The questions I receive most frequently depend upon the individual or group asking the questions. For this column, I will focus on the different questions coming from the manufacturing industry and media.
The industry often asks questions about business, such as: How long will the supply chain pressures last? What government impacts do you expect? What can we do to solve our workforce issues?
The media often asks about the future, such as: What is the next thing that will take us to new capabilities? How can global manufacturing companies continue to meet the challenges presented to them?
Here are a few high-level answers to those questions.
How long will the supply chain pressures last which have been exacerbated by COVID-19?
This question is very dependent upon the industry segment that is asking, but right now there is a cascading effect that will likely last through the end of the year, if not into mid-2022. A shortage in one segment of the supply chain can often lead to additional shortages as substitutes are sought and modifications are made to try to meet demand.
The steep nature of the recession, followed by bounce-back, wreaked havoc with supply chains in several areas—largely because they did exactly what they were supposed to do. When an industry drops demand significantly (like the automotive industry did in going from 900,000 vehicles manufactured in a month to 6,000), the prudent thing to do is to move your processes to a different segment where you can make sales. This was done. What has never happened before was the meteoric rise back to higher levels of sales in such a short period of time. Sadly, I expect the aftershocks to continue to ripple for a while.
What government impacts do you expect on the manufacturing industry?
Every time there is a change in a major nation’s government, this question comes up. In 2013, the question was about how Xi Jinping would change things now that he was in charge in China. Today, what changes can you expect under the Biden administration? These are tricky ones to answer because, obviously, we are not in the inner circle of the administrations of any country. The best we can offer is based on prior actions and continual inquires to those who work with and influence these leaders. If the latest actions are any indication, I expect the Biden administration to continue to attempt to invest in strengthening the U.S. industrial base. Because of this, we at IPC are looking to make sure the electronics manufacturing ecosystem is not lost in the glare of spotlight focused on the semiconductor industry.
What can we do to solve our workforce issues?
The world is changing rapidly, and nowhere do we understand that better than in the electronics industry. The shortage of skilled workers has been an issue for a decade or more. IPC is assisting with this challenge through our workforce education programs. These programs are designed by industry experts and build in collaboration with organizations around the world. The IPC Education Team utilizes the latest educational techniques to ensure the maximum level of learning retention, while simultaneously reducing training times as much as possible. These programs help organizations address specific skill gaps in their existing workforce, upskill existing workers, and perhaps more importantly, provide a solid foundation for those who are not yet, but can rapidly become, a contributing part, of the manufacturing workforce.
What is the future ‘next thing’ that will take us to new capabilities?
We are finding ways to improve and use the latest technologies in our manufacturing facilities. The drive to modernize and transform factories will lead to more innovation. There are tremendous capabilities that are available today, but the challenge is that manufacturing is a capital-intensive business. You don’t just toss away a half million-dollar piece of equipment because it is last year’s model—like you might with a cellphone.
Finding ways to leverage the best techniques and tools is the key to accelerating to the future. Once you have those, you next need people who know how to use them and who understand the fundamentals behind why they are performing the tasks they are in the larger manufacturing picture.
How can global manufacturing companies continue to meet the challenges presented to them?
The answer to this question varies with the time and the issues the industry in a particular region is facing. Over the past couple of years, my answers have centered around strengthening your local/regional industrial base. If you have 100% reliance upon any other region—you are at risk. This doesn’t mean you need to have every capability 100% sourced locally, but you do need to have options should relations break down. This also provides more local know-how, which is always a good thing.
This column originally appeared in the June 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.