A Conversation (and Day) with Joe Fjelstad, Part 5

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With respect to my core being, the term “iconoclastic polemicist” has been suggested. It’s not far off the mark. I'm fundamentally someone that's ranting about tearing down the idols that we worship. That's fundamentally what I do—rail against the false idols of stasis and status quo, which will take us nowhere. Unfortunately, people are not interested in the destruction of their idols which are, at the end of the day, the devils they know. And “better the devil you know” is the way the saying goes, suggesting that change might be worse.

There's a personal story of me as a kid when I was growing up in Lancaster, California in the late 1950s. I was probably eight or nine years old. I read something and I've never been able to really resurrect it anywhere, but it stuck in my head. It was something I read about the Navajo Indian's concept of the conscience. From what I recall, in the story, they referred to the conscience as a triangle that sits in one’s heart. When one does something wrong, the triangle will turn and it causes one pain in their heart. The problem is that if one continues to do the same things wrong, they round off the corners and they don't feel the pain anymore—having lost their conscience. As a kid, I thought, “Whoa, that's important.” I wanted to make sure I kept the points on that triangle in my heart and always try to do the right thing.

quote.jpgThat reminds me of another thing that I said to those attending my talk in Montana. To be honest, it's not new. It's not original but I don’t know who to ascribe the thought to. Anyway, I suggested that we must all first do the right things and then do those things right. That's it. It's very simple. Do the right thing and then do things right.

Circling back to Occam, people often ask me, “What about rework and repairs? What should I do about them?” My reply is always, “Why are you reworking and repairing things? Is it because you didn't do the right thing, because you didn’t do it right, or both?” These are really more rhetorical questions, but we have the technology to bring it online, like with this direct print technology. More important, the nice thing is, if you want a dimensionally stable base, guess what? Aluminum is pretty dimensionally stable; there is nothing new here.

cracked_iphone.jpgYou want to do something sustainable? Use materials that are sustainable. Give me a component that is 10 mils in height. I will take that piece; I can machine, etch, punch or print out the holes and then put it between another sheet of aluminum with a pressure sensitive adhesive, sandwich them, put the components into the cavity and then rotate it on dry film and expose the termination, metallize, and I'm done. Nothing's going to fail at a solder joint. Think about going from drop test to throw test. Why just a drop test? Why not a throw test? Take a piece of electronics and throw it across the room, smack it up against the wall and see if it still works.

I knew a NASA scientist who was rewriting a proposal for a grant and he was kind of on his way out. He said, let's do this, and I said okay. I met him in Sardinia, of all places. We wrote it up, and he said one of his projects was looking through the design of extraterrestrial planetary landers. He said this mission was to one of the moons of Neptune, if I recall correctly, or some future mission they wanted to land. He said, "I already know what's going to fail. It’s going to be a solder joint.” We didn't get the grant. It wasn't much, just a little bit of money, but it was the notion of the opportunity to write something up for the next level, if you can get to it. If you don't pass through the first filter, you don't get to the second filter.

It's just not big enough on the radar yet. We need something that will provide the tipping point. I'm coming to that. I got some interest from a couple of people in the audience from the aerospace conference. I sent it to them and they said, "This should be working. We should be doing something with it."

I don't have the power. I'm just an old hermit wandering in the desert looking for an oasis. I don't count… yet. Presently it's like the old light bulb story, just an idea.

Matties: That light bulb’s been kept on for 15 years, though.

Fjelstad: That's what I'm saying. The nice thing is that if I died today, I'm comfortable with the fact that I know what the future looks like. Others might not agree with me, but the thing is that I'm talking about eliminating everything from electronics manufacturing that is unnecessary. In the words of William of Occam “It is vanity to do with more, that which can be done with less.” I'm in this for the long haul. I'm good with that. In May I am giving a talk at an SMTA conference on reliability. In June I will be giving an invited talk at the JPCA 2015 show in Japan on the topic of solder elimination; in July, I’ll be in Aberdeen Scotland, giving a talk on sustainability. And in October, I will be in Bucharest, Romania, giving a course to a number of university students who are blank sheets of paper, on possible futures. Students are best because they are unfettered by the status quo.

Matties: And you really enjoy doing that, right?

Fjelstad: Yes, I do. I've made some absolutely awesome friends in this industry over the years, present company most definitely included.

Matties: Joe, I thank you for the opportunity to spend the day with you, and for allowing me to share it with our readers.

Fjelstad: Thank you, Barry, it’s been most delightful.

Click to read the other parts of this article Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4


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