X-Rayted Files: Crafting Our ‘Next Normal’

As profound an experience as it has been to lead an enterprise through the pandemic, what’s to come may make every bit as much of an impression. So many things that we took for granted as practices and behaviors etched in stone were interrupted, suspended, or eliminated entirely. We’ve recrafted our workplaces; in fact, we have redefined them. Business relationships have been simultaneously hindered and enhanced by that mother of all invention. As we exit the tunnel into the light of the post-pandemic, we will be challenged collectively in crafting the next normal. 

Will we, can we, and frankly, should we return to our old workplaces and methods of defining work itself? Whether we should or not depends on the efficiencies we’ve missed from our traditional work settings. How do we possibly quantify the value of watercooler conversations, in terms of both the creative ideas they may contribute to our organizations as well as the camaraderie they generate. Cohesive and collaborative teams are certainly critical to an enterprise like my own, and certainly I’m not alone.

While there were many benefits to having our team in a traditional office and manufacturing setting, working closely together during common hours and under one roof, in some ways the interruption of this “normal” setting was not as disruptive as we might have imagined. Collaboration has certainly continued, just on different platforms, and in our case it has remained strong. Tools such as Zoom meetings have, for example, created space for including additional contributors to meetings they might otherwise have missed had the event been constrained by the four walls of a conference room. Of course, in the “next normal,” our meetings will likely incorporate both. It’s my hope that somewhere, in some dark little incubator up in the Valley, an enterprising, aspiring, future titan is furiously coding a virtual watercooler, and I hope they don’t put down the Mountain Dew until they’ve equipped said watercooler with a whiteboard emulator. 

The question of whether we can return to our anti-pandemic modes of work is every bit as vexing. Whether as leaders we wish such a return may not be entirely within our control. To some degree or another, the remote work genie has vacated the bottle. For those of our team members whose KPIs can be entirely satisfied via transmission over high-speed internet, it may be difficult, if not impossible to coax them back into the office. It’s probably worth checking in with the HR department to see how many of your staff updated their mailing addresses before W-2s went out. You might be surprised by how many traded in their urban studio apartment for a cabin in Truckee, California. Even those who stayed put may be benefiting from the absence of an hour-long commute—that, and they now have that pandemic puppy to look after. Careful consideration will have to be given to the approach we take to a return to the traditional office setting.

With the economic recovery taking hold, unemployment is dropping while competition for skilled team members is on the rise, and flexible/remote work may become an increasingly important consideration regarding workplace appeal. As leaders, we will likely find ourselves collaborating, if not negotiating with our teams as to how our next normal will take shape. This includes that extremely sticky wicket of vaccines, vaccine passports, and questions like, “Do I have to get vaccinated to be in the office?” and “Do I have to work in the office with colleagues who aren’t vaccinated? Ugh!”

Should we return to the good old status quo? For so many of us it seemed to be working just fine. Like all good organizations, ours was always looking for opportunities to improve, seek greater efficiencies, and maximize our efforts. In that regard, we may want to view the pandemic as somewhat of a natural experiment. It is worth quantifying as best we can what a socially distanced workplace has cost us as well as where it has provided benefits. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity to integrate the best that both traditional work environments and remote or socially distanced work have to offer. Our team is, in fact, working to identify the strengths and shortcomings of both experiences to help shape what will be our next normal. 

As much as our team interactions have changed, so too have those with our customers.

  • Video conferencing has proved a viable option to in-person interactions; what remains to be seen is whether they are, in fact, preferable.
  • Participation in trade shows is another matter up for consideration. Whether as vendors or as visitors, virtual trade shows seemed anything but viable.
  • And as we reconsider our workplaces, we are likewise reconsidering the marketing value of participating in in-person trade shows, not to mention our concern for how well they might be attended.
  • We have to be able to interact with our prospective customers: “Hey, watercooler guy, is there an app for that?” But seriously, in crafting our next normal, it is again worth carefully examining the lessons of the last year and making sure we apply them.

I think it is worth emphasizing the notion of crafting what’s next for all of us: our teams, customers, and enterprises, as the alternative is being subjected to it. So, here’s to crafting your next normal, and with it, the success that it will foster.

Dr. Bill Cardoso is CEO of Creative Electron.

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2021

X-Rayted Files: Crafting Our ‘Next Normal’

04-20-2021

As profound an experience as it has been to lead an enterprise through the pandemic, what’s to come may make every bit as much of an impression. So many things that we took for granted as practices and behaviors etched in stone, were interrupted, suspended, or eliminated entirely. As we exit the tunnel into the light of the post-pandemic, we will be challenged collectively in crafting the next normal.

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X-Rayted Files: The Bright Side of the Chip Shortage

03-17-2021

In his previous column, “The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage: Counterfeits,” Bill addressed one of unanticipated outcome of the crisis: the shortage of electronic components and predictable wave of counterfeit components likely to flood the market. Combating that tsunami of fakes may also accelerate the adoption of advanced techniques for detecting counterfeit components.

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X-Rayted Files: The Dark Side of the Chip Shortage—Counterfeits

02-17-2021

It’s February 2021, and as the world slowly recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, another problem plagues the global economy: the electronic component shortage. What some economists have deemed to be a decade of immense prosperity and growth, the “roaring ‘20s” started with a hiccup.

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X-Rayted Files: The Year of 2020 Vision

01-20-2021

What else can we say about 2020 that hasn’t been said? We have so much to reflect on, both to mourn and to be thankful for. The global pandemic has made an indelible mark on us all, and we, like everyone else, are changed forever. With the year behind us, and light at the end of the tunnel, we take a moment to look back as well as look forward.

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2020

X-Rayted Files: Solving for the Limits of Human Visual Inspection

12-16-2020

Because a key element of quality control in manufacturing is still good old-fashioned visual inspection, it’s important to understand the ability of operators to sustain their focus and what we can do to support their success. And while the fallibility of human inspection presents challenges, Dr. Bill Cardoso details how there are many ways to address shortcomings.

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X-Rayted Files: iPhone Transparency—A Window Into SMT

11-17-2020

Though we don’t do them just for fun, teardowns are fun, but they have also taught us more than we could have imagined. Modern teardowns provide critical insights into the nature and construction of these devices. As an example, Dr. Bill Cardoso details the history of the iPhone as told through X-ray.

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X-Rayted Files: A Century of X-Rays in the Automotive Industry, Part 2

10-28-2020

As one of the main users of X-ray inspection, the automotive industry has been one of the main drivers for the development of higher power and higher resolution X-ray imaging systems. Dr. Bill Cardoso continues with Part 2 of this column series.

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X-Rayted Files: A Century of X-Rays in the Automotive Industry, Part 1

09-29-2020

If you have read any of Bill Cardoso's previous columns, you know that he is passionate about X-rays, cars, and electronics. In this column series, he talks about some of his idols, including Curie, Roentgen, Marconi, Galvin, and Ford.

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X-Rayted Files: Is Quality Really Priceless?

08-19-2020

In a day and age when we can learn virtually anything online, manufacturers still manage to be opaque about pricing, especially when it comes to specialty equipment. Some may say, “Quality is priceless,” but Bill Cardoso explains how it isn't.

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X-Rayted Files: Marching Toward 2021, 20 Miles at a Time

07-29-2020

We’re only at the halfway mark, and 2020 has been a real challenge. Our best-laid plans have been cast in doubt by the COVID-19 pandemic. During this transformational time, Dr. Bill Cardoso looks back a century for a bit of inspiration from Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.

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X-Rayted Files: E-Commerce Boom Fraught With Risk—X-Rays to the Rescue

06-17-2020

It’s not news that online sales are increasing dramatically during this global pandemic. However, with increased sales comes the increased risk of return fraud and abuse. Dr. Bill Cardoso explains how X-ray can help detect dummy and counterfeit merchandise.

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X-Rayted Files: Why Do We Break Stuff? Intelligence From Teardowns

05-20-2020

The impulse to break a new gadget to "see what's inside" and to “learn how it works” is often the first sign someone will become an engineer. We’ve learned a lot in over a decade of teardowns, which have helped us to understand how the SMT industry has changed over these years. Bill Cardoso investigates.

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X-Rayted Inspection: Manufacturing in the Eye of a Pandemic

04-08-2020

Dr. Bill Cardoso usually writes about X-ray inspection, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and how it all connects to Industry 4.0. This month, however, he shifts gears and shares some of the things Creative Electron has been doing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

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X-rayted Files: X-ray and AI—A Match Made In Heaven, Part 2

03-18-2020

In Part 1, Dr. Bill Cardoso covered the basics of the relationship between X-ray inspection and artificial intelligence (AI). In Part 2, Cardoso takes a step forward to cover some of the practical ways we use AI to improve the efficiency of our X-ray inspections.

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2019

X-Rayted Files: Will Radiation Damage My Electronic Component?

12-17-2019

Before I start talking about radiation damage on electronic components, let me warn you: if you are looking for a simple “yes” or “no” answer to the question, "Will radiation damage my electronic component?" stop reading now. Things will get complicated. You may feel like I did not answer the question at all, and you would be correct. There are whole conferences dedicated to this question (check IEEE’s Nuclear and Space Radiation Effects Conference), so the goal of this column is to give you some background to guide you to the right answer for your specific situation. Ultimately, the best way is to ask an expert.

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X-Rayted Files: The Currency of Technology

11-11-2019

In the ever-moving tide of technology, the need to innovate requires a constant shift in vision, and this need has never been more evident than in PCB manufacturing. In fact, innovation has become so valuable that PCBs are quickly becoming the currency of technology. Dr. Bill Cardoso explains.

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X-Rayted Files: The Risk of Installing Counterfeit Parts

10-02-2019

In high-tech manufacturing, the use of sub-standard components can be catastrophic. There is no greater need for quality control than in PCBs, as they are only as good as the components installed on them; therein lies the problem. Some components shipped to manufacturers are counterfeit!

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X-Rayted Files: Just Because You Can't See the Problem Doesn't Mean It's Not There!

08-20-2019

In this new column, Dr. Bill Cardoso will cover everything related to X-rays from cool historical facts to the latest in technological advancements, starting with the discovery of X-rays in 1895.

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