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Barry Matties recently met with Travis Kelly to discuss the formation of the Printed Circuit Board Association of America (PCBAA), a consortium of U.S.-based companies he chairs to support U.S. domestic production of PCBs. PCBAA was established on three pillars, and Travis explains how they intertwine with each other—and with other similar organizations in the industry.
Barry Matties: Travis, we are here to talk about the new association that’s forming. Tell me about that.
Travis Kelly: I’m excited to discuss the Printed Circuit Board Association of America. It was formed by five prominent companies in the PCB industry that identified a need, not only to educate, but also to advocate for legislation supporting the competitiveness of the domestic PCB industry. The founding members are Calumet, Insulectro, Isola, Summit Interconnect, and TTM. What really sparked the formation of the PCBAA was learning that PCBs are very rarely part of the discussion on the Capitol Hill or in the news as it relates to microelectronics. There’s a lot of discussion around chips and semiconductors. However, chips don’t float; they must be embedded onto something. There is a very strong need, but very little awareness around PCBs as it relates to microelectronics, so that’s really the catalyst behind forming the organization.
Matties: Why do you feel like there was a need to start something separate from the IPC, or will you be collaborating with the IPC?
Kelly: IPC, USPAE and PCBAA have complementary missions and serve the microelectronics industry in different ways. For example, advocacy is a common mission with all three organizations taking positions in the policy and legislative arenas. PBCAA was formed to shine a light specifically on PCBs and be the voice of the industry. Once again, PCBs have received very little recognition in a broader conversation around microelectronics, with a few exceptions in Congress.
The same dynamics that drove computer chip manufacturing overseas also applies to PCBs. IPC helps the broader industry raise quality through standards, certifications, education, and training. USPAE drives public/private partnerships between the U.S. government and the electronics industry. PBCAA will focus on advocating specifically for domestic production of PCBs, which ultimately will enhance and secure the resiliency of the supply chain and fair market conditions.
We want to educate policymakers about the printed circuit board ecosystem in the U.S.
Matties: The founding companies must have thought that it was a dire situation to actually start an entire association to take on this mission. Take me through that thought process.
Kelly: As many of your readers are aware, the U.S. once produced over 26% of the world’s PCBs. That number is down to 4%. We’ve passed the inflection point with the global supply chain issues. It has put visibility on the weaknesses and vulnerabilities within the supply chain. And when you look at a 22% reduction in that base, you’re not only losing the manufacturing of PCBs or PCBAs, but some of the materials and everything that goes into the printed circuit board.
You’re also offshoring the knowhow—the knowledge, the R&D—and it’s important that it’s a holistic approach. Once again, we are raising awareness of the resiliency of the supply chain and that it’s more than just manufacturing PCBs in the U.S. How do you get that knowhow? How do you continue to develop STEM? How do you bring the education and workforce development aspects back into the United States?
Matties: When you look at the milestones, where do you see the success metrics? How do you know you’ve achieved what you wanted to over a certain period of time?
Kelly: We are currently building our membership base. We have 12 members, including both manufacturing and materials companies. It’s important to note that we’ve been at the table for the full legislative cycle this year to be sure our concerns were communicated. We have successfully advocated for language in the Department of Defense legislation requiring more domestic sources of materials and manufacturing. Additionally, we are in the early stages of a public education program to be sure PCBs emerge from the shadow of discussion of reshoring manufacturing. We look at all the different aspects. It’s a balanced approach. We are in this for the long haul; our work doesn’t end with the current legislative cycle.
Matties: How receptive is the government, the people that you’re talking to, with the message that you have?
Kelly: We have been successful in some very important language as it relates to the National Defense Authorization Act. Ultimately, it’s about making people aware. Once people are conversant in the importance of printed circuit boards and the fact that chips don’t float, regardless of whether it’s government or another party, you get more discussions that resonate. They understand the importance of a resilient supply chain as it relates to this microelectronic called PCBs, they are very open to our discussions, and it’s leading to legislative action.
Chart used with permission from the PCAA.
Matties: Currently there are fewer than 300 PCB fabricators in the U.S. With this effort, do you see an investment opportunity and room for growth? Is that part of the metric?
Kelly: There are several ways the industry could adapt. Will the focus be on consolidation? Will you see new shops? It’s important to talk about what the investment needs to look like. We’ve spoken some about how to measure success and the three pillars: Government must invest in research and development; in the infrastructure and how we build up this ecosystem of 300+ shops; and in education and workforce development. We’ve talked before about STEM and what we need to do as a country to continue that innovation. How do we get our future workforce to pursue STEM to help us innovate the latest technologies as it relates to microelectronics?
Matties: How is PCBAA structured?
Kelly: We are governed by a set of bylaws that created both a chairman (myself), a president (Will Marsh), and a board of directors. The founding five members serve two-year terms on the board and then it will rotate. We meet with our members monthly to provide updates on legislation and other association activities. We have an annual meeting in Washington, D.C., and we also use social media channels to provide members with weekly industry news. We mainly use Twitter and LinkedIn.
Matties: How can someone learn more about what you’re doing and how to get involved?
Kelly: I recommend visiting pcbaa.org. On our site, you can see the list of members, learn about the vision and mission of PCBA, and if you have questions, you can submit an inquiry and we will get back to you immediately. We’re happy to talk about our different membership programs.
Matties: Is this limited to domestic participants or is this a global effort?
Kelly: It’s primarily domestic, but there are certain guidelines and bylaws we must adhere to, so it all depends on the situation. While anyone can use our website to inquire for more information, ultimately, we’re focused on domestic companies that are incorporated within the United States.
Matties: Looking forward, what are the greatest challenges the association faces?
Kelly: Like many other entities, one of our biggest challenges is continuing the momentum and making sure we don’t go backward. We must remain vigilant on what we want to accomplish and ensure that the resiliency and continuity of the supply chain remains intact. This is where the PCBAA can be a voice. As our membership base grows, we will drive those messages home.
Matties: Are you looking at a government funded R&D? Are you looking for them to put it in a budget and allocate it to our industry in some fashion?
Kelly: I think that’s right, Barry. The CHIPS act and it’s $52 billion investment is a good start, but ultimately chips don’t float. So, you may be addressing the problem with semiconductors, but you’ve not addressed the systemic issue. Ultimately, it’s going to depend on investment from both private companies and the government in the broader microelectronics ecosystem. We also need investment in STEM and STEAM education because, ultimately, that’s what is required to remain competitive.
Matties: In a recent interview with Shawn DuBravac, which is published in the December issue of SMT007 Magazine, we talked about this same idea regarding jobs. He reported that there are 120,000+ job openings in our industry right now. It’s a huge void.
Kelly: Not only are there a lot of openings, but it’s also hard to source that talent. Take one example, signal integrity engineers. It’s hard to source that and sometimes you have to go out of the country to find that skill set. Looking at the number of job openings, that’s where we have systemic issues that need to be fixed. So, how do you invest in the education system? How do you create the workforce development so you can start filling those 100,000+ job openings and ultimately the infrastructure?
Matties: Regarding the education effort, are you reaching out into the school systems as an association, be it a junior college, a high school, or above to foster students into this industry?
Kelly: Our member companies are doing it as well because that need has existed for a while. Some of our founding members have strong relationships with universities. Isola, for example, has a strong relationship with Arizona State University, which is right across the street from us. We’re constantly talking to those schools, doing internships for some of the skill sets we can’t find. One of our pillars is education, and as we continue to grow as an organization, we will hopefully build more relationships with some of the top universities in the country.
Matties: For somebody who’s as passionate as the founding members and supporting members are, there’s a real opportunity to get in on this ground floor and help lead some of those areas in a strong way.
Kelly: That’s exactly right. It’s a great time to join PCBAA. We welcome any organization that wants to help secure a brighter future for the microelectronics industry.
Matties: Travis, is there anything else you feel we should include here?
Kelly: I think we’ve covered everything, Barry. I’m very excited to chair this organization. It’s complementary to the other organizations we’ve already covered, and I think we’re bringing a lot of awareness right now to PCBs as microelectronics, and the importance of printed circuit boards as it relates to the overall ecosystem. Our tagline is “chips don’t float.” It resonates on the Hill and at the Pentagon because it’s true. Hopefully, this interview will continue to spread our message and further build our membership.
Matties: You’re doing important work and we’re happy to support your message.
Kelly: Thanks, Barry.