Understanding today’s PCB supply chain

Cambridge Circuit Company’s managing director, Mark Sanford

PCB materials, costs and supply chain—a perspective by Cambridge Circuit Company’s managing director, Mark Sanford.

With energy prices, interest rates and inflation all rising, everyone is facing a challenging economic climate and the PCB sector is not immune. Successive price increases for copper, glass yarn, resins and aluminium mean the PCB industry became savvier regarding forecasting demand, thus minimising cost increases and lead time delays.

As one of the UK’s remaining in-house PCB manufacturers, Cambridge Circuit Company has forged great working relationships with its suppliers, especially laminate specialists who continue to provide reassurance that there are no base material shortages. Using a large and long-established supplier—which has a healthy internal stock and is able to buy in bulk to keep costs down—is the best way for Cambridge Circuit Company to minimise cost increases. With material prices dictated quarterly, it’s much easier to offset or delay those increases too.

There are difficulties sourcing certain products, such as heavier copper weights, largely driven by the global growth of the EV market. With some products only available to suppliers on allocation, forecasting demand and giving as much notice as possible are the ways the industry is going to navigate its way through the challenges.

Energy prices are increasing at eye watering levels and as an in-house manufacturer, Cambridge Circuit Company truly relies on an economically priced electricity supply. The company’s CFO spends significant time working with a long-established and trusted energy broker to get the best possible deals to help the company remain competitive and avoid price hikes.

International freight costs have spiralled and lead times have increased. This is the result of shipping delays from Asia and the US, plus a combination of container costs, container availability, reduced shipping routes and port congestion. While this may impact material costs and availability it can be seen, in part, as an advantage to the Cambridge Circuit Company and its UK-based customers as once production begins, manufacturing takes place in-house and products are delivered without international freight.