Anyone who has found themselves without the necessary ingredients to cook a special meal can understand the problems of supply chain shortages. This dilemma often happens in the evening or during a holiday when the chance of finding the missing ingredients is slim, resulting in a ruined meal. And while you and I can still feed everyone by ordering a pizza, the same cannot be said of trying to assemble a printed circuit board without the necessary parts and materials.
PCB manufacturing requires raw materials for circuit board fabrication and electronic components for final assembly. Currently, the industry is experiencing shortages in both materials and components, and these shortages have a significant effect on the production of printed circuit boards. Here is a closer examination of the ongoing electronics material shortage in PCB assembly and what you can do to protect yourself.
The Rising Cost of Materials Used in the Fabrication of Printed Circuit Boards
The fabrication of raw circuit boards requires three primary materials to build up the different layers that make up a standard multi-layer circuit board:
- Copper foil is used for layers with electrical connectivity.
- Glass fiber is used for the dielectric or non-conductive layers.
- Epoxy resins are used to bind the materials together.
These materials are combined with heat and pressure to produce what is known as a copper-clad laminate. The laminates, in turn, are used in the production of the raw printed circuit board. Unfortunately, these main materials are all experiencing supply chain problems limiting their availability and driving up their prices.
Copper is used in many applications, from construction to jewelry. As new construction in 2020 has increased the demand for copper, its base price has grown. Additionally, with the mineral-producing nations of the world still recovering from the global pandemic, supplies are more limited than usual, impacting the price. During the last half of 2020, copper prices continued to climb to new highs, and there is no end in sight.
Glass fiber manufacturers have been raising their prices for a while now, due in part to the continual demand from the wind power industry and their infrastructure companies. As more enterprises increase their need for glass fiber during the pandemic recovery, prices are expected to continue to escalate.
As with other materials, the need for epoxy resins has grown, especially during the pandemic recovery as electronics and other industries have rebounded. However, an additional problem came about with a couple of factory fires that resulted in the closure of some significant epoxy resin production facilities in China at the end of 2020. These events caused prices to skyrocket very quickly, and market insiders predict that epoxy prices will continue to rise.
With all of these material difficulties, copper-clad laminates’ prices used in the fabrication of raw printed circuit boards are rising. To further compound the problem, PCB assembly is also experiencing some material shortages in the electronic components that they require.
The Growing Electronics Material Shortage in PCB Assembly
The first indication of an electronic component shortage occurred in the automotive industry. As the pandemic forced people to stay at home, car makers cut their production and their need for automobile electronics. To make up for this loss, semiconductor manufacturers switched their production over to consumer electronics in response to the growing needs of those working and schooling from home. Then the unexpected happened. The automobile industry rebounded faster than was projected, and the chip makers were unable to provide the components needed for new car production. Additionally, a recent fire in a semiconductor factory put several carmakers in an even worse position.
While the automotive industry has been dealing with these unprecedented component shortages, consumer electronics’ need has continued to grow. However, with the pandemic’s effects still lingering, chipmakers struggle to supply the ever-increasing demand for more consumer electronics. All of this has led to the component shortage becoming more and more widespread. In response, the semiconductor industry has been obsoleting some older components and combining their functionality into newer standard devices. While this solves some of the problems, it also has a significant impact on OEMs building legacy products that may no longer access the older parts they need.
Fortunately, there is light at the end of the tunnel. New semiconductor manufacturing facilities are being built, with Intel recently announcing its intention to construct two new Arizona factories. Another break in these supply chain storm clouds is the help you can get from your local PCB contract manufacturer in combating these shortages.
How Your Local PCB Contract Manufacturer Can Help
To stay ahead of these circuit board material and component shortages, the best step you can take is to partner with a local PCB CM who understands working with the electronics supply chain. This partnership will benefit you in these three ways:
- PCB contract manufacturers maintain a list of circuit board fabricators that they regularly work with to supply you with a steady stream of raw circuit board fabs.
- The PCB CM employs knowledgeable procurement specialists with access to a vast network of component suppliers.
- CMs also have an engineering team that can recommend alternative parts to replace unavailable components or even redesign circuitry to make use of more readily available components.
At VSE, we have been servicing our customers’ material and component needs for over 30 years. We have the component supply chain expertise to help make your project a success instead of being victimized by material and component shortages.