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Inside Look: EIPC Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia

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Monday, October 6,2008|StuartHayton,AccentiV

Anotherday,anotherflight. It was only looking down at theworldout ofthewindow fromseat 15F on my way from Amsterdam'sSchipholairporttoSt.Petersburg, Russia that I reallythoughtaboutit...thiswasgoing to be a first for me. I hadn't beentoRussiabefore. I'dbeenfortunate in that my twenty-plus yearsinPCBshavetakenme to some amazing places, travelling inEurope,NorthAmerica andextensively in Asia. I knew great placesforTeppanyakiin Tokyo andTaoyuan, BBQ in South Korea, noodle soupinShenzhen,hot pot inShanghai and dumplings in Kunshan. Untiltodaythough,Russia was aplace I flew over on en-route to HongKongorNarita.

I hadnoideawhattoexpect in St. Petersburg, from the city ortheEIPCconference.Iremembered from school that the Russianrevolutionwassupposedtohave started there. Perhaps I'd be luckyenough tohearaboutarevolution of a different kind, something tochange thefaceoftheindustry that runs through all ofourveins?

SothereIwas,at36,000 feet, tapping away at the keyboard ofmySonyVaionotebook.In my briefcase were my iPod andmypocket-sizedFreecombackupdisk. I knew that when I landedI'deagerly switch onmyBlackberryto check e-mails and let mynearestand dearest knowthatI'darrived safely. I'd just read in thenewsabouttheimminentrelease of Google's Gphone, to befollowedcloselybySonyEricsson's  X1 smartphoneandNokia'stouch-screenversion.Looking around the cabin, I couldseecountlessothers likeme, allbenefiting from the technology thatourindustryproduces,eachwith an unquenchable thirstforsmaller,lighter,faster,better and cheaper inallthingselectronic,butno-one stopping to considerwhatthatmeans.

Weworkinaglobalindustry that typically enjoys annual growth intheregionof6 to8%, albeit lower this year. We all know thatthegrowthisnotevenly spread. The fantastic growth ofGreaterChinahasinevitablymeant a reduction in production in theWest. Thisisourreality,and as King Canute discovered to his cost,nomatterhowmuch wewish it were different, thetidechangesforno-one.

WhatishappeninginAsia is amazing. There are sometrulyfirst-classfacilitiesinoperation, being managed by verysmartpeople andtheywillcontinue to grow from strength to strength.Chinaisnotwithoutits problems though, and I personally don'tthinkthatit'saromantic view to believe that there is animportantroleforstrongEuropean andAmericanmarkets. Goodmanagement,operationalflexibility andtechnicalexcellence willundoubtedly bepivotal inthis, as willsmartinvestment instep-changetechnologies forthefuture.

Fabricators,vendors and industry federationshaveanimportantrole to play. AsFlight KL1395 touched downonRussiansoil, Iwondered what thenext few dayswoulduncover.

St.Petersburg,orPiter (Пи́тер) as the locals call it, isthesecondlargest cityinRussia, the fourth largest in Europe.Itcertainlydidn't feelthatway to me. Having cleared immigration,Igathered mysuitcasefromone of only two luggage belts andwithinseconds wasarrangingataxi to take me to the conference hotel.Wedrove pastbuildingsofarchitectural beauty on our way towardstheNeva riverand thenonto the Baltic coast and The ParkInnPribaltiyskaya. Bythetimewe'd arrived, I had anoverwhelmingfeeling that in thespaceof afew hours, I'd actuallytravelled backtwenty yearsintime.Perhaps my quest for somethingrevolutionaryover thecomingdayswas a little bitambitious?

Check-inwaspleasant, but bureaucratic. Having filledinthe"normal"paperworkthat I'd expect to anywhere in the world,Iwaschaperonedto thecashier who was responsible for takingmypaymentdetails,togetherwith the 160 Roubles "administrationfee"tocheckmypassport. Fifteen minutes later, I was good togoandmademyway to room 4056, home for the next few days.Theroomwasregularfare, actually very modern and clean. Keepingtomynormalroutine,I looked around and, having establishedthattherewasn'tan ironand board, I called housekeeping to requestonetowhich Iwassimply told "twelfth floor."

Thinkingthattheremust be a laundry up there, I grabbed myshirtsand offIwent. Isearched, and searched and searched somemore,buttheredefinitelywasn't a laundry. On the verge of givingup,Inoticed ahotelemployee and, as any EnglishmaninRussiawoulddo,said, "Excuse me. Iron? Iron?" whilstholdingmyrightarmout, clenched fist moving from left to right,doingmybestironingimpersonation. I'm pleased to say thatthecharadesdidn'tlastlong and before I knew it I had followed herintoastaff-onlyareawhere in the corner stood one solitaryironandboardthathousekeeping used for bedding.

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