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ROI

Peter Bigelow

Working from home brings many Covid epiphanies.

As I reluctantly get used to social distancing, wearing face masks in public and continually washing my hands, many “aha!” moments have occurred. These have been about the new realities of dealing with the global disruption from Covid-19, as well as the changes we will most likely live with once we’ve survived the pandemic, or at least the first round of it. In no particular order, they include:

Zoom, Zoom, ZOOM! I am not tech savvy or social media conscious, so it should be no surprise that three months ago I had never heard of Zoom. I know about it now! I spend a good portion of each day, including weekends, on a Zoom “call.” At first it was family trying to connect from the various places they were hunkered down. But then I began receiving requests from customers and suppliers to schedule a Zoom meeting to discuss one or another thing. Zoom enables those working remotely to participate with the few still working out of their office or factory. Zoom is user-friendly, and unlike WebEx, easier for those working at home to manage.

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Peter Bigelow

Motivated by fear, businesses are valuing creativity as never before.

Over the past 60 to 90 days, I am sure I have heard the term “the new normal” at least a thousand times. Before Covid-19 has run its terrible course, I fully expect to hear it at least a zillion more. But what exactly is “the new normal?”

Sometimes global events become a catalyst for change. Events like the Great Depression and World War II had dramatic, difficult and often devastating impacts on the world. However, those impacts were mostly temporary reactions to transient events, like the aftermath of a very bad storm. Covid-19 is different, which makes trying to visualize and comprehend events, both in the now and the future, so difficult.

Covid-19 truly levels the playing field. Everyone on earth will at some point be impacted, regardless of gender, political orientation, geography, socioeconomic status or faith. Everyone is at risk, and everyone will be impacted in similar ways. That differs from past global events that typically were the cause of regional wars (even WWII did not impact all countries), economic downturns, political eruptions, or local plagues. We really are all in this together.

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Peter Bigelow

Will the latest pandemic spur mass change in communications?

Global events sometimes become the catalyst for widespread change. In the world of technology, Covid-19, also known as the coronavirus, may be such an event.

Over the decades our industry has been an integral part of developing, refining and establishing many cost-effective and reliable technologies, perhaps best illustrated by improvements in communications. These improvements have not just been about broadcasting voice with higher fidelity in smaller packages, or integrating photography into word processing software, with easier user interfaces. Thanks to technology, the world of communications has been developing into much more: real-time, interactive, and transportable.

The combination of higher capacity data storage in smaller and far less expensive packages and fast and reliable wireless bandwidth, available virtually anywhere, matched with camera and microphone technology that makes the smallest device sound crystal clear and picks up the smallest sound or sight from incredibly long distances, is just part of the dramatic evolution of communications technologies.

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Peter Bigelow

Disaster planning should be part and parcel of our business toolkit.

With only two months of the year behind us, it may be prudent to take any and all business plans you had and rip them up.

Entering a new year is always exciting, when embarking on interesting initiatives that will generate greater profits. Regrettably, sometimes disruptions sideline those exciting new thoughts, replaced by triage efforts that were never in your plans. This year that disruptive event is the coronavirus, and businesses are trying to work through a potentially altered global supply chain.

First and foremost, the coronavirus is just that: a virus – a highly contagious disease debilitating thousands around the world who have or will contract it. Our first thoughts must be with the victims who are infected, hoping they recover. And yes, other viruses and diseases over the years have wreaked havoc on various locations, countries and peoples. By itself, the coronavirus should not derail business planning, business plan execution, or business itself. However, sometimes “things” happen!

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Peter Bigelow

The technologies that succeed will likely be variations on our current ones.

A new year is always exciting. Thoughts of embarking on new initiatives provide opportunity and inspire everyone to dream big and make them happen. When the new year happens to coincide with a new decade – in this case, the ’20s, or as some of my business colleagues are calling it, “the roaring ’20s” – one can’t help but dream extra big and forecast events that should or could impact our industry in the decade ahead.

Rather than focus on the geopolitical and global economics that clearly impact everyone, too often in an irrational or political way, I will focus on the area I am probably least qualified to opine on: technology.

In the rearview mirror of the past decade(s) have been notable technological disappointments. By “disappointments” I am not saying failures, but technologies, materials and processes that have, so far, not lived up to the hype garnered when first released. Organics, especially OSPs, showed great promise. After many years of refinement, however, the short shelf-life of these surface finishes still makes them too problematic for general use. Yes, they work great in a high-volume, rapid fab-to-assembly-to-OEM application, but for high-mix or ruggedized environments they aren’t ready for prime time.

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Peter Bigelow

Changes in materials and components mean yesterday’s issues are also today’s.

Industry is much like the classic Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day: We work on a technical challenge, solve it, and wake up the next day and solve it again.

A recent industry gathering offered such an example. The subject was profiling ovens used in the assembly of circuit boards. Over my decades-long career I have seen dozens of presentations on that very subject. Each time the challenge was the same: new solder materials, laminate or components require tighter and more-defined performance from the oven; thus, the oven must be profiled with ever-greater accuracy and precision.

This recurring phenomenon is not unique to the PCB industry. The original automotive engineers worked on how to make a car accelerate and brake faster, just as their successors do today. The materials, control technologies and performance demands may change, but the recurring engineering challenge is there, whether it’s for an auto braking system or wave solder process.

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