Isola Responding to the Market

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This interview with Isola’s Travis Kelly provides an overview of many important topics that the industry is facing, including how the global supply chain is being strained by materials, and what companies are trying to do to best manage the items within their control.

Barry Matties: We scheduled this interview to get an update on how things are going with Isola and your new facility, but with what’s going on in the copper market and supply lines, we feel there’s more to talk about. Travis, can you start with an update on the new facility and how that is coming online?

Travis Kelly: Thank you, Barry. The new facility in Chandler, Arizona is up and running. We have our R&D lab, which started many months ago. It houses many of the corporate executives, as well as shared services, such as human resources, finance, and IT. Also, we went live with our quick turnaround facility several months ago. That’s going well, but as you can imagine, there’s a launch curve to that facility as we have tested the run-at rates on the equipment. Now we are producing revenue-generating orders. It’s no longer just qualifications for customers, it’s producing and fulfilling orders that are coming in from our customers primarily in the United States.

Matties: That’s great timing; just as the market demands are increasing.

Kelly: Correct. It came to fruition at the right time. We have the other facility in Ridgeway, South Carolina, which is also extremely busy, but with having the QTA on the West Coast, we can service the West Coast more efficiently. We still have to go through several more qualifications for customers, but we’re beginning to see many orders transitioning from Ridgeway to our new QTA.

Matties: With the shortage of copper and the demand increasing, do you think that the qualification process is going to be more efficient or expedited?

Kelly: In terms of other qualifications for the new facility, some of the supply chain constraints that everyone is recognizing haven’t really impacted that facility. That facility does not treat materials, so it is primarily pressing and finishing. We have ample room to move materials around, so when we think about Isola’s global footprint, one way we can leverage that is by making sure we have the right raw materials in the right places at the right time. It’s less about the supply constraints that the industry is facing and more about just getting into the new facility and qualifying our products on new equipment. That’s happening very quickly. We expect to have most of the qualifications done over the next couple of months.

Matties: Travis, what are some of the lessons that you’ve learned, or surprises that came along, during that process?

Kelly: Ultimately, it is an advanced facility relative to the technology that’s being utilized. A lot of the pressing capability is much nimbler. As opposed to having large presses with many openings, these are smaller presses so that we can do a high mix, low volume. We made a really good decision with the equipment we’re utilizing. Some of the lessons learned relate to the automation of the facility. If you look at some of our other facilities, you will see a lot more labor as opposed to what we have in Chandler because so many operations in Chandler are fully automated.

It takes a lot of time to debug. If you think about all the programmable logic control (PLC) on the machines, it takes a lot of time to debug those, especially as you get into high mix. You’re looking at different panel sizes, prepreg sizes, and the finishing line. Ultimately having that knowledge and working toward having flexibility as it relates to such a high mix would benefit us in the future. We continue to roll out more automation amongst all our facilities.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the July 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine, click here.


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