Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 12—Light at the End of the COVID Tunnel

Editor’s Note: This column documents an effort to address one need (of many) in developing the next generation of electronics manufacturers. This started with the university course in PCB manufacturing at Michigan Technological University (MTU). This class serves as a prototype for additional industry/academia local collaborative education/training classes in other parts of North America. The lecture side of this course, now completing its third year, is outlined in Appendix A, while the hands-on student design/fab/assemble/test opportunity has resumed full-force as we emerge from COVID pandemic constraints.

The past 11 issues of this column series reported progress building on the foundation of a prototype grass-roots industry/academia collaborative effort to prepare the next generation of PCB “experts.”  This effort exists to support and facilitate post-secondary educational programs for next generation electronics manufacturing staff here in North America.  The most recent column talked about some of the exciting new/expanding projects that are taking root around the country.

In this issue, we’ll continue in that direction, and report on a remarkable, exciting and daunting increase in attention this effort has received since last time. The “Electronics Manufacturing Technical Education Project” is a workforce development project that has attracted more official notice from Washington, with the concomitant more frequent demands for progress reports, etc. Whether it is linked to that, the perception that we’re coming out of the COVID tunnel, or just that the word is finally getting around, we’ve been approached by more companies and educational organizations asking about participation. This is good news, but we’ll see about how the bandwidth fares. In addition to more prospective nodes than we can handle with the original core team, we already have more lecture content and lecturers than can be included in one semester’s available lecture periods, which is a good problem to have.

Here’s a graphic submitted this past week in response to a query from (we’ve been told) Congress.

C_Carter_April21_Figure_1 (1).jpg
Figure 1: Key collaborations between academia and DoD suppliers.

And this (due to space considerations) omits ongoing and upcoming discussions with candidate “nodes” in Texas, Wisconsin, etc. To discuss possibilities in your region, contact myself or Tanya Martin, tanya@smta.org.

This is growing beyond our original, fairly modest, plans for three or four “startups” over a three-year period, and has already engendered a potential spin-off group pursuing professionally polished distance learning materials. Other organizations are leaning toward creating programs around elements of what we’ve begun, under their own brand, and we’re collaborating by offering “gap-filling” content as their success serves the ultimate goal of getting more young people in the pipeline to replace the dwindling “boomer” technical experience. More power to them!

As we’ve stressed repeatedly, our effort is just one thread in the larger tapestry needed. In our little corner, each of these industry/academia collaborations must start with a local industry consensus on short-term workforce needs, academic capabilities, and the resources available to maximize their chances to become self-sustaining. We’re trying to minimize “scope creep” by sticking to the original North American focus, but other groups are looking further afield. There are “nodes” that appear to be concentrating on microelectronics manufacture, flex-hybrid electronics, design focus, and ranging from short-duration “certificate” programs up through and including Master’s level programs.

As you can imagine, when we started this expansion effort in earnest (mid-2020), we anticipated we would be well along in meeting with local industry/academia hubs in organizing additional offerings around the country. The extended impact of the pandemic has seriously delayed that plan, which is best handled by a sense of humor.

Currently, a core team of leaders from industry, educators, SMTA, and DoD is meeting every other week to provide status updates on the other developing “nodes” around the country. We are actively discussing with the DoD’s Industrial Base Assessment and Sustainment group, through their Cornerstone OTA structure, whether the lingering impact of the pandemic requires modification of their support boundaries and a significant expansion in logistics. 

Get Involved

Whether you’d like to be a part of this effort, or if we can help you with a local project in electronics manufacturing workforce development along different lines, please reach out to one of the team.

For further information, you can reach me at pmcarter01@outlook.com.

Marc Carter has worked in the electronics interconnection industry since 1984 in a variety of roles in fabrication and assembly materials, processes, environmental compliance, and supply chain management activities around the world. He has had the honor and privilege of working with and learning from many of the true giants of this industry in multiple functions over many years. His experience includes a major mil-aero OEM, field and development work at materials suppliers to the printed circuit industry, and an educational stint as the sole proprietor of a manufacturer’s agency representing multiple high-tech mil-aero material suppliers. For further information, he can be reached at pmcarter01@outlook.com.

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2021

Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 12—Light at the End of the COVID Tunnel

04-15-2021

The past 11 issues of this column series reported progress building on the foundation of a prototype grass-roots industry/academia collaborative effort to prepare the next generation of PCB “experts.” This effort exists to support and facilitate post-secondary educational programs for next generation electronics manufacturing staff here in North America.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 11—Expanding and Adapting in the Face of the Pandemic

02-09-2021

In this issue, we’ll concentrate on the current status of efforts to replicate that success in other areas of North America, and our collaboration with other like-minded organizations. The loosely-affiliated team that is working this one aspect of the future staffing shortfall has accepted the working title, “Electronics Manufacturing Technical Education Project.” It exists to support and facilitate post-secondary educational programs for next generation electronics manufacturing staff here in North America.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 10—Expanding the Base and Building the New

01-19-2021

In this 10th installment, Marc Carter continues to report on the progress of the collaborative effort between industry and academic to prepare the next generation of PCB "experts." Here, he concentrates on a line-up of guest lecturers at Michigan Tech.

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2020

Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Nine—Growing Interest Around the Country

10-19-2020

The first eight issues of this column series reported on starting a grass-roots industry/academia collaborative effort to prepare the next generation of PCB “experts.” Marc Carter shares progress from three September meetings and details some of the new potential connections that have begun to develop.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 8—Expanding the Model in This New Reality

09-02-2020

Marc Carter posts an update on the collaborative grassroots effort to prepare the next generation of PCB “experts" by outlining the progress of efforts to replicate the MTU “prototype” at other industry-academia “nodes” around the country.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Seven—Coping With COVID-19

04-21-2020

The cascading effects of the exploding COVID-19 pandemic have, as you’d expect, forced major changes in the educational experience at MTU (and generally at universities across the country), and put plans elsewhere on hold. Marc Carter outlines the ways MTU students, educators, and guest lecturers are coping with the unexpected “remote learning” as the new reality.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Six—Spreading the Word

02-26-2020

In the first five issues of this column series, I reported on one grass-roots industry/academia collaborative effort to prepare the next generation of PCB “experts.” In "Chapter 6," Marc Carter provides a brief status 2020 reprise/expansion class at MTU and report on efforts to get similar local industry/academia partner classes started elsewhere.

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2019

Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Five—2020 Reprise of MTU PCB Course

12-11-2019

Continuing his series on the university course in PCB manufacturing at Michigan Technological University, Marc Carter provides some feedback in the form of testimonials from students who participated in the 2019 classes, as well as a preliminary look at the upcoming “new and improved” 2020 reprise/expansion class at MTU.

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Better to Light a Candle: Using Industry Standards as Another PWB Manufacturing Tool

09-27-2019

Some people will say, "Standards are so boring!" To that, I might respond, "Well, that's kind of the point." When you're in production manufacturing, a "boring" day (i.e., everything works smoothly with no disruptions, and everybody shares clear expectations) can be a welcome relief from your usual. But what should we do with all of these standards anyway?

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter Four—Next Steps for Developing the Future Workforce

08-12-2019

This fourth installment of Marc Carter's column series will give the prospects and status of repeat (perhaps even expanded) classes at Michigan Tech, and report on developing contacts at other prospective university, industry, and government nodes for similar efforts to ensure basic printed circuit technology familiarity of college graduates over the next few years.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 3—First-Year Recap of the PCB Fab Course at MTU

06-05-2019

In the third installment of this column series, Marc Carter acknowledges the many organizations and individuals that willingly and freely contributed their time, materials, and support to make this first “prototype” effort a success. This article also gives a sneak preview of some of the efforts underway to expand the efforts at MTU and to start similar grassroots, industry-academia supported programs elsewhere.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 2—Introduction to PCB Fabrication

05-01-2019

As a reminder, “EE4800: Printed Circuit Board Fabrication” is a hands-on class intended to give engineering undergraduate students an introduction to the basics of printed circuit design, fabrication, and assembly, which started on January 14 of this year.

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Better to Light a Candle: Chapter 1—Prepping the Next Generation

01-11-2019

There has been a considerable amount of (electronic) ink and words shared in our industry bemoaning the graying-out of our industry and the growing shortage of skilled people at all levels. (See the May 2017 PCB007 Magazine column “Help Wanted—and How!” for just one example). As is usually the case, though, when all is said and done, more has been said than done.

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