WHO is building WHAT in the USA?

Captive OEM companies are building grass-roots printed circuit shops in the U.S.? Nah!! That hasn’t been done in more than 30 years! I never thought I would hear about captive OEM companies building their own bare circuit boards, let alone start from scratch. Yeah, we had heard that Alex Stepinski had taken his experience from the Whelan Engineering start-up and moved on to building GreenSource in New Hampshire. But wasn’t that just taking simple automotive lighting control boards back into house for manufacture? And, isn’t GreenSource the ultimate circuit board engineering place with limited production capability?  How much impact could these new shops have compared to the mega-campus facilities Hayao Nakahara tells us about in China?  

Personally, I can’t wait for the ‘vertical integration” section of the IPC Managers’ Forum on March 8 to get the experiences of Alex with Green Source, Diane and Jessi with Schweitzer Engineering Labs, and Jeff with Vicor on their vertical integration with new facilities. I want to hear what Joe O’Neil of Green Circuits (you know Joe from IPC BoD and past IPC Board chair) has to say about these upstarts who are literally breaking new ground in board fabrication. Why, Joe has been making circuit boards since he crawled out of diapers!  Surely, he could tell Schweitzer to build a board shop where there are already experienced people rather than in Moscow, Idaho.  

We’re hoping for “chat” questions from companies like Benchmark (known mostly as an EMS supplier) having recently built their own high frequency bare board fabrication shop in Arizona. 

I’m looking forward to getting some answers to my own questions:

  • While this isn’t exactly re-shoring, why are you investing in board manufacture in the USA, when imports are so cheap?
  • How do you expect to attract, train, and retain employees in your grass-roots start-ups?
  • What special equipment are you investing in for your new shops?  Won’t existing fabricators go out and get the same equipment and then compete with you?
  • How much of this new “future factory” automation are you bringing in?  Will this be one of those 20- year-old dreams – a “dark factory” with no people?
  • What part of your company’s circuit board needs will you be making – all, the most advanced, the easiest, etc.? How will you decide?
  • And, will you be making substrate-like board product that will be essentially a chip package?

There is a lot more to the Managers’ Forum than just the board discussion in the afternoon! Of course, there will be some discussion of the issues from the pandemic – the reason the Forum will be virtual and not a giant in-the-same room brawl that we love to have live at IPC APEX EXPO, but also trade, logistics, technology and more. The opening morning session focuses on Supply Chain issues (didn’t COVID make a mess of that in 2020!) and the lessons learned from all parts of the industry. There are even a couple mid-program presentations on selecting processes and equipment for your shop – by remote control during the pandemic. 

Yep, I am getting charged up for this management session – the lead-off to my first ever virtual, and probably most memorable, IPC APEX EXPO. I think I got to stand up last year for 20 years continuous attendance at the event, and who knew a year ago, I would get to dial in to my 21st on March 8.