The United States dominated the world PWB market in the early 1980s, as shown by Table 1, but lost that dominance by the late 1980s. While no single event explains the decline in U.S. market share, according to one company spokes-person a very important factor has been “budget cut backs for R&D by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) because owners demanded higher short-term profits,” which led to deterioration of the industry's technology base.
In 1991, the Council on Competitiveness issued a report on American technological leadership. 1 Motivated by evidence that technology has been the driving force for economic growth throughout American history, the report documented that as a result of intense international competition, America's technological leadership had eroded. In the report, U.S. technologies were characterized in one of four ways: Strong: meaning that U.S. industry is in a leading world position and is not in danger of losing that lead over the next five years. Competitive: meaning that U.S. industry is leading, but this position is not likely to be sustained over the next five years. Weak: meaning that U.S. industry is behind or likely to fall behind over the next five years. Losing Badly or Lost: meaning that U.S. industry is no longer a factor or is unlikely to have a presence in the world market over the next five years. The 1991 Council on Competitiveness report characterized the U.S. PWB industry as “Losing Badly or Lost.”
In 1990-91, the Advanced Technology Program conducted its first competition. A joint venture proposal, by the National Center for Manufacturing Science (NCMS), proposes to research and develop a suite of advanced PWB technologies that would enable U.S. wire board suppliers to meet the needs of customers, making it unnecessary for them to rely on foreign suppliers. The ATP selection board found that the proposed project met technical and economic criteria, and it announced the PWB joint venture in the first group of 11 ATP award winners.
The project ran through April 1996. ATP contributions amounted to $12.87 million over the five-year (statutory limit) funding period. Industry matching contributions amounted to $13.78 million. During the project, the U.S. Department of Energy added an additional $5.2 million, bringing total project research costs to $31.85 million.
As part of its evaluation effort, the ATP wanted to gain an early understanding of the workings of the joint ventures it funded. It commissioned two studies
1 Council on Competitiveness, Gaining New Ground: Technology Priorities for America's Future, Washington, D.C.: 1991.