One World, One Industry: Europe—Taking the Technical Lead on Transition to the Digital Factory


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As the president and CEO of a global trade association, I pay close attention to how the electronics manufacturing industry is faring throughout the world. I recently spoke to Sanjay Huprikar, president, IPC Europe and South Asia operations, and Matt Kelly, IPC chief technologist, about the European manufacturing industry.

John Mitchell: What can you tell me about technological advances in Europe?

Sanjay Huprikar: There is a strong appetite in Europe to take the technical lead on the transition to a digital factory. They are clearly taking ownership of the move toward the “factory of the future” and have an earnest desire to be first.

Matt_Kelly_300.jpgMatt Kelly: I certainly agree about ownership. There is a synergy between European companies, the industry, and the government. The EU regularly solicits participation from the industry and asks for expert advice. By creating the policies driven by the industry, it ensures that the government/industry link is quite strong. The idea is that as technology advances—as with the notion of the smart factory—the need to do things better and more efficiently helps their companies be more competitive.

Europe is strongly committed to the environment and has an active interest in sustainability. These are tough issues, they are daunting and challenging to solve, and sustainability is at the top of the list.

Mitchell: How do European manufacturers ensure that these issues are addressed?

Kelly: European manufacturers seem to have a systems-based approach. They care about the electrical and mechanical design, and they talk to each other, so mistakes are not made. That impacts manufacturing and is a great concept of the full manufacturing cycle.

IPC_Sanjay_Huprikar.jpgHuprikar: I agree with Matt’s observation. Europeans have embraced the systems integration approach and are project management-minded about it. They have a goal, and they work to obtain it by using the right players to ensure success. As a result, Europe has taken the leadership role on technologies in automotive, industrial, and medical.

Mitchell: What can you tell me about European influence in the automotive and medical industries? We certainly see many European IPC members in leadership roles in our standards development committees in these areas.

Huprikar: We have been fortunate to have companies like Bosch, Continental Automotive, Hella, BMW, and Volkswagen actively participating in IPC committees; and when one thinks about industrial and medical, well, Siemens is probably the most prominent name that comes to mind.

Kelly: Yes, Siemens has a clear leadership role, and a drive to be competitive as well as the drive to say, “You know, we can still keep our top talent working in science and engineering, but to do that, we have to be the best at it.” German engineering has been coined as a mark of quality success, and that says it all.

Huprikar: German companies obviously have a strong reputation for engineering and high tech, but the French should not be overlooked. They are industry leaders—Thales, Airbus, Safran, Schneider Electric, Alstom, and others heavily participate in IPC.

Mitchell: How is Europe’s workforce responding to the dynamic changes of manufacturing?

Huprikar: As with everyone else in the industry, they are struggling to find enough and the right kind of talent. These challenges have driven IPC to develop critical educational content to meet the needs of the market. An example is a “Fundamentals of PCBA” course for new engineers. As the industry continues to move toward the Factory of the Future, there will be many opportunities for us to create new courses that serve the needs of our members.

Kelly: The number of people retiring and leaving is essentially the Baby Boomer population. This is the main cause of attrition for this skill set. So, it’s important that we focus on the next generation of technologists and identify new ways of working with new technologies.

Mitchell: Where does Europe focus on the Factory of the Future or smart factory?

Kelly: Europe is focused on the implementation and execution of new technologies for smart factories. There is a trend toward digitization, using IPC-CFX to implement change. There is an eagerness to show others what they are doing and how they are implementing change.

Huprikar: A big part of modernizing and transforming factories is leveraging data to make better decisions. As Matt said, CFX is a big part of that, but in general, we have observed that European companies are laser-focused on managing and analyzing big data. 

Kelly: There's a hierarchy of technologies. Let me give you an example. Everybody loves to talk about artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digital twin. These are all great concepts, but there are prerequisites that you must have in place before you implement them. You can’t just say, “Let's go do AI or let's go do digital twin.” Those cool shiny object types are great ideas that will start to take hold, but you can’t do it without data and digitization, and Europe has figured that out. And that is why you see smart factory and advanced manufacturing being led by Europe.

Mitchell: Tell us about growth in IPC Europe.

Huprikar: The good news is Europeans want us to do more. There are plenty of exciting opportunities to expand our collaborations in standards, education, and advocacy. To that end, we are hiring more staff this year to support the industry.

This column originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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