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The European Angle
By Pete Starkey
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ICT Hayling Island Seminar: Young People Don't Lick Stamps
The Institute of Circuit Technology (ICT) Hayling Island Seminar has become a must-attend event in the UK PCB community. This year, the event broke with tradition: Spirit Circuits’ Steve Driver and ICT’s Bill Wilkie put together a programme designed to offer an alternative to conventional “grey suit brigade” contributions and focus on the importance of bringing new minds into the industry, of introducing new ideas, and of recognising that a younger generation might have different thoughts on how to do business.
What was the significance of Driver’s “Young People Don’t Lick Stamps” headline? He explained that they don’t need to--young people don’t write letters any more, their communication is electronic; it depends on technology. Young people use text, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Flickr, YouTube, and blogs to communicate. He acknowledged that it could be a challenge to understand the language, but suggested that older people could search the Internet for information on how to speak properly! Quoting Ofcom, he stated that text-based communications were surpassing traditional phone calls as the most frequent ways of keeping in touch. The changes were being led by teenagers and young adults, increasingly socialising with friends and family online and through text messages despite claiming that they preferred to talk face to face. Hours were spent accessing social networking sites and e-mail, or using a mobile to access the Internet, whilst for the first time ever fewer phone calls were being made on both fixed and mobile phones.
In spite of all this technology, there is high youth unemployment. Why? Driver listed the possibilities: Maybe youngsters did not want to work. Maybe the extended retirement age has held up job creation. Maybe the recession, maybe the effect of China, maybe the mismatch of communication between generations. Maybe it was a combination of everything, but it was very obvious to him that we all needed these young people in our businesses.
Referencing a presentation he made four years previously, Driver said the PCB industry was created in the '50s by the Pioneers, in the '60s and '70s we had the Engineers, in the '80s and '90s came the Mavericks, in the noughties we had the Thinkers. Now, it was the turn of the Geeks. Geek is cool! And he was pleased to welcome four enthusiastic young speakers--all very proud Geeks--confident that they could deliver exciting insights on how business would be done in the future.
The first presenter was Alastair Bennett, a design engineer at Rainbow Technology Systems with a Master’s degree from Strathclyde University, who gave a technical overview of liquid photoresist technology with specific reference to the characteristics of 100% solids UV-curable liquid etch resist in comparison with dry film and conventional liquid photoimageable resists. Rainbow’s solvent-free wet resist was coated at a thickness of only 5 microns, compared with 25 to 35 microns for dry film and 8 to 15 microns for liquid photoimageable, and exposed with the phototool in direct contact. The very short optical path of typically 8 microns compared with 69 microns for dry film gave substantial benefits in resolution capability with non-collimated light and the very high photo-speed enabled almost instantaneous curing using a low-energy LED UV source. Environmental benefits included low wastage and the absence of solvents and associated oven-drying. The process was very economical to operate and occupied minimal floor space.
Michael Bode came from Polar Instruments’ North American office in Beaverton, Oregon, to deliver a perspective of the PCB industry in the U.S. from the viewpoint of young professionals. Bode's degree was not directly related to his work at Polar--he graduated in civil engineering before realising that was not where his vocation lay, but he had then risen to an opportunity offered by Polar and found that he fit well into the position.
He commented that engineers in North America were “getting kinda old” and there were not enough skilled people coming in to take their place. The economy was showing signs of picking up; there was an ongoing re-shoring of manufacturing and a need to encourage youth into the industry. Manufacturing was becoming highly technical and highly mechanised, and needed clever people to make sure it was carried out correctly.
The American educational system was focused on four-year degrees, with a dated perception of manufacturing industry and a “blue-collar” stigma. Bode had been one of the fortunate ones: The system turned out large numbers of college graduates with mountains of debt and qualifications they could not use, ending up in careers unrelated to their university majors. He advocated apprenticeship and internship to give students the chance to learn about the profession before investing in the education and increasing their prospects of finding success in a relevant career. From the employers’ point of view, they increased the likelihood of finding good people and guiding their education, lessening the risk and ending up with quality employees.
If the North American PCB industry was going to be competitive in the global race for innovation advantage, it needed new ideas and perspectives from the next generation of engineers and manufacturers, combining advanced technical knowledge with an awareness of societal and environmental needs, continually realising new levels of efficiency.
Stacey Driver, business development manager at Stickleback Manufacturing Ltd., gave her views on the “real world" she encountered after leaving university with a law degree. Her further education leaders had encouraged her to believe in a “promised land” and to expect a comfortable management position after graduation, but had not prepared her for just how “real” the “real world” would be and left her wondering whether the promised land had ever existed. In her presentation, she recounted her personal experiences in the UK manufacturing industry and commented upon the changing image of the businessman, the industry behind the hobbyist, and the introduction of government initiatives to increase the interest of young people in “STEM” careers--those based on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects.
Driver recounted how she had set out to re-brand the Stickleback business, make it graduate friendly, and give it an online personality through social media like Twitter. One of her innovative ventures was Ragworm, which she described as a “community PCB platform” taking designs from anywhere in the world, combining them into composite panels for manufacture, sharing the panel set-up cost, and pricing on a per-square-centimetre flat rate. Geeks were on hand 24/7 to provide technical support and assistance, and Ragworm PCBs were differentiated from the norm by their bright orange solder mask. To support the growth of her PCB community, Driver had established a forum called Rock Pool, to share, review, and debate all things techy and creative. She had exhibited Ragworm at many UK events and presented at schools and colleges to encourage interest in electronics and engineering. She acknowledged the success of Raspberry Pi, the 25-dollar computer developed to get young people programming again, which had already sold over a million units, and described her active participation in the Bloodhound Education Programme, devised to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.
Driver’s reference to the Bloodhound Project nicely set the scene for rocket engineer Daniel Jubb’s dynamic keynote presentation, which epitomised the commitment of a young person to confronting and overcoming the seemingly impossible. Almost entirely self-taught, “I left school at 13,” his interest in rockets was encouraged by his grandfather. They founded an amateur rocket group called The Falcon Project in 1995 and, having built and launched a number of rockets, the project became a commercial enterprise in 1997 and went on to make rockets for a variety of civilian and military applications. Now in his late 20s, Jubb is recognised as one of the world’s leading rocket scientists, and is also well-known for his remarkable handlebar moustache.
Focused on his passion for rockets, his entrepreneurial journey, and the encouragement of young people into science and engineering, the central theme of Jubb’s presentation was the development of a propulsion system for the Bloodhound supersonic car project, with many anecdotes and illustrations of successes and setbacks during the programme. The Bloodhound is a jet- and rocket-powered car designed to push the land speed record beyond 1,000 miles per hour and the Falcon Project has been involved since 2005, initially as a technical adviser, but later as a sponsor of the project, directly concerned with the design and development of a hybrid rocket engine to provide the additional thrust needed once the jet engine from a Eurofighter-Typhoon had got the speed up to 300 miles per hour. The hybrid rocket would burn a mixture of solid and liquid propellants, and almost a ton of liquid oxidiser needed to be pumped into the burner within a 20-second period using a pump originally developed for a nuclear cruise missile, driven by a Cosworth Formula-1 racing engine. Scary stuff! The record attempt was scheduled to take place in 2014 on a dried-up lakebed in South Africa.
A significant feature of the Bloodhound Project is that it is not veiled in secrecy. Quite the opposite: It aims to create a national surge in the popularity of STEM subjects through an iconic project which will inspire the next generation of engineers and scientists. Jubb explained how the Bloodhound SSC STEM Ambassador Programme is designed to inform, advise, and enthuse teachers and students about the project and encourage them to join the adventure, by explaining the technology behind Bloodhound and keeping them informed of the research, manufacturing and testing progress.
If Steve Driver has anything to do with organising it, be prepared to expect the unexpected. Continuing the theme of encouraging young people, the evening wrapped up with a session from a group of six amazing young musicians. Driver had spotted them busking outside the Roundhouse in London and invited them along. New roots band CC Smugglers gave a spontaneous performance in their infectious style of Americana-folk-blues-country to the delight of young and old in the audience. Brilliant!
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