Board Buying

Take proactive steps to minimize the impact of growing material prices.

Overseas board manufacturers have received formal notifications from major laminate suppliers about upcoming double-digit price increases for the raw materials required to produce printed circuit boards.

Compared to this time last year, gold and copper prices have risen significantly due to inflation, the push for green energy, and speculative demand and capacity limitations for these precious metals in the coming years.

While most notifications were heavy on apologies but light on details, one was specific about the increases:

Read more: Navigating Rising Material Costs

Capacity is about to peak, and demand has slackened.

Printed circuit board buyers can capitalize this year on cost-saving opportunities if they’re smart about it. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Compared to a year ago, fluctuations in material pricing have settled.
  • Worldwide semiconductor revenue declined by 11% and overall personal computer shipments fell almost 15% last year.
  • Lead-times from Asia are relatively short compared to this time last year.
  • PCBs manufactured in China and then imported into the US still face a 25% tariff. But the tariff exemption on two and four-layer rigid boards has been extended through the end of May 2024.
  • Speaking of tariffs on boards made in China (as well as “Out of China” policies being adopted by some customers), new board houses are being built in India, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia to help offset those tariff costs and offer purchasers the option to buy elsewhere.
  • Many companies in China are allowing employees to leave early to enjoy the Chinese New Year holiday because business there is down.
Read more: 2024 a Buyers’ Market for PCBs

Buyers beware: An ounce of copper is not 1 mil.

Long before I became part of the PCB industry some 30 years ago, a large study determined that for the typical two-layer printed circuit board, the amount of copper required for a reliable connection in a plated through-hole (PTH) was 0.0007 inches, or 0.7 mils.

Anything less than that could compromise PTH reliability, the study found, and anything more would not make much difference.

Simply put, the 0.001″, or 1 mil, as stated on most PCB fabrication drawings is a safety factor. Some corporate fab specs will even state a plating average of 1 mil, with 0.8 mils as the minimum, higher than the originally determined 0.7 mils.

However, even today, some PCB buyers confuse ounces with mils when it comes to the copper plating of a printed circuit board. It is important to know the difference.

Read more: When It Comes to Board Buying, Mind Your Units

Observations from Malaysia and Thailand.

There has been a push of late by many OEM and EMS companies in the PCB industry – intensified by Covid and simmering trade and political tensions – to reduce the West's reliance on China for printed circuit board manufacturing.

In the past year, several of our customers, primarily from OEMs in the automotive, RF and testing industries, have asked for an "Out of China" or "China+1" strategy.

These customers have been buying boards from China for years for products or technology that does not fall under any export control.

So why the change now?

Concerns about IP protection and supply chain issues certainly factor in. But also, the optics of buying PCBs from China are not as favorable as they once were.

In that vein, we recently traveled to Thailand and Malaysia to search for PCB manufacturing facilities in those countries.

Read more: There is No Drop-in Replacement for China PCB Manufacturing – Yet
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