Flex Talk: Old-fashioned Networking

I attended IPC APEX EXPO this year determined to find an answer to a question that I had been asked and couldn’t answer, even after some fairly extensive internet searching. So where did I go for answers when the internet wasn’t helpful? With thousands of people in attendance, I couldn’t imagine a better place to search for PCB information. Knowing that I had three days to find the information I was looking for, I started with the shotgun approach. I walked up and down the aisles, kept an eye out for related items, and asked questions when something caught my eye.

After realizing this probably wasn’t the most efficient way to look for the information, I turned to the IPC APEX EXPO 2019 app on my smartphone and the hard copy of the showguide. This helped narrow my search, and I went off to investigate. While I did learn a few new things in this investigation, I didn’t find the answer to my initial question while walking the expo aisles. Thankfully, as I stopped to talk to a long-time industry friend and mentioned this search, he referred me to someone who had the answer I needed.

We live in a connected world. Our smartphones connect to our cars, music speakers, household lighting, and appliances, and there is a full issue of this magazine dedicated to connected factories. Information is collected at an astonishing rate, and people are working diligently to put this information to good use. It is new, fun, and exciting. So many industries are exploding with applications, such as home appliances, medical applications, agriculture, energy management, retail, and the list goes on.

I sometimes wonder what is going to happen to the good, “old-fashioned” networking. You know, not networked devices, but the act of going out and meeting people in our industry, learning about their story and expertise, and sharing yours—mutually beneficial sharing of information and resources. Seeing a long-time industry friend at IPC APEX EXPO 2019 certainly helped me answer the question I was looking for.

For many people, when they hear the word networking, it causes a little panic and brings to mind images of walking into a room of strangers, trying to find someone to talk to, and feeling awkward and out of place. Truthfully, even I find it a little intimidating, and I host networking events! I also find that once I get to an event, it is almost always interesting and enjoyable.

In this column, I want to challenge you to attend some of the industry events that are available and be intentional about meeting at least one new person. And I want to challenge the industry associations to find creative ways to make the act of attending these events less intimidating. Where do you start? Here are a few places to review when looking for events nearby.

Design Tool User Groups

Altium, Cadence, Mentor, and others regularly host user groups. These events provide a great opportunity to learn more about how to better utilize your design tool of choice and meet other users at the same time. Not only are the tool experts available to answer questions, but attendees can meet with experts and other users to make connections that may help answer a question the next time they are struggling to solve a challenge.

Geek-a-Palooza

Geek-a-Palooza was founded specifically to bring all aspects of the local electronics community together for an evening of food, fun, and face-to-face interaction. The annual event has been held in Minneapolis, Boston, and Orange County with plans to continue expanding to other locations. Geek-a-Palooza is unique in the fact that the event serves all aspects of the electronics community: raw materials, designers, fabricators, EMS, component manufacturers, component distributors, manufacturers reps, and industry associations. This is an excellent opportunity to meet new people and expand your resources and network. To learn more, visit geek-a-palooza.com.

IEEE

Another organization supporting the advancement of technology is the IEEE. An excerpt from their website explains, “IEEE local geographic organizational units (sections, chapters, affinity groups, and student branches) provide unique opportunities for members to attend technical presentations, create strong peer-to-peer connections, and participate in leadership opportunities that can make a positive distinction in IEEE members’ jobs and careers.” To learn more, visit ieee.org.

IPC

IPC serves designers, board manufacturers, assembly companies, suppliers, and OEMs. An excerpt from their brochure states “By being the hub of knowledge in the electronics industry, IPC provides standards, training and certification, market research, education, and public policy advocacy to help member-companies achieve their goals. We are here to help our members create better-quality products, enhance the skills and knowledge of their employees, reduce costs and waste, comply with regulations, and be ready to capitalize on what is next.” IPC hosts many conferences and events worldwide, such as IPC APEX EXPO, and provides excellent opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. To learn more, visit ipc.org.

IPC Designers Council

These local chapters provide excellent opportunities for networking and technical training. According to their website, an active IPC Designers Council chapter consists of a minimum of 12 designers and meets at least four times per year. Structure of the meetings will vary, but most chapters focus on technical education and networking activities. Also, most chapters host roundtable discussions, facility tours, and presentations on hot topics in the PCB design world, including DFM, EMI, RFI, high-speed design, ultra-fine pitch design, etc. Some chapters have formed designer certification study groups to help prepare their members for the PCB designer certification exam. To find information on local chapters, click here.

SMTA

SMTA is a global organization working at the local level. An excerpt from their website states, “For electronics engineering and manufacturing professionals seeking to improve processes through best practices and real-world solutions, SMTA offers exclusive access to local and global communities of experts as well as accumulated research and training materials from thousands of companies dedicated to advancing the electronics industry.” SMTA hosts several large expos and events and is also very active with smaller, local programs. Local chapters host smaller expos with technical information and opportunities to interact with the supply base. Throughout the year, local chapters host chapter meetings geared to toward technical training and facility tours. These are excellent opportunities to meet new people with similar interests. To learn more, visit smta.org.

Summary

Overall, while the world of connected devices is fun, new, exciting, and without a doubt is going to change the way we do business, I hope this column serves as a reminder that building personal connections with each other is something that will never be obsolete or outdated. I regularly reach out to people I know when I need help answering a question, usually after I have tried an internet search first; in turn, I am regularly asked for advice. Knowing people with expertise in other areas has been invaluable. I issued a challenge above for those of us in the electronics industry to get out to events that facilitate meeting new people and a challenge for industry associations to make that even easier for us to do. Do you accept the challenge? If so, I would love to hear your comments and experiences.

Tara Dunn is the president of Omni PCB, a manufacturer’s rep firm specializing in the printed circuit board industry.

This article was originally published in the March 2019 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2019

Flex Talk: Old-fashioned Networking

05-08-2019

We live in a connected world. Information is collected at an astonishing rate, and people are working diligently to put this information to good use. It is new, fun, and exciting. But I sometimes wonder what is going to happen to the good, "old-fashioned" networking. Not networked devices, but the act of going out and meeting people in our industry, learning about their story and expertise, and sharing yours—mutually beneficial sharing of information and resources.

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Flex Talk: Don’t Build Flex That Doesn’t Flex

03-08-2019

One of the primary advantages of moving to a flexible circuit design from a rigid board is the ability to package the flex in three dimensions, bending or folding into imaginative configurations and saving precious space in the final package.

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Flex Talk: FlexFactor—Imagination and Innovation

01-23-2019

The ultimate goal of FlexFactor is to create a generation of students who use their critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration skills to create the materials and devices that will address and mitigate the biggest challenges of the future.

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2018

Flex Talk: The Myth About Rigid-Flex Costs

12-12-2018

Do you cringe when you think of the option of rigid-flex? It is not an uncommon reaction when talking with designers and engineering managers about using rigid-flex to solve a packaging problem. Why? The most frequent answer is, “They are so expensive.” While it is true that a rigid-flex PCB is typically more expensive on the surface when compared to rigid-board solutions with cables and connectors, a lot is being missed with that mindset.

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Flex Talk: Mina—RFID, LED and What Else?

09-17-2018

“The science of today is the technology of tomorrow.” This Edward Teller quote is an apt description of the Mina product. This advanced surface treatment, recently developed to enable low-temperature soldering to aluminum in the RFID market, is not only finding success in that market, but quickly finding a home in other markets, including the LED market, where the incentive is both cost and improved LED performance.

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Raising the Capability Ceiling: SMTA Upper Midwest Chapter Expo

06-25-2018

An energetic and engaged crowd filled the recent SMTA Upper Midwest Expo & Tech Forum. The event, held in June 14 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, hosted 57 exhibiting companies and had over 100 pre-registered attendees. The underlying theme for the technical presentations was "Raising the Capability Ceiling!" Here's a wrap-up of the event.

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Flex Talk: E-Textiles—the Wild Frontier

05-23-2018

How many hours is your car sitting idle outside in your driveway or a parking lot? What if your car was used for solar harvesting—converting heat to energy? What about biometric sensors in automotives: skin sensors for preventing DUI, posture identification to monitor driver fatigue, monitoring exposure to hazardous materials in a load for truck drivers.

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Flex Talk: Something New for Everyone

05-02-2018

Whether you are new to single- and double-sided flex, moving into rigid-flex construction, thinking of using bookbinder technology, or investigating an additive process, working with new technology can be both exciting and challenging.

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Flex Talk: Invited Guests to the Party

04-16-2018

Hanging on the wall in my office is this quote from Jeff Bezos: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”

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2017

FlexFactor: Faith in the Future

11-27-2017

Take just a minute and read through this list of new product ideas. Can you identify the common thread? Yes, they are all enabled by advanced technology, but would you believe that these products were all pitched in the last year by high school students?

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Flex Talk: The Man Behind the Curtain

10-03-2017

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” This famous quote from The Wizard of Oz conjures up the image of Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow discovering that the great Wizard of Oz isn’t as grand or as magical as he seems.

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Flex Talk: Knowledge is Power

08-31-2017

“What can I do to help drive cost from my design?” This is a question that I am asked routinely. That question is often followed by, “Can I get these faster?” Both questions are even more predominant when talking about flexible circuits or rigid-flex.

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Flex Talk: Mina—Trouble-Free Soldering to Aluminum

06-22-2017

Thinking about the RFID market and the significant growth projected in this market, I decided to do a little research on RFID tag manufacturing. During this research, I learned of a relatively new offering, Mina, an advanced surface treatment technology that addresses the common constraints of large scale manufacturing of aluminum on polyester (Al-PET) circuits.

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Flex Talk: Squink—Integrating Fabrication and Assembly in one Package

05-01-2017

When walking through trade show expos, I tend to be drawn into product demonstrations on the show floor. Recently, at the IPC APEX EXPO, I stopped in front of a piece of desktop printing equipment that was demonstrating with a flexible circuit.

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Flex Talk: Flex Material Handling—An Inside Peek

04-03-2017

As increasingly more designs move to flexible materials to take advantage of space, weight or packaging benefits, it has been clear that flexible circuits require a different set of rules than their rigid counterparts. We spend substantial time working through the design to ensure that he flex is as robust as possible.

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Flex Talk: Final Surface Finish—How Do You Choose?

01-26-2017

There are so many final surface finish options to choose from today. How do you decide which is best? HASL—both tin-lead and lead-free—immersion tin, immersion silver, ENIG, OSP, and ENIPIG are the primary finishes used in PCB fabrication.

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2016

Flex Talk: A Glimpse into PCB Sales

12-28-2016

Summarizing the feedback from both customers and manufacturers, the most successful PCB salespeople are organized, take a genuine interest in their customers’ needs and business challenges, have a better than average understanding of the PCB industry, fully understand the manufacturer’s strengths and capabilities and advocate for both to find the best solution.

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Flex Talk: Troubleshooting Flex Circuit Applications for Mil/Aero Projects

10-06-2016

I imagine that everyone has been in this position at one time or another: Despite everyone’s best attempt at creating the perfect design, PCB fabrication and assembly, something goes wrong and the troubleshooting begins.

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Flex Talk: Inaugural West Coast Geek-A-Palooza a Fun-filled Success

05-24-2016

Geek-A-Palooza kicked off the 2016 schedule May 12 in Irvine, California. Historically, Geek-A-Palooza has been held in Minneapolis but is expanding this year to include Orange County and Boston as well.

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Flex Talk: PCB Sourcing? One Size Does Not Fit All

04-18-2016

When analyzing a set of PCBs to improve yields and maximize profits, the first place to start is with a critical review of each PCB design. Are there any attributes that are pushing your manufacturer’s standard design rules? If so, is this necessary to the design or is there another approach that could improve the manufacturer’s yields, reduce cost, and ultimately increase profit?

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2015

Flex Talk: Thoughts on the IPC Flexible Circuits–HDI Forum

11-19-2015

As an attendee at the IPC Flexible Circuits–HDI Conference held October 28–30, I found myself in a room of people, all eager for technical information, with the opportunity to reconnect with industry friends and to make new connections. The audience was diverse with young people, new to our industry, sitting alongside industry veterans willingly sharing their knowledge and passion for HDI design and flexible circuit technology.

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Designing Flex Circuits for Domestic Prototyping

08-20-2015

Designing a flex circuit to be prototyped domestically? No problem. Designing a rigid-flex circuit for production offshore? Got it. Designing a part that will be prototyped domestically with a seamless transition to offshore production? That can be a little more challenging.

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Rigid Flex: Total Cost Comparison

07-09-2015

The transition to a rigid-flex design from the traditional approach of using cable assemblies to join two or more PCBs has obvious benefits—space, weight, packaging, reliability and increased currently carrying capabilities. Yet many times the perception that rigid-flex is a high-cost solution causes designers and engineers to hesitate.

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Primary Cost Drivers for Flex Circuit Designs

06-25-2015

Someone once told me that the potential applications for flexible circuits are really only limited by our imaginations. After pondering that a bit, I had to agree. In fact, one of the things I like best about what I do is that moment during a discussion when I can see the light bulb go off in a designer's head.

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The Flex-to-Fit Approach

06-04-2015

The flex-to-fit concept reminds us that creativity and engineering go hand-in-hand. When there is not ample space for a conventional approach, this process, which is the convergence of the mechanical world and the electronics world, results in the ability to design a flexible circuit along the contour of an existing, irregularly shaped structure.

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