SIC 3672

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in the manufacture of printed circuit boards, sometimes referred to as printed wiring boards.

A printed circuit board (PCB) is a thin piece of insulating material onto which tiny electrical wiring pathways or "traces" have been printed, usually by a photo-engraving process. PCBs provide the physical structure for mounting electronic components, such as semiconductors. The printed traces then serve to interconnect the components, forming an electronic system. PCBs are used in a wide range of electronic products, including computers, telecommunications equipment, electronic instruments, and automobiles.

NAICS Code(s)

334412 (Printed Circuit Board Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

In the late 1990s, more than 1,300 U.S. facilities shipped printed circuit boards worth $9.1 billion. By 2000, the value of shipments had increased to more than $12 billion. The total number of industry employees grew steadily throughout the late 1990s, rising from 72,282 in 1997 to 84,018 in 2000.

Organization and Structure

According to the IPC, approximately 650 independent companies produced PCBs in the United States in 1997, accounting for 90 percent of the entire market. So called "captive" PCB-makers, primarily large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that make their own boards, comprised the remaining 10 percent. Though the largest market for OEM boards was in computer applications, captive board makers also served a large number of communications and government/military users as well.

Computer makers were the major consumers of independently produced PCBs in 1991, when over 43 percent of overall independent board production went to computer companies. Communications constituted the second major market for independently produced PCBs, using more than 17 percent of the industry's output. The role of independent PCB manufacturers has increased steadily over the years. Though more than 90 percent of independent PCB-makers reported annual sales of less than $10 million in 1991, OEMs were increasingly relying on them to supply boards for their products, and industry observers expect this trend to continue.

Background and Development

Printed circuit board assembly companies (PCBAs) comprised a growing, specialized segment of the PCB industry. More than just contract assemblers, PCBAs provided design, global procurement, cost reduction services, and access to advanced technology. The early 1990s saw a dramatic growth in the use of PCBAs, and industry observers expected that trend to continue because of the cost-savings measures these companies provided. There were nearly 800 PCBAs in operation in the United States in 1992, with an estimated total value of $5.9 billion. PCBAs employed approximately 80,000 workers in 1991, while independent board makers employed about 70,000.

At the start of the 1990s PCB makers were adapting to two important industry trends: first, the increasing use of smaller circuitry products and, second, a greater demand for surface mount technology. The drive among electronics firms toward smaller components had been cited as one reason for the decline in PCB usage from 1988 to 1991. Smaller components required smaller or fewer boards and less space on the PCB.

Spurred by demand, the industry moved quickly toward surface mount technology. Surface mounting involves the soldering of components directly onto the surface of a board, which in turn allows components to be mounted closer together and even on both sides of a board. In 1989, however, less than 12 percent of boards included surface mounted components. By 1992 more than half of all PCBs were assembled with one or more surface-mounted components.

Through 1997, contract manufacturers continued to invest heavily in conventional surface mount technology (SMT) equipment rather than in new technologies such as chip on board (COB) and ball grid arrays (BGA). The manufacturers were slow in adopting the new technologies; about 25 percent of them, however, focused on BGA as their next generation packing technology. By mid-1996, copper-clad printed circuit board materials were used increasingly in the electronics industry because of their excellent electrical and thermal properties.

In the mid- to late 1990s, one of the most popular trends in the industry was the reuse of the vast amount of waste generated each year. More than 10 million pounds of trim and rejected boards were being generated each year.

In June of 1998, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued guidelines for PCB disposal. Proler International Corporation launched a new circuit board recycling operation—Proler Recycling, in Coolidge, Arizona—where they started processing recycled boards in the summer of 1995. According to American Metal Market, in 1995 Proler Recycling was the only company in the United States that recovered all three metal components (tin, copper, and lead) from circuit boards and successfully converted them to high purity metals. At the time, the other companies were typically recovering only one of the metals from the circuit boards.

In 1996, Daimler Benz was using a four-stage process for recycling circuit boards. The technology, which was in the pilot plant stage in Germany, involved Benz's customized version of first shredding the electronic scrap and then using various techniques to separate out and clean the various scrap elements. According to Benz, the recycling technique cost them about $198.48 to $338.80 per metric ton of circuit board scrap and gave them a return of $529.28 to $1,984.80 per ton depending on gold content.

New "via" technologies capable of addressing complex capability requirements were also becoming important in the mid-1990s. The 1996 IPC Printed Circuits Expo showcased several of these technologies. According to Electronic Design magazine, DuPont Advanced Fiber Systems demonstrated a method of producing high speed micro-vias in dimensionally stable, non-woven Aramid reinforced laminates using laser-ablation technology. Mommers Print Service B.V. demonstrated a cheaper but more complex technique that also involved laser formation of micro-vias. As circuit board makers scrambled to stay on technology's cutting edge, the need for greater interconnect density on printed circuit boards seemed to be the next step for circuit board manufacturers.

Although the domestic PCB industry continued to remain globally competitive in its utilization of advanced manufacturing technologies, increasing overseas production resulted in a significant decrease in the U.S. share of the world PCB market from 40 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 1990. In 1991, Japan ranked first in worldwide production of rigid PCBs with 33.8 percent of the market; the United States ranked second with 26.9 percent. Germany, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong ranked third through sixth, respectively.

Current Conditions

Due to rapidly changing technology, PCB manufacturers were constantly modifying their products to adapt and grow. Surface mount components were rapidly becoming the norm; copper baths were being replaced by direct metallization; and the need for adhesives was being phased out through the use of thermocouple probes that measured and adjusted temperature. Research was being performed to manufacture PCBs with smaller holes to allow more space on the boards and accommodate changes in semiconductors. The trend toward less space-consuming units was seen in smaller digital frequency units that required only one PCB rather than multiple boards.

Another popular trend of the late 1990s was the increased use of signal analysis tools to design printed circuit boards capable of operating at high frequency levels. These tools were used to accurately analyze the signal integrity of printed circuit board designs with respect to several circuit parameters, such as crosstalk, ground bounce, resonance, and dispersion.

In 2000, shipment values reached nearly $12.1 billion and were expected to continue climbing into 2002, bolstered by new technology and expanding markets. Foreign competition was expected to pick up as well in order to help meet growing demand, with Asian countries providing the strongest competition in the U. S. market. It was predicted that more companies would consolidate and merge by the year 2002 and beyond, because of the cost and increased need for technological advances.

Industry Leaders

In 1997 there were 1,389 establishments employing 75,091 workers. In 1999, Solectron Corporation of Milpitas, California was the industry leader with nearly $5.3 billion in sales and 24,900 employees. The second largest company was Hadco Corporation of Salem, New Hampshire with $649 million in sales and 6,100 employees

Further Reading

"An IFM Receiver on a Single PCB." Microwave Journal, January 1998.

Economic Census 1997. Bureau of the Census. 2000. Available from .

"EPA Issues New PCB Disposal Procedures." Pesticide and Toxic Chemical News, July 8,1999.

Haystead, John. "Look Before You Leap." Electronic Business Today, January 1997, 67.

"Instability May Stay." Electronic News, November 16,1998.

LaRue, Gloria T. "Daimler-Benz Develops Circuit Board Process." American Metal Market, 13 November 1996.

Maliniak, David. "Solving Inner-layer Via Problems." Electronic Design, 1 May 1996.

Maliniak, Lisa. "Signal Analysis: A Must For PCB Design Success." Electronic Design, 18 Sept 1995.

Pease, Robert A. "What's All This Copper Clad Stuff, Anyhow?" Electronic Design, 19 August 1996.

"Profiling Technique Improves PCB Assembly." Design News, April 6, 1998.

"Proler Set to Start Circuit Boar Unit." American Metal Market, 25 May 1995.

U.S. Industry and Trade Outlook '99. The McGraw-Hill Companies, 1999.

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

Ward's Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1999.

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