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Caveat Lector

Mike BuetowIt was 16 years ago this month when a group of Chicago-area printed circuit board manufacturers stuck a flag in the ground and declared themselves the new vanguard of the American industry. At an early meeting, leaders called free trade “the seed of our own destruction,” and railed against the devastation of the domestic fab industry.

They called on public officials to fight China on currency manipulation and tariffs, and to enact trade policy that better fit the current state of the domestic market. Nothing less than the long-term security of the US was at stake.

The group had a point: Domestic PCB production had fallen by half in three years to $5 billion. Not only was no recovery in sight, but in some cases the deck seemed stacked against them. For instance, raw materials imported to the US from Asia were assessed tariffs, but assembled PCBs were not. Ouch.

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Mike BuetowMany “topical” conferences are not just good at answering questions, but they also open one’s eyes to questions that have yet to be resolved.

The ITI/IPC 2019 Conference on Emerging & Critical Environmental Product Requirements is a perfect example. The two organizations caravanned across the US in June, bringing scores of environmentally conscious engineers and compliance officers up to date on the latest REACH and related regulations in the EU, UK and Asia.

What distinguishes REACH from almost any chemical safety regulation I can think of – including RoHS – is parties need to prove the safety of a substance before it’s allowed on the market, and exemptions must be justified from both a risk point-of-view and a socio-economic point-of-view. Multiple independent technical committees, appointed by the Member States, make those assessments.

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Mike BuetowHave all the supply chain tools companies have developed and their customers put into place worked? We are about to find out.

I’ve been a journalist through four PCB recessions and counting. By my estimates, we are about to hit number five.

According to ECIA, lead times for most types of passives and actives are down since last winter. Likewise, component distributor TTI reports similar trends. Its weekly reports show demand for most types of parts are either stable or dropping over the past several months.

Semiconductor capital equipment and device revenues are now forecast to contract this year.

And while researchers disagree whether semis are leading or trailing indicators, most forecasts from the leading economic nations and regions are subdued or tilting down too.

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