There is something happening in our industry—you can feel it. Before the COVID pandemic, there had been some subtle shifts, but now in the (hopefully) post-COVID era, we can expect to see some significant changes in our industry—and in the world as well.
From where I sit, here are some of the noteworthy trends that I see shaking up the industry in the very near future. In fact, most of them have already begun making waves:
- More New Product Development (NPI): This has already begun, with the pandemic the most likely reason that new products are being developed at an accelerated rate. Companies are working on new and innovative products, including things as elaborate as spaceships, electric cars, global internet connectivity, new medical and security devices, and even new weapons of mass destruction. We are finding better and more efficient ways to do just about everything.
- More complete synergistic solutions: With so many new products on the horizon, synergy will be the name of the game in the industry. New product development creates a need for speed, which means working together to bring concepts and ideas into reality faster than ever. Already we are seeing designers, PCB fabrication engineers, and assembly companies joining forces to get things done. Working together concurrently on projects is a much more efficient approach than the traditional consecutive working method; fab houses can start getting the right laminates on order while designs are being completed and, most importantly, with shortages a constant threat, assemblers can order components while designs are still being created. All this can now happen simultaneously.
- More supplier research and development: Now that OEMs rarely have their own board shops, they lack the ability to develop new PCB process technology. This means that OEMs have come to rely on fab houses to do their R&D for them, forcing fab houses to have their own experts on hand to develop the technology and processes required to build boards. This is happening right now; fab shop engineering departments are taking on a larger and more influential role in this area, not only with their customers, but with designers and assembly companies as well.
- Global sourcing will increase and extend to countries beyond China: People are looking for a wider breadth of global suppliers not just in our industry, but in all facets of the general marketplace. This means that new markets are opening around the world. No matter what anyone says, we will always be doing business with China—but that does not mean that we will stop looking for sources in other countries as well. As of this writing, companies in our industry are looking for global partners in Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and India, just to name a few. These new partnerships will go a long way toward generalizing and globalizing our supply chain. I think this is a good thing. We will always be somewhat dependent on China, but the pandemic has taught us that we can no longer be entirely dependent on them.
- Protecting IP: For a long time, many companies assumed that doing business in China meant losing our intellectual property. In fact, for decades, some of our OEMs literally gave their intellectual property away for the sake of using inexpensive products from China to generate greater profits. But no more. If the pandemic taught us one thing, it’s that we can no longer be so dependent on other countries, especially countries that, at best, are our “frenemies.” The fact that we could not even produce ventilators in this country during the height of the COVID pandemic certainly scared us straight; we realized very quickly that we had become too dependent on another country. It also opened our eyes to the fact that we are losing our edge as a world leader in developing innovative new products. From now on, we can expect a much more serious and protective approach when it comes to the confidentiality of our intellectual property.
As I consider these trends and where our business is heading, it makes me feel more optimistic about the future, especially for those of us in the PCB and PCBA industries. I believe that we are going to see our domestic industry grow more in the next few years than it has in the past 25 years. Already some companies like ours are completely upgrading their facilities, and there are even some “shops of the future” being built at this time.
Stay tuned—the best is yet to come.