Industry Outlook from IPC's Sharon Starr


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Sharon_Starr-2_IPC.jpgGoldman: Hiring and staffing must be a big deal these days.

Starr: Absolutely. In fact, it’s one of the indicators that tends to pull down the net score of the health of the industry right now because so many companies are having trouble finding talent and hiring. But the interesting thing is that ever since the program started in mid-2017, the whole industry has been really bullish. It reached a peak in the middle of 2018, and it has been cooling a bit since then, but it’s still very positive.

We look at not only the net scores for the current state, but we also have a six-month and 12-month outlook. Further, we look at the individual indicators and how they affect the scores, either positively or negatively. We examine the results for OEMs, PCB fabricators, EMS companies, equipment suppliers, and material suppliers separately. The results are also segmented by region, so we can tell a lot about what’s going on with equipment suppliers in Asia, for example. Speaking of equipment suppliers, in our fourth quarter 2018 report, the equipment suppliers were at the top of the heap as far as optimism. They seem to be very happy right now, but again, everybody’s doing pretty well.

Goldman: That’s great. To recap, you publish your results quarterly, correct?

Starr: Yes, and the reports are available free to anyone who participates in the survey.

Goldman: That must be the biggest incentive; simply fill out the questionnaire and supply some information, and you get a whole lot of information back.

Starr: You do. And it’s not hard to provide the information because we don’t ask for specific numbers except for sales growth, and that’s an easy one for most executives. The rest of it is based on the aforementioned indicators. Is it improving, getting worse, or remaining flat? They tell us that, and with a large number of companies participating, we get a strong indication of what’s going on. It has been a great program. Every quarter, it’s exciting to see how the results have changed.

Goldman: What else is new in IPC’s market research?

Starr: We just published an important new study. Every two years, we do a PCB technology trends study, and the 2018 study was published in January. The report is over 200 pages; it’s very comprehensive. This year’s study was based on two separate surveys—one for OEMs, and one for PCB bare board manufacturers.

Goldman: And it's all in the one study?

Starr: Yes. What we tried to do is find out about OEMs' technology requirements today and what they expect them to be by 2023, so it’s a five-year outlook. With PCB fabricators, we asked about their technical capabilities for things like HDI, printed electronics, stretchable circuits, etc.—a lot of different technology-related measurements—to find out what they’re doing today, and what they expect to be able to do within the next five years. We examined how they match up and if there are any gaps. It’s also interesting to see differences by region in the results because we see some things like stretchable circuits, which a fairly sizeable proportion of the manufacturers in Asia are using now, but not so much in North America and Europe. But they all expect to be doing more of that as time goes on.

Goldman: I presume that report is for sale now and available to IPC members and perhaps nonmembers as well?

Starr: Yes, it's available to everybody. IPC members get a 50% discount on all reports, so that’s a benefit of membership, but the reports are available to everyone in the IPC online store.

Goldman: That's great news. Sharon, thanks so much for your time. It’s always a pleasure to talk with you.

Starr: You're welcome, Patty. Thank you.

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