We Must Talk to Each Other

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“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”— Strother Martin, Cool Hand Luke

Sometimes when I hear that line (during one of the thousand times I have watched that movie), I can’t help but think that old Strother was in our business. That is to say that printed circuit board designers and board builders have always battled with an inability to communicate.

A few years back I had the responsibility for managing a division of three design service bureaus for a company which also owned a board shop division. These two divisions—the design centers and the board shop—were very separate entities. Not only had most of the designers never been to their own board shop, but they didn’t have much of an interest in doing so, ever.

Now don’t get me wrong, they were terrific designers and nice people, but somewhere during their training they had been warned about board shops; they had been told to ignore those who actually built the boards because those people didn’t know anything. They were taught that the designers were in charge and could design the boards any way they wanted. 

What was especially daunting about that philosophy was that we were selling a new and unique service we called “Total Concept,” which meant that we were selling design and fabrication to customers. As you can imagine, that service never took off. Only about 10% of our business was Total Concept. I always thought it was an idea whose time had not yet come, which is probably true since an increasing number of customers today want a complete, synergistic solution that includes design, fabrication, and assembly. Back then, not so much.

Furthermore, the designers were the board shop’s worst customers; the board shop was the designer’s worst vendor. After a while, when the designers did sell the Total Concept service, they were using other board houses rather than their own.

Of course, in a Total Concept process, there was the need for the design teams to communicate with assembly companies. This conversation is more essential than ever in a Total Concept approach because we are not only talking about the bare board, but also the component callouts as well. “How is all that going to work?” I asked myself. These designers did not even want to talk to the people building the bare board. What the heck were they going to do with the assemblers who are one step further removed? It was a tough situation, to be sure.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the August 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.


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