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I find it so refreshing to talk with the staff and volunteers with SMTA, who are always energetic and enthusiastic about the organization. So, it was a pleasure to meet Eileen Hibbler of TEK Products, who currently sits on the Board of Directors and is the VP of Membership. We had a chance to discuss the importance of the local shows while attending one of the big ones—SMTA International—held recently in Rosemont, Illinois.
Patty Goldman: Eileen, you are with TEK Products, but you're also heavily involved in SMTA. What is your position at TEK Products and with SMTA?
Eileen Hibbler: I'm based in Florida and am a strategic account representative for TEK Products. TEK Products is a distributor of cleanroom, filtration and electronic production supplies—the things that all the companies manufacturing electronic products use all the time. In addition to my sales function I get to do some problem-solving as well.
I joined SMTA in 2001 because I wanted to meet people, learn more about the industry, and familiarize myself with the topics and challenges. I’m proud to say that after all these years later, I continue to learn and grow thanks to my involvement with SMTA. They say you get what you give and I can say that has certainly been true in my career.
Goldman: What did your early involvement with SMTA consist of?
Hibbler: I spent several years affiliated with the Tampa Chapter and then I saw a need on the Space Coast of Florida, which is on the East Coast. There were a lot of people looking for the knowledge that SMTA offers, so we launched a chapter there in 2007. I served as the president for a while and now I've moved up to the Board of Directors.
Goldman: And you're obviously a great volunteer, I'm sure, as vice president of membership. SMTA is so much about education and knowledge, it must be easy to get people to join. New people come into the industry and things never stay the same, so one always needs to be learning more. They should be learning, anyhow.
Hibbler: That's one of the beautiful things about the business we're in, that technology is always changing. Part of the challenge that I have is how to get the word out about SMTA and the benefits that we offer in to educate people in the industry.
Goldman: I've always been impressed with the local SMTA shows around the country because they're completely open to anybody. You don't have to be a member and they're very educational. I hope you feel they're doing well. I've been very impressed with them.
Hibbler: That program of our neighborhood expos and tech forums grew out of this mission. Our largest annual event, SMTA International, has been held for many years, but there are many companies and geographies where engineers aren’t able to attend the larger events and expos. SMTA is dedicated to expanding resources to all individuals and companies in the electronics manufacturing industry. Organizing ad attending our local programs is a lot of fun, but they couldn’t happen without the hard work from our chapter leadership teams and the support for the local region. Many of our Chapter Expo and Tech Forums are on a smaller scale, but still encompass the passion of teaching and learning about the new technologies available. The program has been very successful and truly allows us to work at the local level.
Goldman: I have been to a couple of them and like I said, I was impressed. First, they're each just one day. They're local, so people can drive to them. They get a nice lunch, and there are up to four presentations plus a small expo of suppliers, and there’s a bunch of people there.
Hibbler: We enjoy getting the local customers engaged with the suppliers that exhibit, and everyone seems to be happy about that. The employers don't have to pay to fly their engineers across the country. The suppliers, if they manage their schedules, they're in the territory, anyway, calling on customers. On this business day, all the customers come to them.
Goldman: I've talked with many people with smaller booths on the show floor and the local part is great for them.
Hibbler: The price point is affordable and we promote corporate memberships strongly for these suppliers so that they can get discounted rates and enjoy all the benefits that is included. Currently a corporate membership is $450, though there is a slight increase in rates in 2018. Everything is costing more, venues are costing more, and we haven’t had a membership price change in almost 10 years. However, were excited to recently have announced a new category of membership this year and I'm hoping to be very successful with it. It’s a “Professional Membership” that embraces the small companies with less than 5 employees in total.
We wanted to target small businesses, the rep firms, the consultants, or the very small companies, as sometimes $450 or $550 may be cost-prohibitive. The new Professional Membership category costs only $250. They get all the benefits of what they've usually been paying for as an individual member, but also receive many of the benefits that the Corporate Membership offers.
Goldman: Obviously, you've seen or you've studied that enough so that you know it’s a need.
Hibbler: Yes, I have. After all the years, I know a lot of rep firms where the owner will buy a single individual membership, but that doesn’t allow them any of the advertising and marketing benefits that come along with corporate participation. We're hoping for big things.
Goldman: I know that SMTA also has a few university chapters. How's that going?
Hibbler: I believe that many companies find challenges in getting the attention of the younger professionals and students who have so much on their plate. They're trying to learn and they have a curiosity especially if they think they're going to get into the electronics business. Part of our charter is to educate the student population on just exactly what we do.
Goldman: I agree because even the engineering students don't know. They don't know that this is an industry that you can grow in and have an entire career in, as we well know.
Hibbler: Many times they don’t understand or think about electronics manufacturing. When you tell people you're in electronics, they want you to fix their PC. They think that it’s software or something, and they're not thinking about the board-level products or the assembly process of what goes into the products that we're now using every day.
One of the messages that I would like to get across as far as membership is concerned is that SMTA was founded 33 years ago due to a new technology called surface mount, which is now, of course, old-school technology. But the organization has grown and expanded to much more than just surface mount components. I don't think everyone realizes that, so I'm working very hard to market that SMTA has expanded into the counterfeit component area, conformal coating issues, packaging, and all the other innovative technologies that are related to electronics manufacturing.
Even down to the point of static control. Years ago, many companies didn't even believe that there was a static issue. But over the years, the components have become tinier and more and more sensitive. Static electricity is a common problem, so people are starting to pay attention to ESD. We had one of our most successful chapter meetings in Florida on handling sensitive components. We held it at a customer’s facility and we had a panel discussion on how to handle Class Zero components. One of the customers in our territory, Harris Corporation, has a committee based on the challenges of Class Zero.
Goldman: What is that?
Hibbler: That means the sensitivity of the component. The problem facing much of the electronics industry is the lack of knowledge on what are the actual ESD sensitivities of the components being used in their products. If you don’t know how sensitive something is, how do you know if your ESD program is adequate?
Goldman: Much easier said than done, right?
Hibbler: Yes, it is. I love the technology. It keeps changing. I learn something new every day, and that's saying something, for all the days I've been in it.
Goldman: That's us in this industry. We try to be learning all the time, and that is what is so intriguing and interesting. We may be frustrated or annoyed or a dozen other things, but we are never bored.
Hibbler: Right. I want to reach out to the millennials and the young professionals that there is always something to learn. Help me spread the word about SMTA.
Goldman: Yes. Well, we'll be doing our best here. Thanks for spending some time with me.
Hibbler: Okay, thank you so much.