Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
It's Only Common Sense
By Dan Beaulieu
< Back To Columns
It’s Only Common Sense: PCBs Everywhere You Look!
During the recent holiday season, everyone was busy shopping and buying presents. What a great time of the year! On Christmas morning, as we sat by the roaring fire and opened our gifts, I started to count the number of printed circuit boards we received. For 12 people, I counted 65 printed circuits in the gifts we exchanged.
Within our small group, we had kept a number of designers and engineers busy designing and creating the PCBs that were in our presents. The gift-giving in our house also kept a few PCB shops and their suppliers busy, all building PCBs, including assemblers and packaging companies. Granted, a lot of the PCBs were manufactured in places like China and Taiwan, but PCBs keep the world economy flourishing all the same.
As I counted the boards in our gifts, two stood out as winners. One was a rather advanced drone, so I counted one PCB for the camera, one for the radio control, one more for a Bluetooth device meant to be controlled by a smartphone, one for guidance, one for the charger, and one for the propellers. That’s six printed circuits for a $90 drone, not including the smartphone! The second gift that stood out were phone-controlled lights with an outlet kit (complete with plugins for four outlets), four screw-in controllers for lights (including two for cameras), and a smart doorbell. It was the winner at 12 printed circuits.
As we opened presents, the tally kept going up. It became a game as we counted the PCBs in the new Keurig machine, the flashing LED light for the front of the house, and even the electronic Etch-A-Sketch with a power supply, using three PCBs.
Then someone asked, “How many printed circuits are in our house?” Not wanting to disassemble things, we guessed, and the tally rose quickly. The two cars in the garage had maybe 30 PCBs in each. For the two garage door openers with RF controls, how many boards in those? And all the appliances—such as the stove, fridge, dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, etc.—probably each had less than five PCBs. Even the roaring fire was a gas insert with its own remote, meaning more boards.
As we sat there counting, the list went on and on: smoke detectors, carbon dioxide detectors, towel rack heaters, the air exchanger, air conditioners, and even the “wave your hand and get water” faucet. Each of the nine ground fault detector outlets, the water softener, and the air-to-air exchangers all have multiple PCB assemblies.
The search continued, leading to more fun. How about all the TV sets and their cable boxes, Blu-Ray players, and their Roku and Apple TV gadgets? At this point, we lost track of how many PCBs were used in our entertainment systems, but we had not even counted the eight computers, five Kindles, and four iPads! Then, there was the Amazon Echo Dot device and 12 cellphones because everybody had one.
Then, we started to add in video games—such as the Atari, Sony, X-Box, and Wii—my wife’s four sewing machines, and all those LED lamps throughout the house. The furnace also had controllers, and we also had to include the thermostat.
With a smile, it made me think about people who say the PCB is dying and that the market is diminishing. Ha! Really? We’re only getting started! What about AI, the wireless electric house, and the growth of the electric car and autonomous (self-driving) vehicle market? Further, toys are all crammed full of PCBs!
This begs the question: Are printed circuit manufacturers ready for the upcoming explosion in the need for advanced PCBs, not to mention ever-increasing technology? We know traces will keep getting smaller and that the thermal requirements of the boards will keep increasing and becoming more challenging; we see this now as more and more companies are asking for higher thermal dissipation materials. Further, layers will increase as the thickness and size of the PCB decrease. The biggest question will always be, “How cheap can you make my circuit board?” Because we all know the last thing our customers want is for us to make too much money, no matter what the technology level is.
I remember when the USA owned over 60% (approximately $6 billion) of the $10 billion global PCB market. This year, the global PCB market is expected to hit $70 billion, and the share of what the U.S. will build will be about $5 billion, which is not much different than it was 40 years ago.
Now, the challenge for the U.S. is to grab more of those PCB dollars. The experts say that the true U.S. market, which is the dollars of boards that U.S. companies buy globally, is $11–12 billion; again, the challenge for American PCB suppliers is to take a bigger bite out of that apple.
There is no reason that the U.S. cannot win more business or compete globally in the high-mix/low-volume, NPI, QTA, and R&D part of the business right now. Defense and aerospace OEMs are literally starving for the right domestic suppliers that they need. Get your merit badges, including the right qualifications, and enter that Asian-proof market today.
And one more thing. What about medical electronics? This is another great market with huge potential. Have you visited your doctor or dentist lately? Wow! Check out health care facilities and you’ll see the future of PCBs because that market is only moving forward, not backward. There’s plenty of PCB business out there, so get out there and grab your share.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.
More Columns from It's Only Common SenseIt’s Only Common Sense: Doing Business the Elon Musk Way
It’s Only Common Sense: Stop Your Love Affair with Certainty
It’s Only Common Sense: Clicks Are Not Sales
It’s Only Common Sense: Don’t Just Sell the Product, Sell the Company
It’s Only Common Sense: Leaving a Great Voicemail Message
It’s Only Common Sense: Stop Telling Me What You Can’t Do
It’s Only Common Sense: My 10 Favorite Creative Sales Tactics
It’s Only Common Sense: Going Deep With Your Customers