SMTAI 2019 Draws Young and Young at Heart


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I love Chicago—not enough to live there, mind you, but fall is a great time to visit, and the weather was just about perfect during last week’s SMTA International 2019. It was about 75°F and windy most of the week. What more could you want?

Held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, SMTAI started on September 24 with a rousing keynote by Dr. Adam Steltzner. He was the chief engineer of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team that invented the “sky crane” system that delivered the Mars Curiosity Rover onto the surface of Mars without a hitch in 2012.

Steltzner grabbed my attention by describing himself as a truant and a bass player (I knew there were more bass-playing truants out there). He went to college primarily because he wanted to know why the stars changed positions after exiting a gig with his band, Exit. He wound up being a natural leader, organizing hundreds of other super-smart scientists and engineers. Steltzner made a great point: If you’re truly at the top of your game, it’s your worst-case scenario. Where do you go next? I think many of us thought of Apple when he said that.

The show floor was busy most of the week; it wasn’t full, but there was steady traffic, and many of the attendees were the “deciders” at their companies. MIRTEC sold a few pieces of equipment right out of their booth. All of the exhibitors I spoke with were happy with their leads, and they’re usually quick to tell you if they’re not happy with the show turnout.

I couldn’t help noticing that there were a good number of young people at SMTAI this year, and this is a trend that’s been ongoing for a few years. Young folks were everywhere: I ran into college interns, recent grads, and some engineers in their 30s who had moved over from other industries, like software development and embedded systems. Remember when people were leaving PCB fabrication and assembly for other sectors during the downturns? Times have changed, and this time, for the better!

I spoke with a handful of first-time SMTAI attendees, and a few nervous engineers who were presenting their first SMTAI papers. I also met some entrepreneurs who were eager to get their peers interested in their technology.

As always, the “meetings to greetings” reception on the first day of the expo was a lot of fun with draft beer and some pretty good food. I’d also like to give a hat tip to whoever thought of giving away shots of Speyburn single malt. I had to look for that booth, but I found it. It’s hard to beat a little single malt after a day at a trade show.

Let’s hear a round of applause for Tanya Martin and Ryan Flaherty of SMTA as well as the countless volunteers who help put this show together every year. And don’t miss next year’s show September 29–30, 2020, in the same location.

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