Another National Treasure Lost?

The April 26 news in the Cedar Rapids Gazette announcing the impending closure of Rockwell Collins’ 49-year-old printed circuit operations should be spotlighted nationally for several reasons. It cites declining profits and business as the reason for the decision. It follows by just 6 months the layoff by Rockwell Collins of 300 workers. It signals the continued decline of manufacturing in America along with the accompanying know-how and innovation formerly ascribed to Collins’ printed circuit business. It says that outsourcing PCB production is fairly common in the electronics industry. This is true. But then, the article states that Apple, the “most valuable company in the United States outsources the manufacture of all its components, including printed circuits.” What it does not tell us is that these components are also primarily purchased and assembled into iPhones and iPads in China, mostly by Foxonn (Hon Hai). Tens of thousands of Chinese workers are employed to do this profitably for Apple.  Is the Rockwell Collins spokesperson who was quoted inferring that Collins’ boards are to also be made in China? Is there an ITAR issue involved in this case? In any event, the announced closure plan should remind us that our once strong manufacturing base that produced nearly 60% of the jobs in the US when the Collins PWB works was founded has now shrunk to about 20%, or less. Manufacturing in America is now reported to be only about 20% of our GDP. So I listen to all those that say we must bring jobs back to America and wonder, “How? Over what period of time? In what industries?”

Nepcon China, held in Shanghai April 23-25, was busy, but with tire-kickers, not buyers. The show, slightly smaller than the previous edition, seemed to lack the excitement of previous years as business outlook was cloudy. Several former Chinese companies appear to have dropped out now that show producer Reed is applying uniform prices to all exhibitors. Chinese firms had paid reduced fees for spaces in prior years.

There was little in the way of innovation. There was a plethora of Western reporters from virtually all of the related media. There were at least 3 well known industry journalists from the U.S. and Europe conducting video interviews in English as well as Chinese of exhibitors and celebrity attendees.

Concern over the economic effect caused by the Chinese-Japanese territorial tiff over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands increased during the show as stories of customs delays in critical spare parts and new equipment shipments were reported. Japan is a major suppliers of SMT assembly and test equipment to our industry in China.

Dr. Philip Carmichael, the new IPC president of China operations, was there meeting people, making presentations, negotiating collaborative deals for the future, and giving interviews. During his short tenure Dr. Carmichael has met every major organization in our industry in China to see how he can increase the value proposition of IPC members. Making sense of 23 different trade shows and major events can be daunting, but Carmichael seemed unfazed by the challenge. He has already increased IPC’s China membership by about 20% this year. He advised us to watch for new announcements in the near future.   The IPC sponsored hand soldering competition remained a crowd-pleaser in Shanghai as it was at its other previous venues.

CTEX 2013, which started as a show in Suzhou named “Circuitex” by Taiwan board makers, will have its 9th presentation May 8-10 at the Suzhou International Exhibition Center. The name “Circuitex” was first coined by MacDermid in the early 1960s when it established its first specialty chemical line of products for the printed circuit industry. This year’s presentation will cover bare boards, SMT and ICs with a focus on products for the iPhone5, IPad Mini, and Nexus 7 by Apple and Google. The event is being promoted as the 9th Suzhou PCB/SMT Show.

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About Gene

Gene Weiner has spent his entire career -- spanning more than 50 years -- in the printed circuit and semiconductor industries. He spent the early part of his career in R&D as a student technician at MIT Lincoln Laboratories, then became employee no. 4 at Shipley, and later vice president of sales and marketing at Dynachem and president of New England Laminates. He has been a consultant to leading materials, circuit board and semiconductor companies for several years, and sits on the board of Wong’s Kong King International and the MBA advisory board of the Malcolm Baldridge School of Business at Post University. He was inducted to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2006.