I can never seem to get the timing right when it comes to lining up my appetite with dinner reservations. No matter how carefully I space out my meals, I find myself arriving at the restaurant hungry. Even worse, each patron in line before me amplifies the feeling of anxiety that the estimated wait time is that much longer. It’s then that I realize I’d already have been eating if I were at home. My experiences dining out are similar to what many businesses are currently experiencing in printed circuit board manufacturing.
The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic’s disruption of global supply lines has created a backlog that many industries are still mitigating. The best way to sidestep the international manufacturing gridlock is by onshoring supply chains. While a top-to-bottom restructuring of global industries does not happen overnight, there are still multitudes of solutions and benefits for national businesses that can be realized today.
Onshoring Supply Chains: Location, Location, Location
The central argument for onshoring revolves around proximity and cost versus time; while there are other realizable merits to onshoring, this one is central. The most immediate and realizable gain from local manufacturing is a net decrease in turnaround time. From the moment board files are sent off to production, the board is competing with its internal timeframe and against other production lots that are or will be occupying the same baths, lamination presses, drilling machines, and so forth to final assembly. This scenario is equally true in local manufacturing facilities, but the level of impaction offshore dwarfs U.S.-based operations.
Another wrinkle is individual countries’ responses to ongoing COVID-19 infections. A host of nations have motioned or committed to an endemic approach, but it’s more difficult to account for the responses of multiple manufacturing countries than a single one. Put simply, the calculus of offshore versus onshore manufacturing costs must accurately account for the time lost in production.
Though they are a couple of years away, some leading chip manufacturers have begun breaking ground on U.S. fabrication sites. While their tangible benefits will not be felt until production begins, their presence is an overall healthy marker for the future of onshoring supply chains. Not all chipmakers will possess the financial muscle of the industry leaders, but a successful buildup of foundries will likely convince further stateside industrial development. As production ramps up, there will be additional conveniences to keeping PCB design national as local chip costs fall and further time cost gains are made up against offshore manufacturing.
Overseas Shipping Situation Continues to Muddle
The transit itself is another motivating factor for onshoring production. Although efforts have been made to reduce the bottleneck at U.S. shipping ports, wait times for freight ships to dock are still measured in days and weeks. Retributive sanctions against the Russian oil and gas industry have caused a historic spike in crude and refined petroleum products that will take significant time to alleviate. Cargo by sea has been hit with the double-whammy of increased shipping times due to port queues (its situation is only somewhat relaxed by ships transporting fewer crates per trip) and a higher cost for transport to do so.
Airfreight is also an option but considering its already prohibitive price tag even when energy prices aren’t at record highs. It can only be considered practicable for small production runs or cases where time-to-market trumps cost concerns. Once again, while U.S. PCB manufacturers are not immune to these price swings either, the reduction in distance from manufacturer to business severely mitigates the effects of the cost compared to overseas shipping.
The Soft Skills of a Local PCB Manufacturer
Unless ordering a repeat job, PCB manufacturing will never be a design process that goes to completion without some level of revision and touch-up. To that end, communication between firms is paramount to a successful final product delivered in the timeliest manner possible. Local PCB manufacturing has some advantages on this front relative to offshore sites. Consider what a local manufacturing shop can offer relative to an international one:
|Easier to get ahold of the firm when changes arise or questions need answering due to overlapping “schedules”
|The desired point of contact(s) may be unavailable or limited availability during U.S. working hours
|Prospective meetings for local businesses are trivial, and even those across the other side of the country only need to set aside a few days at most
|While technology provides an alternate pathway, an in-person meeting is both a time and cost restrictive process
|Challenging or Intricate Designs
|For prototyping or determining feasibility, consulting with a local manufacturing firm may provide more immediate feedback
|Potentially more difficult to find an operation willing to perform risky design for minimal volume, especially with a likely backlog
This is of course painting with broad strokes — there are great manufacturers abroad and nationally. However, just as international manufacturers can have a cost advantage due to different labor regulations, national firms wield their inherent benefits.
A PCB Contract Manufacturer Can Simplify Your Onshoring
Onshoring supply chains for PCB manufacturing, something saw a few scant years ago as an unlikely pipedream, is rapidly gaining steam and serious financial backing. While the full slate of benefits is unlikely to be realized for several years, an important tenet for any business is to be willing to go against the grain when conditions are right.
With offshore manufacturing’s mounting monetary and time costs, there’s never been a more fruitful moment to look to a PCB contract manager like VSE to handle your board’s fabrication and assembly needs. At VSE, our priority is building electronics for customers by engineers. From schematic to finished assembly, VSE will work alongside you and our partners to deliver you boards of exceptional quality with technical care and expertise, overseeing every step of the design.