Nolan's Notes: The Fabricator's Mindset

If you’ve logged onto a popular social media account, the first thing you get asked is: What’s on your mind? It’s such a great question because it’s so open-ended. There’s no judgment, no general direction, no expectation. We just get to share what we’re thinking about.

Well, we’re three months into 2023, and wrapping up our first quarter. So, as a PCB fabricator, what’s on your mind? Is it time to assess, and perhaps reassess, your expectations for the year and whether your reality is meeting your predictions? What are you hopeful about? What has you nervous? What are the opportunities and obstacles to your business right now?

Several trends and challenges seem to be prevalent today: reshoring, high reliability, increased capacity, staffing, new capabilities, and the CHIPS Act. As you’ll see in this issue, we touch on all those topics, as well as a few surprises.

It was clear at IPC APEX EXPO that you have plenty on your mind. A walk through the Technical Conference uncovered that of the 28 technical tracks, 16 were related to printed circuit board fabrication; that’s nearly 60% of the sessions devoted to fabrication issues. Interestingly, my impression of the show floor (based on booth presence) was that it was weighted much more in favor of assembly services than fabrication.

Thus, as we strategized content for this issue, we encountered an interesting dynamic: Suggest a specific topic to a subject matter expert and they can usually deliver an essay, or produce a white paper already tucked away in their proverbial desk drawer. Sometimes they might refer to a technical paper presented at a recent conference or symposium which we can publish. But this required a different approach. It was called, “Let’s talk.”

One of the best and most interesting aspects of being the editor of PCB007 Magazine is the opportunity to get inside someone’s head. What do they know? How do they know it? How can their knowledge help you? Everybody is different; everybody has their own story. It’s these exact nuanced conversations that set this issue apart. We spent a lot of time talking to fabricators, and while each has a specific set of needs, you’re going to find some common themes. It’s definitely must-read content.

One side note: I want to discuss the rapidly-evolving CHIPS Act, legislation that passed last year. The U.S. Department of Commerce is now communicating the process it will use to allocate funds. The department has made several announcements about its intentions, each worded slightly differently, but with the same intentions. Five main priorities will guide the CHIPS for America program: catalyzing private investment, protecting taxpayer dollars, building a skilled and diverse workforce, engaging with U.S. partners, and driving economic opportunity and inclusive economic growth.1

Hillsboro, Oregon, (my hometown) is the base of operations for Intel’s microprocessor development teams, and the CHIPS Act programs could have a significant impact on the local economy. Understandably, several local/state policy watchdog groups are reporting on the state’s activities with the CHIPS Act. In citing the Commerce Department’s announcement, the Oregon Center for Public Policy recently shared2:

"The Department encourages projects that include state and local incentive packages capable of creating spillover benefits that improve regional economic resilience and support a robust semiconductor ecosystem, beyond assisting a single company. Such incentives might include investments in workforce, education, site preparation, or infrastructure (including transit or utilities) that are not limited to the applicant, but designed to benefit both the applicant and the broader community. Likewise, the Department will place less weight on incentives (such as direct tax abatements) with less potential for spillover benefits." (Emphasis added.)

The center’s reporting is consistent with the priorities that the CHIPS program has established. The Commerce Department seems to be saying that while state and local governments are required to offer applicants incentives, in order for those incentives to meet the program’s priorities, they must be structured in such a way as to directly improve manufacturing infrastructure. Taking the easy route by providing a state/local tax abatement, for example, could be used by the recipient simply to improve the corporate bottom line, not build out infrastructure. Commerce is looking for infrastructure, site, or workforce improvements from these incentives—meaningful change, in other words. This sort of prioritization by the Commerce Department should be encouraging to smaller shops in working with local and state governments to effect some real change in their own businesses.

We found the March 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine to be quite interesting to compile. As you read the interviews, look for the larger themes that are suggested or implied in each conversation, which become clearer as you move from interview to interview. As always, we encourage you to contact us with your feedback.


  1. “Biden-Harris Administration Launches First CHIPS For America Funding Opportunity,” Feb. 28, 2023, U.S. Department of Commerce.
  2. “Feds make it clear for Oregon lawmakers: no race to the bottom to compete for CHIPS Act dollars,” by Daniel Hauser, March 1, 2023, Oregon Center for Public Policy.

This column originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of PCB007 Magazine.



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