The tariff situation has given rise to questionable add-on costs.
It’s time for an industry program to train board buyers.
A printed circuit board is unique to every different application or customer, has over one hundred separate required manufacturing processes, and may come from down the street or halfway around the world. In other words, PCB purchasing is a complicated business. The traditional way of board buying can lead to costly mistakes and may expose companies to financial liability.
I am on a mission to fix that.
PCB buying has changed a lot since I started as a salesman in this industry more than 25 years ago. Back then, purchasing departments were larger. Buying was broken down into specific commodities, with buyers assigned to manage only one or, at most, a few of them. Buyers had the time and available resources to be well-versed in their assigned commodities. Many buying teams resided in the very facilities that designed the boards’ products and used the parts.
When I first started in electronics back in 1991, through-hole was still dominant and SMT was just taking hold. It wasn’t long after, however, when we began hearing about multichip modules, or MCMs. Conferences sprung up, publishers dedicated entire issues to the subject, and trade groups started writing standards.
And then … not much. MCMs never became the dominant packaging style some analysts predicted.
But will they?
When the Semiconductor Industry Association ceased its roadmapping activities, a host of organizations, including IEEE, SEMI, ASME and others, jumped in. Last month, they launched the second edition of the Heterogeneous Integration Roadmap. Heterogeneous integration refers to the integration of separately manufactured components into a higher-level assembly (SiP) that, in the aggregate, provides enhanced functionality and improved operating characteristics.
It was 16 years ago this month when a group of Chicago-area printed circuit board manufacturers stuck a flag in the ground and declared themselves the new vanguard of the American industry. At an early meeting, leaders called free trade “the seed of our own destruction,” and railed against the devastation of the domestic fab industry.
They called on public officials to fight China on currency manipulation and tariffs, and to enact trade policy that better fit the current state of the domestic market. Nothing less than the long-term security of the US was at stake.
The group had a point: Domestic PCB production had fallen by half in three years to $5 billion. Not only was no recovery in sight, but in some cases the deck seemed stacked against them. For instance, raw materials imported to the US from Asia were assessed tariffs, but assembled PCBs were not. Ouch.