Gene Weiner on the IPC APEX EXPO 2019 Automotive Executive Forum
I spoke with Gene Weiner, president and CEO of Weiner International Associates, about IPC's history of forums, his thoughts on the Executive Forum on Advancing Automotive Electronics at IPC APEX EXPO 2019, and how the IPC Hall of Famers and the industry can help improve forum success.
Dan Feinberg: Gene, thank you for doing this interview. You were the committee chair for the Automotive Executive Forum and did most of the work in getting it set up and running. It was an excellent forum. This isn’t the first forum you’ve done for the IPC. Can you tell me a little bit about the history of these forums?
Gene Weiner: It started way back at the TMRC (Technical Marketing Research Council), where I used to speak after coming back from Asian trips. Usually, the TMRC was the week after a trip to Asia or shortly after a trip to the JPCA event. Probably the most successful forum we had was one in February of 2007 at IPC’s 50th annual meeting in Los Angeles. Although the venue wasn’t great, the attendance was. We had approximately 130–180 people in the forum at all times, and it never went below that.
That forum was based on Asian development and discussed implementing technologies and business practices in America that you may have missed, covering equipment, materials, manufacturing processes, etc. It featured accomplished industry leaders from all over the world including Asia, Europe, and the U.S. The most recent forum before those at IPC APEX EXPO 2019 was two years ago, which was held in San Diego, but the attendance was not great. We didn’t get much support or publicity, but the program was good.
Feinberg: I remember that. I spoke at one of the first forums, and so did Hamed El-Abd and Walt Custer; it was a good start. As for this forum, I know a lot of planning went into it. In your planning, what did you hope to accomplish?
Weiner: The goal was to provide information on the complete supply chain for automotive electronics including materials, process, product development, Tier-I requirements, global sourcing, reliability, and the use of analytics for cost control and troubleshooting. The idea was to provide an international global outlook with speakers from Europe, Asia, as well as the U.S., and to provide something of value and use to every attendee.
Feinberg: Do you think we succeeded in doing that?
Weiner: Yes. One of our presenters was also awarded one of the five Innovation Awards at IPC APEX EXPO 2019. The comments we’ve received since then are still coming in, and are all favorable. Attendees rated the program 4.6 out of 5.0 when asked if they would recommend it to others. All of the presenters were 4.2 or higher except for one that was 3.4. Overall, the program was rated very well and proved to be successful. I think it was the best one that we’ve done in years.
Feinberg: Yes, I tend to agree with you. And the topic was important. We’ve talked about this during the past week at IPC APEX EXPO—you and I, and a number of others—that with electronics in automotive soon approaching 50% of the value of a vehicle, this forum gives the members a chance to learn about what’s going on with opportunities associated with automotive electronics.
Weiner: That’s true. But one of the most interesting things is that automotive electronics requirements, in some cases, are more rigid or tougher than the military except for documentation and security. And the military industry, more and more, is beginning to look at automotive requirements. So, this is a broader outlook for assembly people, covering everything from fabrication to assembly and final test. It educated more than just automotive people. Although the forum was designed for automotive people, it covered material for anyone that needed to build boards of high tolerances, test standards, and reliability.
Feinberg: There’s no doubt that reliability is a key factor, especially if we’re talking about autonomous driving, which is where a lot of the electronics are going. Could you imagine if the electronics weren’t reliable?
Weiner: Especially if something failed in the cabin of a jet at 35,000 feet.
Feinberg: Exactly. Driving down the freeway at 75–80 miles an hour and having your sensors fail would not be good either. Anyway, if you had to do the automotive forum over again, what would you do differently?
Weiner: I would do two things differently. First, I would make sure that it did not compete for time with another program of interest, or I would insist on co-sharing part of the program, as we used to do in the good old TMRC days. Second, I would like two fewer speakers. I did not expect everyone I asked to accept. This has happened to me before. I should have learned from that experience. The only decline for an invitation we got was from the director of the U.S. Department of Energy, Automotive Electronics. Everyone else that we invited accepted, so we wound up with 10 speakers instead of eight. Although it was very valuable, it made for a long day. However, everyone stayed, so that was good.
Feinberg: There were actually two who declined. The other one was a senior executive from Nvidia.
Weiner: That’s true. That’s because of competing events at the same time, which makes sense. In this case, I was thinking of the competing event with the EMS forum in the next room. Some of our attendees went back and forth between the two forums.
Feinberg: Nvidia told me they would have been interested, “But we just had CES and the Automotive Show in Detroit," and there were a few other things going on. The only other comment I received was, “Why are you doing this show in January?”
Weiner: The response to that would be, “Why not?” Especially if you’re from the frigid Northeast in January and the event is in Southern California.
Feinberg: That’s true.
Weiner: San Diego was very inviting, and we were between the rain storms.
Feinberg: You run the committee, and you’re good at getting people to help. I know you’ve had help from Jack Fisher, and you’ve always talked me into getting involved, but would you do another one? This one has been a lot of work.
Weiner: I would consider it. It depends on the topic and my schedule. Right after this event, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a major conference in Hawaii next February. It will be nice to have another warm “vacation day” during the winter.
Feinberg: Poor thing! You’re going to have a hard time turning that one down.
Weiner: I haven’t been to Hawaii for nearly a decade, so my wife and I are looking forward to this one. We actually went there for our 50th wedding anniversary.
Feinberg: Going back to automotive electronics, it’s one of the biggest opportunities for our industry over the coming years. Were you satisfied with the overall attendance?
Weiner: Well, yes and no, but that’s kind of mixed. Attendance was about double that of the forum I chaired two years ago. I was disappointed to see that many that could have benefited from the program could not or did not attend due to another executive program on their schedule that conflicted with ours. As I mentioned earlier, several that attended the other program said they would have liked to attend ours but couldn’t be in two places at once.
It’s too bad that the EMS forum turned down an invitation to join us for part of our meeting because it would have benefitted EMS and OEM companies as well as fabricators. I sure would like to find out who turned it down because many of the EMS people I spoke to—including a member of the current IPC Board of Directors—stated they would also like to know who turned it down because they would have liked to have attended our session as well.
Feinberg: Those of us in attendance didn’t realize that, but that was a big part of it. Also, the other event was relatively full, but as you said—you can’t be in two places at the same time.
Weiner: Not in today’s world.
Feinberg: So, this forum and committee were something that the IPC Hall of Fame did. What are some other things that you think those of us in the Hall of Fame and are still involved in the industry could do to help the industry?
Weiner: I keep thinking about that on an ongoing basis, and frequently. First, we have to remember that the Hall of Fame group—and I’m calling it a group—is composed of individuals with different talents, bents, and experiences. So, it’s difficult for all of them to get behind a single program. However, we should be able to join together to put a program on that brings the 125 fabricators or so that are not IPC members to the table for the benefit of all. It’s valuable to hear updates on trends in the industry, materials, and technologies such as green manufacturing, and lowering costs. And something that we didn’t get to discuss at the last Hall of Fame meeting was to establish a consortium of small companies to aid in continuing education, technology updates, yield improvement, and competitiveness. I think that’s something we can all get behind.
Another thing we should all be moving towards is printed electronics, which are getting increased use in membrane RIFD devices and wearables. It was a major part of January’s NEPCON show in Tokyo as well as automotive electronics. More and more of the companies that exhibited at IPC APEX EXPO are establishing divisions or putting significant efforts and dollars behind this type of activity. So, there are quite a few things that IPC members and Hall of Famers can participate in.
Again, one item that we can all help with is continuing education, which you have helped with in the past. Our newest member Hall of Fame member—Leo Lambert—has already stepped up to the plate. He’s on the Board of Directors of the University of Massachusetts Lowell from where he graduated. When he learned about the IPC program to team up with 20 colleges and community colleges, he offered to bring that to them.
Feinberg: I completely agree. I’m very pleased with IPC’s efforts over the last few years to expand in this area because it’s so important. One of the things that I ask when I speak to some of the fabricators here in the U.S. is, “What are some of your needs?” One of the needs is more trained, talented people, and more young people to enter the industry. I hope that IPC's program will help accelerate that.
Weiner: Well, there are only about 200–250 fabricators left in the U.S. and 125 of them don’t belong to the IPC. We still have to bring them in. When you think about it, the majority of the military boards purchased for defense are from companies under $20 million a year or less. Those are the companies that really need help learning how to manage their budgets, acquire equipment to stay up to date on processes and technologies, find ways of covering the security requirements in software, etc. Different members of the Hall of Fame group can bring a lot to the table.
Feinberg: I thought that the support that we get from IPC, particularly over the last six months, has been pretty good.
Weiner: It’s improving.
Feinberg: It clearly improved over when we first started this program. Do you think you received good support from the trade press?
Weiner: I received fantastic support from two sources. One was IPC’s Tracy Riggan who managed several programs at the same time at the IPC APEX EXPO. The other was from all of the trade journals, associations, and press. Every request that I made save one—which went to an overseas guy—was covered quickly, rapidly, and with enthusiasm. Additionally, all offered to further help through providing coverage. This covered everything from private consultancies such as Walt Custer, who helped by sending email blasts to his people, to I-Connect007 and all of the other journals including a major hardcopy newspaper. Everybody was great. I have a great appreciation for the efforts that they put in and the responses and the speed at which they helped.
Feinberg: That’s good. On behalf of the industry and the other committee members, you did a great job leading this thing. You’re well into your second half-century of doing things for IPC and the industry, so on behalf of those who are working with you on this and that will take advantage of it in the future, we thank you. I appreciate you taking the time today to talk about this.
Weiner: I appreciate having the opportunity to do all of these things to help the industry.
Feinberg: Thank you very much, Gene, and we’ll see you soon.
Weiner: You’re quite welcome.
Images Courtesy of IPC