Board Buying

Greg Papandrew

Government-imposed inflation hurts the overall domestic market.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is considering whether to reinstate Section 301 tariff exclusions that expired late last year on certain Chinese-origin products, including some printed circuit boards.

If granted, the exemption will pertain – as it did before – only to 2- and 4-layer rigid PCBs made of epoxy-glass. The tariff will continue to apply to single-sided and higher-layer counts, flex circuits, and other substrates such as aluminum or ceramic.

While 2- and 4-layer boards represent only a narrow portion of the PCBs manufactured in China, an exemption continuance will provide some relief to many OEM and EMS companies struggling with supply chain challenges.

The tariff aims to encourage “reshoring” by making domestic PCB manufacturing more appealing.

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Greg Papandrew

Buyers will pay more for local products, if only manufacturers were easy to do business with.

In a recent opinion piece in Roll Call, IPC president and CEO John Mitchell – addressing the Biden administration’s willingness to invest mightily in the global chip output – points out it will take this and much more to maintain the US electronics manufacturing industry’s competitiveness.

“The issue,” Mitchell notes, “is that America’s supply chains keep generating problems that frustrate consumers, threaten companies and undermine American competitiveness.”

He hits the nail on the head by calling for a more “holistic” approach and points out that while chips are important, they are just one piece of the puzzle. The printed circuit board, on the other hand, ties together all the components of electronics manufacturing, and that seems to be the greater domestic challenge.

In my opinion, it’s not so much the chip shortage causing the US to fall behind in the technology race. Instead, it’s poor sales management and customer service.

In my long career as a PCB broker, I have been both salesman and buyer; to sell the boards, I had to buy them first. My biggest challenge during that time has been successfully procuring PCBs from our domestic manufacturing industry.

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Greg Papandrew

How well does your incoming inspection team know the acceptability standards?

Does your PCB quality team inspect to pass or inspect to fail? Knowing the difference between what is rejectable in a printed circuit board and what is a nonissue is more important than ever.

Skyrocketing costs, shortages of copper and fiberglass materials, and longer delivery times mean remakes are not available as quickly as before. Rejecting PCBs for things that don’t affect the form, fit or function of the final project is simply bad business.

To be clear, I am not advocating acceptance of substandard product. IPC-A-600 standards are clear as to what is good and what is not. But thanks to lack of training or misinterpretation of industry specs, incoming PCB quality inspectors are turning away perfectly good commercial-grade boards that then must be remade.

The main culprit in this cycle of unnecessary PCB rejection and remake costs is management, which fails to provide adequate training to incoming inspectors and instills in them a fear of releasing bad product to the manufacturing floor.

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Greg Papandrew

“We have used this vendor for years” is not a viable strategy.

As the price of PCB materials continues to skyrocket, why are some circuit board buyers stuck firmly in the past, doing business as they always have? Why, even when paying more than they should, do they fear upsetting the apple cart?

Bare board buying can be competitive, but only if those overseeing their company’s PCB supply chain are willing to occasionally buck a system put in place years ago. For circuit board buyers and procurement managers in particular, I see three ingrained habits that do damage to a firm’s PCB purchasing program and its ability to get competitive pricing.

1. Buyers are untrained. One outdated practice in the PCB industry that always amazes me is the willingness to throw buyers into the deep end without giving them 21st century training on how to buy boards. Does management assume PCB buyers will gain all the knowledge they need on the job? Sometimes, they probably do. But often, they end up costing their companies a lot of money as they learn from their mistakes.

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Read more: 3 Reasons PCB Buyers Pay Too Much

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