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Twenty-plus years is a long time to lead a business during a long decline in the industry, but IMI President and CEO Peter Bigelow remains quite confident about the future. The company is in a strong financial position, running well, and looking at new technologies. So, what’s his biggest challenge? It’s not much different than any other manufacturer you talk to, and while he may not have all the answers, he’s clearly got insight to share.
Peter, as a PCB fabricator, what’s happening in the industry? Talk about the changes you’re seeing.
The past 18 or so years have been pretty miserable because the industry has been shrinking. We’ve had all kinds of turmoil in that regard. However, even with this rough period, I'm quite optimistic and enthusiastic about where we are.
The trend is to bring manufacturing back to North America because there is a concern with cybersecurity issues, and companies want to buy from a viable, reputable source, rather than pulling it to the cheapest price. I think that's a positive.
The supply chain issues that took place during COVID were aberrations. First, tariffs meant things moved differently than they did before. Then you throw in a pandemic, and nobody can work. Ships at the ports were stuck because there wasn’t anyone to unload them; they were overwhelmed. All these things happen, but I see them as aberrations to some degree. COVID is more manageable now than it was. We’re used to the tariffs, so things are flowing more normally. We still have, however, a very sophisticated supply chain that requires products moving around the world and we still want the lower-cost products, which means Asia will continue to be a very dominant partner.
Certainly, Washington has figured that out; it needs more suppliers from North America and that requires investment. Again, that's a positive thing. In many ways, we're in far better shape now than we were 10 years ago, and the trajectory is far better than it has been for a long time.
You said that the trajectory is getting better. Is it upward yet?
Yes, for certain markets. The military/defense area is upward. I can't speak for automotive, but I believe it's upward. If you're in regular industrial manufacturing or consumer products, you're probably not seeing it, but I'm guessing that most of that North American market is probably brokering a lot of stuff to be economical. We’re more into the positive range than we have been for a long time.
My customers are all very bullish about the next few years and are making decent investments in their companies. On the manufacturing side, it’s gone from, “Who's going out of business and what auction am I going to next?” to looking at, “How can I grow my business and invest properly? I'm in a better position because I'm actually making some money now and I can afford to do that.”
To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the March 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.