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Thought 2012 was marked with uncertainty, 2013 looks promising for US manufacturers – among them companies like Mass Design that are located in technology hubs where they draw on a highly educated workforce and serve niche customers nearby.
Mass Design (www.massdesign.com) produces high-reliability circuit boards used in military, medical, aerospace and instrumentation products as well as emerging sectors such as renewable energy.
For insight into the 2013 outlook, PCB Design 007 interviewed Bill Gately, Mass Design’s sales manager. See a reprint of this interview, An American PCB Manufacturer's Tale.
While we expect some consumer electronics manufacturing to return to the US in 2013, for the most part, circuit boards for smart phones, computers and toasters are manufactured in Asia where plants hire thousands of workers to assemble millions of boards.
In contrast, Mass Design has fewer than 100 employees who can take a new product from design through prototype to fabrication and assembly – all under one roof. Its Nashua, New Hampshire location is a stone’s throw from Massachusetts’ Route 128 Technology Highway and Boston and Cambridge. Defense contractors and medical products manufacturers such as Raytheon, Fresenius and GE are within driving distance. Area colleges and universities deliver top engineering, manufacturing and technical talent. Likewise, the East Coast’s high-tech community promotes knowledge sharing and other intangible benefits.
Regarding past election uncertainty, Gately notes, “Since Paul Boduch and Tony Bourassa founded the company in l986, we’ve been through seven Presidential electoral cycles. We’ve heard arguments over which candidate would have been better for defense or healthcare – two technology-driven sectors in which Mass Design leads. Nonetheless, politics matter far less than how well we respond to technology, business and economic shifts in the US and worldwide.”
The emphasis on medical outcomes, cost and home monitoring offers potential with Mass Design participating in developing diagnostic and treatment equipment for Siemens, Baxter, GE, Tyco and others.
Regarding the military, Gately says, “In 2010, the US Cyber Command was created to coordinate our cyberspace resources and defend our information security environment. This emphasis on computer defense is unprecedented.”
Additionally, “Wind energy has shifted from ‘alternate’ to mainstream and we’re working on next-generation wind turbines,” says Gately. Mass Design manufactures multi-layer PCB boards large enough to handle massive amounts of current and power.
“We also serve customers who insist on manufacturing in the US for quicker turnaround, product confidence and environmental and safety standard assurances,” says Gately adding, “More broadly, outsourcing is turning around. Apple CEO Tim Cook has announced plans to manufacture one of its Mac lines in the US during an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams.” See: Huffington Post
December’s Atlantic magazine echoes Gately’s optimism. In The Insourcing Boom, Charles Fishman reports that GE is adding assembly lines at its Appliance Park in Louisville, KY noting, “U.S. labor productivity has continued its long march upward [and] …. You simply can’t save much money chasing wages anymore.”
PCB Magazine Cites Mass Design on Future of Home Use Medical Electronics
Healthcare reform and escalating Medicare and Medicaid costs are driving innovation in home-based medical electronics according to the September issue of the printed circuit board industry publication, The PCB Magazine.
Printed circuit boards (PCBs) are at the heart of every modern electronic device, giving their manufacturers a unique ability to spot emerging trends. Home medical devices that monitor prescription medicine adherence or perform dialysis rely particularly on flexible printed circuit boards that combine both the circuit board function and wiring into a single unit that conforms to just about any shape, explains James Mahoney, applications engineer with Mass Design (www.massdesign.com). Based in Nashua, New Hampshire, Mass Design is a leader in high-reliability flexible PCBs for the medical and aerospace industry.
While an HIV vaccination or being able to forestall dementia, would have a huge cost impact, healthcare policymakers and the electronics industry are looking to keep people out of hospitals and long-term care facilities with medical monitoring and treatment at home.
In an interview with PCB Magazine, Mahoney observes, "Medical devices for home use are crammed with communication electronics, LEDs and video cameras – packing a lot of capability into a small space. They have to be tough, easy-to-use and virtually drop-proof as well as compact and attractively designed."
In addition to flexible circuit boards making these devices possible, researchers are looking into stretchable circuitry that can make prosthetic devices more lifelike. Says Mahoney, "True stretchability is still in its infancy. Stretching a circuit board, like an elastic band, changes the characteristics of the electrical vias by making them thinner and longer. We've turned to mechanical means to add stretchability more simply. Imagine a hairpin or spring, with the ends being pulled apart. It's a mechanical approach to stretchability without actually stretching the material."
Cost is a factor too. Mahoney points out, "The manufacturing cost has to be weighed in several ways with reliability being the byword. Consider downtime. In a hospital, where there may be multiple devices performing the same function, downtime is not as critical as when home health equipment fails in the middle of the night,"
The article titled, National Healthcare Policy Drives Flex Innovation to Meet Demand for Home Medical Electronics can be found in the September issue of PCB Magazine at: www.pcb007.
In the article, Mahoney offers six predictions for home healthcare electronics that will improve patient care and foster growth in electronics industry.
1. Printed circuit boards will have recessed components to squeeze more capability into thinner devices and to facilitate heat dissipation.
2. Faster circuits will emerge – especially for healthcare devices relying on radio frequency (RF), blue tooth and Wi-Fi to communicate between patient and caregiver.
3. Stretchable electronics will come into greater play with wearable circuitry –including prosthetic devices where the circuitry forms a subcutaneous layer around an extremity, perhaps adding sensitivity to the fingertips of a prosthetic hand.
4. There will be a far more systemic approach to prescription medicine adherence –electronically linking the hospital, doctor, nurse, pharmacy and caregivers to the patient.
5. Home medical devices will be incorporated into smartphones that can take your pulse, read glucose levels and measure activity. This will increase sales among an older population, as it may be cheaper to equip patients with smartphones loaded with medical applications than specialized devices manufactured in lower volume.
6. Expect reverse technology transfer. Mass Design manufactures PCBs for home healthcare devices that help to make their professional counterparts less costly and more universally available. This improves healthcare delivery and lowers cost for everyone.