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8 PCB007 MAGAZINE I NOVEMBER 2020 Nolan's Notes by Nolan Johnson, I-CONNECT007 Vias and Plating As I write this, both houses of the U.S. Con- gress are hammering out the 2021 NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). If you're not familiar with the NDAA, Denny Fritz introduced the process in his column "Un- packing the NDAA." There is both excitement and a bit of trepidation in the electronics man- ufacturing industry over this year's NDAA, in that early drafts pay significant attention to re- establishing sufficient U.S.-based manufactur- ing capabilities to sustain our DoD and military needs for electronics. About the NDAA, Fritz said: "The House proposed a version of the 2021 NDAA, which contains this language to in- crease the production of PCBs in the U.S… the currently passed U.S. Senate version is a bit more strict than the House version, cover- ing COTS boards for industries besides defense and calling out specific countries from which PCBs cannot be sourced for the DoD, including China. Certainly, the 2021 NDAA has not been completely ironed out…but it does portend a watershed year for PCBs in the U.S." From the perspective of the U.S. manufacturers, this is welcome news. While added attention to U.S. manufacturing may not result in new manufacturing, it can contribute to staunching the flow of closures, bankruptcies, and acquisitions we've seen for the past 20 years. But perhaps there is a catch. Tier 1 U.S. facilities are very likely to pick up this additional DoD work, but what about the Tier 2 and Tier 3 firms? How can smaller shops keep from getting pushed aside and leverage this as an opportunity to grow their business? The answer lies in strategic in- vestment—maximizing the capabilities from the minimum investment of capital. Back when much of the PCB fabrication business started to migrate to China, the fab floor was simpler. FR-4 was the primary sub- strate material, and a shop could be quite suc- cessful running just one type of plating chem- istry. The military, after all, was intentionally behind the cutting-edge, relying on older, well- vetted components and methods. Today, however, as manufacturing comes back to the U.S., the technical landscape has changed. Higher speeds and smaller densities increasingly require different materials, there are smaller fabrication dimensions, and high- er aspect ratios in multilayers force the spe- cialization of plating chemistries, too. No one

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