An Inside Look at an Indian PCB Manufacturer
As a student of the printed circuit board industry, I am always interested in learning more about companies all over the world. When I connected with Abhay Doshi, managing director of Fine-Line Circuits Ltd. in India, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about him, his company, and the Indian PCB business as a whole—it was all that, and so much more. Here’s what I learned.
Dan Beaulieu: Abhay, thanks for talking with me. I truly appreciate it.
Abhay Doshi: No problem, Dan, I am looking forward to it as well.
Beaulieu: Tell me about your company, when and why was it started. In other words, what is the Fine-Line India story?
Doshi: The decision to start the company was in 1989. We set up the facility with the equipment and the team in 1990, started production in 1991, and by 1992 we were listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Beaulieu: Who was involved in starting the company?
Doshi: The company was started by my family, the Doshi family, in 1989. But we were not alone, we benefitted greatly from three gentlemen who have played a key role since the first beginning in 1989. They are Vijay Kumbhani, G. Sudarsanam and Joy Chacko, to whom we are perpetually grateful. We are also very proud of our great team of strong and competent managers who I would have to say have been the pillars of our business from the very beginning.
Beaulieu: What was the plan when you started the company?
Doshi: Originally, we needed to bring more foreign money into India at that time and we thought that one way to do it was to increase our exports to other countries which would also give us as we call it here “a government tail wind.” I had a background in electronics from my time in the United States where I had received an MBA from Berkeley and had worked with a company called Maxtor, a disk drive manufacturer in San Jose. So, with that experience I thought that an electronics company would be the right fit for exporting products to other parts of the world.
We also knew that we always wanted to build and manufacture products, and I have to say, that having lived and worked globally gave us global ambitions.
Beaulieu: That’s interesting as well as logical. What was the vision for the company when you started it? What was the “why” for founding Fine-Line India?
Doshi: We believed that the electronic component industry would always thrive and so believed that this would create a bright future for us. We chose printed circuit boards because, in many ways, it is the most essential component and unlikely to go obsolete. It all starts with the board; without the board where will the components go? We felt that there would be a global demand for PCBs and, as always, we had that global vision. So, we set up our PCB facility in India’s foremost export zone, Seepz, in Mumbai. We sold our first boards to a Florida-based audio company in 1991.
Beaulieu: And you have been there ever since?
Doshi: Yes, and we have grown periodically, adding adjacent space to the facility as needed.
Beaulieu: I can see that you have grown steadily since then.
Doshi: Yes. We have always strived to be the very best in the industry. In fact, we have some goals of doing business such as:
- Competing in the global arena.
- Providing uncompromising quality.
- Having the best processes.
- Using the very best materials.
- Offering service standards that exceed all businesses, even the hospitality business.
- Providing crystal clear communication.
- Acting on our fervent desire to always underpromise and overdeliver.
Beaulieu: Your last point is something I always say as well. Please talk a little bit about being a family business. What is that like?
Doshi: We look out for each other. We know we can count on each other. We know that when one of us bites off more than he can chew, the others will pitch in and help. Families like ours have their eyes on the stars. While others talk about going the extra mile, we go the extra marathon. We do all that it takes to not only bootstrap the business but grow it exponentially as well. The electronics industry is competitive to begin with and exporting makes it hyper competitive. So, we need everyone pulling in the same direction to make sure we all have the same goals and vision for the company. Being a family business makes this easier. My brother Rajiv is a great strength to all in the company.
We also have on our team wonderful competent managers and over time we have migrated from being a family business to being a professionally run publicly traded corporation with family values.
Beaulieu: Can you talk now about your technology and your capabilities?
Doshi: Yes, of course. We handle high-mix low-volume PCBs for mission critical end products. Our specialties are high-frequency PTFE boards with thick electrolytic soft gold, direct on copper finish to give an optimal skin effect. We ensure the highest RF path integrity that gives the highest and most precise RF performance the design can produce. We also produce:
- High-temperature polyimide rigid boards
- Hybrid multilayers
- Special materials
- Cavity designs and mixed material combinations
- Oversized boards
All our processes are located in-house to give us the ultimate process control and to insure on-time delivery. We see technologies and capabilities different than others in that we aim for consistent process excellence and strive for perfection in first pass yields.
Beaulieu: That is very good. Who are your customers and where do you do business?
Doshi: We ship boards to 14 countries, with 25% of our business in the U.S., 25% in Germany, and 25% here in India. Our goal is to sell globally and give all our customers the ease of business as if we are next door.
Oh, and we also supply boards to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) as well as many Fortune 500 companies. We are ISRO Space-certified, and our PCBs are used in satellite systems, lunar and Mars missions. Our processes are compliant to AS9100, and we continue to work at scoring higher on NADCAP audits.
Beaulieu: Very impressive. What would you say makes Fine-Line India an outstanding company?
Doshi: Let’s start with 31 years of being in business, shipping to 14 countries and to a wide variety of customers. We strive to give our customers the highest total value in PCB as we engage with them from design to prototype, to pre-production to production, we are with them every step of the way, making sure that in the end we give huge value which results in our repeat business being more than 85% at any given time. All our effort and focus is to deliver the highest value at the most economical level possible.
Beaulieu: Can you talk about some of the “wow!” things that you do? What are things that you feel separate you from the competition?
Doshi: Yes, of course. We got an opportunity to build production quantities PCBs for a defense application—an oversized PCB (1090 mm x 280 mm/42” x 11”) Rogers 5880 material with electrolytic gold on copper. We expanded our line for this and built it in record time, which was a difficult thing to do. However, the “wow” factor, Dan, was when we were told by the customer that Fine-Line’s PCBs delivered an immaculate performance first in the bench level testing and then in the near and far range field testing and then it was taken for acceptance test procedure (ATP) where the unit with our PCB gave the desired RF performance at the first shot and passed all Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQ) assurance tests. This was a truly “wow” feeling for our team.
Beaulieu: Are there any other things that make Fine-Line India unique in your market?
Doshi: We are the only one in India for RF microwave PCBs for onboard applications to ISRO Space Application Center. With space now becoming privatized globally we plan to service that sector and expand into the global aerospace sector.
Beaulieu: What are your thoughts on R&D?
Doshi: Of course, we must constantly do R&D to not only keep up with our customers but even keep ahead of them as well to make sure we are always there for them when they need us both today and in the future. Holes are getting smaller; pads are getting thinner, spaces finer, materials are getting softer, and of course, customer expectations are going up. Not to mention the fact that lead times get shorter whilst the designs get more complex. We have to do R&D to compete and deliver value in this constantly evolving market and stay in business and be successful. We also keep an eye on evolving technologies, the thin glass technology or the Orbet paste process, for example. R&D is mostly driven by the customers we can “reach” and their needs.
Beaulieu: Can you share with us your investments in the business? How are you putting money back into the business?
Doshi: Every quarter we re-invest our accruals for either capability enhancements or capacity enhancements. We do this diligently to make sure that we are always prepared to meet our customers’ present and future needs. Our experience has been that we must be careful about the equipment we buy. Some can be refurbished but it is better to buy new when considering the latest technology equipment. We have also invested in special surface finishes, and thick bondable gold direct on copper and for oversized PCBs with the goal of making us unique with these technologies. This is an invaluable technology for the antenna and radar markets.
Beaulieu: What are you going to buy in the future?
Doshi: Right now, the focus is on laser routing and IST reliability test equipment as medical is also one of our key markets and we are ISO 13485-certified.
Beaulieu: What kind of companies are best suited for your customer base?
Doshi: If we break the market into Tier 1 systems, Tier 2 subsystems, Tier 3 assemblies, and Tier 4 components, we are best suited to Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies and the CMs to them. We cater to medium-size companies whose applications need small lots—those with non-traditional designs and with very high reliability requirements going beyond form, fit and function.
Beaulieu: What do you see in your future?
Doshi: We want to keep doubling our active customer base thus ensuring that we are always growing. And of course, to be continually improving so that we can service our customers to the point where we will be their preferred choice.
Beaulieu: What are the challenges you are facing today?
Doshi: Making sure we always meet our customers fluctuating needs and managing on-time deliveries. Accommodating schedule flexibilities can be challenging but we are always focused on the delivery times, no matter how challenging meeting them can be.
Beaulieu: Yes, and speaking of service, what do you consider good service?
Doshi: Constant engagement with the customers is key, as is uncompromising quality and crystal-clear communication. This is what our customers expect from us, and this is what we are focused on delivering to them. And of course, we believe in under promising and over delivering!
Beaulieu: How do you handle sales and marketing? How do you acquire new customers?
Doshi: Over the course of the past 31 years, we have used all methods of sales and marketing from direct sales, cold calls, trade shows, reps, word of mouth, and customer referrals. Now we are using digital marketing. We are open to whatever works and willing to try new things as well.
Beaulieu: Before we close, can you talk about the PCB Industry in India?
Doshi: Sure. There are about 10 good PCB companies here in India, each of them having their own sweet spots.
Beaulieu: What about the infrastructure for supporting the Indian PCB industry?
Doshi: Unlike what many people assume, we have a good solid infrastructure here. We have all the raw material and equipment suppliers here and have been here for over 20 years. We also have a very broad manpower skill base available. It is relatively easy to build boards in India when located in major cities.
Beaulieu: Abhay, thanks for talking to me today. Are there any last words you would like to say before we sign off?
Doshi: Yes, first, thank you for doing this. I want to mention that we will be exhibiting at the International Microwave Symposium in Denver in June 2022, and I would like to meet everyone there. And as far as Fine-Line India goes, we plan on moving forward and doing all that we can to keep our customers happy.