4 May 2012
SAN JOSE, Calif. — You could be forgiven if your outlook for the long-term future of the North American electronics industry is dire. Mine once was.
In fact, I went into this yearlong road trip hoping for good predictions but expecting challenges–challenges in manufacturing, challenges in keeping and growing engineering jobs here, challenges in creating new and innovative startups.
It didn't help that every night after two, three, four or more meetings at various companies, we'd be working away in a hotel somewhere, watching the world fall apart day by day, month by month on cable TV news.
But how could that be? How could the future be dire, when we've just talked to a bunch of companies, all of which have new and innovative products (either with a capital I or a lower-case i) coming to market solving problems of one size or another?
Turns out there's a disconnect between our innovation centers and culture and what we get from the media.
I met or renewed relationships with four innovators on the highways and byways of the Drive for Innovation and invited them to a panel I hosted at Design West in March. There were: 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 U.S. 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. (25:53-28:00)
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):