Early last month, hundreds of thousands gathered in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show, where amazing new tech was rolled out—everything from razor-thin TVs to smart robots that clean your home. As an executive in the materials science space, I was struck not just by the pace of innovation, but also by the incredibly complex supply chains that were necessary to bring those products from the drawing board to reality.
I grew up when robots were pretty much confined to the pages of science fiction. My kids and the generations that follow will see self-driving cars, autonomous floor scrubbers, and a host of other technologies powered by artificial intelligence. Next generation semiconductors, high density interconnect, advanced packaging materials, and new printed circuit boards will all be necessary to bring these technologies to market.
Microelectronics truly make our modern life possible. But there is so much more at stake than being able to buy the latest TV or smartphone. In addition to the consumer products we use every day, we need trusted and reliable sources of microelectronics for the national power grid and sectors like banking, medical, telecommunications, and national defense, to name a few. Our national and economic security depend on these devices.
Right now, we don’t have a sufficient pipeline of trusted American-made printed circuit boards and their component materials; we only make 4% of the world’s supply. Unless strong legislative and policy actions are taken soon, the semiconductor industry will have to grapple with the reality that the supply chain is still running through Asia as they bring new fabs online over the next few years.
America must invest in and protect our critical infrastructure. We cannot afford to continue offshoring our know-how and manufacturing, or we face a future even more dependent on other nations—not all friendly—to operate the systems that make our modern life possible.
As leaders from across the microelectronics space gathered for IPC APEX EXPO convention in San Diego last month, I spent time talking with other business leaders and sharing what needs to be done in Washington, D.C., to restore a level playing field for American manufacturers. I did this in addition to my focus on workforce and technical issues because I believe in its importance.
Congress took an important first step with the passage of the CHIPS and Science Act, but that is only the first step, not the end of the road. As we reintroduce legislation in the new Congress, the Printed Circuit Board Association of America (PCBAA) and its member companies will be working hard to get the support of key members of Congress to pass a bill that will bring PCB manufacturing back to America and truly create a balanced and resilient supply chain. If you haven’t joined PCBAA, now is the time. There is strength in numbers, and we need your partnership at this critical time. The PCBAA was formed to educate, advocate, and advance legislation with this goal in mind.
This column originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.