Key Takeaways from IPC APEX EXPO 2020 from a Government Relations Perspective

By Chris Mitchell, vice president, global government relations

IPC APEX EXPO is always a fascinating kaleidoscope of electronics manufacturing excellence, and APEX EXPO 2020 was no exception.

Most of the show’s content is relatively technical in nature. But it all comes down to making amazing things possible for the industry’s customers.

Here are my top take-aways from this year’s show, from the perspective of someone whose job it is to explain our industry and its concerns to non-technical government policymakers.

1) The factory of the future continues to be a priority.

According to a recent McKinsey survey, more than two-thirds of industrial companies are making digitization of their factories their top priority. This trend was reflected at APEX EXPO in the growing number of committee participants in the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) standard, which standardizes machine-to-machine communications and makes possible a range of “Industry 4.0” applications. Accelerating the flow of information across equipment and throughout the manufacturing process will improve the economics of manufacturing in all nations that foster the factory of the future. But when will these digital advancements start paying major dividends? And how can we prepare the workforce of the future to manage smarter machines? These difficult questions continue to loom even as the industry signals that we are the cusp of radical change in electronics manufacturing.

2) Ever growing interest in environmental issues and corporate social responsibility.

While the U.S. government is currently focused on reducing the burden of regulation, the European Commission that recently took power in Brussels is pointed in the other direction, seeking ways to gain global competitive advantage with stricter environmental standards. Perhaps this environmental action in Europe explains nearly filled meeting of our revitalized Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Committee. APEX EXPO attendees were also able to take advantage of sessions on California’s Prop 65 and lead-free electronics. But it’s not just regulation driving interest in environmental issues. IPC President and CEO John Mitchell’s keynote speech emphasized purpose-driven innovation, and that kind of innovation was well-represented on the floor. One company that caught my eye was Indubond, whose lamination press performs using 10 percent of the energy of traditional technologies.

3) New faces reflect IPC’s commitment to the industry.

A quartet of new IPC executives attended APEX EXPO for the first time, reflecting the association’s commitment to supporting the industry globally. Matt Kelly, formerly of IBM, joined IPC in January in the new role of chief technology officer. Matt’s mission will be to lead IPC’s “factory of the future” standards and technical research; develop a new “industry intelligence” function; and launch an Industry CTO Council. Shawn DuBravac is IPC’s new chief economist, expanding IPC’s research and member services around the economic trends shaping our industry. Alison James is IPC’s new senior director for Europe, working closely with IPC’s European members as well as European government officials, institutions and public policy stakeholders. And Kelly Scanlon is coming up on one year in the role of director of environment, health and safety policy and research. Please reach out to them if you have questions or suggestions.

4) IPC Education Foundation continues to expand its outreach.

Last year, the new IPC Education Foundation hosted more than 100 San-Diego-area high school students at APEX EXPO for panel discussions, hands-on training in soldering PCBs, and tours of the expo floor. This year, IPCEF hosted almost 200 kids from area schools! In its second year, IPCEF is continuing to partner with several organizations to distribute basic electronics curricula to hundreds of high schools, and to create IPC student chapters at universities and community colleges across the country.

5) An influx of younger engineers is revitalizing our membership.

IPC launched the Emerging Engineer program in 2016 to provide early-career professionals with an opportunity to learn from the dedicated industry volunteers who participate in IPC standards development. This year at APEX, they seemed to be everywhere. Younger professionals are also stepping into leadership roles in several key standards groups. And John Mitchell’s keynote speech highlighted the rise of millennials like Melby Thelakkaden of Raytheon, who has gotten herself involved in eight technical committees!

6) U.S. manufacturers see opportunities and challenges in defense electronics.

The U.S. Defense Department is devoting increasing attention to the nation’s defense industrial base, including the electronics supply chain. Representatives of the DoD’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) program attended APEX and focused on several key issues. Cyber security and resilience also played a prominent role in APEX discussions, with the DOD’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) causing quite a few furrowed brows. IPC is stepping up its member support in these areas and exploring new platforms for industry engagement with DoD.

7) The Coronavirus outbreak is affecting our supply chain.

One of the biggest headlines outside the convention center – the Coronavirus epidemic – was also felt inside the building, as attendees and exhibitor personnel from China stayed home due to the virulent outbreak in that country. People across the industry are worried about the human toll as well as the supply chain disruptions that could arise in this crisis and future crises. IPC is collecting data on the impact of the coronavirus on the industry. To share your insights, please reach out to Shawn DuBravac.

These were my top take-aways from a government relations perspective, but it cannot be said enough: The power of IPC APEX EXPO lies in the thousands of attendees who take part in standards committees, policy committees, executive forums, technical conference sessions, and professional development. Many thanks to the hundreds of companies who exhibited their products and services and brought so much excitement to all aspects of the show.

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