For the past few years, I have written frequently about being partners with our suppliers and our customers. Now I thought it might be time to talk about being partners with each other. By each other, I mean the whole North American PCB industry—PCB and PCBA shops, engineers, designers, and of course, our customers and suppliers.
If the past two and a half years have taught us anything, it’s that when all is said and done, we must look out for one another. We have been faced with shortages of everything from toilet paper and computer chips to laminates and chemicals—whatever we needed to conduct our business and build our products without interruptions.
We woke up one day and realized just how dependent we had become on other countries; not all of them were friendly. We soon discovered that there were many critical products, especially medical, that we could not produce because of our dependency on other countries.
The economical joy ride that Americans have been on for over four decades is over. We are now paying a steep price for those offshore cheap discount store goods. I include those cheap PCBs from the same place.
Perhaps the worst-case scenario has been the production of computer chips. How in the world did we let those get away from us? Those of us in the PCB and PCBA industry watched helplessly as our large customers merrily took their business to Asia, not to mention our technology.
But that was then, and this is now. We are building new chip-producing factories in this country. We are taking the shutters off some of those materials producing companies, and our support infrastructure is being rebuilt. There are even strong indicators that we will be getting some financial relief from the feds as well. Will wonders never cease?
So, now is the time to truly start working together; that includes PCB designers, fab houses, PCBA companies, and our vendors and suppliers. If I may dare, I declare this the new age of cooperative partnership in North America.
This is the time for all companies in our electronics field to not only just start talking to one another but to find ways to cooperate with each other.
Here are five suggestions for working more cooperatively:
- Create mutual partnerships when developing new products. Rather than creating new products in traditional silos as we have always done, all makers should be involved in the product development phase. Just think how helpful it would be if the designer was talking to the people who will build and assemble the products. It would be a perfect synergistic solution in which all would benefit, especially the end customers.
- Create cooperative partnerships among the PCB shops. One of the most destructive traits of our domestic PCB industry has been treating it as a zero-sum game, that one shop must lose for another one to win. Every single PCB company has been in it for themselves, to the point of having no respect for technology developed by another shop. Instead of operating as a communal brain trust for the good of the entire industry we have degraded any technology invented by one of our competitors. In fact, for years we jeered at the idea that the PCB companies in other countries would all work together while we yelled “foul” and “unfair. Of course, it was not that at all. Now we can take advantage of this new spirit of cooperation and work together as partners.
- Think about how productive it would be if we shared resources. If we offered the contents of our proverbial equipment “attics and basements” to other shops who did the same thing, we could create a used equipment trading post or swap meet, if you will. That would work.
- How about if PCBA companies did the same thing? Especially in terms of components, maybe they could help one another in better and more productive ways.
- Technology coalitions. Companies would come together to create committees to not only work on problems, but also to develop and create cutting edge technologies together. These would help the entire industry and, hence, the world.
If you think about it for just a minute, this is the time for all electronics companies to come together and start working together to make our own North American market a true place of leadership once again.
Let’s make sure that we include our customers, the OEMs, as well. After all, it starts and ends with them. If we can develop strong and productive partnerships with our end customers, they will not be so tempted by alternate offshore solutions.
Welcome to the era of North American electronics industry cooperative partnerships.