the Route


As the Temperature Warms, is the Competition Heating Up Too?

When it comes to the monthly editorial content in PCD&F/CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY, we typically don’t do “themes.”

So it’s a matter of randomness and luck that we have not one, not two, but three pieces this month related to electronics thermal management and cooling. Fitting, too, being the month of June is, for the Western Hemisphere at least, on average the warmest of the year to date.

But June is also the month of the most significant trade show in the bare board fabrication industry: The JPCA Show in Tokyo. Regrettably, few Westerners will attend. It’s too bad.

We are seeing significant interest at all levels – technical, management, and even political – at beefing up domestic printed circuit board capabilities. In particular, the West is attempting to make up for decades of failed progress with new investments in IC substrate production.

The IC substrate industry is worth an estimated $10 billion annually, but practically none of it is in North America or Europe. (AT&S in Austria is the only major exception.) Yet look at the annual list of the largest PCB fabricators as compiled by Dr. Hayao Nakahara at N.T. Information, and no fewer than eight of the top 15 companies – whose annual revenues exceed $1.5 billion, or slightly more than half the total size of the North American PCB output – are building IC substrates. (Indeed, almost all the growth has been from IC substrates or flex circuits.)

The West’s investments, however, pale in comparison to what’s taking place in Asia. Part of that is economics. Capital has flowed into acquisitions, but not necessarily into new technologies. And one reason, perhaps, is the West doesn’t yet understand what needs to be done to make the technology leap into IC substrates and interposers.

Western governments are, at long last, awakening to the realization that domestic semiconductor production is critical to defense readiness and industrial competitiveness. It’s one thing to pontificate about technology deficits; action is another.

There is no time for working groups and task groups and special ad hoc groups and all that … stuff.

Want to see the latest in substrate development methods and materials? Go to the JPCA Show.

Want to see the best PCB fabrication technology? Go to the TPCA Show.

Want to get up to speed on lights-out assembly and smart factories? Go to Productronica.

It’s not just about the equipment and materials you’ll find in the booths. It’s the people walking the floor who are in the know. Those are the connections that will help cut time and costs from your technology curve.

And it might not just be the biggest shows, either. The person responsible for the three most recent greenfield PCB factories in North America was at PCB East in May.

It’s summer. But if you think you feel the heat now, just wait until another year passes while you stand in place.

P.S. This month we welcome Geoffrey Hazelett to our columnists. Geoffrey is an EE with 10 years’ experience in software quality engineering and SI tools. Article ending bug

MIKE BUETOW is president of PCEA (;