One of the clichés that you hear during slow times in the electronics industry is that a lull gives manufacturers the chance to develop new products rather than focusing on getting more of the same old products out the door. This kind of statement has the feel of a corporate pep talk or a desperate budget justification memo, but after attending the annual IMAPS Symposium, I have a renewed belief in the value of a slump.
Innovation was rampant on the IMAPS show floor, with more clever things than I've noticed in a long time. Perhaps this level of development has always been there, but it is just more noticeable when companies aren't touting their manufacturing capacity, and when the giants have scaled back on their booth extravaganzas. Whatever the cause, it's great to get a chance to see the output of some very smart people working hard to come up with something new to keep their companies and the industry going.
You can read our full report on the IMAPS Symposium on page 13, but some of my favorite things there included a low-cost
plasma etching system built in a commercial microwave oven by Plasmatic Systems, bringing sophisticated surface treatment technology to the masses. It's been around for a while, but it still stopped my stroll on the show floor to take a closer look.
Interconnect Systems Inc. had a slew of adapters with solutions to many kinds of interconnect issues, including die shrinks, re-designs, faulty designs, and other situations needing a fix that happen all the time but don't get publicized too much. (Earlier in my career, I was witness to a package re-design required because of incorrect metric conversions. Ouch.) Many designers have counted on such products to make the diving catch and save their product.
One great example of clever people at IMAPS finding applications for their technology could be found at Tecan, a precision metal processing company in the UK. If you have several hours free, call up Noel Cherowbrier there and ask if there are any interesting uses in the packaging world for photochemical etching and photoelectroforming. They have come up with all kinds of things, including making tools for an imprinted interconnect technology that fundamentally alters how circuits are connected. Who knows if it will fly, but it's fascinating to see such things and the enthusiastic people behind them.
Call me an optimist, but if an industry slump lets design engineers be design engineers instead of manufacturing engineers, then that is a significant silver lining. I have filled both roles and know first-hand the value of letting each have its turn as the top priority. AP
Thanks for reading,
Jeffrey C. Demmin