“It’s not fair.”
“They are all working together, they all help each other out, and you don’t know who owns what.”
“Their government really owns them and gives them all kinds of funding to take over the entire global PCB market.”
These statements—more like accusations—are made by American PCB suppliers about their Asian competition, especially the Chinese. And it’s probably true—they probably do work together and sometimes (often) help each other out.
So, let me ask you, why can’t we do it? Is there a law against cooperation among companies in our industry? Is it really wrong to share information (I am not talking price fixing, heaven forbid)? I am talking plain old cooperation; banding together to make our North American PCB industry better, stronger, and more united; taking a competitive stance vs. the rest of the world.
But we don’t want to work together; we never have. “We have met the enemy and he is our competitor” is our motto to the point that we have virtually self-defeated our own industry.
Here are some of the most basic ways we could be cooperating with one another:
- Partner individually with other PCB shops in your area. You can exchange ideas, share processes, help your neighbor if one of his pieces of equipment goes down. If you really wanted to go old school, you could set up a buying cooperative like the old Grange system to collectively buy laminates and the like. Hey, why not? The Chinese are doing it.
- Create technology co-ops where you share advances in technology throughout the industry in the spirit of rising tide raises all boats. You could make the entire North American industry stronger by sharing technology advances in a live blockchain-type, open knowledge ledger like the pharmaceutical companies did when they were developing the COVID vaccine. Hey, why not? The Chinese are doing it.
- We could unite to lobby the government ourselves, so some of those funds come directly to us and are not siphoned off by an intermediate group that then decides how to spend the money their own way (like translating their specs into Mandarin) instead of it ending up directly in our hands. The Canadian government does this with their research grant money where the PCB companies get an annual check, a payback for any industry raising technology that they develop during the year. We could go after something like that if we banded together. Hey, why not? The Chinese are doing it.
- We could look upon one another with more regard and respect. Most of the companies in our industry have no respect for one another. I have to chuckle when one of the companies I am working with frets over some of their “proprietary” processes getting out and being stolen by one their competitors. I chuckle because our industry is so divided that the surest way to make your process is safe is to talk about it in the media. We are so NIH (not invented here) that all the other shops will immediately go into their famous 50-reasons-why-it-won’t-work mode. We could have more respect for one another. We could work together and share the knowledge that each of us has obtained over the years. Hey, why not? The Chinese are doing it.
- We could create an industry marketing program to elevate the image of our industry. Something like the “Got Milk?” campaign that has been so successful for the dairy industry. Or other industry marketing campaigns like the one for American cotton products we’ve all seen. Something along the idea of an ad showing a bunch of components on the floor with the caption, “Where would we be…without the PCB?” Hey, why not? The Chinese are doing it (or are going to).
- This last one is important: We could band together and defend ourselves the next time our large customers take their business and our technology to another country. Talk about taking our intellectual property and giving it away while we stand idly by getting victimized. If we had had a common voice, we could have done something about that. If we have been united, we could have done something about that. Why not? The Chinese would have.
Look, my basic belief is globalization. I am not an America-first-at-all-costs kind of guy and I believe that all companies from all countries globally have a right to compete on the field of play as long as that field is somewhat level. This means, rather than sitting around whining about what our competition in other countries is doing to us, we have to work together to make sure that we remain strong and that we use our great American ingenuity to raise our own industry to the point of not only surviving but thriving in a true global market. That, my friends, is the final and best way to get our North American PCB industry off death row.
It’s only common sense.
Dan Beaulieu is president of D.B. Management Group.