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78 The PCB Magazine • June 2016 by Alex Stepinski WHELEN ENGINEERING Over 15 years have passed since North America and Europe ceased being the center of worldwide PCB fabrication and were supplanted by a Chinese market with low-cost labor, lax en- vironmental requirements, and strong govern- ment support. In just a few short years, the su- perior offshore cost advantages of this new dy- namic put volume PCB production in the West out of business, aside from the military and spe- cialty technology applications contained in the few shops that continue to exist today. Recently, however, the conditions that cre- ated the current equilibrium appear to be shift- ing again. In this new dynamic, automation, innovative green wastewater technologies, and next generation process equipment innovations have combined to make new factories capable of achieving rapid ROI for PCB fabrication al- most anywhere in the world. This paper means to illustrate this new dynamic, and provide case study examples from the new greenfield instal- lation at our captive facility in New Hampshire. Automation The number of equipment offerings in the PCB fabrication automation business has in- creased by a factor of 10 in the past five years. At the 2015 HKPCA show, automation could be found on almost every piece of process equip- ment being shown. Automation of many seri- ally interconnected processes can also offer far greater labor efficiency gains than simple load/ unload automation on an individual piece of equipment, especially when inline QC/fault management and automated production con- trol are included in these fully engineered pro- The 21st Century PCB Factory– Designed to Eliminate Offshore Cost Advantages ARTICLE Figure 1: Requirements for full PCB fab automation.

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