Fact of the Week: The US Share of the PCB Market Fell From Over 30 Percent in 2000 to Just 4 Percent in 2020
Source: Joseph O’Neil, “Printed Circuit Boards Matter: Rebuilding the U.S. Electronics Supply Chain” (IPC, January 2022).
Commentary: Printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication is an important but under-discussed aspect of the global technology value chain. PCBs are the boards on which microelectronic components, such as semiconductors, are installed and interconnected. Thus, while semiconductors attract the lion’s share of attention—thanks in part to the industry’s logistics issues in the last couple of years—PCBs are needed in every product that requires semiconductors. While the United States once claimed a large share of the PCB fabrication market, it has since ceded most of that share to China (56 percent of the market in 2020) and the Pacific Region more generally (90 percent of the market in 2020). To compound the problem, PCB fabrication is a complex process, due in part to the lack of standardization of products, that involves costly capital and well-trained workers. Therefore, the longer the decline in the U.S. global share continues, the more difficult it becomes to recover.
The United States is addressing its anemic share of the semiconductor fabrication market (which was 40 percent in 1990) through the CHIPS for America Act and U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act. But while these measures are steps in the right direction, they only address a narrow set of the electronics ecosystem. So, even if the United States is able to revive its semiconductor fabrication industry, it may still have to send its products abroad for integration with foreign-produced PCBs. Thus, the United States would remain vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the global trade environment for access to important inputs in core products. However, the bipartisan Supporting American Printed Circuit Boards Act, introduced in May by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Blake Moore (R-UT), is poised to help rectify this oversight by encouraging domestic PCB fabrication and R&D.
It is important that all aspects of the electronics ecosystem are considered by policymakers, lest we neglect one problem to solve another and end up in the same situation.