ASC Making All the Right Moves

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I always enjoy talking with Anaya Vardya, CEO of American Standard Circuits (ASC), in West Chicago, Illinois. I consider his company one of the better-run companies in our industry. ASC is always on the move and making improvements: From hiring the right people to buying the right equipment to investing in the right technologies. Truth be known, this company is one of the few investing in research and development. It is willing to work with customers on new products and technologies and will even take on board projects no other company has successfully built. ASC finds a way to build them.

I sat down with Anaya recently to see how his year is going and to find out where the company is headed in the future.

Dan Beaulieu: Anaya, as always, it’s good to talk to you today. It’s been a while so I thought this would be a good time to catch up and find out what's been going on with you and the company.

Anaya Vardya: Dan, it’s great catching up with you. Since we last spoke, we have installed and started shipping product on our sputtering technology. This technology enables us to plate blind vias on pre-bonded RF materials with aluminum. As you know, it’s very difficult to plate aluminum--plating a combination of aluminum, circuit board material, and copper at the same time is a neat trick. We've seen an increase in our metal-backed business and have installed another machining center. In addition, we upgraded our AOI to the latest Camtek and are in the process of installing a cupric etcher. We significantly increased the amount of materials that we have UL on. Our quality manager is now a certified IPC-A-600 trainer. We started certifying our inspectors to this standard and about half of our inspectors so far have been through this training and certification.    

Beaulieu: How is business so far this year?

Vardya: Dan, if you look at IPC's numbers, the overall market is slightly down. We are up about 10% so far this year versus last year. We attribute this gain to growing with our existing customers (in some cases getting higher splits versus our completion when companies have multiple sources) and aggressively adding new customers. We have seen growth in our metal-backed PCB business and our flex and rigid-flex business. We have also increased our focus on the medical equipment market. I'm really proud of what our team has achieved in this difficult market.

Beaulieu: That's very impressive. That kind of growth is a testament to your company. Your company has been involved in a number of trade shows this year--how has that worked out for you?

Vardya: Trade shows are great. They give us an opportunity to meet with existing customers, new customers, and those we worked with in the past and then dropped of our radar screen. We attended international shows in addition to domestic shows and that helped us understand those markets and make contact with potential customers. We also get a sense of the general business climate at these shows. We have attended more shows this year versus last year and we will be expanding our trade show “reach” as we go into 2015. Historically, we have not done a lot of tabletop shows and we plan to add this to our plans.

Beaulieu: I’m glad to hear that, Anaya. I think tabl top shows can be very effective, not to mention economical, and they allow you to get up close and personal with customers. Now, a show I really want to hear about is the RF show you attended in Rome. How was that?

Vardya: We were able to sign up a rep so that was an immediate win. Additionally, we were able to capture significant leads. We were also able to catch up with our U.S. customers which enabled us to spend more time with them at a European show than we are able to at shows in the U.S. It also gave us an opportunity to meet with PCB shops in Europe and start to get an understanding of their capabilities.

Beaulieu: As you begin to wrap up this year what plans do you have for next year? Where is the company going?

Vardya: Our goal is to aggressively attack the marketplace and work on significant growth. We plan to increase our certifications and are working on getting AS9100 certified. We are also working on increasing the products that we are MIL certified on and increase the products and materials that we have UL certification on.

Beaulieu: How are you selling these days? Have you hired any new salespeople?

Vardya: Yes, Dan, we have hired two new sales people: Ken Moffat based in Canada, and Sean McConville, based in Maryland. Both are seasoned sales professionals and have had many years in the industry. We are working on increasing our direct sales staff as well. Over the years we have depended primarily on manufacturers’ reps and salespeople based in the factory. We believe that for us to be successful we need a healthy mix of both and are working on increasing our direct sales team. I anticipate hiring another person on the West Coast in the near future.

Beaulieu: That’s good. I'm definitely seeing an upswing in hiring seasoned professionals like Ken and Sean. I think that as you go up the technology ladder you need salespeople with their kind of experience. Can you tell us about your customers?

Vardya: I see a lot of customers coming to us for help on flex and rigid-flex technology. In some cases we are helping designers take a flex circuit and a rigid circuit and combine those into a rigid-flex circuit. Many designers are targeting higher reliability and this solution certainly helps with that. There also appears to be a little mystery to stack ups in this area due to the different kinds of materials that are available.

Some of our RF customers are looking for solutions to thermal management issues and are coming to us for potential solutions. This is an arena where we have a wide breadth of technology and know-how. We can turn around these solutions faster than any of our competitors since we don’t have to go to a subcontractor for any part of that process.

Beaulieu: What trends are you seeing in our industry?

Vardya: From a PCB industry perspective, we have seen a number of shops close down this year. In addition, TTM announced they will be buying Viaystems. Assuming this sale closes, it will certainly change the marketplace in North America. The jury is still out on what the effect of this will be, but everyone agrees things will be changing. 

Beaulieu: Frankly, it think this will be good for companies like ASC. Speaking of which, this is your chance to tell me why companies should come to ASC for their PCBs.

Vardya: We are willing to work on some of the weird requirements that our customers have. We are easy to deal with. We have a wide breadth of technology and in this ever changing world of electronics someone that is using simple boards today may find themselves using significantly more complex boards as time goes on. We have seen a number of our customers suddenly realize that the technology they are using today will not meet the needs for their future. We are there to support you when your designs go thru this transition. We are also solution providers--we are willing to use our vast product knowledge on particular solutions for a customer’s specific issue.

As Application Engineering Manager John Bushie likes to say, “We don’t get customers to fit into our box; we work on expanding our box to provide the customers a solution.”

Gordhan Patel, our founder, has ensured that we are one of the few companies that is investing in people, technology, and equipment. All three are critical and it's important to have owners willing to do it. We always have the future in our sights. We are about building an enterprise that will last.  

At the end of the day, we believe in long-term relationships with customers--as opposed to a transactional relationship.

Beaulieu: Anaya, thanks for talking with me today. Do you have any last comments?

Vardya: Absolutely. First and foremost, I would like to emphasize that people are extremely important in this business and I'm proud of the ASC team for everything it has achieved. Over the past five years we have significantly transformed the company. The management team and associates at ASC have been critical. Our supplier partners and our customers have been instrumental in helping us succeed. As time goes on we will continue to transform our business.

Beaulieu: Thank you very much for taking the time to update us on ASC.

I think American Standard represents a classic model for what board shops should be doing to not only maintain a foothold in the industry, but grow as well. The company is hiring good sales professionals, doing some marketing, attending trade shows, and investing in technology. These are the ingredients to success in our industry. I can only hope other companies will read and learn from them.

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