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Fresh off its latest acquisition, there’s a sense of déjà vu. Is this the next big American fabricator?

When a pair of West Coast US fabricators called Pacific Circuits and Power Circuits merged more than 30 years ago, probably no one knew the new entity would someday become the largest PCB manufacturer in the world. The deal was financed by two private equity firms, one of which was Thayer Capital Partners. With it came a rebranding to TTM Technologies. The deal was the first in a long series of M&A activities that over the next 15 years eventually rolled up Details, the PCB units of Honeywell and Tyco, Hong Kong’s Meadville PCB, and Viasystems, among others.

So, observers are forgiven then if the narrative developing with Summit Interconnect feels a little familiar.

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How will the pandemic play out in the PCB world?

Here we are, nine months into 2020, with little insight as to how the rest of the year will turn out for printed circuit fabricators. When was the last time that occurred? Perhaps more than a decade ago? The 5G implementation drove revenue gains at the best-performing PCB fabricators last year and are providing a foundation for 2020 as well. Automotive, on the other hand, is sputtering, as car sales have crashed with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Who could have seen any of this when the book closed on 2019?

Six months of effort resulted in this latest NT-100 report, now in its 25th annual edition. As mentioned many times, each year it gets harder to compile the list, thanks to many new entries from growing Chinese fabricators, only one-quarter of which are publicly traded and publish annual reports (not always in time for the purpose of this report). The data from most unlisted Chinese fabricators are extracted from the “Top 100 Fabricators” published by CPCA. Unfortunately, valuable as it is, the CPCA list has some flaws in that it misses some important fabricators, and some entries are by factory, not company. Nevertheless, without the CPCA data, the NTI-100 would not be possible. TPCA data are valuable but include only stock-listed fabricators. Therefore, this author contacted those fabricators not publicly listed. They gracefully provided their sales revenues. Likewise, only AT&S and Schweizer Electronics publish annual reports. Other European entries, including KSG, Somacis and Würth Elektronik, provided the author their revenues. Southeast Asia fabricators were likewise cooperative. The author expresses gratitude to all who provided the valuable data.

Still, many entries are estimates, particularly those operations that are part of large corporations. Usually, they do not break out their PCB revenues. The author made educated guesses in these cases. Some errors, big or small, do exist. The author is solely responsible for any errors. He hopes PCB manufacturers can compare where they stand among competitors, and equipment and materials fabricators can see where to “attack.” In summary, readers are cautioned the rankings are a reasonably accurate portrayal of the largest PCB fabricators, but do not assume total accuracy.

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Despite competing goals of price and reliability, the technology requirements for most products are similar.

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The reality of a brittle supply chain could mean harsh consequences for failure to deliver.

A field programmable gate array (FPGA) is an integrated circuit configurable by customers in the field, making such devices desirable for space and defense applications. A fortified version, known as a Radiation Hardened (RadHard) FPGA, can withstand attacks from electromagnetic and particle radiation in outer space.

Columns, rather than solder balls, are a critical subcomponent in the final assembly of FPGA packages. A sudden shortage of mission-critical FPGA devices could result in warfighters not flying and rockets not launching. This is not an exaggeration. But how could this be? Quite simply, makers of ruggedized FPGA devices depend on a single subcontractor to provide services to attach copper-wrapped solder columns.

Past production shortages in the semiconductor industry have been short-lived because multiple vendors have been able to quickly step in to fill voids in the supply chain. Today, only a single subcontractor is designated on the Qualified Manufacturer List (QML-38535) as a provider of copper-wrapped solder column attachment services for the entire FPGA industry. Any supply chain dependent on a single supplier is inherently vulnerable. Action is needed to develop a solution to resolve this vulnerability.

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A cross-functional team approach for completing prototypes and ramping to production.

Faster, better, cheaper has always been a mantra in electronics manufacturing services (EMS) because leveraging the benefits of companies selling manufacturing expertise and infrastructure has been the primary motivation behind the growth of outsourcing. Improvements in computing technology, networking infrastructure and systems interconnection now give EMS teams unprecedented real-time visibility into the product realization process. But like the guy who buys a Porsche and drives mainly on city streets, these systems are rarely tested to their full potential. Firstronic’s new product introduction (NPI) team recently needed to break that paradigm when the Covid-19 pandemic drove a new customer to request a product ramp at high speed when other supply chain options were unexpectedly shut down.

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Does a small node suggest anomalies – and potential failure?

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