Nolan's Notes

Column from: Nolan Johnson

Nolan brings 30 years of career experience focused almost entirely on electronics design and manufacturing. As managing editor for SMT007 Magazine and PCB007 Magazine on a bimonthly basis, Nolan participates in quality interviews that explore the subject matter that is on the cutting edge and in the forefront of technology in the electronics assembly and bare board PCB fabrication industries.


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February 05, 2024

Nolan's Notes: Boost Your Sales

Everyone is talking about how to implement artificial intelligence into their business model, but this month in SMT007 Magazine, we look at perhaps the most human of all the functions in our business: marketing and sales. Amongst all the digitization and electronic communication that is changing our world, it has yet to replace the process of building relationships, which is where most sales take place. 
January 22, 2024

Nolan’s Notes: Let Your Walls Down

I’m careful about not complaining too much in my life and professional writing. Complaining usually gets you nowhere. Back in college, I heard a quote that has stuck with me: “If you’re going to complain about a problem, have a solution to offer along with your complaint. That’s the way to move things forward.” So pardon me while I lodge a complaint and suggest a change in behavior about PCB fabricators and designers.
January 03, 2024

Nolan’s Notes: The Cost of Rework

In this issue of SMT007 Magazine, we visit the rework processes, arguably one of the highest-skilled, highest-pressure jobs on the manufacturing floor. What are the technical challenges? How is the rework job function being changed by new packaging technologies and increasing board densities? When faced with a staffing shortage in rework, how can we remedy the situation? How will the skill sets for rework need to evolve?
December 05, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Set Your Sails Properly

In the world of sailing, we talk about headwinds—that strong wind that opposes forward motion—to gain momentum (mostly). But isn’t this counterintuitive? How can wind pushing into your sails help you move in the direction you actually want to go? Of course, it’s much more easily understood when we apply the principles of aerodynamics—which I think most of us understand—and some sailing techniques that take advantage of the headwinds. So, I wasn’t surprised when the term headwinds popped up frequently in our discussions for this issue about the current economic climate.
November 17, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: The Registration Sweet Spot

Registration is underrated and underappreciated. You can try to argue with me about this, but after diving into the current state of registration, I'm convinced. For example, 30 years ago, the state-of-the-art for integrated circuit geometries was in the low-double and high-single digits of microns, single-sided, on a consistently planar and highly polished crystalline substrate. Almost without exception, the entire integrated circuit was built on top of the substrate.
November 08, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Gen Z in Manufacturing

I would imagine you’ve asked yourself, as I have a time or two: How do we attract new talent to our industry, fill our open positions, and preserve the deep, intuitive knowledge of our most veteran employees now on the verge of retirement? These are crucial questions, indeed, and to answer them, we must consider four perspectives: employers, early career workers, academic institutions, and students.
October 03, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: The Eyes Have It

A great example of AI’s power at pattern matching images in medicine is the Google Automated Retinal Disease Assessment (ARDA) program, which turns retinopathy screening—once a test performed by an ophthalmologist—into a technician-level task. Given that only a small percentage of patients test positive for retinopathy, the AI-based assessment means that ophthalmologists now only see the patients who test positive on the app.
September 19, 2023

Nolan's Notes: Convergence

When I stop to consider the dynamics in our industry at this moment, I keep coming back to the idea of “convergence.” Aspects of our industry historically thought of as distinct and separate are blurring the lines and overlapping. As I look back on our coverage in the past five years, I see convergence taking place, moving like a glacier—slow and steady but with formidable force. In this issue of PCB007 Magazine, the three areas of convergence we consider are materials, advanced packaging, and UHDI.
September 05, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Chips Don’t Float

Ronnie Chatterji is returning to academia. This is big news because Chatterji is the technology advisor to the Biden administration, and a central figure in shepherding the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. Steven Overly, writing in Politico on Aug. 2, 2023, says that Chatterji’s return to Duke University “comes as the Biden administration’s semiconductor strategy has evolved from a frenzied search for a short-term fix to the global chips shortage to placing long-term bets on the U.S.-based manufacturing facilities in an effort to depend less on suppliers in Taiwan.”
August 02, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Digital Twin in Manufacturing

In this month's issue of SMT007 Magazine, we look at digital twins in manufacturing. Normally, when we say “digital twin,” we think of design data. But that’s not what we’re talking about; this time, we’re discussing a digital twin for your factory itself. Our discussion follows along with the idea that business operations themselves can have a digital twin. Now why does this even matter?
July 20, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: TQM—Always in Style

TQM and continuous improvement never go out of style—and it all starts with leadership. In this issue of PCB007 Magazine, we explore how TQM specifically has entered the DNA of continuous improvement disciplines, and the role leadership plays in transformation. If you've ever competed against a company that applies the principles of TQM, you understand their winning advantage.
July 05, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: The Turing Test

You can’t escape it if you try: Mainstream media coverage of artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere. Reporters and editors are tossing all sorts of requests at ChatGPT, Bing AI, and the like, then reporting on what they get back for results. You see typical themes like, “ChatGPT will take away your job” or the media reporting on music awards that explicitly forbid AI-generated music and lyrics. A large chunk of the coverage points out that the results of an AI request are too simplistic or even erroneous. That has us concerned. Remember, we heard the same concerns back in the 1970s, when robotic arms first rolled onto the factory floor. Those robots didn’t take away all the jobs, they just shifted the skill sets. It didn’t take long for the workers to realize that the robots merely did the tedious tasks; it still took people to make sure things ran correctly. The robots weren’t really smart, and they couldn’t do what humans could.
June 05, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Getting Real About Sustainability

As we gathered content for this issue of SMT007 Magazine, I kept reflecting on my early 1980s college history class on World War II. I had been surprised to find that my textbook was written by a physicist from the Manhattan Project and concluded with a chapter devoted to a physics thought experiment. The author had done some mathematical estimations (as physicists do) to determine that 20th century man was heating up the planet at such a rate that it would become a world crisis. As I recall, he factored in CO2 emissions and the amount of heat released into the atmosphere per household, coming from even simple activities like cooking and hot showers. It was thought provoking.
May 16, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: A Tale of Quality Customer Service

Companies can deliver stunning ads and effective marketing plans that create strong emotional reactions. But your personal experience creates a long-lasting impression. It comes down to customer service. What’s your amazing customer service story? Here’s one of mine.
May 02, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Ready to Hire?

Staffing issues remain a top concern for electronics manufacturing companies—a ripple effect of the pandemic, to be sure. No sooner did supply chain issues soften than we realized nobody wanted to come work for us, and if they did, could we train them quickly enough? Therefore, what are today’s best practices in on-the-job training? Are local technical schools recognizing the need and meeting the challenge set before them?
April 04, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: The Rise of the EMS Summit

A summit is defined as “a meeting or conference of heads of state, especially to conduct diplomatic negotiations and ease international tensions. Or, any meeting or conference of top-level officials, executives, etc.” With that in mind, I believe the EMS Leadership Summit at IPC APEX EXPO was well named. I spent the entire day at the summit, listening to the speakers and talking to attendees. I found a high level of engagement from both speakers and guests, and rightly so; there was plenty to talk about. What surprised me was the relatively low attendance. “This is information that everyone needs to hear,” I thought to myself.
March 16, 2023

Nolan's Notes: The Fabricator's Mindset

We’re three months into 2023, and wrapping up our first quarter. So, as a PCB fabricator, what’s on your mind? Is it time to assess, and perhaps reassess, what your expectations are for the year and whether your reality is meeting your projections? What are you hopeful about? What has you nervous? What are the opportunities and obstacles to your business right now?
March 02, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: The Manufacturer’s Mindset

It’s the ongoing balance of the four forces of flight—thrust, drag, weight, and lift—that keeps any flying object aloft. To gain altitude, the pilot adds lift, which usually requires more thrust. To descend safely, there must be less thrust, allowing weight to exert more force on the trajectory. In the business world, thrust is revenue, lift is manufacturing capacity, weight represents various business obstacles, and drag stands in for the operating costs and other financial burdens on your business. Just as the bird or pilot must balance their four forces, you must balance yours to climb upward.
February 02, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: The Trade Show Is Over—Now What Do You Do?

When you’re new to your career, your role, or even new to the industry, the pressure can be immense. Then you find yourself at a trade show representing your company, tasked with bringing information back to your organization. But take heart, at least you’re not Harrison “Jack” Schmitt. Jack really understood pressure. Schmitt is a retired NASA astronaut from the Apollo, era but let me take a step back and explain some of the history. The U.S. space program, as you may recall, went to the moon with a science-based agenda; astronauts brought back lunar samples to study.
January 18, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: An Evolution

This month, PCB007 Magazine looks at the evolution of advanced packaging from the fabricator’s perspective. This is, as you’re aware, a global topic. Asia harbors nearly all the manufacturing capabilities for the packaging and interposer substrates required for the latest packaging technologies. North America and Europe, buoyed by their respective chip technologies legislation, are working to bring packaging capability back to their home shores. How this plays out remains to be seen.
January 04, 2023

Nolan’s Notes: Advanced Packaging

Advanced packaging is not new to our coverage. Over the past two years, we’ve written about the heterogenous integration roadmap, as well as reported on the October 2022 IPC Advanced Packaging Symposium in Washington, D.C. This is a topic wherein printed circuit manufacturing and semiconductor manufacturing begin to converge. For this issue of SMT007 Magazine, we contacted industry experts on packaging technologies to get their perspective on advanced packaging, and followed up with many of the participants in the IPC symposium, seeking a deeper dive into their presentations. We found enthusiastic voices willing to share their concerns, solutions, and R&D work with you.
December 05, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Traditions—The Old and the New

December is a month full of traditions. They may be religious, spiritual, family, or entirely personal. They may be related to the calendar or business cycles, but whatever the reason, December certainly seems to be driven by tradition. While traditions often get a bad reputation as stodgy and tired, they aren’t all bad. For example, we use this last month of the year to prepare you for IPC APEX EXPO. The upcoming conference and trade show is scheduled for Jan. 21–26, 2023, at the San Diego Convention Center. As we prepare this issue for publication, the show floor boasts 366 exhibitors.
November 17, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: UHDI—Raising Awareness and Interesting Questions

It was over lunch on the second day of the recent IPC Symposium on Advanced Packaging when I asked a question that triggered an interesting discussion about advanced packaging and ultra high density interconnect. While these two technologies are distinct, they are also symbiotic; it takes both to make either successful. As the symposium delivered on its agenda, the inter-relationship between those two technologies became crystal clear.
November 02, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: The Conveyor Belt Effect

How many times have you watched a conveyor belt in a movie played out for comedic effect? It’s a familiar trope: The belt starts out slowly, then increases its speed, until chaos ensues. Think “I Love Lucy,” “Star Wars,” and Charlie Chaplin in “City Lights.” These are perfect metaphors for this issue on workflow management, where planning your workflow on the manufacturing floor in these challenging times sometimes feels like being just one step away from disaster—or safety.
October 04, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Have Passport, Will Travel

Technical conferences, expos, symposia, and trade gatherings of all kinds are back and in a big way. Maybe it’s just because we’ve been quiet for a while, followed by a year of careful, tentative restarts to the event schedules, but this upcoming year’s calendar of events seems to be full steam ahead. I’m excited to get back into the convention centers and hotel ballrooms; that is where some of our best news and reporting originates. That comes at a price, however, as my travel schedule looks pretty brutal between now and Thanksgiving. Just between you and me, while it may feel brutal to my workload, I’m ready to dust off my passport, see some airports, and wear thin some shoe leather.
September 19, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: New Era Manufacturing

In a 2010 New York Times article titled “Failing Like a Buggy Whip Maker? Better Check Your Simile,” writer Randall Stross confronts the buggy whip analogy and unintentionally offers some perspective on our industry. PCB fabrication is thriving on a global scale. Innovations are occurring regularly, mostly in Asia. It’s not that the world has moved beyond needing printed circuits; the world is simply evolving its wants and needs from a circuit board fabricator. It makes sense that those who are leaning on the buggy whip analogy may have given up on the industry. Truth be told, however, we’re more like the carriage parts manufacturers than like the buggy whip makers. Here's why.
September 02, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Light at the End of the Tunnel

The development of an issue of SMT007 Magazine can take two to four months of planning, research, content gathering, editing, and production. Under normal conditions (are they ever normal?) the stories we identify at the start of the planning process are still accurate at the time of publication. We move fast in this industry, but sometimes, just like the rest of our industry, things evolve.
August 02, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Supply ‘Pain’ Management

We’re all feeling the discomfort, aren’t we? Things are getting squeezed and stretched. While the correct amount of that “something” is hard to put your finger on, there’s stress in the PCB manufacturing and assembly process. It reminds me of coming home from the hospital with my first born. He was 28 days early, and naturally, his early arrival threw off all our birth preparations. For example, we attended the last session of our Lamaze class with a newborn in a baby carrier. Never have I seen sharper, dagger-eyed stares than from that class full of moms-to-be.
July 19, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: The Shifting Supply Chain—An Argument for Investment

The gears of the economy worked like clockwork for quite a long time, at least in North America, Europe, and Asia. Overall, that smooth operation is no longer the case, for several reasons. It’s as if the watchmaker has upended the clockworks onto the worktable and is rearranging the mechanism to work differently—to tell a different time, if you will. In the overall economy, there are bearish signs (9.1% inflation year-over-year in the U.S. in mid-July). But in electronics manufacturing, the market looks quite bullish on the demand side. This month’s cover reflects that dynamic—a bullish industry within what seems to be an emerging bearish economy.
July 05, 2022

Nolan's Notes: Data Security—It’s Incumbent Upon You

In May 2022, the news broke in Portland, Oregon that the city government had suffered a “cybersecurity breach” and lost $1.4 million in city funds. As reported by numerous news sources, a city-issued press release stated that “preliminary evidence indicates that an unauthorized, outside entity gained access to a City of Portland email account to conduct illegal activity.” Incidents like these are more common than we realize, and must be addressed in our industry as well.
June 01, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: What’s the Point of Collaborating?

When we first started planning this issue, we used the word “partnership” in our working title. Partnership certainly is one way to collaborate. Creating close working relationships with manufacturing specialists who can extend your capabilities for your customers is one obvious way to collaborate. But there are others, for example, collaboration can also look like proactive communication with customers as well as vendors.
May 17, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Where Are the Golden Eggs?

We all went through the simultaneous transitions in our industry in the last three years. To be clear, I’m referring to supply chain issues due to the pandemic, manufacturing channel resiliency, parts shortages, people shortages, governmental investment in infrastructure, and above all, a huge demand for manufacturing capacity. All that demand, all those hurdles, and the all the constraints can leave one a little dizzy. The reality is that we’ll feel both short- and long-term impacts from these trends.
May 05, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Changing Expectations

For our May 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, we wanted to learn more about the challenges for high-mix, low-volume EMS firms building high density boards, and how they’re coping with those challenges. What we learned was that the high-density challenges, per se, were actually few and far between. What has been causing new headaches, however, is component packaging because of the unpredictability in the supply chain.
April 18, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: What Are We Waiting For?

The future, ladies and gentlemen, is now. The Factory of the Future is a reality in some parts of the globe. So, if you and your facility aren’t already migrating to Industry 4.0, you’re at risk of being left behind. That’s the message in our detailed interview with IPC Chief Technologist Matt Kelly, who follows up on his IPC APEX EXPO comments. Make your plan and implement it. Do what you need to do; it does not require buying all new equipment. There are other ways to get the data you need. But start to capture the data and then use it to optimize your business practices. What are you waiting for?
March 15, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Materials & Technology

Now more than ever, material performance, availability and pricing are key factors in the specification of materials in the design phase. This month we explore how new technology is driving materials R&D which in turn drives technology to innovate.
March 30, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: The Legislative Chokepoint

This month our topic for SMT007 Magazine is: The State of the Industry. There's no getting around having to send chips overseas for packaging. But how many trips around the globe does a chip need to make before it’s ready? And can our defense suppliers rely on such supply chain methods?
January 17, 2022

Nolan’s Notes:What’s Driving Europe?

It’s not breaking news that Europe is central to much of the automotive electronics development in the world economy, but what are the actual numbers?
February 01, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: Feeling the Heat of Rising Input Costs

Rising input costs are causing EMS companies to rethink pricing, suppliers and supply chains, labor, and how all those interrelationships function. In this issue we report on the current status of increased input costs and explore strategies to help reduce the risk and cost associated with today's marketplace.
January 03, 2022

Nolan’s Notes: The Bottom Line on Cybersecurity and Counterfeiting

In the January 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, we bring you several articles on cybersecurity and counterfeiting and we share our “man on the street” interviews with industry representatives, discussing their take on the challenges and opportunities.
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