All Worked Up

It’s vogue to assert that mass employment will never return in surface mount manufacturing, but there are good reasons to be skeptical of such reports.

It’s true that efficiency and automation generally go hand in hand, and that companies look to minimize their fixed costs. (While some economists consider labor a variable cost, I think it’s more practical to view it as a fixed cost because, in practice, it is very difficult to match staff to short-term dips and peaks in demand.) But it’s also true that as we drive down the cost of electronics, we expand the potential market for those products, thus potentially increasing the volumes. Higher volumes demand additional lines which in turn begets increased staffing.

I do think there will be a continued tendency to reduce the number of workers per line, but true “lights out” manufacturing is still a long way off. As long as the demand for electronics remains insatiable, and as long as creative designers and engineers continue to dream up ingenuous ways to integrate technology into every facet of our lives, we will need workers — and lots of them — to turn those dreams into reality.

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association ( He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow

One thought on “All Worked Up

  1. Au contraire…
    Higher volumes demand *faster* lines, with higher throughput per line.
    In many markets, lowering manufacturing costs does *not* significantly grow the potential market.
    Defect-free, low-cost, volume assembly of highly complex, miniature electronics devices ultimately requires *less* human involvement, not more.

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