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Not much has changed in printed circuit multilayer manufacturing in the last 50 years except that the equipment is more mechanized and streamlined, the processes much more stable, and high-volume PCB manufacturing has moved to China.
But now, an OEM has finally found a way to build PCBs in the United States for less than buying them from Asia. Whelen Engineering Company of Connecticut is a worldwide supplier of aviation and automotive emergency lighting. Whelen was buying all of its circuit boards from China, while every other part of their manufacturing is done inhouse.
The supply pipeline duration and intellectual property (IP) concerns continually upset their schedules. Further, costs were increasing in China. Whelen managers decided to take another look at the old PCB manufacturing process and apply what they knew about Six Sigma and Lean manufacturing.
Thus, Whelen Engineering Company concluded that printed circuit manufacturing processes based in the U.S. could be significantly improved, and offer higher quality, lower costs, and rapid delivery on finished PCBs.
Lean and Green
The new PCB factory, GreenSource Fabrication, in Charlestown, New Hampshire, is an excellent example of Lean principles. In the process of automating the PCB flow and eliminating waste, they produced a facility with zero effluents, thus, also becoming an excellent example of a green fabrication facility. “Lean and green” went hand-in-hand. The over-riding strategy of Lean and green (zero discharge) has not changed, but the technology, focus on customers, and equipment have. The growth in inner layer production to support multilayers up to 36 layers—whereas multilayer made up 1% of the original captive facility—is significant.
To read the full version of this article which originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.