Printed Circuit Boards: Past the Lobby and Onto the Floor

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Editor’s note: This interview was conducted on July 6, 2022. At the time of our discussion with U.S. Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), House Resolution 7677 (HR 7677) had been introduced to Congress, comprised of an investment program and a tax credit for purchasers of printed circuit boards. In our interview, we discussed details about both key sections. On July 7, an amendment to HR 7677 was published, in which the tax credit portion of the bill had been removed. This interview has been edited to remove the tax credit-specific sections of the conversation.

There has not been a time in recent memory when the U.S. legislative body is putting as much focus on the microelectronics industries. One bill, the CHIPS Act, was signed into law last year. A new bill introduced this year seeks to allocate funding for printed circuit board fabrication. In this exclusive interview, our team spoke with Travis Kelly, CEO of Isola Group and president of the Printed Circuit Board Association, and U.S. Rep. Blake Moore (R-Utah), who has co-sponsored the bill now before the House. Travis and Blake both express optimism about onshoring domestic production, but the realities of the legislative calendar may pose some risks.

If you would like your voice to be heard, reach out to your U.S. legislators, or visit one of the associations mentioned in this interview: PCBAA, IPC, or USPAE. Each is lobbying on your behalf.

Nolan Johnson: Thank you, Travis and Rep. Moore, for joining this conversation regarding the Supporting American Printed Circuit Boards (SAPCB) Act of 2022. Our readership is the electronics manufacturing sector that designs, manufactures, and assembles those printed circuit boards, so this legislation is near and dear to their hearts and wallets. We’re delighted to have you here. Would you provide some background on the genesis of this proposed legislation?

travis_kelly_300.jpgTravis Kelly: As you know, the printed circuit board industry in the United States has gone from roughly 2,000 companies down to 145, which is very draconian in terms of the overall resiliency of that domestic supply base. We are constantly looking at the different levels of competition within the industry; ultimately, we need to level the playing field. In some cases, the U.S. printed circuit board fabricators and assemblers are actually competing against countries, not companies. This means competing against foreign subsidies in terms of some of the competition that arises. We want to level the playing field so that the U.S. domestic industry, as it relates to microelectronics, is not only resilient and sustainable but also secure. HR 7677, supporting American-made PCBs, is important to the overall health of the domestic industry.

Blake_Moore.jpgRep. Blake Moore: As I work throughout my district, I haven’t seen anything more consistent. In my role, I’ll interact with leaders from car dealerships to manufacturing operations. I was just at a meeting this morning where the topic was the dire need for chips. They told me they’re having to pay more than what they had built their cost models on, and they are desperately in need of product. I’ve never seen something so ubiquitous across our economy that needs this big family of semiconductor capability. We need to shore up our supply chain; it’s tied directly to national security and my distrust of Chinese-made products. I believe legislation like this will help onshore production and will address the supply chain issues regarding national security.

Passing this legislation will show industries that we know they’re working hard but it’s virtually impossible to do the job that they need to do at scale. I’m in contact with a company right now that manufactures sensors for weather-related issues and builds predictive models for numerous government agencies. They can’t do their job because they can’t even get access to this material. This is where we can step in and help. We shape the legislation, as Travis mentioned.

Johnson: Is it fair to say that the primary objective of this legislation is to both level the playing field and increase availability in the supply chain?

Moore: For me, the primary objective is about what’s important long term. We know we have ceded so much of our manufacturing capability to adversarial nations. Looking at the big picture means pulling that back and using those opportunities of scale to build back that network in the U.S. better. I want to bolster domestic printed circuit board production, while strengthening supply chains. We must complement semiconductor incentives by encouraging domestic PCB manufacturing and addressing the acute need to reduce supply chain disruptions.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the August 2022 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.


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