The DIGITAL Route
Test for Design: How You Measure Up?
The chairman and chairman emeritus describe the past and future.
In this month’s column I convey the value of honing a skillset and the importance of being able to measure that skillset. Next, I hand it off to PCEA Chairman Steph Chavez, who offers a positive outlook on PCEA activities over the summer months. Again, I am happy to provide our readers with a growing list of events coming up in 2021.
PCEA Updates
How do you hone your printed circuit engineering skills? Are your skills measureable? We work in an industry that relies on analysis, checking, measurement, feedback and adjustment to improve process and products.

When we think about PCB engineering, we tend to consider product success in terms of process steps: people defining analysis criteria and working to make the product more useful, efficient and valuable.

But let’s pause for a minute and ask, “Who or what is making the people who pull the levers on all these attributes more useful, efficient and valuable?”

Any visitor to a PCB manufacturing facility should be amazed not only by the speed of the operations but the accuracy of the equipment dedicated to forming physical parts out of raw materials using design data. A tour through a fabrication facility may begin in the raw materials department. From there you may stroll down the aisle of a high-speed drilling room, then traverse the building to the plating and etching operations. Perhaps you will move on to view the large-scale lamination press area, where operators “stack” processed layers for insertion into a massive press, which uses heat and pressure to compress the separate layers of the PCB together into a single unified board. Throughout the tour, you will see, feel and smell (definitely smell!) things a large percentage of the PCB engineering community has never experienced. You will make use of all your senses, and therefore retain much more knowledge and understanding. Your value as a PCB engineer will increase because you are reaching out to understand the jobs and processes of the important stakeholders of the product. You will observe the machine operators do not specialize in every manufacturing process. You may notice manufacturing operators and engineers are attentive to meeting the design and manufacturing specifications for a particular task. They check their equipment. They measure and provide feedback to management and adjust machinery as required. They are dialed in.

The PCEA salutes our fellow PCB manufacturing stakeholders and considers the PCEA a place for us to collaborate, educate and inspire each other.

A significant point always jumps out at me at the end of a manufacturing facility tour. Our manufacturing stakeholders take a great deal of time training and then executing their day-to-day processes and not a single process step moves forward without inspection, measurement and adjustment.

Our manufacturing community stakeholders are measured, evaluated, trained and retrained on different incoming job requirements most every day.

I must ask of those who are involved in designing and engineering printed circuits: At what point are you required to make adjustments because your design will not move on to the next step of manufacturing? Who facilitates your training and retraining? Who is measuring and evaluating you?

As a PCB designer myself, I often reflect deeply and sincerely on these questions.

Aside from an automatic design rule checking in our software, which we likely set up to suit our perception of what other stakeholders need, likely a holistic measurement for success in our task of laying out a printed circuit assembly will not be available for weeks or months. This won’t happen until the design is built and moves on to production. It is highly likely we will not receive all the important feedback because the PCB manufacturing industry takes no pleasure in complaining about our design deficiencies. Unfortunately, it is sometimes considered bad for business.

The PCEA seeks to contribute to a design and manufacturing culture that considers the burden for the measurement of our PCB engineering skillset relies on each of us individually, and on our whole organization. An important key to PCB engineering success is to support education of the design community and support definition of measurable skillsets to complement the entire PCB industry.

If you have caught yourself wondering what you can do to help your designs flow smoothly down the conveyors of bare board and assembly lines; if you detect a void in your ability to discuss what is required to solve EMI challenges in the design layout before it becomes a significant problem; if you are tired of answering manufacturing queries regarding materials, processes and documentation, perhaps design training with a certification program for measurable success is right for you.

Many of us who began the PCEA are deeply involved in supporting and teaching the materials and certification programs offered through the IPC. The IPC Certified Interconnect Designer (CID) and advanced CID+ programs have been around for a long time and have served as the electronics industry go-to programs for measurable design and manufacturing knowledge. CID and CID+ certification is commonly cited as a requirement for progressive company PCB designer job postings. You can find out more about the IPC CID and CID+ designer certification training programs at ipc.org/ipc-designer-certification-program.

Additionally, IPC has initiated in-depth, hands-on design training program modules covering introduction to PCB design, advanced packaging, design for rigid-flex boards, design for mil-aero applications, extreme environments and another on design for micro modules. Find out more about these training modules at https://training.ipc.org/design-training-programs.

Recently, some of our own PCEA founders have authored and launched the Printed Circuit Engineering Designer professional development program as a comprehensive curriculum specifically for the layout of printed circuit boards. The five-day course is offered online by Eptac, can be scheduled in the day or evening, and includes a comprehensive textbook. The program helps prepare a student to become a candidate for an optional certification program as a Certified Printed Circuit Designer (CPCD.) The PCEA is happy to be the certifying body for a new Printed Circuit Engineering Designer program. You can find out more about this program at eptac.com/etrainings/printed-circuit-engineering-designer-online-program.

All these programs aim to help those of us in printed circuit engineering see what is possible, what is missing and how to adjust accordingly for continued PCB engineering success.

Message from the Chairman
by Stephen Chavez, MIT, CID+

This month I’m excited to convey our continued positive membership growth, along with new PCEA chapters both in the US and internationally. As the new and existing chapters gain momentum, education continues to be the driving force that brings together existing and new members, creating much excitement, positive energy and member interactions. We continue to gain sponsorships and industry affiliations, adding to the overall PCEA collective. The growth in these two areas adds to the strength of PCEA, more specifically, with the educational content already offered by PCEA. We are seeing great collaboration where several local PCEA chapters are partnering with industry sponsors to offer outstanding educational content to their members.

Over these next few months, we will roll out much more educational content as we continue to integrate and collaborate with our sponsors. Per our mission statement “Collaborate, Educate, and Inspire,” partnering and collaborating with sponsors allows us to bring more outstanding industry educational content to the table for anyone who has anything to do with printed circuit engineering.

We continue to remain in the virtual world as many industry events are taking place virtually instead of in person. Unfortunately, some major industry events have been cancelled. Time will tell if more in-person events resume as these next few months unfold.

Even with most still in the virtual world, we are back in full stride to serve up awesome online virtual chapter events. Our education committee continues to work on offering great industry content and updating our website for technical information and educational events. Be on the lookout for new content and activities as we get activities and events locked in.

If you have anything to do with printed circuit engineering, I highly recommend you join the PCEA collective. The industry waits for no one and evolves so quickly. Keeping one’s skillset and education up to date and relevant is key to career success. It’s important to stay on point and continue your professional development. By joining the PCEA, your percentage of long-term professional development increases significantly. I strongly feel each of us is in control of our destiny and how our careers unfold. As one of my longtime mentors told me early in my career, “You are your own best investment. You will only be as good as how much you invest in yourself. It is your responsibility alone, and no one else’s, to continue to grow and develop as you strive to achieve success in your career.” So, with that, I highly recommend you take advantage of all PCEA has to offer, potentially setting up better opportunities for success.

I continue to wish everyone and their families health and safety. Best of success to all as 2021 progresses.

Next Month
Spring has sprung and PCB engineers are on the move. Companies are hiring, seeking to fulfill the open positions left by those laid off earlier in the year or who have relocated. We’ll take a look next month at the hiring scene and how some PCEA engineers are emerging from their cocoons and flying off to new opportunities.
Upcoming Events
Below is a growing list of upcoming events. It is up to every one of us to do the best we can to follow CDC guidelines and take the precautionary measures when possible – including handwashing, masking and vaccination – to squash the spread of Covid-19 and its variants. We’re still in this together!

Spread the word. If you have a significant electronics industry event to announce, please send the details to kelly.dack.pcea@gmail.com, and we will consider adding it to the list. Refer to our column and the PCEA website to stay up to date with upcoming industry events. If you have not yet joined PCEA, visit pce-a.org and find out how to become a member.

Conclusion
Measure twice, cut once is an adage I heard from my seventh-grade wood shop teacher and never forgot. Sometimes we get caught up measuring others’ compliance with our standards when we should be calibrating our own work. Collaboration requires action, communication and a consistent set of standards. May we all reach out and understand the challenges of others first, then measure our outputs to compare whether we need to adjust and calibrate our knowledge, workflows and processes to move ahead.

See you next month or sooner!

Image of Kelly Dack
Kelly Dack, CIT, CID+,
is the communication officer for the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). Read past columns or contact Dack; kelly.dack.pcea@gmail.com.