An interview with Dr. S. Manian Ramkumar, Interim Dean of Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT’s) College of Applied Science and Technology; Dr. Martin Anselm, Director of RIT’s Center for Electronics Manufacturing and Assembly (CEMA); and, Mr. Jeff Timms, General Manager, Americas, ASM Assembly Systems.
Much has been written about the need to attract new, young talent into the electronics manufacturing industry. Here in part two of this two-part interview, we speak with Rochester Institute of Technology professors about educating future engineers and equipment supplier ASM on making hands-on experience a differentiator. Former RIT students now working in industry also share their perspective.
EMSNOW: Since its inception, how many students has the RIT electronics manufacturing program graduated and helped place in electronics industry careers?
MR: Since the establishment of the program, approximately 75 graduate students and close to 300 undergraduate students have tapped into the CEMA lab resources to expand their knowledge of the SMT process. The majority of these students are working in the electronics industry today.
EMSNOW: How do students’ interactions/research initiatives with the on-site, experienced ASM engineer — in addition to CEMA staff — help prepare them for future job opportunities?
MA: The uniqueness of the ASM-RIT relationship is the presence of the ASM engineer. He is able to conduct ASM-specific research, but also works with students to help them understand real world manufacturing and participates in many of the research projects. Students’ access to someone with several years of hands-on process experience in combination with instruction from our knowledgeable faculty is invaluable and brings a level of relevance not often found in the academic setting.
EMSNOW: How do RIT and ASM collaborate with industry associations/organizations for the betterment of industry (e.g. standards work, research initiatives/continuing education opps, etc.)?
JT: Both ASM and RIT support and are actively involved with multiple industry associations. In addition to lending expertise through positions on various boards and committees, the results of much of the research work we undertake is presented at conferences, chapter meetings and other industry educational forums. RIT students have also participated in various young professionals programs, scholarship opportunities and paper presentations.
EMSNOW: There has been a lot of discussion around the shortage of qualified engineering professionals. What is your view of this and do you think there are promising opportunities for young engineers entering the SMT industry? How do you think the industry can change the perception of electronics manufacturing so that young college students think hardware/electronics is a rewarding career path?
MA: The domestic electronics assembly industry is very robust and spans multiple market sectors like automotive, military, aerospace, telecom, industrial and medical. Not to mention the fact that, even for products being manufactured in other regions, much of the innovation and design work occurs in the Americas. The region’s competitiveness in addition to the current rate of labor force attrition is yielding excellent career prospects for well-trained SMT professionals.
JT: It’s also important to note that students with a high electronics manufacturing IQ can advance meaningful careers with industry suppliers as well. Roles within supplier organizations are diverse and include applications positions, product development opportunities, engineering and more.
EMSNOW: How can CEMA (and others) engage with supplier partners like ASM and potential employers to ensure well-trained graduates have viable job options?
MR: We are always looking for opportunities for students to engage in cooperative (co-op) education. If ASM and other suppliers have the ability to hire students for extended internships, those are win-win situations. RIT students generally fare quite well – students have gone on to OEMs, EMSs, supplier organizations and have even started their own electronics companies. As stated previously, developing the framework to provide the appropriate training isn’t necessarily easy. It takes a strong commitment of talent and resource and the willingness of all parties to actively participate – it can’t be one-sided. This is why RIT has been successful with partners like ASM and why our students are now major industry contributors.
In their own words….former RIT students speak about their educational journey to thriving electronics manufacturing careers.
PCBA Manufacturing Engineer, Teradyne, Inc.
Masters in Electronics Manufacturing, RIT
“At RIT, I was exposed to multiple courses and concentrations including product development, quality engineering, automation engineering, robotics and electronics manufacturing. These courses were critical, but it was definitely the practical application afforded by the CEMA lab that helped me decide to pursue electronics manufacturing as a career. The ability to work with the industry’s most advanced SMT equipment gives you a greater appreciation for the complexity and skill required to produce modern electronics and, honestly, gave me an edge when applying for a job. I haven’t looked back; it’s a fantastic career and I would encourage others interested in engineering to consider electronics manufacturing, which is incredibly interesting and undoubtedly a growth market.”
Sai Srinivas Sriperumbudur
Production Engineer, Plexus Corporation
Masters in Electronics Manufacturing, RIT
“I received my undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering, but was always curious about electronics manufacturing and wanted to pursue a master’s degree. RIT was the best fit and the CEMA lab was the deciding factor. The classroom provides the theoretical context, but the lab delivers the critical hands-on application experience. I worked with state-of-the-art equipment like the ASM DEK printer and SIPLACE placement machine which, coincidentally, are the systems I work with in my daily job now. My thesis work was on the effects of solder paste volume on bottom-terminated components, so I studied the printing process intently which has definitely benefitted my career. This industry is ideal for individuals who thrive on research, new product development and the chance to contribute to electronics innovation.”
Engineering Manager, Plexus Corporation
Masters in Electronics Manufacturing and Systems Integration, RIT
“When I interviewed for my current job, I brought in a PCB that I, along with a fellow student, had designed and built during my thesis work and told my potential future employers to ask me all about it. This was an advantage for sure, and one that was afforded by the uniqueness of the CEMA lab component of my RIT education. I had intense process experience, working with cutting-edge ASM printing and placement equipment, as well as Heller reflow machines, and, honestly, I felt like I was able to significantly contribute and resolve process and equipment issues on my first day. I learned a lot from Dr. Ramkumar – not only electronics and sound research fundamentals, but also how to write and structure arguments. He instilled a keen sense of focus and goal-setting and I often fall back on a quote from him: ‘Stick to fundamentals, maintain flow and finish what you started.’ RIT’s co-op program and the CEMA lab were essential to my broader understanding. There are amazing career opportunities in electronics manufacturing for curious, passionate and dedicated engineers.”
Process Engineering Manager, TTM Technologies
Masters in Electronics Manufacturing, RIT
“When I started my first job after finishing school, I had a leg up due to the experience gained through my access to the CEMA lab. I had already interacted with customers, understood their challenges and had provided solutions. Also, because of my work with the state-of-the-art equipment at CEMA, I had tremendous confidence about the machine functionality, was able to take on specific tasks and projects, and complete them successfully.”
Owner and General Manager, CeTaQ Americas, LLC
Bachelor of Science in Manufacturing Engineering Technology, RIT
“I selected RIT specifically because of its co-op program and its proximity to manufacturing companies. My academic experience was fortified with real-world, on-the-job manufacturing training which was instrumental to developing a holistic understanding of the SMT process and all of its variables. While I initially worked in a SMT manufacturing role, then in sales engineering with an equipment supplier, I ultimately pursued my entrepreneurial passion and am serving the electronics industry in a quality evaluation capacity. Our company works with both OEM equipment companies and electronics manufacturers to verify equipment accuracy, repeatability and validate specifications. For those considering a career in electronics, I can personally attest to the industry’s opportunity. While electronics are getting smaller, they are also getting bigger. Products are more compact, but they now permeate so many facets of our lives – from home life to transportation to work life and entertainment. It’s a great career option.”