Around the World
USPAE Overcomes Covid, History to Get DoD Eyes on Electronics Sector

WASHINGTON – Face-to-face meetings have been scarce in the past year, but historically even rarer have been sessions between US electronics industry leaders and their counterparts in the US Department of Defense.

That made the July meeting even more meaningful for the large assembly of representatives who made time for the annual US Partnership for Assured Electronics meeting in Washington.

Some 55 USPAE members met with 12 representatives from the Department of Defense, including the Defense Microelectronics Cross-Functional Team, Research and Engineering, Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment, the Defense Logistics Agency, and Roger Smith and Craig Herndon of the DoD Executive Agent.

Attending members included owners, CEOs and engineers from PCB fabricators, EMS companies, distributors, materials providers, and academia.

The main objective for this first meeting was simple: to establish a dialogue in a way that hasn’t previously happened among government, industry and academia on how to strengthen US electronics manufacturing.

For many of those companies attending, it was the first time they came face-to-face with the DoD.

Future technologies were discussed but in a broad sense and were secondary to the bigger picture of how to compete on low-volume, high-mix (LVHM) products for aerospace and defense.

The recent emphasis on the US microelectronics industry by the US government has not gone unnoticed. Witness the much-publicized commitment of $50 billion by the Biden administration to boost domestic semiconductor manufacturing. But made clear in the meeting was that the DoD and Congress need to pay attention to the entire electronics ecosystem, including design and assembly of PCBs. While $50 billion isn’t peanuts to semi companies, a single state-of-the-art wafer fab costs three times the entire value of the US bare board manufacturing industry. Even a fraction of that would be a game-changer for PCB suppliers. Follow-on meetings are being set to continue that discussion between USPAE members and key government agencies, which are described as keen on access to trusted and assured microelectronics, including PCBs and assemblies.

While dialogue between the DoD and industry has always occurred, typically it has been directed through the prime contractors. Those large OEMs, in turn, filtered information going up and down the supply chain.

Through these government-industry meetings, the DoD hears from lower-tier suppliers. In doing so, the agencies are exposed to potential supply-chain risks it otherwise might not be aware of, for instance, the inability to source certain critical materials onshore.

An update on legislative activities, provided by Chris Mitchell of IPC, centered mostly on high-level budget and section 224 of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which covers trusted supply chain and operational security standards, and expectations for the 2022 NDAA.

As events, macro and micro, emerge, Congress’s attention is easily diverted. The USPAE faces the ongoing challenge of keeping the leadership in Congress focused on the entire electronics ecosystem.

With that in mind, although USPAE has no face-to-face meetings planned at present, a couple upcoming events involving the defense supply chain and key DoD representatives include the Defense Manufacturing Conference in Phoenix (dmcmeeting.com), and the Parts & Material Management Conference (formerly the Diminishing Manufacturing Sources and Materials Shortages) (dmsmsmeeting.com) in Aurora, CO. Both meetings are in December. (MB)