Electronics Manufacturing

Can the U.S. supply chain be fixed?

Two bipartisan lawmakers think so—at least where printed circuit boards are concerned.

 

House Reps Anna G. Eschoo, D-Calif., and Blake Moore, R-Utah, are sponsoring the Supporting American Printed Circuit Boards Act of 2022 (HR 7677). At its core, the bill is designed to incentivize the domestic production of printed circuit boards (PCBs) and investments in related factories, equipment, workforce training, and research and development.

“The supply chain shortages for electronics are affecting every aspect of American life,” said Eschoo. “PCBs are a critical part of that supply chain. . .”

Eschoo also expressed concerns about the security vulnerabilities related to offshore production, stating:

The U.S. global production share of PCBs is only approximately four percent, compared to China’s 52 percent. . . If we want to ensure technological superiority across the global stage and strengthen national security, we need to bring PCB production back to America. . .

The bill is introduced as the world begins to emerge from the pandemic—an unprecedented scenario that found the transfer of products, including PCBs, come to a screeching halt. Quarantine mandates also merged with a higher-than-anticipated demand for hardware, resulting in shortages in both copper foils and aluminum—both used in the manufacture of PCBs. As a result, in late 2021, some reports cited PCB components were running more than 50 weeks behind schedule. In 2022, long lead times continue. So do rising costs—present whenever demand outweighs supply.

So far, to mitigate the impact of these dynamics, electronics manufacturing entities have had to be proactive and be innovative—strategies that Mike Douglas, General Manager of PRIDE Industries Electronics Manufacturing Operations, is no stranger to.

“Our manufacturing process has not been insulated from market dynamics brought about by the pandemic,” said Douglas. “So, we’ve been as proactive as possible—first, alerting our customers about the increasing scarcity of these critical components, then collaborating with them to implement solutions. This has often meant supporting product redesigns using more readily available materials.”

According to Forbes, redesign is trending throughout the electronics manufacturing industry. “To manage the current supply chain crunch . . . and mitigate long lead times and component shortages, redesign services are becoming a hot topic in the electronics industry,” writes Forbes Council Member Carl Hung.

Forbes goes on to note how redesign can be good for businesses and their customers, but it’s not always a viable solution. Writes Hung, “. . . some companies may not have the extra budget to invest in a redesign and would rather absorb the necessary longer lead time into their production schedules.”

But soon, redesign may become solely a matter of choice. If passed into law, HR 7677 will shorten lead times by bringing PCB manufacturing closer to home. The bill also seeks to:

 

  • Provide a tax credit for entities that purchase American-manufactured PCBs.
  • Establish a financial assistance program, modeled on the CHIPS Act, within the Commerce Department for American facilities manufacturing or researching PCBs.

The CHIPs Act, passed in June 2021, is to semiconductors what HR 7677 is to printed circuit boards.

“The CHIPS Act set the precedent,” said Tony Lopez, Vice President of Manufacturing and Logistics for PRIDE Industries. “For a robust electronics manufacturing sector here in the U.S., we need to see HR 7677 passed and implemented.”

Combined, the CHIPs Act and HR 7677 seek to return high-tech electronics manufacturing to the United Sates.

“The Supporting American Printed Circuit Boards Act will help usher in a new era of American manufacturing,” said Rep. Moore. “This bill will not only maintain the integrity of military and national security commercial materials, but it will also fuel the resurgence of American manufacturing through incentivizing the purchase and production of domestically-sourced printed circuit boards.”

In the meantime, PRIDE Industries’ Mike Douglas is quick to note, “The challenges are far from over. Our only remedy is to remain close to our customer, collaborate transparently, and look for alternative sources of supply.”

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When it comes to the soldering of printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs), an inert environment is key.

Why?

 

Soldering—with molten tin, copper, or silver alloys—is the primary method by which components are joined to a PCB. When soldering takes place in ambient air, these metals are subject to oxidation. And oxidation results in soldering defects. To mitigate this, nitrogen gas may be plumbed up and around the soldering device’s nozzle, so that when it makes contact with the PCB, it does so in an inert atmosphere. But when a company stores liquid nitrogen onsite, it’s faced with issues of space, cost, and safety.

This is why, in 2019, PRIDE Industries purchased the Mikropor MNG-US-450 Nitrogen Generator—a decision that continues to prove sound.

“Now there’s never a safety concern from a liquid nitrogen tank rupture,” said Andrew Williams, Engineering Manager for PRIDE Industries. “There’s not enough highly compressed stored nitrogen inside the building for this to happen.”

The MNG-US-450 is one of a series of nitrogen generators manufactured by Mikropor. According to this leader in atmospheric air filtration solutions, the MNG-US series generators employ a carbon molecular sieve (CMS) to “absorb oxygen and water vapor molecules under certain pressure while allowing nitrogen to pass through.”

Not only has this machine boosted safety and saved space, it’s also saved money. “Before the [nitrogen] generator, we had our nitrogen tanks refilled at a cost of $1,500 per month,” said Williams. “The amortized cost of the generator comes out to between $800 and $900 in monthly savings—immediately.”

The generator’s on-site presence translates to an endless nitrogen supply—which, aside from eliminating the need for monthly refills, also puts an end to occasional emergency refills. “If, say, we used a ton of nitrogen more quickly than usual, we’d have to get a very expensive emergency delivery,” said Williams. “Now, we just continually make our own.”

The Mikropor MNG-US series boasts several features, including:

  • Simple structure, compact design, full automated operation.
  • Replaces manifold usage.
  • Touch Screen PLC for controlling the complete system.
  • PLC Screen for monitoring and visualizing the progress.
  • Rapid start-up and safety system.
  • Superior silencer design gives low noise levels during depressurization and purge.
  • Durable piston valves for long-life operation.
  • On-demand production, low cost.
  • Consistent High performance.
  • Minimum maintenance cost. *Replace filter element periodically only and service your compressor as normal

“Securing the Mikropor Nitrogen Generator has given us a consistent supply of high purity ‘Five 9s’ Nitrogen—99.999% pure, as demanded by the EMS industry,” said Williams. “This greatly reduces the associated costs and risks of using liquid nitrogen dewars.”

Ultimately, of course, on-site nitrogen benefits customers in the form of savings and defect-free solder joints.

“It boosts our customers’ confidence,” said Mike Douglas, General Manager of Electronic Manufacturing Services for PRIDE Industries. “These are extremely complex PCBA designs being processed through our selective soldering equipment—of the highest quality—which converts to great customer satisfaction.”

We can help your business grow

We offer cost-effective electronics manufacturing services in a wide variety of industries.

“Securing the Mikropor Nitrogen Generator has given us a consistent supply of high purity ‘Five 9s’ Nitrogen—99.999% pure, as demanded by the EMS industry.”

–Andrew Williams, Engineering Manager for PRIDE Industries

Generous donations to The Michael Ziegler PRIDE Industries Foundation support vocational training, on-the-job coaching, and a host of other employment services for adults with disabilities. The important services provided by these donations put hundreds of individuals, like Javier, on the path to reaching their career goals.

Congratulations to Francisco “Javier” Guzman, who recently earned a well-deserved promotion to production lead trainer in our Electronics Department.

An avid gamer, Javier was excited to join the department this past fall, as the position aligns so well with his interests. After excelling in a production worker role—and receiving training and mentorship—Javier applied for the production lead trainer position and was subsequently hired.

Not only do the technical aspects of the job interest Javier, but he also appreciates the opportunity to mentor other employees of all abilities. “I have often seen that many people with disabilities undervalue their abilities,” said Javier. “I have a learning disability, but my belief in myself helped me to get where I am today. Everyone has something that they are good at.” 

After attending Yuba Community College, Javier joined PRIDE Industries in 2015 as a production worker. In the role, he helped on a variety of kitting and packaging projects for customers like HP. Leading up to this point, Javier—like many young adults—hadn’t had a clear idea on what he wanted to develop as a career. But that was to change quickly.

“As soon as I started with PRIDE Industries, I immediately felt welcome,” said Javier. “I loved the opportunity to work on different projects .” Like other PRIDE Industries employees, Javier was given career advancement and job coaching by our staff to help him explore different job options and provide the training to help him succeed.  

And succeed, he did. Which is why, as of January, Javier is now in a role that finds him leading and training others.

“I’m excited for my first position where I will be directly responsible for managing the outcomes and success of my team,” said Javier. “I want others to see that if they work hard enough, they can achieve their goals.”

We are fortunate to have an inclusive team of talented employees, like Javier, that contribute to our company’s success. 

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Your donations make it possible for us to help people like Javier succeed in a career they love.
Javier Guzman stands on the PRIDE Industries production floor.

“I have a learning disability, but my belief in myself helped me to get where I am today. Everyone has something that they are good at.”

From alerting custodians when a garbage can is full to monitoring human vital signs, IoT technologies continue to play a growing role in multiple industries. This is especially true in the field of electronics manufacturing, where these technologies are now used in everything from machinery maintenance to remote device programming.

Image of hand of business man using smart phone with sustainable energy icons on blurred nature background

The growth of IoT has been fueled by multiple factors. New 5G and cloud technologies have sped up data transfer so that connected devices can respond more quickly. Sensors have become more efficient and less expensive. And advances in neural networks and other forms of AI have made IoT systems both more robust and easier to manage.

 

Specifically in electronics manufacturing, IoT-connected machinery allows entire systems to work seamlessly together, making it easier to monitor quality and modify maintenance work in real time. IoT technology speeds up the process of identifying procedural gaps and the need for upgrades in equipment. 

When it comes to data management, IoT enables manufacturers to communicate instantly with customers and stakeholders. This, in turn, makes the sourcing of raw materials and the tracking of inventory more transparent. It also shortens production times and improves overall performance rates.

 

With today’s cloud technologies, all accrued data is easily accessible to those who need it. This means that despite the well-known energy requirements of IoT systems, the gains far outweigh the costs. According to one forecast, IoT will “save more than eight times the energy it consumes by 2030,” while driving a reduction in C02 emissions and water usage. Perhaps the best news of all, where IoT meets electronics manufacturing, is the cost savings generated by this technology’s myriad applications—from pinpointing sources of product damage to identifying large-scale supply chain trends.

From smart homes, to smart cities, to smart businesses and industries, ElectronicDesign.com affirms IoT’s proliferation, noting that early-adopting companies will gain an edge: “IoT is ready for exponential growth this year, boasting robust technology and a thriving ecosystem.”

 

Mike Douglas, General Manager for PRIDE Industries Electronics Manufacturing Services, notes these specific uses of IoT within electronics manufacturing operations:

Image of smart trashcan with sensors on street
  • Asset tracking throughout the supply chain. Through the use of attached sensors, IoT-enabled asset management keeps organizations aware of their assets’ information, minimizing the need for human effort.
  • Predictive maintenance. Via real-time, constant monitoring of equipment and tools, gathered data enables businesses to predict, plan, and prepare for equipment failure or malfunction before it occurs. And, because this maintenance can be performed while equipment is operating, business disruptions are avoided.
  • Inventory management. Sensors attached to each item allow businesses to easily keep track of their precise locations, reducing the time it takes to locate inventory. Moreover, real-time accrued data, gathered via sensors and software, provide key insights when it comes to tactical business decisions
  • Digital work Instructions. By translating procedures into a “human-centered” way of working and by providing real-time data about product status, digital work instructions improve throughput and turnaround time, mitigating bottle necks and constraints—all driving improvement in productivity, quality, and safety.
  • Supply chain optimization. By linking demand signals with available supply, SCO seamlessly ensures continuity of goods supporting the manufacturing process. IoT technology is also able to monitor goods throughout the shipping process, enhancing communication between suppliers and buyers.
  • Capacity optimization. The availability of real-time data, as to work-in-process status, enables enrichment of capacity optimization tools.
  • Facility management. From lighting and HVAC control and monitoring to measuring building occupancy, IoT technology can save money while upgrading health and safety measures.

 

Though IoT has been around for awhile now, its applications will greatly expand through 2022 and beyond, with wide adoption across industries. To maintain a competitive edge, the electronics manufacturing industry will need to remain cognizant of new uses and their potential benefits.

We can help your business grow

We offer cost-effective electronics manufacturing services in a wide variety of industries.

Last year, PRIDE Industries purchased and began using the Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter from Nordson. According to Mike Douglas, General Manager for PRIDE Industries Electronics Manufacturing Services:

The Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter provides many tangible benefits for us, including increased throughput, improved inventory accuracy, reduction in production downtime, and most importantly, simplification of the process—all allowing us to better serve our mission.

 

The machine is designed to replace a manual process by which an operator would physically count each integrated circuit (IC) using a reel-to-reel counter. Now, operators are able to take an X-ray image of a reel of ICs, providing an accurate count within seconds.

Another advantage of the Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter is its intuitive interface, which allows for seamless operation by a diversely-abled workforce. Moreover, by safeguarding inventory integrity and parts availability, Nordson’s machine ensures the continuity of supply for downstream processes.

 

Nordson developed the Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter to enable manufacturers to increase productivity and minimize component shortage downtime. Specifically, this machine boasts the following features:

 

Intelligent Algorithms
Specialized logical algorithms and self-learning capabilities empower operators to add (not teach) new component types–eliminating both the need for cumbersome libraries (that require programming) and reliance on “cloud-only” support.

 

Simplicity of Design
One-button operation and an intuitive touchscreen interface mean users can learn to operate the Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter within minutes. Installation is easy, as the machine has an exceptionally small footprint and system weight. Maintenance-free operation minimizes disruption during day-to-day use.

 

Fast Counting

The Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter is optimized for speed, so users can process inventory sooner while minimizing labor time and cost. The machine can count a single reel in approximately 10 seconds, and four reels in under 15 seconds. 

 

Reliable Results
The Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter validates results immediately and automatically, with a typical accuracy that exceeds 99.9%, guaranteeing the quality of the count.

 

At PRIDE Industries, the  Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter is used to inspect the inbound integrity of parts received prior to putting the parts into stock. The company utilizes the tool’s comprehensive capabilities to ensure date and inventory accuracy for customers in multiple industries, including automotive, environmental, agricultural, educational services, medical device manufacturing, aerospace, and many more.

 

According to Mike Douglas of PRIDE Industries:

We also use the Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter to proactively detect shrinkage, so that our robust planning systems can ensure continuity of supply to meet the needs of our customers. With the tool’s ability to integrate directly into our ERP, we can proactively mitigate shortages by having real-time accurate inventory data—enabling us to provide top-notch delivery and execution.

PRIDE Industries’ workforce—60% comprised of people with a disclosed disability—count, package, and ship thousands of items every day. So, it was imperative to have a machine that consistently delivered accurate data, while being easily operated by people with diverse abilities.

 

Nordson’s Assure™ Series X-Ray Component Counter meets these requirements and more. All told, it has been a great asset to PRIDE Industries’ customers.

We can help your business grow

We offer cost-effective electronics manufacturing services in a wide variety of industries.
Things change quickly in the innovative world of electronics manufacturing. Are you curious about what’s trending for 2022? We’ve looked to the experts and, from their wealth of knowledge, compiled our picks—trends to look for in the coming year.

Trend #1: Organic electronics will become more popular.

These materials are constructed from carbon-based molecules, rather than from metals. They offer numerous advantages over inorganic electronics—including flexibility, optical transparency, weight-reduction, and low power-consumption. Environmentally speaking, these parts require fewer and safer raw materials and are both recyclable and biodegradable.

Trend #2: Internet of things and artificial intelligence will gain ground.

With functionalities like sensing, control, and actuation, they gather detailed, real-time insights from data. IoT and AI have also proven especially useful amid the pandemic, allowing machines to complete work once done only by human hands.

Trend #3: Printed electronics will continue to reduce manufacturing costs.

Rather than using wires as circuits, this technology relies on conductive inks and flexible films—allowing for fewer raw materials and more flexible parts. And because printing can occur anywhere, companies that use it will enjoy more flexibility when it comes to manufacturing.

Trend #4: The use of 3-D printing technologies will continue to expand.

From jigs and test beds to components and accessories, 3-D printing allows for fast prototyping, stacked designs, and complete customization. This technology enables manufacturers to lower costs—while supporting one-off requests and quickly-developed solutions.

Trend #5: Companies will continue to bring their manufacturing back to the U.S.

The pandemic has shed a light on the risks of offshoring. To counter supply-chain disruptions, increasing offshore wages, and soaring transportation costs, companies will continue to bring their operations home. The rise of robotics, offsetting costs associated with U.S. labor, is also fueling this trend.

We can help your business grow

We offer cost-effective electronics manufacturing services in a wide variety of industries.