EIPC Summer Conference 2019, Day 1

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The beautiful city of Leoben in central Austria provided the setting for the EIPC 2019 Summer Conference, and what a summer; the mercury hit the mid-thirties (in Celsius, of course)! It was no coincidence that we found ourselves in Leoben, as everyone knows this is the location of one of the world’s leading PCB technology companies—AT&S—and we were proud to have them as a sponsor and have the opportunity to visit their world-class manufacturing plant nearby.



I was privileged to make the welcome address and chose artificial intelligence (AI) as my theme. After welcoming the delegates and thanking those who had kindly sponsored the event, I demonstrated how the power and availability of graphics processing units (GPUs) had transformed image processing with a live example of facial recognition software and how realistic “deep fake” videos can be produced from only a few frames of a real subject. I took the bold move to demonstrate some AI features of my DJI Mavic Air drone by controlling it solely with hand gestures. Luckily, no delegates were harmed in the demonstration!


I concluded with drone footage of the demise of my first drone where I crashed it into a tree after the system foolishly handed control back to me during a “return to home” AI function. I was reminded of the fact that in over 30 years of operation, there have only been two crashes recorded on the automated London Docklands Light Railway (DLR), and that both of those crashes occurred when the system was operating under human control!

EIPC_DanielGeiger_0919.jpgWe were then honoured by the presence of Daniel Geiger, the vice-mayor of Leoben who extended a very warm welcome to the packed conference room. He emphasised the importance of advanced manufacturing technology in Europe—a point that resonated well with the audience.

Morning Sessions

The first keynote presentation was prepared by Walt Custer. Due to mobility issues, Custer was unable to attend in person, so it was my pleasure to give the presentation on his behalf. The format of Custer’s business outlook presentation is well-known and appreciated by regular EIPC conference attendees.

This time, the outlook was not particularly rosy with global manufacturing growth slowing based on purchasing managers index (PMI) data showing that most sectors of the world electronic supply chain are now expanding slower or contracting. Tariffs, trade disputes, and Brexit/EU were identified as key issues with geopolitical concerns remaining very significant. Military spending, perhaps not unexpectedly, showed a worldwide increase in 1Q '19 vs. 1Q '18. And in Europe, there were increases for aerospace along with electronic components and loaded boards, which may be indicative of some stock building in mitigation of the effects of trade disputes and impending Brexit.


Custer’s charts showed double-digit percentage reductions in both semiconductor production and semiconductor capital equipment investment, which means we can expect further contraction for some time down the supply chain. The prognosis for 2019 vs. 2018 PCB worldwide production showed a contraction of 0.9% but with some large regional differences. Germany showed the highest contraction of 5.5% after recording growth of 3.5% in 2018 vs. 2017.

EIPC_GeraldWeis_0919.jpgThe next keynote was delivered by Gerald Weis from the Advanced Packaging department at AT&S. Gerald chose design for excellence (DFX) related to embedded components as his topic. His informative presentation described a design-based approach for PCBs that entailed a wide range of defined rules, processes, and standards focused on optimizing the product realization life cycle. Weis took the delegates through the entire process, starting with defining what is meant by embedding before describing the various issues that might arise. He concluded that DFX is a complex topic requiring the use of intelligent interchange formats during the development process and that interfaces between design, simulation, and development are essential to achieve the benefits of increased volume utilization and lowered parasitic impedances achievable by embedding.

EIPC_TarjaRapala_0919.jpgThe next session covering supply chain and reliability was moderated by EIPC Technical Director Tarja Rapala. Tarja welcomed Gardien Group’s Roland Valentini to take the podium. Valentini explained that the goal of his presentation was to help delegates get a better understanding about how their supply chain could be improved to optimise delivery time, reduce communication issues, and receive only pretested PCBs, all at the lowest possible cost. He highlighted that whilst US$5.9B of PCB are needed in Europe, only about US$2.0B are produced.

EIPC_RolandValentini_0919.jpgFurther, Valentini argued that to support this approximately US$4B supply-chain gap and the two-thirds of required imported populated PCBs, new and advanced supply-chain tools and control functions are needed. He went on to describe the details of a framework for advanced supply-chain management meeting and exceeding customers’ performance requirements whilst increasing PCBA production yields by reducing defect rates, minimising risks, and decreasing costs. A key feature of Gardien’s solution was described as an independent but integrated on-site test and inspection function participating in continuous improvement activities; focused quality control reduces rework and enables full transparency of actual fabrication yields.

EIPC_PaulCarre_0919.jpgNext, conference attendees heard from Paul Carré of Polar Instruments who addressed the issue of maximising repeatability of impedance measurement. Carré began with a resumé of his career at Polar Instruments and some fascinating information on his interest in sharks—yes, sharks! Then, he explained that USB4 allows for a maximum data rate of 40 Gbps and is expected to roll out in 2021, which is driving the need for maximising repeatability. Carré described the test setup as having two TDR-based test systems: a 35-pS Tektronix DSA8300 and an ~250-pS Polar controlled impedance test system (CITS). He showed TDR traces for a 75-ohm test vehicle over 6, 4, 3, or 2 inches and 1 inch as well as clearly demonstrating the difficulty of stable measurement on the short trace lengths. Carré summarized that entry quality and perturbations are key and that faster rise time is no guarantee of short trace measurement capability.


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