supplychainDesigning a supply chain for the provision of laminates and pre-pregs to the PCB fabricator shouldn’t be that complicated, should it? The laminate is simply manufactured and then shipped…what could possibly go wrong? It turns out it is more complicated, partly because the supply chain is not fully owned by one supplier, and hence cannot be fully customized to the needs of each customer.

There are a number of things that make that supply chain complex beyond the fact that there are multiple parties involved, from the laminator to the distributor or sales agent to the logistics provider.

Forecasting, as we all know, is not an exact science, especially in Western Europe and North America, where lower volumes, high mix and quick-turn are the demand drivers. The PCB industry is so unpredictable in its demand that most fabricators won’t offer their laminate supplier a forecast at all. This may not be a problem for the regularly used, standard materials that are most likely available locally and at short notice, or are perhaps even part of a consignment stock agreement. But what about those unusual requests, which seem to always be accompanied by a request for fast turnaround? These might not be available in your geography, and that delay in receiving material can be the difference between winning or losing an order, or even retaining or losing a customer.

Increasingly, the supply chain seems to want to shift any commercial risk involved in stocking goods onto the customer who isn’t refusing to forecast because they don’t want to, but simply because they can’t.

So demand is unpredictable, but there’s more to it than that. What about customization of materials, such as unbalanced copper or an unusual build structure? This is out of the question for typical laminate supply chains with third-party distribution, where the local vendor has to share your needs with his supplier or suppliers and find a solution that then has to be produced and shipped. All of that takes time—too much time.