Since 1957, IPC, an association representing the global electronics industry supply chain, has built a reputation of bringing the electronic industry together, by establishing opportunities for learning and networking. Not only do they provide IPC standards for the industry, they also have experience with planning technical and certification programs, development courses, as well as competitions. As part of their efforts, they are responsible for the North American tradeshow, IPC Apex Expo. Every year, professionals, developers, and experts come together to discuss challenges and current trends. Throughout this year’s show, Sanjay Huprikar, Vice President, Solutions, and Philippe Léonard, Europe Director, spoke with Charlene Hesse, Online editor EPP Europe, about the efforts the company is making in 2019, current happenings with the tradeshow, as well as, their push into the European market.
Can you tell our readers about the company and the tradeshow Apex?
Sanjay Huprikar: IPC Apex is not just a tradeshow, because we emphasize not only standards, which is already very present at this show, but also education, advocacy, in terms of global advocacy, and lastly solutions, where CFX is a great example.
Philippe Léonard: What we should also not forget is the value of having a large portion of the industry coming together. People are happy to have a chance just to see each other, network, solve problems, deal with issues, and exchange ideas. This adds a lot of value especially at this scale, since everyone is in one location for a few days.
Sanjay Huprikar: When most people ask what IPC is, the standard answer is our core competencies which is providing standards, educational opportunities, and certification programs. I like to answer differently in saying that our core competency is our ability to put people together to solve something. This is because of our uniqueness, we are a non-for-profit, global, industry driven, and member focused association. From a value standpoint, what we bring to the table every day is the ability to get people together.
What was new and exciting at IPC Apex show this year?
Sanjay Huprikar: It was a nice combination of bringing in new ideas into the mix of what we have historically been doing as well. If I had to rank order, the most exciting thing for this year was the CFX demo line. In under a year and a half, we went from the initial idea to the documentation. In general, if you think about IPC standards, it usually takes about 3–5 years to develop and publish a standard. However, in this short time period, we got people to envision what a demo may look like, then established several demos at last year’s show, and this year we got an actual line running that processes a real board. It’s almost unheard of! The second important topic that occurred, again from an exciting point of view, is the fact that the hand soldering competition was back.
Philippe Léonard: We had 13 certified winners. This means that each of these 13 people won a regional competition that took place all around the globe, including Europe and Asia. This is also exciting because it’s putting the knowledge and set of skills in the spotlight. There are less and less people that are able to do this job, but here the certified winners are the experts. They have become sort of role models.
Sanjay Huprikar: It’s a great story if you look at it from their perspective. Taking a skill, showing your region that you are the expert, and then being called to travel to be on an international stage, that’s exhilarating for them! But we love it because that’s the energy and excitement that we are trying to create for the industry.
Philippe Léonard: It is also a great opportunity for the companies that send their operator here to show how skilled their employees are. Not only from an external perspective, but also internally to their own employees, they build momentum around this. Which shows that this is not just a marketing gimmick, but a useful tool.
Sanjay Huprikar: Another exciting thing that occurred is that the CTO of Tesla delivered the keynote address. He has accomplished a lot, and yet at a very basic level, he explained their history, their story, and how they went about it. What they tried, what worked, what didn’t work, and it was inspiring.
What has been the feedback for the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX)?
Sanjay Huprikar: Feedback has been great, to the point where the CFX standard passed the ballot stage and will soon be published. I think the demos that we did in 2017 were tremendous and brought us to this point of where the protocol is now realized so that data can be transferred from machine to machine, as boards are being processed. I think the other positive signal from this standard is that we collaborated with an organization called Hermes, which was at the time doing their own standard. Part of our mission is to collaborate with others to not have a duplication of effort, so it made more sense to work together.
With the year’s theme, ‘Technology’s future comes together’, is this significant for today’s market?
Sanjay Huprikar: It speaks to what it is that we are trying to do. We are always looking for opportunities to bring innovation into our efforts, and what the industry has done. We are here to serve the industry, as well as, take cues from it. And that’s what a member driven organization should do. We’ve also been demonstrative about taking on initiatives, to help lead the industry in certain areas. Automotive is a good example of that as we have long participated in the creation of standards for aerospace military and defense. This helped the industry understand the potential pitfalls for not having standards and working in a siloed environment.
Automotive has now transitioned, from mechanical parts to electronics. The studies that we’ve seen shows that by the year 2030, roughly 10 years from now, 50 % of the value of an automobile will be electronics. This includes safety, data, and parts in the electronics that need to withstand environmental rugged conditions. So as the shift has taken place, the need for reliability has increased tenfold. Since we played a role in helping aerospace figure that out, we think we’ve got the toolkit and experience to help the automotive industry. That’s what that technology statement means for us, innovating, working and taking cues from the industry, and not being shy to point out some things as well.
IPC has recently made efforts to broaden their stance in the European market. Has anything changed since this initiative?
Philippe Léonard: A couple of things have changed actually. First, this effort resulted in significant presence of IPC everywhere in Europe, at a local and regional level. Over the past 5 years, it also resulted in significant increase in our membership. Which is one of our proxies to measure how the industry buys into what we do. It resulted as well in more activity development for European members. We addressed new sectors and innovative initiatives. We also have more committees, including technical, standardization, and advocacy committees. All of this generates more engagement in the local industry. This is important to us because we want to do things that matter.
We are doing more to bring opportunities to the industry, to learn, educate, train people, to network locally with people from the same local area, Germany, Italy, France, etc. As well as at a European level, with people from all over gathering for a specific topic. Our plan for 2019 is to have 25+ European events.
Sanjay Huprikar: One of the themes for this year is also a strong push into Eastern Europe.
Philippe Léonard: We are planning events in Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania.
Sanjay Huprikar: The OEMs that are based in the western part of Europe are moving their factories to Eastern Europe where the work force is. And this gives us a great opportunity to introduce our value proposition, especially the training and the education piece to that market.
Philippe Léonard: It’s really the same story, we go where the industry is. We want to be close to the members and to the industry. We realized that a large portion of the manufacturing is there, so we also have to be more present there. Also in my opinion, many of our European members take the IPC standard as it is. But we want them to realize that they can also have a voice. They can be take part and revise, change, or adapt standards to their own needs. This is something that is very well routed in the US industry, but not yet in Europe.
Are there any new initiatives planned for this year, especially in the European market?
Philippe Léonard: I would define our plans in two pillars. One pillar is exploring new territories, sectors, and areas where electronics is more present and where reliability is important. IPC standards are made to do everything possible to avoid failures of the electronic system. There are now new areas in the industry where failure is not acceptable. An example of this would be in the automotive industry, more specifically autonomous vehicle or electric cars. We are also targeting a similar evolution that might take place, in the medical and e-Textile or smart wearable industries.
Sanjay Huprikar: And I would say that over the last year and a half, we opened several doors. No one has slammed the door in our face yet!
Philippe Léonard: Not yet.
Sanjay Huprikar: I attribute that to people recognizing the credibility that we bring to the industry. The other piece of it is, people are recognizing that a siloed mentality is trouble. There are a lot of unnecessary duplicate efforts going on from company to company, and that’s starting to be recognized. For instance, we created a counsel last year called ITERC, the IPC Transportation Electronics Reliability Council. That was an important milestone for us because we were able to get large OEMs in the auto industry, Renault, Toyota, Volkswagen, and large tier-one suppliers, Continental and Bosch, to sit at the table together for an entire day. And talk about what we need to do in terms of circuit board standards for the future. Better to have the conversation now and come up with a plan on what the supply chain should be looking for. They bought into the idea that standardization in this area is important, making it more efficient and cost effective for their supply chain.
Philippe Léonard: There are also some other things that we continue to push. For example, for the last 2 years, we’ve organized a conference on the wire harness, including cabling and connectors for the printed circuit board. And last but not least, we are looking at further developing and improving hand soldering competitions. We had a world championship at Apex, but there’s a program with 6 local regional qualification competitions in Europe.
Sanjay Huprikar: And the 2019 World Championships will be held in Munich at productronica in November. So we’re excited to have it in Europe in 2019.
Previously, locations for Apex were alternating between California and Nevada. Is there a reason for why this has changed?
Sanjay Huprikar: We are a data driven organization and we take member input very seriously. We’ve done surveys on this, in terms of pros and cons of different venues and what the experience has been. And in general, it’s fair to say that most people find the experience in San Diego to be much better than Las Vegas. It was a combination of consistency of show and also making sure we had maximum participation in IPC standards development programs. So we made a decision in 2015 to stay the next 7 years in California. From 2017–2025, we are in California. Now having said that, we will have to see what happens after 2025.
The political stance of America has changed in the past few years. Has this affected the show and industry in any way?
Sanjay Huprikar: I don’t know if that has made an impact on the show. There’s obviously been a shift that’s gone on over the last 2 years, but what we are trying to do is recognize who we are. Historically, we’ve focused our advocacy efforts in the United States over the last 8–10 years, but IPC is a global association, representing the global electronics industry. So, we are beginning to show the value to our European members in terms of our advocacy efforts, and well do more of that in Asia as well. There are issues that are local, there are issues that are global, both in advocacy and in standards. Our global team is looking at into those issues, all while listening to what our members are saying. We treat advocacy like we treat standards. We take the input of our members and develop programs to address their issues. That’s what we choose to focus on as an organization, what are issues are and how can we globally help from an advocacy standpoint.
Thank you both for taking the time for this interview.