Gene Weiner on the IPC APEX EXPO 2019 Automotive Executive Forum


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I spoke with Gene Weiner, president and CEO of Weiner International Associates, about IPC's history of forums, his thoughts on the Executive Forum on Advancing Automotive Electronics at IPC APEX EXPO 2019, and how the IPC Hall of Famers and the industry can help improve forum success.

Dan Feinberg: Gene, thank you for doing this interview. You were the committee chair for the Automotive Executive Forum and did most of the work in getting it set up and running. It was an excellent forum. This isn’t the first forum you’ve done for the IPC. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of these forums?

Gene Weiner: It started way back at the TMRC (Technical Marketing Research Council), where I used to speak after coming back from Asian trips. Usually, the TMRC was the week after a trip to Asia or shortly after a trip to the JPCA event. Probably the most successful forum we had was one in February of 2007 at IPC’s 50th annual meeting in Los Angeles. Although the venue wasn’t great, the attendance was. We had approximately 130–180 people in the forum at all times, and it never went below that.

That forum was based on Asian development and discussed implementing technologies and business practices in America that you may have missed, covering equipment, materials, manufacturing processes, etc. It featured accomplished industry leaders from all over the world including Asia, Europe, and the U.S. The most recent forum before those at IPC APEX EXPO 2019 was two years ago, which was held in San Diego, but the attendance was not great. We didn’t get much support or publicity, but the program was good.

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Feinberg: I remember that. I spoke at one of the first forums, and so did Hamed El-Abd and Walt Custer; it was a good start. As for this forum, I know a lot of planning went into it. In your planning, what did you hope to accomplish?

Weiner: The goal was to provide information on the complete supply chain for automotive electronics including materials, process, product development, Tier-I requirements, global sourcing, reliability, and the use of analytics for cost control and troubleshooting. The idea was to provide an international global outlook with speakers from Europe, Asia, as well as the U.S., and to provide something of value and use to every attendee.

Feinberg: Do you think we succeeded in doing that?

Weiner: Yes. One of our presenters was also awarded one of the five Innovation Awards at IPC APEX EXPO 2019. The comments we’ve received since then are still coming in, and are all favorable. Attendees rated the program 4.6 out of 5.0 when asked if they would recommend it to others. All of the presenters were 4.2 or higher except for one that was 3.4. Overall, the program was rated very well and proved to be successful. I think it was the best one that we’ve done in years.

Feinberg: Yes, I tend to agree with you. And the topic was important. We’ve talked about this during the past week at IPC APEX EXPO—you and I, and a number of others—that with electronics in automotive soon approaching 50% of the value of a vehicle, this forum gives the members a chance to learn about what’s going on with opportunities associated with automotive electronics.

Weiner: That’s true. But one of the most interesting things is that automotive electronics requirements, in some cases, are more rigid or tougher than the military except for documentation and security. And the military industry, more and more, is beginning to look at automotive requirements. So, this is a broader outlook for assembly people, covering everything from fabrication to assembly and final test. It educated more than just automotive people. Although the forum was designed for automotive people, it covered material for anyone that needed to build boards of high tolerances, test standards, and reliability.

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Feinberg: There’s no doubt that reliability is a key factor, especially if we’re talking about autonomous driving, which is where a lot of the electronics are going. Could you imagine if the electronics weren’t reliable?

Weiner: Especially if something failed in the cabin of a jet at 35,000 feet.

Feinberg: Exactly. Driving down the freeway at 75–80 miles an hour and having your sensors fail would not be good either. Anyway, if you had to do the automotive forum over again, what would you do differently?

Weiner: I would do two things differently. First, I would make sure that it did not compete for time with another program of interest, or I would insist on co-sharing part of the program, as we used to do in the good old TMRC days. Second, I would like two fewer speakers. I did not expect everyone I asked to accept. This has happened to me before. I should have learned from that experience. The only decline for an invitation we got was from the director of the U.S. Department of Energy, Automotive Electronics. Everyone else that we invited accepted, so we wound up with 10 speakers instead of eight. Although it was very valuable, it made for a long day. However, everyone stayed, so that was good.

Feinberg: There were actually two who declined. The other one was a senior executive from Nvidia.

Weiner: That’s true. That’s because of competing events at the same time, which makes sense. In this case, I was thinking of the competing event with the EMS forum in the next room. Some of our attendees went back and forth between the two forums.

Feinberg: Nvidia told me they would have been interested, “But we just had CES and the Automotive Show in Detroit," and there were a few other things going on. The only other comment I received was, “Why are you doing this show in January?”

Weiner: The response to that would be, “Why not?” Especially if you’re from the frigid Northeast in January and the event is in Southern California.

Feinberg: That’s true.

Weiner: San Diego was very inviting, and we were between the rain storms.

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