Making Process Decisions in a Greenfield

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This spring, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) broke ground on a 160,000 square-foot printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing facility in Moscow, Idaho. The project is especially exciting because we started, quite literally, with a green field that sits on 150 acres in one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world—the Palouse.

The facility is being designed specifically for the high volume, low complexity mix of boards that go into SEL products, which protect, monitor, and control electric power grids and systems around the world. It is also being designed to be one of the cleanest PCB factories in the world.

Currently the SEL property team is hard at work on the construction of the building. Footings are complete, and the floor is in process of being poured. Our next major milestone is tipping up walls in September, followed by installing the roof in December. We expect to start moving in equipment in June 2022, and run our first production PCBs in January 2023.

As the SEL property team is constructing the facility, our manufacturing team is continuing to learn about PCB manufacturing and developing plans for the factory processes, equipment, chemistry, and factory layout. 

While SEL is new to manufacturing PCBs, we have more than 35 years of experience in manufacturing. In addition to assembling our own PCBs and building completed units, we also manufacture many of the critical components used in our products and solutions, such as transformers and plastics. We are leaning on this experience to guide us through the multitude of decisions required for this greenfield build and for the PCB building process, and are following the same philosophy and priorities we embrace throughout our manufacturing division: Don’t make process optimization the sole focus, instead prioritize—safety, quality, and lead time, in that order.

For example, when we originally discussed the processes and equipment for the layup room, we envisioned a manual process where employees would select the material and put together the PCBs and books. This is a common approach in the industry, particularly in the United States. After learning more about automation options, we decided to pursue a higher degree of automation in this area to improve quality by having material presented to employees to reduce the likelihood for errors.

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


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