New Roadmap Flags Electronics Industry Roadblocks

Article excerpt

The electronics manufacturing industry in the United States faces some pretty stiff challenges, according to an ambitious roadmap just released by the industry organization NEMI (National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative). More than 400 individuals from 190 organizations contributed to the roadmap: original equipment manufacturers (OEMs); providers of electronics manufacturing services, parts and components; and technology experts from universities, government laboratories, consortia, and trade associations.

The new roadmap's main value is seen as helping the industry to understand the direction the technology is heading, said Jim McElroy, executive director and CEO of NEMI, in Herndon, Virginia. At the same time the roadmap helps universities "set their agenda for R&D programs," he added.

This agenda will be shaped by the growth of such products as cellular telephones, along with the possibility that they will surpass personal computers as the main means for accessing the Internet, NEMI finds. Its roadmap identifies key challenges in such areas as packaging and assembly processes, supply chain management, design for environment, and the productivity of design and test software for silicon devices.

For example, the roadmap observes that "demand from wireless products could use [the] entire installed manufacturing capacity for discrete passive devices by the year 2004." That in itself may lead to increased integration of passive components in silicon.

The roadmap also confirms that North American manufacturers' high-volume production of the high-density printed-circuit boards that use an advanced technology known as microvia continues to lag behind that of manufacturers in the Far East. About 90 percent of these printed circuit boards are manufactured in the Far East, McElroy noted.

The combination of optoelectronics and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) pose additional packaging challenges. Because MEMS applications are diverse they will require "substantial changes" to components and assembly and test processes to accommodate the mixture of optical, mechanical and electrical signals, the roadmap notes.

Furthermore, NEMI cites the need for increased manufacturing capacity for both components and optical fiber to meet the growing optical telecommunications market. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of optical fiber using dense wavelength division multiplexing will be higher than 50 percent by 2005. Equally impressive, the CAGR of optical switching components will reach 67 percent by 2009.

Boosting Productivity

NEMI's roadmap advises electronics manufacturers looking for more opportunities to boost their productivity to focus on improving the responsiveness of their supply chains. As the trend to outsourcing manufacturing services has intensified, manufacturing has shifted from OEMs to providers of electronic manufacturing services.

The roadmap emphasizes the key role that information technology plays in company productivity, notably in such areas as supply chain management, enterprise resource planning, human resources management, and customer relationships. It calls for developing standards that will simplify the exchange of information among different elements of the supply chain.

Recognizing too that environmentally-responsive products will win in the global marketplace, the roadmap focuses on two action areas: elimination of troublesome materials such as lead from electronics manufacturing processes (soldering, for example), and design of products for end-of-life so that they may be cost-effectively broken apart for reuse (recycling) of their raw materials and/or components. …