Monday, 20 October 2014

Goodbye to Surface Mount Technology

As a new academic year started in September I was also making a leap into a new industry. I have moved back to a town where I consider my second home and where strangely I had move to exactly ten years to the day.

For the last seven years, which has been the majority of my twenties, I have been working developing SMT (Surface Mount Technology) printing equipment. This was a company that I originally joined in 2006 as a software engineering placement student but re-joined in 2008 after a graduate scheme with Siemens fell through due to the financial recession.

It’s fair to say my time there was interesting; there were three redundancy rounds, a lot of uncertain times, a new solar division that never got off the ground and the company was eventually sold by parent, the Dover Corporation.

During my time there I didn't see any growth due to the financial climate coupled with a focus on the government subsidised solar market but I did learn how the company had grown in its heyday. A lot of the practices that helped it succeed were latterly becoming a handicap and some had developed bad habits.

Fire Fighting was a classic habit. To the sales team it meant customer interaction, to higher management it meant simply getting the job done but it negated any level of engineering excellence or project management.  

With the company’s top down hierarchy approach the only thing one could do is watch it all unfold from the sidelines. It is fair to say this was at times highly frustrating knowing that the software industry had solved similar issues along time back so one had only needed to copy and recreate these within a traditional engineering environment. Issues would range from simple people management and working environment issues to more complex road map decisions.

I could never say there was ever a power struggle, far from it, but the lack of ownership was at the heart of most challenges. Ownership gives you quick decision making and the ability to fail quickly, as well as to simply understand what the rest of the business is doing.

Good and Bad, the company taught me a lot of business lessons which I will take forward when I eventually start my own business in two years time. The future of the electronics manufacturing industry is based around killer software that enhances automation. This goal isn’t new but hasn’t been achieved yet as Chinese hands were cheaper than complex systems. As we see the Mac Pro being made in the USA and the Raspberry Pi being made in the UK, Onshoring is now a big drive and so again is automation.

My concern is can a company that has a lot of ageing traditional hardware managers and values manage the deployment of killer software? We only have to look at the demise of Nokia and the success of Apple to conclude that question.

I leave focusing on beefing up my technical career and personal life but I see in the short future that I will be needed back to lead their software strategy and deploy a tied development approach to aid outsourcing. In the meantime I hope their new partnership with a sister company will guide them in the right direction.