Many things have changed in the past year, and like everything else, the landscape of our industry has changed drastically. Because of several challenges ranging from the pandemic to geopolitics, 2021 looks nothing like 2019.
The pandemic caused a significant surge in technology, from better medical devices and ventilators, to testing devices and devices to help get the vaccine into 330 million arms. The pandemic as well as recent shifts in our geopolitical view of the world have changed the way we look at offshore PCB vendor partners, especially those in China. These two factors alone—increase in new technology, and an onshoring trend for buying more PCBs domestically—have caused a significant paradigm shift in choosing your PCB/vendor partners.
Here are some things to consider when choosing new PCB vendor partners or re-evaluating your current PCB vendor base.
You need make sure that the companies you are using to buy your PCBs have a domestic presence, and that they are actually building boards in the United States. They can still have an offshore partner, but they must have a significant manufacturing facility in the United States. There are several reasons for this including the fact that we do not know what is going to happen between the U.S. and China, so we must be cautious of how much we depend on China in the next couple of years. In fact, there is a significant movement to develop new PCB sources in Southeast Asia excluding China, we’ll be watching this trend over the next few months.
With the need for more high-tech products and a growing demand for secure NPI (new product introduction) services, the demand will skyrocket for a PCB partner that can handle not only your high-tech PCB needs but also provide design and assembly services.
American companies are developing “products of the future” at an extremely fast rate, and they are looking for PCB partners to work with on these products. They want partners who can act as their expert consultants. They want partners who have the right qualifications, specifications, and registrations to build whatever they need built; most importantly they need PCB suppliers who they can trust with their new technology without stealing it. This last need is becoming more critical than ever before.
Right now, it appears that the current administration in Washington, DC is preparing to invest billions of dollars into our domestic electronics industry. A great deal of this money is targeted for research and development. This significant investment will mean an influx of new high-tech products from our customers, which means they will be looking to us to make sure that our supply chain, including our PCB vendor/partners, are fully equipped and ready to handle the new technology products we will be building.
Finally, value will supersede price when it comes to buying PCBs. This means we must stay away from those companies advertising their cheap prices in the back of magazines. Those companies will not help us in this new post-pandemic world. We will have to find PCB vendor/partners who offer value rather than cheap prices.
When looking for PCB vendor/partners that provide value, we need PCB/vendor partners who have:
- A strong domestic manufacturing presence
- A strong, highly qualified workforce, especially with their product and process engineers
- All the right specifications, qualifications, and registrations (especially ITAR) to handle all our PCB needs
- The ability to be our expert PCB consultants, not only building what we require but advising you on how we could design it better
- The ability to work with us on our R&D, helping us not only with the development of new PCB technologies but also our overall end products, and developing the right PCB technology to make that end product better
- A generous and cooperative attitude toward their customers by caring more about doing a good job of looking out for us, as a customer, than they do about making a quick buck
- A strong work ethic: vendor/partners who have excellent performance when it comes to quality, service, and delivery
- Either onsite design and assembly capabilities, or strong alliances with partners who do, provide synergistic design and assembly services so that they can provide us with a complete system from concept to design to PCB and assembled product
- The ability to provide quick turnaround service, especially for our NPI needs. A PCB vendor partner with QTA services will be critical moving forward
And one last suggestion would be that we are all willing to pay for value, making sure that our vendor/ partners are making enough money to not only stay in business but are able to afford running a business with the valuable attributes I’ve listed. If you don’t agree with me, consider this: Before the move to offshoring, all for the sake of cheaply priced PCBs, we had 1,500 PCB companies fabricating PCBs in this country. Now we have less than 200. If we want a supply chain of good, solid high-tech PCB vendor/partners, we are going to have to pay them what they are worth.
Anaya Vardya is president and CEO of American Standard Circuits; co-author of The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Fundamentals of RF/Microwave PCBs and Flex and Rigid-Flex Fundamentals; and author of Thermal Management: A Fabricator's Perspective. Visit I-007eBooks.com to download these and other free, educational titles. He also co-authored “Fundamentals of Printed Circuit Board Technologies.”