on top of additive processes for upcoming projects or products needs to be there to see what everybody else is doing.
Clark: Yes, you stated that well. Even if they don’t fully understand what is meant by additive, because it’s such a broad term, this conference will introduce materials that could be used, and it offers a resolution or multiple resolutions for challenges that may be experienced today in fabrication and design.
Johnson: Let’s talk a bit about what’s on the agenda. Tell me about your keynote speaker.
Clark: We’re excited about having Rich Brooks as our keynote speaker. He is a senior engineering manager at Jabil Circuit Inc. and will address “Miniaturization: Driving the Advances in PCB Technology and Assembly.” And Jabil fits so well within this particular conference because they’ve been doing additive technology for a number of years, and they look at additive within different segments.
Rich will be able to explain to us how additive fits in different functions and industry segments because of his experience. He’ll be able to speak to the pros and cons of the technology, which is important for people to understand what hurdles or limitations they will experience. We think that Rich will speak from a place of experience and that will set the tone for the rest of the conference.
Johnson: What does the overall agenda look like?
Dunn: After the keynote from Jabil, we’ll have other end users explain what is driving their need in the market and what they have been doing to try to meet that need. Then, we’re going move into the different options that are available throughout the additive space to help meet some of those needs as well as more practical applications. We’ll also hear about some of the processes or materials that are in production implementation, and we’re going wrap it up with interactive panel discussion.
The panel discussion will focus on a case study or two that outlines a current end-use need, and the panelists will weigh in on how their approach could contribute to the solution. We’ll finish the event with time for networking. These emerging technologies are so new to everyone; the more we can reach out and make connections to follow up with when there are questions down the road, the more beneficial it’s going to be for everybody.
Johnson: That’s a great agenda given the objective. In addition to the keynote, is there anything you’re especially looking forward to?
Clark: The panel discussion is important. We’ve always had great success at SMTA international when we have panel discussions because they invite a collaborative conversation. The panel discussion creates more ideas, and we want the audience to be interactive. That should bring a slightly different dynamic to this conference, which fits very well with it being our first venture into additive.
Johnson: Is the intention to make this a recurring event?
Clark: The industry lends itself well to this to be a reoccurring conference. This event doesn’t only speak to miniaturization but also to density from a perspective of packing many electronics into different products. We are packing a lot of electronics into automobiles right now, but it’s not necessarily that everything is going to be on a miniature level. Instead, how are we going to put that many electronics into a steering column shaft or get more function into a shark fin antenna? Maybe a printed electronic or a 3D plastic mold becomes advantageous. We have to weigh these things out as an industry. Miniaturization is important, but I don’t think it’s the sole target of additive.
Johnson: That’s an important point. Additive is not just making it smaller; it gives you design options that you didn’t have before.
Clark: Right, and that’s one of the things that Tara and I wanted to be sure that this conference spoke to because a lot of PCB-minded people think that additive is for IC substrates, which isn’t true. People are doing additive for all sorts of different scales now, so I’m excited to have those conversations. I’m interested to see who’s doing it on what level and that’s why the conference title “PCB Scale to IC Scale” comes into play; let’s make sure we’re not missing anything because it’s not just about miniaturization.
Andy Shaughnessy: As we’ve been talking, I looked up Jabil, and they have a giant team working on additive. As you said, they’ve been doing this for a long time, and when they talk about it being used for prototyping, they say, “It’s like prototyping on steroids.” This could be a good thing for designers to learn more about given that additive is more friendly to 3D than the subtractive etch-type; it seems like it’s more of a fit with 3D.
Dunn: Very much so.
Shaughnessy: Not that long ago, additive was more of a niche thing, but it seems to be gaining in acceptance.
Clark: People are going to be surprised how it’s not as niche anymore, especially once they hear from the speakers. Applicators are doing this technology on a regular basis, so people are going to understand that it’s reaching more market segments and in more volume than we had originally anticipated. We’re, considering this an inflection point, but I feel that some designers are missing the boat right now; they could be making easier choices or bring ease to fabrication if they were using additives.
Johnson: There are fewer steps, right?
Clark: There are a few steps, and this is going to be a manufacturing change. There’s likely going to be a capital investment for one or two things that are changing on the shop floor or an added piece of equipment. But when you lessen the steps, there’s less room for error. And in high-frequency applications, there are a lot of things happening now—not necessarily for additive, but you have that conversation of death by a thousand cuts. For those of us who understand how a PCB is fabricated, it’s insane. There are so many steps and waste associated with it that this could even be an environmental play. Let’s listen to what additive has to offer and see what changes we can make it as an industry.
Shaughnessy: If you can call it green, you get interest from everyone.
Dunn: Exactly, and it provides a format where end users and designers have an opportunity to talk about their challenges and be heard from fabricators and others supplying into the industry. I like the idea of having open, collaborative discussions, and I hope that we will be able to do that during the panel discussion as well as during the different networking segments.
Johnson: We’re excited to be a part of this conversation.
Clark: Sounds good. Thanks.
Dunn: Thank you.
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