Catching up With Flexible Circuit Technologies

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Koopman: We realize we need to keep moving up the technology curve to survive and stay out of the pure commodity market in flex that is becoming more common, such as mobile phones, etc. To that end, we will be opening our newest production facility in Zhuhai, China, in 2020, and are equipping and staffing that facility to specifically meet higher-end flex and rigid-flex requirements. We are also working on a partnership with a company to provide our customers with very high tech micro-electronic flex boards such as those used in medical electronics.

Beaulieu: What do you do in terms of staying competitive in the market?

Burkett: We look to be as competitive as we can be. We most often offer an improved price over U.S.-based production. Given our Asia-based production facilities, our goal is to be extremely competitive, but it is not our goal to be known as the low-cost provider, given the fact that we offer significant services to our customers. We would rather offer our customers the best overall value. For example, a build-to-file shop sitting in China may offer lower-priced end-products when compared to FCT, but these types of organizations offer few, if any, services.

Our goal is to provide value to our customers. We seek to develop long-term relationships so that our customers not only see but feel the value that we bring, given our design expertise. Because we are able to provide superior, cost-effective designs, we often pull costs down during the design phase that can save our customers far more when compared to savings on a piece price. We want our customers to see and understand the overall value they receive by partnering with us.

Once we have established what the customer needs, we look for the best possible solution that will deliver the best overall value. The bottom line is we look to provide our customers with outstanding service, high-quality products that are competitively priced while delivering the best overall value.

Koopman: We make our money by providing high-quality products that meet customer requirements and allow FCT to make a reasonable margin on those products. How we get there is much more about the services and support that we offer.

Our basic philosophy is that it does not matter that much if we make money during the prototyping process. We’d rather help our customers get to a great design, provide them with outstanding support, win the prototype order, even if at a loss, and then look toward the opportunity of supporting our customers with longer-term production. We take the long view when it comes to developing a valued relationship with our customers as their partner of choice.

Beaulieu: What about quality at FCT?

Burkett: FCT is certified for ISO 9001 and 14001, as well as for ISO 13485 for medical and IATF 16949 for automotive. Additionally, we have performed, and are presently performing, product box builds for products that are FDA-registered. FCT has very stringent quality processes and procedures in place, inclusive of the stringent traceability requirements that go with FDA-related programs.

Also, all parts are electrically tested before shipment to the customer. For more complex builds, we try to work with the customer to develop a functional test to ensure 100% of products are usable when delivered. We follow the IPC guidelines for all builds.

Koopman: Our quality stats are outstanding because of our process controls, as well as our final testing. We have all of the quality processes and certifications in place that allow FCT to successfully serve many of the top-tier global companies across the various markets that we support. We are extremely proud of our facilities and how well they are managed and welcome customer and prospect visits and audits. 

Beaulieu: What makes your company stand out from the competition?

Burkett: First, I want to emphasize our expertise. FCT offers highly experienced application engineers that each offer 20–30+ years of expertise in flex and rigid-flex. Our roster is extremely talented, and we leverage that, which helps to separate us from our competition. Second, being customer-centric and service-oriented is critical. One can always improve in this area, but, overall, we do a very good job being responsive and serving our customers.

Third, we’re also very flexible. FCT is able to take on small- to very large-scale programs. We can address customer needs for 50 circuits a year where we are delivering 15 million circuits a month or more. We offer significant capacity and flexibility. Fourth, our strong relationship with our FCT China group is a significant differentiator and leads to getting the job done for our customers and to the delivery of high-quality products on time.

Another key aspect is our size. We are small enough to allow for improved focus and service. We are nimble and can move quickly. However, we are large enough that we can take care of large customer needs and programs. Often, large companies tend to slow down or be slower and are not nimble, while small companies have a niche that they serve but do not have the capabilities and capacity to serve larger customers or large-scale opportunities. This agility is a quality that we strive to hold onto as we grow.

Koopman: We always want to grow the right way, ensuring that customer care is number one so that we don’t get too big and lose that. That’s why we have developed specific customer teams across sales, engineering, customer service, quality, etc., for our larger customers. We want to give them multiple resources and points of contact, whether in North America or Asia, so that we can service them around the clock.

Beaulieu: Generally speaking, what markets do you serve?

Burkett: FCT does not want to be defined by a narrow niche. Some companies are set up to serve a specialized market (i.e., cellphones), while others are set up to serve a specific niche (i.e., quick-turn prototyping). FCT is more broadly focused on the commercial markets, including medical, automotive, consumer, telecommunications/data, industrial, and more. We want to bring best practices and superior design support to our customers that will lead to cost-effective solutions across all of these markets. This will allow us to build a strong, broad-based business that is less susceptible to downturns in any specific market.

Koopman: Also, by choice, we do not want to be the leader in the development of new technologies because it is very expensive, and certain technologies may not get adopted. Therefore, our focus is on developing designs, products, and services that are more broadly accepted in the marketplace. This does not mean that we do not want to keep an eye on where things are going, as we must understand our customers’ requirements and develop the capabilities to meet those requirements. For instance, high speed is upon us, and FCT must be able to support applications that will require the use of new materials and more. Again, we want to focus on those technologies that will be more broadly accepted across our customer base.

Thus, we are more of a broad-based production business that must leverage our expertise and provide superior services to meet broad customer needs. We also desire to build long-term relationships with our customer base to where we are their supplier of choice, given the expertise and support that we provide while providing high-quality, competitively priced products. We want to be an overall solutions provider that will take on as much or as little as our customer desires, whether it’s just the bare flex or further to sub-assemblies, product module builds, or complete box builds.

Beaulieu: Thank you for your time, gentlemen.

Koopman: Thanks, Dan.

Burkett: Thank you!


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