Uncovering the Electronics Ecosystem

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Nolan Johnson speaks with Will Marsh, vice president of TTM Technologies and president of the Printed Circuit Board Association of America, about the work the PCBAA has been doing in Washington, D.C., to get the industry better recognized by the country’s decision-makers. Marsh is optimistic, not only about the companies and individuals joining the effort, but in the recognition by Capitol Hill to secure the nation’s defense systems. 

Nolan Johnson: Let’s start with talking about PCBAA’s mission. What are the programs to accomplish that mission? We’ve been covering legislation here in the U.S. to bolster semiconductors. How do we, as an industry, bring that same attention to PCB? 

Will Marsh: About a year ago, TTM was engaged with an advocacy effort on Capitol Hill. We realized that one voice wasn’t enough and that we needed to reach out to our peers, our competitors, and our competitive mates, and seek their support as an industry voice. And that’s exactly what we did.

In April 2021, we legally and formally formed with five founding companies: Calumet, Insulectro, Isola, Summit Interconnect, and TTM Technologies. Since then, we’ve grown to 15 members and there are 12 other companies and individuals who have reached out to me and are interested in joining.

Our growth pattern has skyrocketed thanks to interviews and publications, such as yours and others, that are allowing us to speak on behalf of the printed circuit board industry, the printed circuit board assemblers, and the critical material suppliers. From TTM’s perspective, we are unable to produce bare printed circuit boards without certain chemicals and critical materials. So, we consider the critical material suppliers to be imperative in our journey.

We discovered that most of the attention in Washington, D.C., was being spent discussing onshoring or reshoring of the semiconductor industry and the chip manufacturers. We started to tell our part of the microelectronics ecosystem story and how printed circuit boards are part of an ecosystem and not just about chips. We found that members and staff on the Hill, the White House National Security staff, Department of Commerce, and Department of Defense staff that we briefed were unaware of a larger electronics ecosystem.

We created a three-word phrase that helped place us in the ecosystem, tied to the semiconductor industry: “Chips don’t float.” They have a home; they have a foundation. As important as semiconductors are, if the chip is the brain, the board is the body. If we as a country don’t address the ecosystem story—and we’ll get into some statistics of why we’re doing this for our industry—then this is a “to do” about nothing. What happens if we build all the semiconductor chips in America, but we are fully 90% reliant on Asian and European firms that deliver boards?

You can see some of the problems associated with supply chain that define risk and that define national security implications. This three-word phrase has begun to resonate in a microelectronics ecosystem story, whereby people are now saying printed circuit boards are imperative in this overall journey. We are proud of that. 

Johnson: Tell me about the three pillars of PCBAA.

Marsh: They are the mission statement for the association. First is promoting domestic production of PCBs flat out, as well as assemblers and critical materials suppliers. The second pillar is enhanced domestic supply chain security and resiliency. As I said earlier, our dependency on foreign supply chains was realized during the early COVID months.

The third pillar is creating initiatives for fair market conditions. Our industry in America competes against other companies in America. But as an industry, we are competing against other countries. There are many foreign subsidies being plowed into Asia because they want to be the global monopoly for all electronics. So, advocating for fair market conditions means we’re looking for demand for signal dissipation by the government to be able to compete internationally.

Why do I say that? First, section 224 of the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act added printed circuit boards to the definition of microelectronics. Now we have a seat at the table within the Department of Defense. We are defined as part of microelectronics.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the March 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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