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During DesignCon 2021, I caught up with Frank Medina of Technica, who looks back on the company’s 35-year history and how it has successfully weathered the bumps in the electronics market.
Nolan Johnson: Technica has just celebrated 35 years as a company. Tell me about that.
Frank Medina: Robert Morgensen started the company in 1986. I joined a couple of years later as his partner. Our focus was to establish Technica as a manufacturer’s representative/distribution company that focused on more of a technical approach to sales. When we did our hiring, we looked for people who had a technical background or hands-on PCB engineering experience so they could work with their customers more effectively. We have been fortunate to have so many talented people work for Technica over the years. Many that have gone on to be successful in their own right by owning their own businesses, having senior positions in companies that manufacture PCBs, and some that have found ongoing success outside this industry.
Johnson: What was the company business plan back then?
Medina: When the company was young, we took on product lines that were available at the time and may not have been leaders in the field. But we sold every product line we represented from a technical perspective. As we started to implement the strategy of our business philosophy to be more technical, it opened opportunities to secure some of the best lines in the industry at that time, such as Polyclad Laminates, Shipley, Taiyo, Alcomet, etc. At the same time, we started to represent some of the top equipment lines back then, such as I/S (now Wise s.r.l.), Optical Radiation, Multiline, TMP and many others. We established ourselves as a leading supplier and distributor of consumables and equipment covering the Western U.S.
Johnson: There’s certainly a lot going on with respect to equipment and materials. What is your current set of challenges at Technica?
Medina: The challenges are different for consumables versus equipment, yet the expectations are the same. Our customers expect knowledgeable and reliable service. We are challenged to bring value to our customers and our supply partners. With consumables, there is a lot of weight placed on having the proper level of inventory to respond quickly to customers’ requirements. With equipment, it is about being able to respond in a timely way to service needs, especially when it becomes to a “machine down” issue.
In addition, the market has gone through so many changes over the past 35 years that the challenges need to be put in context of when they occurred. Whether it was the significant shift in volume of PCB manufacturers and boards being built in the U.S. to today’s challenges of getting cargo through the ports, interestingly enough, they all are overcome by action.
When the market shifted to Asia and we looked around at what was left, we acted to diversify our business. We took what we developed in the PCB fab market and shifted it to other markets such as solar cell manufacturing and SMT assembly. We also added to our board of directors associates that brought value to our company in the way of contacts, relationships and understanding of these markets.
By doing so, we expanded our customer base rather significantly, giving us more opportunities. Today, we represent some of the leading companies in this market such as ASM Assembly Systems, Koh Young, Kurtz-Ersa, Teradyne, SEC X-Ray, Innovaxe, and many other top companies.
Johnson: Look out five years; what do you see?
Medina: In order for our customers to be competitive and produce products more efficiently, they will need to shift their method of manufacturing. We are already seeing a shift in the SMT market. Whether you want to call it Industry 4.0 or Smart Factory manufacturing, the concept is centered on leveraging artificial intelligence, machine learning to increase forecast accuracy, using predictive analytics to monitor machine performance, creating data models to improve supply chain accuracy working in unison to create a system that can self-optimize performance. By continuously improving the productivity of manufacturing processes, smart factories can lower costs, reduce downtime and minimize waste.
As for the PCB fab industry, this shift may be a little more difficult because of the various steps and complexity that are required to produce a printed circuit board. But I believe many of the tools being used in the SMT market are adaptable to the PCB fab market as well. In both markets, it will take a lot of planning and collaborating with suppliers to map out this manufacturing initiative.
As a supplier, we are already working with our supply partners to deliver tools to our customers that support this manufacturing concept. I think the next five years are going to be exciting!
Johnson: There is this impression that we’re starting to see a resurgence of captive facilities in North America. Does that ring true to you?
Medina: Yes, we have surely seen this shift in the SMT market, but only recently have we observed an OEM’s planning on building bare boards as well.
When I first started in this business 40 years ago, there were a lot of captive printed circuit fab shops; in fact, that was primarily the biggest part of the market. Then there was shift in the market where the OEMs started to lean more on privately owned companies.
About two to three years ago, we started to see more OEM’s bringing the SMT process in-house. There were many reasons for this shift. For one, there was an emphasis placed on re-shoring manufacturing for quality reasons, IP protection, government and tax incentives, global tensions, and the potential interruption on supply chain, etc. Interestingly enough, we are even seeing this happening in the chip industry, with the likes of new fabs starting up by Intel, On-Semiconductor, TSMC and others. This was an industry that moved offshore in a big way, to the point where we are now producing around 12% of this market. This is all good to see. The U.S. needs manufacturing to return being the backbone of our country.
Johnson: Congratulations on 35 years. That’s a huge achievement in an industry that often turns over.
Medina: Thank you very much. We’ve certainly seen a lot over 35 years, but I feel blessed to have been able to work with a lot of really good people.
Johnson: Indeed. Thanks for taking the time.
Medina: You’re welcome.