The SMART Group 25th anniversary seminar and exhibition

06 November 2009

The advent of surface-mount component packaging in the early 1980s precipitated a step change in printed circuit assembly procedure and presented a new generation of engineering challenges.

In the summer of 1984, a bright young manufacturing engineer named John Burke took the initiative to organise a meeting of like-minded technical people to address these challenges by sharing their problems and experiences, out of which evolved SMART Group.

A quarter of a century on, the original ethos of bringing together a group of people with a common interest to share knowledge by meeting and talking was re-affirmed as Chairman Keith Bryant welcomed delegates to SMART Group’s 25th Anniversary Seminar.

It offered up-to-the-minute information on process technology, reliability, environmental and business advances, on the theme of Reduce Waste – Improve Reliability – Increase Profit. Founder member Mike Fenner was one of the presenters, and John Burke, who has been living and working in the USA for many years, made a surprise appearance.

Vice-Chairman Graham Naisbitt introduced keynote presenters Doug Pauls and Dave Hillman, Principal Materials and Process Engineers from Rockwell Collins in Iowa USA, who engaged, educated and entertained the audience for three hours with lessons learned from a series of eight case studies illustrating the consequences and costs of non-conformance – not doing the job right-first-time through ignorance or shortcuts. Rockwell Collins operate in the high-reliability environment of life-critical and flight-critical equipment, and the costs of non-conformance – lost productivity, engineer time and additional labour to investigate, identify and rectify a problem – can easily run to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Concluding the morning session, Honorary Life Vice President Peter Swanson announced SMART Fellow awards for Peter Allgood, Iain Braddock, Steve Eglinton, Ingmar Grewar, Chris Hunt, Naim Kapadia, David Llewellyn, Martin Tarr and Rex Waygood plus, with tongue in cheek, a special SMART Bellow award for Chairman Keith Bryant.

In the afternoon, the audience chose between three separate sessions focusing on either business, reliability or environmental issues, and it was interesting to note that, given a free choice, the delegates divided themselves fairly evenly between each of the three presentations.

The reliability session, chaired by Dr. Chris Hunt, had presentations by Davide de Maio, from the National Physical Laboratory, discussing low-cycle fatigue in lead-free solder alloys, Russell Shipton of ERA Technology, on the practical realities of failure analysis of electronic components, and Nathan Barry of Aero Engine Controls on vibration testing of lead-free and tin-lead solder joints.

Technical Committee Vice-Chairman Nigel Burtt made a thought-provoking introduction to the environmental session, which left the audience in no doubt that the environment, sustainable development and green concerns in general had become more than matters of minority interest. Governments all over the world were looking to change the mindset and behaviour of businesses and individuals. His message was that, whether we choose to accept all the arguments or not, we have to begin thinking not just about electronic waste and energy usage related to the products we manufacture, but overall corporate responsibility in general, including sustainability and environmental impact assessment for the whole of our business operations.

Mike Fenner, Technical Manager Europe for Indium Corporation, talked about soldering challenges in a halogen-free PCB assembly process. Defining the meaning of “halogen-free” was a challenge in itself, although IPC J-STD-709 would ultimately give authoritative guidance.

Marion Quarrington from Measurement Technology Ltd gave a detailed and informative OEM perspective on the EU REACH regulation, its impact on an electronics manufacturing business, and how its requirements could be managed with a rational and logical approach. REACH was clearly an area of great concern for delegates, as it generated many questions from the audience.

Continuing the theme of environmental legislation, Nigel Burtt returned to give an update on proposed amendments to the RoHS, WEEE and ELV Directives, which was followed by another presentation by Marion Quarrington on the spread of environmental legislation throughout the world.

The business session demonstrated that SMART is not just about “techie” subjects, and there was keen interest in the presentations from Peter Barnwell of Custom Interconnect Ltd, Mark Hutton of BPA, and Dave Hillman on behalf of IPC.
Peter Barnwell described the role of the independent EMS company in the UK, beginning with a review of how the EMS industry has evolved over the years. By the time the telecoms boom collapsed in 2000-2001, the industry had become dominated by small number of big players who lacked flexibility, whereas many smaller companies lacked production sophistication and technical expertise. Of recent years there had been a rationalization and transition from contract electronics manufacture to electronics manufacturing service and, lately, the concept of original design manufacture had become more significant.

Statistics indicated that the UK had fared worst in the 2009 downturn of the European EMS industry. So what was the future for the small-to-medium EMS company in the UK? Barnwell believed in being both technology and customer orientated, with emphasis on customer-supplier partnerships. With modern equipment, up-to-date methodologies and a highly skilled and motivated workforce, an EMS business could continue to be successful. Price would always be an issue, quality was a given, but delivery speed, flexibility in supply and the technical resources to solve customer problems were definite selling points. Adding IP and diversification into specialist areas were further means of securing a positive future.

Mark Hutton’s presentation was entitled Key Interconnection and Packaging Trends of High-End Fixed and Wireless Electronic Systems, and looked at some of the technologies that had been analysed by BPA over the past year. He reviewed flex and flex-rigid printed circuits, high speed electronics, wireless modules, mobile phones, automotive, ultra thin copper and HDI trends in the context of the current world electronics market. Of particular interest were his views on the justification for optical interconnect in low-cost high-volume applications such as smartphones, with examples of solutions offered by Motorola and Matsushita. He ended the presentation with a glimpse of BPA’s forecasts for sector-by-sector demand for flex and flex-rigid circuits, expected to reach $450M in Europe by 2013.

Finally, Dave Hillman reviewed IPC’s 2008-2009 International Technology Roadmap for Electronic Interconnections, describing technology roadmapping as a needs-driven planning process to help identify, select, and develop technology alternatives to satisfy a set of product needs. The IPC roadmap included input from China, Japan and Europe, and described incremental operational-level information in detail for each step of the PCB manufacturing and assembly process. The 2009 roadmap incorporated many new features, including a keyword-searchable database. It was important for any company in the electronics supply chain to have an understanding of trends and technology changes and Hillman believed that three-year roadmaps could give meaningful, information, but considered ten-year forecasts to have limited value. He advocated that companies take a balanced view between global industry roadmaps and forecasts from the specialist market analysts.

Outside of the seminar sessions there was plenty of interest and activity around the table-top exhibition area; people made the most of the networking opportunities; old acquaintanceships were renewed and plenty of new ones established.

SMART Group marked their 25th anniversary with a stylish event, seamlessly organised and professionally delivered, which succeeded once again in bringing together a group of people with a common interest in electronics manufacturing to share their knowledge and experience in a relaxed and informal atmosphere.

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