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I was able to attend the SMTA conference and vendor expo of the West Penn Chapter, held May 6 right here in my backyard—Western Pennsylvania. The exhibit space was sold out after having been expanded twice. While I did not attend the conference portion, the table top exhibit portion was lively. I had the opportunity to visit with Bill Capen of DRS Technologies, the president of this SMTA chapter.
Patty Goldman: Bill, tell me a little bit about yourself.
Bill Capen: I've been in the electronic manufacturing industry for more than 20 years. I started at the floor level as a technician, moved up through the ranks to engineer, to senior engineer, to you name it. So I am all encompassing. I've been actively involved with SMTA since 2005. I served as the Wisconsin Chapter president, Michigan Chapter president, Upper Midwest Chapter president, and now West Penn Chapter president.
Goldman: So you're moving around being president?
Capen: Yes, but this will be the last move. My wife will make sure of that. I guarantee it.
Goldman: And you're with DRS Technologies. Tell me about DRS.
Capen: DRS Technologies is a military contractor. We do all of the electronic manufacturing for DRS and other defense industry companies in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
Goldman: What’s going on here today at this chapter meeting?
Capen: The West Penn SMTA Expo is a vendor expo. We have 35 vendors signed up and 75 people who have signed up to attend the different presentations. The presentations include electrostatic discharge, pad design, and Industry 4.0, which is the newest and greatest thought process on how manufacturing should happen. We also have a wonderful topic on moisture sensitivity and the new rules that are coming into play for the different parts.
Goldman: Wonderful. It's a pretty full day, and I saw that your vendor spaces were sold out.
Capen: We were sold out, and we actually had to beg for more space from the Expo; they were more than happy to help. So we've added a couple and now we're at 35.
Goldman: What else can you tell me about the day? What are your expectations?
Capen: My expectations are that we're going to have a good crowd with some good information from the technical presentation, and I think a lot of people are going to touch base with the vendors, to get some sort of contact for future use.
We're also now putting together a full-blown manufacturing boot camp to be held in August. It will probably be held at this hotel, and that will include how people should actually manufacture electronic assemblies.
Goldman: A real training session then?
Capen: It will be a real training session. These expos are wonderful. They're great for presentations, but sometimes we need to have a little bit more, so that's why we’re going down this path to giving an actual training presentation.
Goldman: How many member companies do you have here?
Capen: Right now we have about 14 member companies in this chapter. We are trying to grow that, but this is a kind of weird area because not a lot of people actually know there's manufacturing of electronics in this area, so they don't really contribute to it. We're working on that, and our goal is to try to get up to 20.
Goldman: Are most of your member companies assembly companies?
Capen: Most of them are assembly companies. But quite a few contract manufacturers are out there. We're kind of a good mix. We have contract, we have military, and then we do have just OEM-type manufacturers, too.
Goldman: You cover a pretty large area around Pittsburgh?
Capen: All of Western Pennsylvania—Pittsburgh, up to Erie, and right up to the Ohio border basically. We are actually doing a lot of events between the Ohio and West Penn Chapter, so we can share resources and share people to come back to and fro.
Goldman: That's great. Do you move around as far as these venues? Is this considered centrally located?
Capen: Pittsburgh seems to be the hub of where we want to have people. Where I'm at in Johnstown we're about an hour and a half out of here. Getting people there would be very challenging. In Pittsburgh we have good facilities, we can get people in and out traffic-wise and that just seems to work best for what we're trying to do.
Goldman: Anything else you would like to talk about here on the day?
Capen: SMTA has been great from my point of view, because it's been one of those situations where I've had the ability to interact with a lot of amazing people with a lot of technical knowledge, and I've had the opportunity to make sure that we start sharing that with others. That's why I'm looking forward to this expo, because we can then start sharing from the grey hair mentality to the younger mentality, to actually bring that forward. We forget that everybody and their brother have been in this industry for a long time. It's now time to make sure that we bring everybody up to speed.
Goldman: Tell me a little about your exhibitors today?
Capen: We have a wide range of exhibitors. We have both the cleaning companies, Zestron and Kaizen. We also have several bare board manufacturing companies here to discuss that. We have everything from material storage to soldering irons and so on.
Goldman: Of course you consider the PCB fabricators to be suppliers. That's very interesting from my perspective.
Capen: That's another reason why in August we're going to do the boot camp. It will be an event where we're not actually going to allow the vendors come in. It will be strictly training, and it's industry folks only. That way we focus on the training and not worrying about trying to sell some product.
Goldman: This is a free event today, which is nice.
Capen: It is all free. We want to make sure everybody comes in and gets to talk to the vendors, because the vendors are the ones who are paying for their spot to be here. For the training in August we are looking at probably either a $15 or a $20 fee, but it will be an all-day event.
Goldman: That's wonderful; that's very inexpensive for somebody to come get a full day of training.
Capen: Exactly. Basically what we're going to be doing is covering the cost of the training space at the hotel and then lunch. We're not paying anybody to come in. It's all about making sure that they get training to understand how to do their job, or perhaps to understand what their job is.
Goldman: Do you have a date for that yet?
Capen: We don't have a date. We're looking at the second week of August right now, just because we're trying to work out the facilities time-wise right now.
Goldman: You've already got your trainers?
Capen: I have six trainers involved right now. I'm actually trying to get two more so we can do an eight hour day and everybody gets an hour. Yes, it's a lot of training.
Goldman: That's heavy, I mean for $20. They don't even need their companies to send them. Many training events cost hundreds of dollars.
Capen: That's why we're trying to make sure that people understand that, yes, we are an entity that you have to pay to be a member of, but it really is about trading information. We're not trying to make money. We're not trying to become hugely profitable. It's about trading information. People forget that.
Goldman: That's fantastic. Yes, sometimes they do forget that. I know in SMTA, you are all volunteers, and obviously your trainers will be, too, and that's great. Will that be open to people just at particular companies? Will that be open to students?
Capen: It's going to be open to everybody. We specifically want to open it to everybody. We don't want just certain types of people, because I think that really limits your audience. We need to have the young people, the students, or the people that maybe did a career change and have a new position in the company or something.
Goldman: I mean for $20, what's somebody got to lose?
Capen: We are going to work with the local Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, I believe, who will help us distribute this information. We are targeting the other industries because one of the topics will be materials. Materials affect everybody. It doesn't matter if you're making electronics or ice cream cones, literally. It affects how you get materials and how you make stuff. We're going to really broaden it so it's just not very specific to us, but it's specific to just everybody in manufacturing.
Goldman: Now, you could end up with a huge crowd. Is there going to be some size limit here?
Capen: I'm hoping that we can at least get 40 people to sign up.
Goldman: 40? I think you will have a couple hundred.
Capen: Well, if we do, we have plenty of space here to do that. We will just rent out a bigger room. We're okay with that. If that is truly what happens in the end we will be happy and will gladly move forward with it.
Goldman: Not only will the assembly companies who are your members send people, which you would hope they would, but also maybe local community colleges.
Capen: We're actually putting the word out to the University of Pittsburgh already. We're already putting it at our local community colleges, and then we're going to go from there.
Goldman: Bill, thank you so much for your time. It’s been very informative.
Capen: Thank you.