PCB East Recap

‘Everybody is Growing’

The East Coast trade show brings news of a steady industry, while puncturing myths about AI.
by Tyler Hanes

Members of the electronics community gathered in the Boston suburb of Boxborough in early June for the return of PCB East, PCEA’s annual event featuring four days of technical sessions and a one-day exhibition.

This year’s exhibition featured more than 65 companies running the gamut of the PCB industry, from fabrication, design, and assembly to test and inspection, and most of those companies reported steady growth thus far, with small gains over 2023.

For Cadence Design Systems, revenue has continued to grow over the past few years and is up around 15% so far in 2024, said product management director Patrick Davis.

“Cadence is doing great,” he said.

Cadence Design Systems’ Scott Burton, on left, and Patrick Davis speak to attendees at PCB East in June.

Davis said the company has expanded with new acquisitions and personnel over the past year, and CEO Anirudh Devgan believes the company is on the right track to continue that growth into the future.

“Anirudh has a very good vision for where Cadence is going,” he said. “I think it’s the beginning of a very cool rise.”

Business has also been good for Newgrange Design, with plenty of growth in 2023 and forecasts for continued success in the future, said president Matt Leary.

“It was our best year ever,” he said. “We hope and expect to continue to grow in the coming 12-24 months.”

He said right now is a good time to be in the electronics hardware industry with its continued expansion into other sectors.

“Virtually every industry is using electronics to increase data collection and improve connectivity,” Leary said. “We expect that to continue for the foreseeable future.” 

Elsyca, a provider of simulation electrochemical process software including PCB DfM and plating, is relatively new to the PCB industry, but shows like PCB East and PCB West are helping to spread the word about that side of the business, said sales engineer Agnieszka Franczak.

The company is also benefiting from nearshoring and reshoring efforts that are seeing PCB production moving away from China, and business has been good so far in 2024 as those efforts gain strength, she said.

Component Dynamics’ Marc Schwanbeck speaks to exhibition goers during June’s PCB East.

With the respective Chips Acts in Europe and the US to bring in more domestic semiconductor fabrication, PCB production will also see more shifts into Europe and North America, she said.

Electric vehicles are also growing, and eventually will be the norm for the US and Europe, which will benefit the PCB industry and the entire electronics industry, she said.

“If this is the future, then this is also the future for PCB business growth,” she said. “Then the next question is how small we’re going to go with these electronics, but that’s another conversation.”

At Optris Infrared Sensing, a company specializing in infrared measurement devices for noncontact temperature measurement, business has been close to the same as last year, said sales application engineer Chris Sullivan. That includes the usual fluctuations that come from being a company that specializes in inspection, he said.

“There’s been a little bit of a decline, but our stuff is usually what I call a lumpy business,” he said. “We might have a month where a bunch of systems come in and the next month nothing, so it’s still a little lumpy for me, but overall, my answer would be steady.”

Fine-Line USA CEO Eran Navick reported a growing PCB fabrication business in the US, and said the company has been meeting its revenue goals for the year.

He said he expected a mediocre year for the business, and while 2024 has been better than expected, orders have been smaller, meaning it has taken more work to bring in business and keep revenue up.

Navick thinks industry will pick up a bit for the second half of the year, but with material costs rising and some uncertainty in the speculative market, he isn’t anticipating large growth.

For assembly services provider SVTronics, the company is getting ready to add another shift of production after seeing strong business over the past year.

“Business has been really good,” said salesman Ryan Dickey. “It’s been across the board, but particularly in the aerospace and semiconductor industries.”

During the slowdowns caused by Covid, the company moved to a single shift, but after seeing growth over the past year, SVTronics is getting close to bringing back another shift for continuous assembly, he said.

“We’re about to start picking back up on a second shift and go 24 hours again,” Dickey said.

All Flex Solutions’ Amanda Schaner-Martinez, on left, and PowerRep’s Kerry Montani discuss the company’s offerings with PCB East attendees.

PCB label provider Identco has been growing its team and adding new talent to meet needs of customers that are continuing to grow, said sales manager Kendall Brooks.

“Everybody is growing, and we get to grow with them,” he said.

Brooks said the company has seen growth throughout the electronics industry, but one main source of growth has been the rise in AI servers, which has included customers from PCBs to power distribution.

“Almost every single one of them has at least some piece of that AI infrastructure coming into play,” he said.

He said another interesting shift has been customers redesigning their products to be greener and more sustainable, and it’s exciting to see where the industry will end up as those changes take hold.

“When you’re in the middle of that kind of shift, it’s always fun to see,” he said.

AI: The Future is Now

PCB East also featured another look into the future from keynote speaker Harold Moss, who shared his vision for AI in the electronics industry.

Moss is regarded as an expert in AI, cybersecurity and cloud solutions, beginning his career with IBM, where he led significant advancements in the company’s enterprise computing systems. He later held roles at EMC, Akamai Technologies, and various other organizations, and is currently CEO of Tautuk.

Moss said electronics design revenue grew to $4.7 billion in last year’s third quarter, and will continue to grow through 2024 and beyond, so companies will be looking to increase their productivity – particularly through the use of AI as a design tool.

“It’s going to be here whether you like it or not, and I’ll tell you it’s not 50 years away,” he said.

Tech visionary Harold Moss speaks about AI’s growing role in electronics manufacturing during the PCB East 2024 keynote address.

AI’s strength in the design industry will not be generating entirely new designs, but it will be able to analyze proven designs and use that knowledge to check designs created by a human, he said.

“AI isn’t about generation, it’s about the ability to constantly take inputs in and evolve its thinking just like a person does,” he said.

Moss said the visions and fears of AI taking jobs from workers or taking over the world like The Terminator’s Skynet are unfounded, because AI will only ever be as smart as the average labrador retriever – able to run and get a ball when told, but not do anything more complicated than that.

“It doesn’t give you a lot of value, it just helps automate and make things go faster,” he said.

Moss said humans have always been afraid of change, and pointed to the slow adoption of the light bulb over candles, trains over horse-led carriages, and cellphones over landlines. But he also pointed out that each of those changes took place over shorter periods of time.

While it took decades for people to fully adopt the light bulb, smartphones began to take over in a matter of years, he said, showing that people are getting faster when it comes to accepting new technologies.

When it comes to the next major technological change, AI is at its center, but it will act as an enabler and an equalizer – not as a replacer, Moss said.

“AI doesn’t replace people, it just allows them to do the next cool thing,” he said.Article ending bug

Tyler Hanes is managing editor of PCD&F/CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY; tyler@pcea.net.