If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.

Please enjoy IPC President Denny McGuirk’s September IPC Review column.

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.”  General Eric Shinseki, Chief of Staff, U. S. Army The top five pages visited on the IPC website deal with technical topics. When we did our last membership survey, standards were the top benefit of membership. Most of our volunteers have titles in manufacturing and engineering. IPC’s brand is firmly rooted in technology and standards. I bring this up to set the stage for a trend that’s here to stay.

Many of you have been in the industry longer than I have. You remember technical changes since the 1970s when multilayer boards became widespread. In the 1980s, the industry changed again as surface mounting was adopted. With the changing technology, IPC supported the industry with education, new standards, management training and eventually certification programs for acceptability. Change was evolutionary and while it may not always have been comfortable, the new technologies adopted provided benefits to customers and more functionality at lower costs.
It is interesting to look back to the 1990s. IPC was called to assist when CFCs (chloroflourocarbons) used to clean printed board assemblies, were banned to protect the ozone layer. The change — imposed by government mandate — felt sudden, inconvenient and unexpected. Concerns about adequate cleanliness, corrosion and long-term reliability were raised. How would the industry adapt?

As always, the industry found new solutions and rose to the occasion. IPC supported the industry with round-robin tests and definitive technical papers as “no clean” became the industry standard. IPC Vice President of International Relations David Bergman even received an award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for his efforts in testing and demonstrating the viability of alternate flux technology and cleaning processes. Industry insiders thought they had passed a major industry turning point.

Of course, we all know that CFCs were only the first of a number of technology changes driven by regulation. When IPC staff members first heard about movements to ban lead from electronics in the 1990s, it didn’t seem possible that it would happen. As we all know now, it certainly did when the European Union adopted the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive in 2003.

Last month, President Obama signed The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 4173) financial reform bill into law. Buried in this bill focused on credit and Wall Street excess were provisions intended to defund armed combatants in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Companies will be required to report to the Securities and Exchange Commission if their products contain columbite-tantalite (coltan/tantalum); cassiterite (tin); gold; wolframite (tungsten) from the DRC or adjacent countries. While the specific requirements will be developed over the next year, it is already clear that companies’ sourcing of commodities and selection of suppliers will be affected.

While you may have expected to work on evolutionary technology improvements, that’s not what you got over the last 20 years! Between government mandates and the response by original equipment manufacturers to “green” organizations and consumer perceptions, it’s been pretty bumpy for anyone relying on data and science as the basis of their plans. There’s no doubt that change will continue to come to our industry, not only due to technological advances but through more governmental involvement and OEM mandates. To be successful in the new era, environmental scanning and adaptability will be critical skills. It’s hard for individual companies to predict what the next banned substances or government mandates will be.

That’s where IPC comes in. From representing your interests as rules are being written and regulations are being considered, to sharing critical information with you on technology and compliance, IPC can be a partner to your company like never before. For example, this month’s Review includes information on new RoHS and conflict metals regulations and IPC’s activities in these areas.

If you like your information to have a more personal touch, please join us at Electronics Midwest at the end of this month. From technical standards to information on lead-free alloys, reliability and tin whiskers, the event will offer excellent programs. Most important, you’ll renew acquaintances with colleagues and connect with industry experts.

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