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Class is in session! PCB Technologies President Jeff De Serrano takes us through some of the struggles of the PCB industry over the past 30 years, how U.S. legislation seeks to level the playing field, and whether a “monopoly” of fabricators is healthy for our industry. In his chat with Nolan Johnson, Jeff gets out his investment playbook and talks strategy. Don’t miss this one.
Nolan Johnson: Jeff, you have an interest in getting involved with advocacy groups. What’s your motivation? As a fabricator, what value do you see in them?
Jeff De Serrano: We hope people understand that we’re not just a commodity in the United States. When PCB production went over to China, it became a commodity. When I started in this business, it was a unique industry. We built some of the craziest stuff to make the world go around; being an engineer, an EE, I thought it was great.
Then it switched to a commodity. After 2008, finance took over most of the purchasing activities for OEMs, and they’d say, “We’re not paying for that. You can buy it over there and it’s cheaper.”
In the United States, we all suffered for a while. With these advocacy groups, I’m hoping everyone will realize and understand that it’s not a green thing and it’s not a commodity. When you’re 4,000 units a year or 10,000 units a year, it’s not a commodity. When you’re buying a million a month, that’s a commodity. We don’t make bread; we make customized specialty items for military warheads, the communications network infrastructure, 5G, and other strategic applications.
The U.S. manufacturing industry is up against a challenge: To make money, you need to be in the advanced technology market, and the equipment investment is very expensive. It’s not just a commodity anymore. That’s the main thing for me.
Johnson: You’re an industry insider, but right now, you’re also an advocacy group outsider. What’s your assessment of how they’ve performed over the past couple of years? I’m thinking of PCBAA, USPAE, and IPC. Each has a slightly different focus and mission statement.
De Serrano: I have not joined the PCBAA. They’re tightly focused on the DoD market. They’re making headway, but anything in the government takes a very long time. We’re only “this big” in a pot that’s much bigger, but I do think they are making progress.
At least it’s a path forward and we can speak to the DoD folks. They understand that in the truest sense in America, their supply chain is almost gone. You’ve got major players acquiring everybody and all these other mom-and-pop shops that can’t keep up with the cost to invest in the latest technology.
Johnson: We’ve got the CHIPS Act, as well as the Supporting American Printed Circuit Board Act of 2022, which is basically the PCB fabrication and assembly equivalent of the CHIPS Act. Both bills are on the Hill right now, going through the process to become law. This seems like a major accomplishment. How do you view that legislation as far as helping the industry?
De Serrano: I know about the CHIPS Act and it is awesome. If you look at the scope of things, in the 1990s we made most of our semiconductors here; overseas was 10% or 12%. Now it’s maybe 8% here and Taiwan is making 85%.
To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the July 2022 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.