This Month in SMT007 Magazine: Electronics Manufacturing—A Critical Industry and Supply Chain


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Chris Peters represents the U.S. Partnership for Assured Electronics, where he advocates for electronics manufacturing as a critical industry. Here, he describes the current status, the supply chain, and what he sees in Washington, D.C.

Barry Matties: Chris, tell us what you do and what your role is.

Chris Peters: My role is the executive director for U.S. Partnership for Assured Electronics, and my efforts are twofold. First, I am establishing the organization. We incorporated it in February. We’ve had to go through a considerable process to get registered, such as receiving a Dun & Bradstreet number, getting a CAGE code to do business with the government, and registering for award management for the government, as well as in the Cornerstone Other Transaction Agreement so that we can receive solicitations for the kind of work that we expect down the road.

The second part of my job is to start growing USPAE by finding initial members, both in the electronics industry and academia, to join. It’s also about identifying opportunities—especially with the government—to bring through the contract vehicles that we look at to work closely with the industry and academia to solve government challenges.

Nolan Johnson: We have been investigating the current status of U.S. electronics manufacturing and supply chain as a critical industry. Can you tell us about the current status?

Peters: I’ve been working in supply chain— especially for the DoD—for a good while, and there was a growing awareness of supply chain issues even before the COVID-19 crisis. Since the COVID-19 crisis, there has been so much discussion about supply chain. For the first time, my parents understand some of what I do. It’s a challenge. The issue has been that there has been a lot of attention paid to microelectronics by the DoD. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on different programs focusing on the chip and wafer but not a lot on the ecosystem—the PCBs, the components that go in, and all of those different elements that play into it.

The COVID-19 crisis—and the fact that large manufacturers of ventilators could not get access nor ramp up their production because of the inability to get access to PCBs—heightened the awareness of the supply chain and the idea that a constraint or a compromise at any node in that supply chain could disrupt the entire chain and impact the system. The awareness of how supply chains typically have been organized for efficiency is growing. We run them very lean and have just-in-time inventory; there’s no “fat” in that supply chain. Everybody has now realized that an efficient supply chain isn’t necessarily a resilient supply chain in the electronics industry, and others.

The DoD is starting to rethink how we look at these supply chains. “What do we need to have as far as visibility into it?” Because typically, they can see down to the OEM or their prime contractor and not beyond that. We need to see into it and figure out how we manage and mitigate risk through the sup-ply chain. People have a much greater awareness and knowledge about the supply chain, and we already see a much greater emphasis on this. Section 224 of the National Defense Authorization Act requires that the DoD put standards in place to ensure trusted electronics supply chains by 2021 and have those in practice by 2023.

Johnson: Could you outline what is in Section 224?

Peters: At a high level, it calls for visibility. When they say they want the DoD to have trusted electronics supply chains, the first thing you need is visibility. They need to understand who’s in the supply chain, and there have always been a number of problems with that. We’re going to start seeing a greater emphasis on having the prime contractor or the OEM report who else is in that supply chain.

Beyond that, we’ll start to look for ways to determine whether they are trusted. Again, most of my background in manufacturing is on the mechanical side. I know electronics, but I’m no expert. Coming over to the electronics side, there’s great beauty in the IPC-1791, which was developed with the PCB executive agent—the PCB and interconnect. The value is for the DoD to meet the requirements in Section 224. IPC-1791 not only helps address some of the common issues you expect, like cyber-security, but it also addresses physical security and information security, such as intellectual property (IP).

The big thing for me is supply chain risk management. It ensures that, depending on the level of production that you’re doing—Tier 1, 2, or 3—for Tier 3, you have dual sources for your supplies so that you have less risk of disruption if one supplier drops out. There’s a great opportunity for the DoD to use IPC-1791 to make sure that they have a trusted and assured electronics supply chain.

To read this entire interview, which appeared in the July 2020 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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