PCB predictions for 2021

Cambridge Circuit Company’s joint owners, Mark and Guy Sanford explore the impact of the pandemic, post-Brexit trade and mineral prices on UK PCB supply.

Words such as lockdown, border controls and tariffs have crept into our vocabularies and look like they’ll be here for some time. At Cambridge Circuit Company we predict a tough time ahead for the PCB sector but there is light at the end of the tunnel.

As a small, family-run, UK business manufacturing PCBs in-house, we constantly compete with off-shore suppliers, namely in China. So, when the initial Chinese lockdown occurred in early 2020, we saw an upturn in business from new and lapsed clients.

Many customers hadn’t realised their UK-based brokers and suppliers were sourcing offshore so it was an opportunity to introduce our complete in-house service including multilayer, flex, flex-rigid, PTH and single-sided PCBs.

Cambridge Circuit Company specialises in fast turnaround prototype circuit boards, so we played a leading role in the Ventilator Challenge UK. Working with new and existing customers, our engineers worked all hours and through the Easter Bank Holiday to ensure hundreds of PCBs met the required standards and deadline. This reinforced the importance of UK-based, in-house PCB manufacturers.

Brexit also poses challenges, with UK/EU business transactions subject to potential border crossing delays and added tariffs. With that in mind, we’re hoping that UK PCB purchasers look to UK manufacturers for their needs.

We don’t directly source materials from the EU, but some of our suppliers do, so we have increased our stock levels as a precaution to see us through the transition period and we’re confident any disruption will be minimal or non-existent.

Regarding material costs, mineral prices are determined by The London Metal Exchange and the price of copper, as the PCB base material, will always have the biggest impact. We average out mineral costs across the year to ensure our prices remain consistent for the purchaser. The latest stats show demand for copper is increasing. Higher prices may be on the horizon, but we will continue to monitor the situation and aim to minimise the impact.

We source materials from UK suppliers, who know our needs and anticipate demand in advance. Although they may source from the EU or further afield, when working on our sector’s behalf, they have more clout to keep costs down to ensure we remain mutually competitive.

As a family-run business, we’re small enough to be in total control of all our processes and output but big enough with more than 30-years’ trading experience and technical expertise and equipment to rise to the challenges the PCB sector may face in 2021.