The original IPC Roadmap was designed to pave the way for a new era of US manufacturing dominance. Was it effective?

It’s hard to remember what the electronics supply chain looked like in 1991.

Electronics manufacturing services was still a nascent industry. The PC sector was the only end-market that had outsourced more than 15% of its worldwide assembly (TABLE 1), and the worldwide market was estimated by Frost and Sullivan at around $6.2 billion. Meanwhile, 35% of bare boards were produced in-house by OEMs. Japan was the bare board market leader, with a 33% share, followed by the US (26%) and Germany (8%). A little over one-fourth of all components placed were SMT, although forecasts called for that figure to top 60% by 1994.

Table 1. EMS Market Share (%) by Sector, 1990

The Western industry at that time, while largely profitable, wouldn’t be at fault if it felt under siege. Environmental regulations were taking their toll. The Montreal Protocol was spurring the eventual elimination of CFCs, which meant an entire class of cleaning products would go by the wayside. A US legislator proposed a $0.45 per pound tax on all lead solders. Japan was seen as the leader in microelectronics and was steadily grabbing share of the bare board market as well.

To give readers a sense of the technical state of the industry at that time, OSPs were becoming common in Japan, while the US clung to HASL. Electrodeposited photoresist was in use at some three dozen fabricators in Japan, and just beginning to be adopted in the US. The world’s first curtain-coatable photoresist line was installed in 1993 at Praegitzer Industries, a board shop in Oregon. Stencil printers were capable of printing 0.012" patterns, and chipshooters could place 0402 packages and 0.025" QFPs. (Fine-pitch technology was defined as 0.020"-0.040".) Manufacturers were struggling with a bevy of data exchange formats, including EDIF, IGES, IPC-D-350, STEP, and VHDL. The Surface Mount Council released a controversial white paper in 1992 promoting the investigation of no-lead solder, and suggested use of laser soldering for SnAg and other high-temperature alloys.

It was against this backdrop that a large group of engineers and industry leaders met in a hotel ballroom at the Chicago O’Hare Hilton. Their mission: to develop a document that outlined the state of the industry technology at that time, and to forecast the needs over the next several years. (Disclosure: I attended the early meetings as a journalist and volunteered to proofread the first Roadmap. From 1994 to 2000, I worked at IPC.) That first session generated so much enthusiasm and momentum the effort would be repeated for years.

The finished document, the Technology Roadmap – The Future of the Electronic Interconnection Industry, was released in 1993. (The title was changed to the National Technology Roadmap for Electronic Interconnections with the 1995 release.) It quickly became a core part of the industry conversation, and a template for anticipating the evolution in board, component and assembly technology. The authors identified nine “business segments” (end-markets) and 151 R&D tasks. They also identified four potential “showstoppers”:

  • Lack of coordinated technology integration into manufacturing
  • No single common set of needs among industry, government and academia
  • Lack of process controls
  • Poor customer/supplier relationships.

That first document also led to the establishment of the Interconnect Technology Research Institute (ITRI), a consortium funded mostly by PCB fabricators whose aim was cooperative technical bare board research.

As we come to the 25th anniversary of that first Roadmap, we look back at the frenetic times and hopes when it debuted, through the eyes and words of those who were instrumental in its spawning.

Keeping Up with Japan

Doug Sober (GIL Technologies):

The US industry was strong. It was still just the US and Japan on all the market share charts. China did not start to court the electronics supply chain until 1996-1998.

Marshall Andrews (future head of ITRI):

Electronics manufacturing and technology was rapidly moving offshore, and the US PWB industry was under a lot of pressure. Domestic PWB manufacturers were looking for ways to help the industry.

Dennis Fritz (regional sales manager, MacDermid):

In the 1980s in bare boards the US had 40% market share, and Japan had about 20%. By 1992, Japan was up to 35%, and the US was down to 25% to 28%. The early roadmaps said (Japan’s) technology was better.

Leo Reynolds (president, Electronic Systems Inc. and member of IPC board of directors):

As I recall, it was a pretty good time for assemblers. We had record sales in the years up until that time.

Jack Fisher (senior engineer, IBM; future IPC Roadmap chairman):

There was a lot of activity going on. IBM Japan created photovia technology, and HP was promoting plasma technology, with Happy Holden being the champion there. Laser technology was looked at as the third sister; the winner was going to be photovia or plasma.

David Bergman (director of technical programs, IPC):

HDI was starting to increase. Overseas competition was increasing. At this time IPC was international but not focused globally. The effort was intended to get the industry to all pull in the same direction customers, fabricators and suppliers to ensure the correct solution was available for the market.

Dennis Fritz: Automotive was still shrinking, and we thought circuit boards could go the way of automotive. It didn’t all go to Japan. I remember more of a technology drain than a manufacturing drain.

Figure 1. The first Roadmap meeting drew well over 100 participants to Chicago.

Whose Idea Was It Anyway?

Leo Reynolds: We didn’t invent the concept at IPC; other industries were using it.

Thom Dammrich (then executive director, IPC):

The semiconductor industry had a roadmap, and that is where the idea came from. I am sure (then IPC technical director) Dieter Bergman was the leader in proposing this for printed circuits and electronics assembly.

Marshall Andrews: I think it was a reaction to the Sematech roadmap for semiconductors. That roadmap was getting a lot of visibility and positive industry reaction.

David Bergman: I attribute Bill Kenyon with bringing the idea to IPC. I don’t exactly know the specific trigger for Bill. Maybe some internal work at DuPont spurred it. Maybe the (Sematech) roadmap also generated some interest.

Jean Hebeisen (manager, PWB technical programs, IPC):

This was all Dieter, all the time. He came back from a meeting – perhaps it was overseas – and we were having our weekly staff meeting, and he started talking about how we needed to do this. There were a few of these over the years – five or six – where Dieter would come back with a brainstorm and say, “We have to do this.”

Doug Sober: I am not exactly sure whose idea it was. I think, though, that Jack Fisher would have had roadmaps at IBM and wanted to gather as much information as possible around that.

Jean Hebeisen: Thom Dammrich was relatively new then. I think he recognized Dieter’s vision. Dieter ran with it. He worked by himself. From the staff perspective he didn’t have much help.

An Overwhelming Kickoff

Jack Fisher: It was 1992. We met in Chicago at the Hilton Hotel at the airport. There were a good 100 people there, maybe more. At that time the fabricators were the leaders of the IPC: Peter Sarmanian, Ron Underwood. They were all there.

Jean Hebeisen: The first meeting was pretty well-attended. Staff would stand in the back of the meeting room running comments to the front.

Doug Sober: Dieter and Jack’s passion for the project was contagious.

David Bergman: For the first Roadmap meeting, over 180 people attended for several days. There was a lot of energy in the early going.

Jean Hebeisen: We had the meeting at the airport hotel. We moved it at the last minute because of the attendance.

Jack Fisher: About the same number attended the second year. It was never the same after that. There was a group that worked continuously, but it was never like that kickoff group. After it was published once or twice, I think some participants said, “I’ve done my part.” Also, the OEM experts started to disappear as OEMs went from vertical to horizontal.

From ‘Wish List’ to Guide

David Bergman: Many paper surveys sent out to the industry and many late evenings trying to coalesce the information for the Roadmap committee to consider.

Jack Fisher: The work Dieter finally published was a wish list, as in, “I wish someone would work on this.” We did categorize it into topics, but if you look at it, there was no real timeline or roadmap yet. I would classify the 1992 and 1993 roadmaps as less roadmap and more wish list. In 1994 we turned it into a real roadmap and a biennial publication from then on, although once I think it took three years because Dieter was so darn busy.

Thom Dammrich: It was a lot of work and pretty impressive when it was finished.

Leo Reynolds: I think the entire board was excited about the possibilities and benefits to the industry.

Jack Fisher: At that time, there was no definition of what a roadmap was. There wasn’t agreement beforehand on what it should look like. Dieter did a lot of organization after the fact to put it into sections.

Memorable Moments

Jack Fisher: In 1993 or ’94, we were at a TMRC meeting in New Orleans (Ed: TMRC was the IPC’s Technology Marketing Research Council), and I ran into Thom Dammrich in the men’s room. I didn’t really know him well. I said, “The things you are doing on the Roadmap are good, but it could be better if you had this timeline.” He said, “You’re right – you’re the chairman. Now go fix it.” I got appointed chairman in a men’s room in New Orleans!

Gene Weiner (consultant and chair, Specialty Chemical technical working group):
I remember the no-holds-barred discussions. The camaraderie. The sharing and challenging of information and what would be needed in the future. The long hours of trying to bring order to the diverse opinions, experiences, skills and future electronic product needs, wondering if we could have done more, wondering if we could wrap up the year’s efforts on time.

A Matter of Urgency

Leo Reynolds: There was lots of discussion about how to do it.

Jean Hebeisen: That was around the time when the fabrication business started going overseas. The US industry was taking a hit. I think they were just happy to be considered part of the supply chain still.

David Bergman: Participants were trying to consider the impact of this effort on their business. PCBs were beginning to move to offshore manufacturing. So, there was a feeling of urgency.

Thom Dammrich: There were plenty of debates among the technical committees and technical experts, but we were a consensus organization and consensus was achieved.

Jack Fisher: Thom Dammrich and the industry were very supportive. The presidents of the fabricators were there. After that, they sent their representatives, which wasn’t bad. That’s one of the differences between the IPC and iNEMI roadmaps: IPC’s was written by the folks on the floor who put their hands on the tanks. iNEMI’s was written at the management level.

Leo Reynolds: Not every company of every size saw the advantages to their organizations. There were also some proprietary concerns by the OEMs.

Doug Sober: We never had the support of the OEMs like we should have. They wanted the information but never wanted to give out any of their own. We had to fill in the gaps as best we could.

Deciding the Focus

David Bergman: Initially the PCB was the focus. I believe the content was debated by some of the TAEC chairs, and we sent out questionnaires. Assembly activities were added to later roadmaps.

Leo Reynolds: The board manufacturers initially had the most to gain, so that was the main focus. There was lots of movement at that time to surface mount technology.

Doug Sober: Jack and Dieter organized it. Then the rest of us filled in parts that we knew.

Jack Fisher: We broke into groups. Dieter and I and a couple others started breaking that group of 100 into subgroups. There were groups on fabrication and assembly and other topics. We broke into working groups during those two-day sessions. Those working groups came up with their wish list, and then we got back together to close the meetings and accepted some and merged some. I don’t think we started with one list.

Figure 2. The cover of the first Roadmap.

Industry Alignment

David Bergman: The goal was to align supplier and fabricator investment as directed by the hardware needs of the customer.

Jean Hebeisen: I think Dieter wanted everything in one place in terms of a roadmap for design, fab and assembly. He wanted one group to own it. And he saw it as sort of a living thing to be updated on a regular basis and be used and useful.

Thom Dammrich: The goal was to give the industry some sight lines into where the best minds in the industry thought the technology was headed. It would influence standards activities, as well as technology roadmaps at member companies, to ensure we kept pace with the semiconductor development.

Jack Fisher: There were economic factors driving it. The industry recognized they were seeing changes and maybe rough times ahead. The leaders of the industry at that time recognized their age, and that they only had a couple more years to go. They were wondering how the industry was going to maintain itself after they retired. They had some skin in the game and thought IPC was very valuable. The Roadmap was one of their ways of propagating IPC.

Doug Sober: We wanted to give everyone an idea where the industry was headed, so they could plan capital and technology training.

Leo Reynolds: It was thought to be an enhancement to American PCB manufacturing competitiveness, if we could be out front with innovations the OEMs were going to need.

Gene Weiner: My goal was to provide a clear performance needs path for the specialty chemical capabilities needed to produce the boards/packages of the future.

Marshall Andrews: By the time I was involved, the goal was to help focus R&D and provide guidance to the industry on where things were going.

A New Consortium

David Bergman: Based on the 1993 and 1994 roadmaps, it was clear companies needed to work together for solutions, and this led to the formation of the Interconnect Technology Research Institute (ITRI) to help focus consortium projects. ITRI did quite a bit of work on HDI, and ITRI had a (nearly) 10-year run before closing down.

Dennis Fritz: ITRI did some good stuff from 1995 to when it hit the rocks in 2001. They put out the earliest work I can remember in the world on microvias. I know that ITRI did the first test vehicles, and out of that grew the standards. The combination of the technology roadmap and ITRI was a successful initiation of microvias.

Jack Fisher: ITRI only lasted from 1995 to 2001, and in my opinion it failed because it was run by fabricators, not OEMs. OEMs could join, but fabricators wanted to do it themselves. But they didn’t have the wherewithal to do research and everything else.

An Answer, but Not a Panacea

Leo Reynolds: We all knew at the time if it was successful it would be an ongoing process, and it still was when I retired in 2009.

Marshall Andrews: I think the Roadmap served a lot of purposes, including bringing some organization and order to the industry. It was not, and probably could not be, the answer to all the industry’s problems. I believe it served an important service, and I am disappointed that it has fallen out of favor.

Dennis Fritz: I don’t know if the US could have kept the technology lead … in the few years after the first Roadmap, the nature of the board business was changing to sourcing all over the world. Purchase price became more important than total cost of ownership. IPC was changing; it was not so much US-centric than trying to grow around the world. Over time the lines started to blur between boards, components and silicon.

Doug Sober: It was as good as it could have been in that time frame as an overall, broad-brush document. But the specialists still kept their secrets.

David Bergman: I guess I have mixed emotions. How do you measure success? A technology was measured, documented and published. But businesses must interpret and act on this as they can. Roadmaps did not insulate the US PCB fabricators from overseas competition, or for that matter Europe’s and eventually Japan’s. But the success of HDI as a technology has to have some portion of implementation success because of industry roadmaps.

Thom Dammrich: It was an important thing to do. But probably only a few really used it effectively.

Jack Fisher: It was written by line engineers for line engineers. The IPC Roadmap on fabrication was far more valuable for the engineers than iNEMI’s, which was written at a higher level. IPC’s got down into things like the coating on the drill bits and how long a piece of film would work.

Dennis Fritz: The word “manufacturing” is in the iNEMI roadmap but not in the IPC’s anywhere. I think there was more attention placed on manufacturing in the early ones, but we’ve lost that. We’ve lost our entrepreneurs – the guys with skin in the game.

Marshall Andrews: There was lots of enthusiasm and interest at first that slowly faded over time.

David Bergman: I feel there was an underlying hope that the roadmapping effort would help stem the tide of manufacturing flight to Asia. Clearly it did not. I think the roadmapping did play a role in the implementation and expansion of HDI and brought together the industry to focus on PCB. Did it serve its purpose? I think so. Am I disappointed that we don’t have a stronger manufacturing base in the USA because of the roadmapping efforts? Yes.

Mike Buetow is editor in chief of PCD&F/CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY;

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