Clairvoyance does not run in the Waddell family, but I can reliably predict a bright future for the PCB industry. There are plenty of indicators of strength in the PCB market and I'm confident that this sector will continue to grow as the economy gets back in gear.
Consumers are driving industry growth with a desire for cool, sexy products. Great technology is no longer enough to differentiate a product. It must be squeezed into a "cool" package in order to sell. This has an effect on everything inside the box -- including the PCB, the chips and what's packaged on the chips. As new electronic products are developed, such as swallowed video cameras that can help patients avoid more invasive procedures, PCBs must evolve right along with them.
The entire system is being affected by the need to accommodate consumer demand, which is driving product innovation and PCB innovation and in turn growing the market. New technologies such as optoelectronics will help expand the market further. Many global PCB fabrication facilities are now able to accommodate the trickiest design techniques, enabling further innovation.
Things certainly have changed quite a bit since I first designed a board in the mid-1970s. At that time, the PCB was viewed merely as an interconnect platform for the components, without much regard for the board's importance to the overall system. But that viewpoint is disappearing fast, and PCB designers can hardly claim that they "get no respect."
After almost 20 years as a PCB designer and 14 years in publishing, my confidence in this industry is still unwavering. In fact, my faith in the industry has led me to make the transition from employee to entrepreneur. I recently started a new company -- UP Media Group Inc. -- and acquired the upcoming PCB Design Conference West and PCB Design Conference East, as well as Printed Circuit Design, Circuits Assembly and PC FAB magazines. When we evaluated the market potential and increasing industry interest in this segment, we determined that owning this group of PCB publications and conferences made perfect economic sense.
For example, the number of attendees pre-registering for the exhibits at the PCB Design Conference West this year is at an all-time high. This means more potential customers than ever before want to see the latest in tools and processes, test their ideas on their colleagues, get answers to their yield questions, and banter about everything from high-speed design and signal integrity to DFM issues. This reflects the tremendous interest in PCBs shown by customers, vendors and academics, and the recognition that PCBs are more than just carriers for the components -- in fact, many boards actually become active components of the system.
I look forward to the advancements we'll see in the coming years, and I predict that soon a "system" will be viewed in a much different light. However, I don't need to be clairvoyant to see the writing on the wall concerning the future of the PCB market. This industry's strength is evident to anyone who takes a close look at the future of electronics as a whole and understands the important part PCB innovation will play in the development of systems for a variety of electronic applications.
Pete Waddell is president of UP Media Group, owner of the PCB Design Conferences. PCB Design Conference West will be held March 18-22 at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, Calif.