Supply & Design Chain Innovation Future Is Bright

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Is your outlook for the long-term future of the North American electronics industry gloomy? Mine once was.

But after spending a year driving around the country interviewing engineers and entrepreneurs on the Drive for Innovation, I am sleeping like a baby.

Why? Because what we see on TV news and read online and in the newspapers about electronics innovation doesn't come close to capturing what's actually going on across North America.

I had a chance a year ago to pull a handful of executives I'd met on the road up on stage to have them talk about their experiences at Design West in March 2012. Their views are as relevant today as they were then.

On the panel sat Richard Szczepkowski, president and chief operating officer, Swemco; Dave Lentz, supply chain solutions manager, Avnet Electronics Marketing Americas; Jeff Lawson, embedded design engineer, Shockwave Impact; and Dr. James Truchard, president and CEO, National Instruments.

The complete, 50-minute panel session is embedded below. Here are some highlights with links to those excerpts within the video:

  • I wanted to know why, with so many contract manufacturers in the US and so much foreign competition, Swemco had survived (8:30-10:16).
  • From Lawson, I wanted to get a sense for how the supposed “well-oiled” supply and design chain is working for him these days (10:35-14:00).
  • Innovation in a small company is one thing (it's arguably easier at some levels because one technology or product is the company's entire focus). But how do you stay innovative at a large, growing company? Truchard offered insight into that question (14:15-15:11)
  • And then, from Szczepkowski, what do you think of employee-empowerment schemes that, analysts say, don't work very well at all. (16:50-19:01)
  • What did these panelists think of jobs going overseas? (20:10-22:30)

The cage match
Probably the most entertaining segment of our time together was when Lawson, a designer who is having his design done in China, got into it with Szczepkowski over the benefits of offshoring versus on-shoring (22:16-28:00).

The other red-meat question for our panelists was where they stand on the role of government in fostering innovation (31:12-35:10). Where do you guys fall in terms of government technology winners?

Here's the complete panel session (50 minutes):


6 comments on “Supply & Design Chain Innovation Future Is Bright

  1. Susan Fourtané
    March 22, 2013

    Brilliant, Brian! Thanks so much for sharing this. I have read about your year driving around interviewing engineers and entrepreneurs. It's nice to see a part of it now. 🙂 


  2. _hm
    March 23, 2013

    Thanks Brian for this encouraging news. I also feel it happening for two or more years and major organizations are coming back with design facilities. We will need more EE human resources both in desing innovation and prudent supply chain for best earnings.

  3. Wale Bakare
    March 24, 2013

    I agree with you, that would spur & make more healthy sector. Nice blog Brian!

  4. _hm
    March 24, 2013

    It is nice to see new opportunities for EE and relvant people. But this time US government should not make mistake of getting lower cost and lower quality H1 VISA engineers from abraod. They should support and encourage more local graduates and local talents.

  5. HM
    March 25, 2013

    Well when it lowers down to cost even governments cannot do anything. Agreed many (not all) of the H1 workers from outside are average or below average. And then there are these bogus consultants who bring in their people from outside and made them to all non technical work. There are few people who have craze to live in US and they can do anything to be in US.

  6. Brian Fuller
    March 25, 2013

    @_hm, I'm not so sure that's a mistake, actually. In the U.S. we still suffer from a fundamental pooling problem for high-tech jobs, especially engineering: Kids aren't interested in them. So we don't graduate as many home-grown technologists as other regions of the world, where the profession is highly regarded, or in some instances, seen as a way out of poverty. 

    A lot of people are working to change this and early signs are encouraging, but we do need a flow of outside talent to keep the innovation wheel churning. 


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