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PCB West 2023 - Collecting Information and Reconnecting With People

Fond memories of the conference are mostly about the people with whom I got to speak with. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a lot of valuable data to collect from the vendors’ hand-outs. It’s just that this year’s conference became more social than educational. As soon as I got into the conference, a former colleague greeted me as soon as I crossed the threshold; a man by the name of Brian Yee. We worked together on the original Chromecast dongle. His part was the printed antenna.

Brian was with his spouse, Pat, and we all circled back for happy hour to catch up further. He has also moved on from Google and is doing well with his own thing. That first encounter happened right in front of the EMA Design Automation booth, steps from the door. The final meet-up was at the other end of that same row. He gets around so I’ve seen him every local conference since the quarantine.

Continuing a Relationship With a Long-Time Sales Rep

Another person of interest is Tina Spence. She has worked in sales for a string of noted PCB manufacturers and has recently joined AT&S with whom I have some history. Both of us have moved from place to place during our parallel careers and she has been a go-to resource for my “emergency” spins. Thus, if I’m asked to recommend a vendor for a quick turnaround, I know exactly who to call.

Figure 1. Image Credit: Author - A typically crowded aisle during the trade show. Bonus points if you can spot Tina.

One of my favorite PCB designers has to be Juan C Frias. That gentleman has elevated my articles to his many followers. I know he has a lot since we have almost 1000 in common. He’s one of the few that can rock the iconic PCEA blue button-down shirt. Juan is someone I look for at every conference even though he has to travel to the Bay Area for the event. I raise my glass in his honor. Cheers, Juan.

Figure 2. Image Credit: Geoffrey Hazelett - Juan wanted a picture.  Yes, I’m delighted to oblige. I’m the one on the right with the freaky tan line from spending so much time wearing gloves while riding bikes.

The PCEA booth was the place to be if you wanted to rub shoulders with the people who were giving the lectures on our favorite PCB topics. They would pass in and out through the day but a good number of them were on hand towards the end of the show. What surprised me is how much some of them knew about my hobbies and other things I’ve mentioned in these columns. People I regard as advanced well beyond my station actually read this stuff. That’s a lift. It was also uplifting to have the conference speakers relate to me as if I were one of their own; calling me over to get into the group picture, for instance.

Let’s Talk About A Legend Among PCB Designers

Rick Hartley was there after winning a lifetime achievement award for his efforts to move the PCB design community forward. I’d put him on the PCB Designer’s Mount Rushmore so I was elated when he told me that he was glad that I was writing for PCB Design and Fabrication - Circuits Assembly Magazine. Next to him was Gary Ferarri who was the gentleman who certified me as the CID+ level. I’m not one to sit quietly while others converse but this was different. I had to take it all in.

During the conversation, Rick reminisced about PCB East 2001 and how the attacks on New York and the Pentagon took place while these same people were putting on their training sessions. It speaks to the extended duration of their efforts on our collective behalf. I would imagine that life-long bonds could come out of a situation like that. We all remember where we were that tragic day.

Gathering Data That Helps On The Job

My technology quest was to find vendors who were comfortable with thicker inner layer copper while incorporating micro-vias. They want to give me at most ½ ounce copper while I want double that. In the end, getting a few more microns on each layer helps that much. So, I’ll take what I can get.

Of course, there are dependencies and the one we have to manage is what happens to the minimum line width on layers that are going to be plated up. I’ve learned that it is not too hard to get a marketing person to sign up for the extra copper. The truth always comes out when we go to CAM with original artwork. Just because one vendor says it’s fine doesn’t mean that the second source will also fall in line. That’s what makes having so many vendors in one location a good thing.

Figure 3. Image Credit: Author - Pamphlets, booklets and data sheets are the physical takeaways from PCB West. Memories of the camaraderie among the instructors will last just as long.

Either way, the reading material options this time were exceptional. American Standard Circuits gets a nod for supplying two booklets; one on Thermal management and the other about flex circuits, both from a PCB fabrication perspective. I’ve only thumbed through them at this point but they will be available whenever I’m in airplane mode or just want to review the available options.

Walking away from the show, I began to wonder if I really could fit into the arena of public speaking where there is no back-space key to undo what you just said. Like any other technical subject, the more you learn about PCB layout, the more you realize how much exists beyond your current knowledge. In that way, I look forward to the next chance at self-improvement. The question remains; what can an old analog designer bring to the table in terms of a meaningful lesson to share.

About the Author

John Burkhert Jr is a career PCB Designer experienced in Military, Telecom, Consumer Hardware and lately, the Automotive industry. Originally, an RF specialist -- compelled to flip the bit now and then to fill the need for high-speed digital design. John enjoys playing bass and racing bikes when he's not writing about or performing PCB layout. You can find John on LinkedIn.

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