February 05, 2007
Retrospective and Perspective on Printed Circuits – Happy Holden
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After a long and distinguished career in printed circuit Happy Holden retired from Hewlett Packard. He has over 90 technical published papers and since 1998 he has authored a column on PCB technology in CircuTree Magazine. On December 6 Mentor Graphics announced that he had joined their Systems Design Division as Senior Technologist. I was interested in what he would have to say about the past and future of printed circuits. I had a chance to interview him recently.
Would you give us a brief bio?
I started in the industry in 1969 after working on my masters at Oregon State University. I came back from Vietnam in 1968, the same time Henry Potts was there. We were specifically recruited by Hewlett Packard to work in the areas of process development, integrated circuits and hybrid circuits. Since my background was in chemical engineering and control engineering working in semiconductors I quickly got diverted into printed circuits because of the technical problems HP was having. I found printed circuits to be a fascinating technology that I didn’t know anything about. But fortunately the background in chemical engineering was ideal to deal with the chemical process problems they had. They had assigned their electrical and mechanical engineers to it when the problems were fundamentally chemical and process in nature. Even though I was straight out of school and using a lot of the fundamental technical techniques, especially the statistical techniques that the university had taught me in terms of how to deal with black boxes and what I had learned in terms of control theory on how to characterize back boxes, I quickly solved the production problems. That kind of endeared me to the printed circuit technology team from then on. That was in the 1970s which were growth years for HP. I was only the 2000th employee of HP. It was just a $100 million company in Palo
Alto. For the next 20 years they grew by leaps and bounds. By the time I took early retirement in 1968 they were a $64 billion company with 128,000 employees. It was an exciting time to be in electronics especially in a company like HP where I got to work directly on the HP35 calculator with Bill Hewlett and on a lot of other industry firsts. Strangely enough unique printed circuits were always a part of the technical solutions that HP brought to the marketplace. During those years working with HP Labs on advanced technologies was pretty exciting and pretty insightful.
I took early retirement, fundamentally because HP was outsourcing manufacturing and the organization that I was in (printed circuits) was actually sold to Merix. I went back to work as R&D manager for the company that HP had me start in Taiwan, Formosa Plastics. HP because of outsourcing pressures, the pressures from foreign governments, was always trying to offset what they were selling internationally by buying from those countries. That was pretty difficult in Taiwan in the early 80’s, since they did not have the advanced products that HP needed for its own products. With the HP35 Clyde Coombs pioneered the concept of building printed circuit boards in Singapore so that we qualified for value added and got tax free status. To do that we had to invent a printed circuit shop, the first in Singapore, just to make HP calculator boards in order to get that value added. That was in 1971. Ever since then printed circuits was always the trump card. When Taiwan wanted advanced computer technology, HP decided that the thing they could probably buy from Taiwan was multilayer printed circuit boards, although nobody from Taiwan made sophisticated printed circuits at that time. So like we did in Singapore, I got assigned to set up a manufacturing operation in Taiwan to make multilayers for HP. With the government’s help we selected Formosa Plastics as a candidate to
partner with. This has proven to be a real insight since their manufacturing printed circuit board operation which is a separate company is now the largest manufacturer in Taiwan, nearly $1 billion. It is also the fifth largest in the world. I went back to work for them until deciding to retire this year. I have been working with them from North America.
I was going to retire until I got a call from Henry Potts at Mentor Graphics to do some consulting. That brought me kind of back into alignment with Mentor. I had used Mentor’s design tools at HP over years. So I was familiar with them but I had not kept track of Mentor for a number of years. After a couple of days with Henry, it was pretty clear that the vision that Henry had for the direction of the systems design division that Mentor would be doing was identical to my own interests. It did not take much coaxing from Henry not go into retirement but to come to work for Mentor. That’s where you see me now. The best description of what I am doing is in the press release and
from Henry’s quotes.
Editor: “He is a major addition to our team and in his new role, will provide two important functions. First, Happy will consult with customers in the planning and adoption of advanced technologies. And second he will ensure that Mentor continues its technology leadership by providing solutions that address these advanced technologies.”
I have actually met someone else named Happy. Is Happy your given name or is it a nickname because of your personality?
It is actually my given name. It was the name of a family friend, Albert “Happy” Chandler, who was he Commissioner of Baseball. My brother and sisters have equally strange names.
My brother’s name is Jolly. My sisters are Gay, Melody and Honey.
So you won that one.
It is strange. There was a stewardess on a United flight who said to me “Oh, Happy is such a unique name. I met one other person named Happy eight years ago. His brother and sisters also had strange first names.” I said “Unfortunately you’ve still met only one person named Happy. That was me you met eight years ago.”
Evidently your name was more impressive than your person.
I think it is self-fulfilling prophecy.
You have had a long career in the printed circuit industry. I would like you to make comparisons between today and with various times in the past starting with the early days. What are some of the major differences?
I was fortunate to be in the Bay area in the early 70’s, especially working with Clyde Coombs who is famous because of the printed circuit handbook, the bible of printed circuit manufacturing. During that period everything was just hands out growth by leaps and bounds. There must have been 60 printed circuit facilities just in northern California. When we would have a meeting of the Northern California Circuits Association, an organization that Clyde helped start, we would have 140 people show up, standing room only. There was just that much activity in printed circuits. From that kind of start I never expected that I would be around to see the decline of printed circuits in North America. I was surprised especially in 2000 when there was an enormous decline in printed circuits in North America. I am hoping that it did not have a lot to do with HP’s policy of outsourcing. HP was one of the first big OEMs to start outsourcing. But as I explained before the majority of HP’s revenue was derived from outside of the US. HP was a massive exporter. Countries keep track of that. In the particular instance that I know of with Taiwan the government was saying “You are selling $80 million a year in products to us but you are not buying anything from Taiwan. You really have to correct that.” HP took that “advice’ seriously and looked
at what we could buy from Taiwan. We could buy maybe cabling and sheet metal. We certainly could not buy semiconductors and things like that. That’s when HP started to turn over this trump car. “Let’s buy printed circuits. Let’s send Holden out again. The Singapore deal came out great.”
I have been a lot of places. HP at one time had 13 printed circuit shops around the world, more than any other OEM or merchant has today. We eventually collected them, all together into the Printed Circuit Board Division. It was an exercise like herding cats. But it sure made for an interesting perspective of printed circuits to have a shop outside Tokyo, have one in Scotland, one in German and to have 9 shops across the US and even to start new ones. Because all the 52 divisions in HP were autonomous, they had their own P&L and their own manufacturing. They wanted their own printed circuit facility. This was only
trumped by 37 surface mount facilities around the world. Today there is no manufacturing within HP or Agilent. It is all outsourced. I hope the decline of printed circuits was due to more than the actions of HP because they were responding to global pressures as well as customer cost pressures and things like that.
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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.