Absence at International Conferences Hurts U.S. Companies

Sept. 1, 2006
Over the last few years, I have attended a large number of power conferences here in the Unites States and all around the world. One thing that has struck

Over the last few years, I have attended a large number of power conferences here in the Unites States and all around the world. One thing that has struck me as odd is the reduced participation of American semiconductor and power-supply companies at international conferences.

This phenomenon seems unusual given the significant amount of research, leading to breakthroughs and great innovations, that is taking place in the Americas. This underrepresentation on the international scene is also surprising when one considers the overwhelming number of excellent research papers being presented at conferences in this region.

There are two important factors to consider in understanding this situation. The first is that most companies prefer to present their research papers at American conferences to receive better visibility at home. The second consideration is that the cost of travel is exorbitant, and many companies frown on travel around the world for a conference.

This view is shortsighted because American companies must not only maintain their technical excellence in this field, but must also maintain their image as innovators all around the world. It is particularly important for these companies to be viewed as innovators in emerging markets such as China and the Asia-Pacific region.

I have reached this conclusion based on the volume of papers presented at conferences in this region where individual companies as well as collaborations of companies and power centers in the universities of this region have been on the rise. Asia-Pacific is a very prestigious region to launch ideas, topologies and control algorithms. Conference participation in this region leads to a general consensus about who is ahead, who has the best technology and intellectual properties and, most importantly, who leads the drive for innovation.

These are issues that conference participation highlights and emphasizes in the eyes of the new generations of engineers, researchers and even seasoned scientists in academia, and eminently, these are precious intangibles that cannot be achieved in any other way or at any cost.

The thought process for designing a given device in the current environment of advanced electronics, where excellence is expected, is multifold. Name recognition of the maker is extremely important because it comes with certain expectations of cost, functionality, reliability and, most of all, being on the cutting edge of technology. While cost is arguably the most important of all these factors, the rest are close runners up.

These expectations start at the college level where students first learn these recognizable names from colleagues, conferences and publications, among others. The first contact based on such name recognition is made when the young student or engineer orders his or her first sample parts for a project. Further use of components from these companies strengthens the emerging trust in their technology and excellence.

Again, this developing trust is something no amount of advertising is likely to achieve without the first step being taken to use these components in an actual project where the engineer's credibility and ultimate success is at stake. In a way, these companies become partners with their engineering customers, and given the continuity of R&D and innovative products, this partnership could last a lifetime with untold benefits for both parties.

The world is becoming a global village where companies need to exhibit their intellectual property, technical superiority and advanced products to win the hearts and minds of their existing and potential customers. These needs exist both here at home and all around the world as products are designed in an unlimited number of very innovative, exciting and technically advanced products. Many of these end products, which were impossible to even imagine only few years ago, are becoming a reality today.

Alan Elbanhawy has more than 38 years of engineering experience in power-supply design and R&D management covering aerospace, military, commercial and industrial applications. He holds seven patents and has applications for seven more. As a contributing author, his articles have appeared in five languages, and he has presented papers at all the major power conferences around the world. Elbanhawy holds a BS degree in electrical engineering.

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