The ripple effect of the pandemic has caused shortages of all types of products – from toilet paper and hand sanitizer to lumber and pickle jars. But for product designers and electronic device manufacturers, there’s a specific shortage that has been especially frustrating – printed circuit boards (PCBs).
As if managing the supply chain wasn’t challenging enough, increased demand and limited material have skyrocketed lead times for many physical components. In some cases, the lead time for PCB material can range from 20 to over 52 weeks! The good news is there’s a solution that won’t test your patience – printed electronics.
Why there’s a shortage of physical components
There isn’t a simple, straightforward answer for the limited supply of PCBs. Yes, the pandemic has played a role, but it’s not the only factor. In fact, materials used in electronics, including copper foil, glass fiber, and epoxy resin, experienced increased demand (and price) even before the pandemic hit.
The relationship between the automotive industry and semiconductor producers has also impacted other sectors. Early in the pandemic, many automotive companies reduced their production. In response, semiconductor factories were forced to pivot to other types of consumer electronics and upgrade some of their processes. However, the demand for new vehicles didn’t dip as much as expected – while at the same time, products such as computers and tablets for home offices and newly homeschooled students were flying off the shelves. Add in other popular consumer electronic devices such as TVs, cameras, and phones, and the supply chain was stretched too thin. That brings us to our current situation where capacitors, resistors, and other crucial materials have prolonged lead times.
Advantages of printed electronics
The delay in PCB doesn’t have to put your operation on hold, however. The good news for electronics OEMs is that there is a viable alternative to physical PCBs. In many cases, flexible printed electronics offer the same performance as PCBs but without the extended lead times and inflated prices. Printed electronics feature conductive ink placed on a pliable substrate and can be used in a wide range of applications, including:
- In-mold electronics
- Flexible batteries
- Skin patches and wearables
- Membrane switch user interfaces
The materials used in printed electronics have not been affected by the recent shortage. In addition to shorter lead times, fully printed electronics components can also be thinner and lighter than their rigid counterparts. Finally, printed components can be custom designed and produced cost-efficiently in high volumes.
Manufacturing partner for printed electronics
Tapecon has experience improving products and making designs possible using flexible printed electronics. With engineering and materials expertise in-house, we’re ready to contribute early in your development process to make recommendations and produce the optimal printed component. We also offer a full suite of custom converting processes – from printing, cutting, laminating, and more.
Let’s make something great
With over 100 years of manufacturing experience, Tapecon works with product teams to solve challenges, create products, and enhance lives. Learn more about our flexible printed electronics applications.