Investing in lead-free R&D

In this article, IPC highlights new investment in lead-free R&D, while also warning readers that high material and labor costs continue to challenge the sector.

The US Senate has approved an FY2022 spending package containing $7.5 million for further lead-free R&D in defense and high-performance applications, sending the measure to President Biden for his expected signature.

IPC vice president of global government relations, Chris Mitchell, said: “With lead-based electronics becoming more difficult and expensive for the US Defense Department to procure—and with other nations now leading the world in electronics manufacturing—greater US reliance on lead-free electronics is imperative to improve military readiness and innovation.

“The migration of the commercial electronics industry to lead-free technology has created supply-chain concerns for the defense and high-performance sectors that can only be overcome through public-private R&D. These funds will support an ongoing, collaborative effort that will help ensure that mission-critical systems have full access to cutting-edge electronics from a robust global supply chain.

“It’s also important to realize that the lead-free electronics R&D project is both consequential as a stand-alone project and as a test of American resolve to reassert leadership in electronics. We thank the congressional leaders who understand this issue, and we call on Congress to keep funding this project to completion over the next three years.”
Participants in the two-year-old R&D program include Auburn University, Binghamton University, Purdue University, University of Maryland, BAE Systems, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Plexus, Raytheon Technologies and others. The R&D is being carried out under the auspices of the Defense Electronics Consortium of the US Partnership for Assured Electronics (USPAE).

In other IPC news, data shows that high material and labor costs are expected to continue for the foreseeable future while recruiting and retaining skilled talent continues to be a challenge.

IPC’s March economic update and global electronics manufacturing supply chain sentiment reports found that more than nine in 10 manufacturers have experienced an increase in lead times for parts and components since the start of the pandemic, with approximately half indicating an increase of one to three months. The overall global economic picture is also complicated by the emerging Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Among other conclusions, the IPC survey results show:

  • More than three-fourths of electronics manufacturers are experiencing rising material and labor costs, and most expect this to continue for six months
  • Ease of recruitment, inventory available from suppliers and profit margins are declining
  • Sentiment improved slightly this month, suggesting supply chain constraints are continuing to ease
  • Firms operating globally are seeing a quicker rate of improvement regarding available inventory compared to those operated only in North America

IPC chief economist, Shawn DuBravac, said: “Any disruption to an already stressed supply chain can have an outsized impact. Until recently, there was a general feeling in Europe that the economy was set to accelerate and leave Covid in its rearview mirror. The Russia-Ukraine conflict changes this somewhat.”