Additive manufacturing might not be ready for prime time, but it’s making inroads.
Sometimes I find myself walking around the shop floor asking, “Why do we have all this very expensive equipment? There must be a simpler, cheaper way to make a printed circuit board!” And yet, despite phenomenal technological strides, our industry still uses the same basic manufacturing processes since the earliest days of circuit board production: drill – image – plate – press – repeat – then route.
Observing so many different processes, simple logic might make you think printing conductive ink would have replaced plating processes long ago. Yet while printed electronics has advanced considerably, it is not ready for prime time for all applications.
A sense of urgency most go toward protecting your tribal knowledge.
Every business keeps a mindful eye on critical assets. On any corporate balance sheet those assets are identified, valued and periodically updated. Indeed, business valuations are often tied directly to those assets, enabling companies to borrow money to acquire additional assets. Regrettably, no balance sheet includes or values the most important and valuable (and perhaps invaluable) asset a company has: tribal knowledge.
The term “tribal knowledge” is used to encompass all the knowledge, experience and wisdom a business’s combined workforce brings to the game each day. It describes what for centuries has been a key asset of all businesses, especially manufacturers. Despite its importance however, historically it has not been universally acknowledged of value nor viewed as a competitive advantage that contributes to organizational profitability.
A thwarted vacation provides lessons in the importance of timely communication, training and skilled staff.
Summertime was here, and after a couple years that seemed more like a couple decades hunkering down under the Covid cloud, it was finally time to take a vacation. Based on the Covid protocols at the time, we decided not to travel abroad but instead return to one of our favorite domestic vacation spots. Resort accommodations were booked, airline tickets purchased, and a rental car secured. Now we waited for the day to come for our first real pre-pandemic trip, wondering, with everything booked well in advance, what could possibly go wrong?
Fabricators and designers must communicate about new technology to verify its viability.
More often than not over the past couple of decades, new technologies, processes and options we fabricators have been asked, begged or threatened to add to our repertoire of offerings were ones that could be best considered disruptive. What’s disruptive to a manufacturer may seem benign to the casual eye, as often the technology – or process – that is most disruptive is a simple one.
Indeed, sometimes that technology is nothing more than the rebirth of an older, tried-and-true, albeit significantly tweaked, process. REACH, and the prior RoHS, caused much disruption, and yet most of the plating chemistries and surface finishes in use today are essentially highly refined formulas of older plating technologies such as ENIG, silver and tin.
Old or new, disruptive technologies tend to be challenges for several reasons. First is understanding the technology and how to process it so it works as intended. Second is determining what equipment is needed to cost-effectively and robustly apply the new technology. Finally, finding enough customers to consistently order product that uses the technology, so everyone remembers what it is and how to process it!