Catching Up with Circuit Connect
When I met with Circuit Connect President Bob Lazzara and Director of Operations Paul LaLiberte, I was first struck by the passion they both have for their customers, as well as for their customers’ businesses, using the innovation they have today, as well as what they can develop together with their customers. They don’t just invite, but urge their customers to come and visit them in their very well-equipped facility in Nashua, N.H.
When I visited recently, they could not wait to show me some of the boards they had built in conjunction with their customers, from a modular power rail for an M4 carbine and cutting edge wind generator electronics, to a specially developed heavy copper PCB for a company launching a new line of cordless lawn care tools. They pride themselves in making their customers technological dreams come to life.
This is a company that is not afraid to come up with the next best thing. They feel a very unique and admirable sense of obligation to their customers and hence the entire American electronics industry as a whole. This is also a company that thrives by putting their customers first when it comes to the way they do business. I have been known to gripe a bit about companies that refuse to bring the customer to the table when it’s time to talk about how they do business. But in the case of Circuit Connect, the opposite is true. The customer is not just a constant presence at the table, he is actually seated that the head of that table!
Dan: Tell me a little bit about the history of the company—how did the company get started and how long have they been in business, etc.
Circuit Connect: The company was started in 1990, and its roots trace back to CuTronics in Baltimore, if you remember them.
Dan: Sure, Walter Johnston’s company right?
Circuit Connect: Yes, exactly. In fact, the company was started by Walt, Glen Castle and Rick Clutz. Walt later sold his interest to Bob Sites, who subsequently passed his shares to son, Mark. In 2014, Mark sold his shares to co-owner Rick Clutz.
Dan: So now Rick and Glen are the owners?
Circuit Connect: That’s right.
Dan: So it can be said that you guys have pretty deep roots in the East Coast PCB industry.
Circuit Connect: That’s right.
Dan: You have a philosophy that I want you to talk about. Tell me about that.
Circuit Connect: We feel that it is important for us to work with people and companies, enabling them to build the best end products they can build. We like to get involved in a project from the very beginning, when it is right there on the drawing board to help develop the overall product and how the circuit boards fit into it. We find out everything we can about the product, how it is going to be used, what it does, how long they expect it to last, what will the next generation look like, and what their plans are for the product in the future so that we can help with not only the design of the product, but most importantly, the design of the PCBs. Many times, by knowing everything about the end product, we can help their designers create a board package that will fit perfectly into that product and meet all of the company’s needs.
Dan: Man, talk about the customer being at the table. Can you give me an actual example?
Circuit Connect: Yes, absolutely. Here’s one: We worked with one manufacturer in developing a powered rail for the military’s M4 carbine. The device permits a number of electronic devices, such as lasers, range finders and night vision apparatus, to be powered from a single robust source, allowing these units to quickly go from belt-to-barrel and power up and be ready to use in seconds. We developed the boards that went into the rail, working side by side, at the table as you say, making sure that our client had absolutely the best end product possible.
Dan: Too many times today, board shops are just too busy to bother working this closely with the customers.
Circuit Connect: It’s true —and with so much innovation going on and so many new cutting edge products being developed, this type of cooperative effort is needed now more than ever. We have another customer who is developing a line of cordless outdoor power tools. In order for them to be much more powerful than anything else on the market today, we worked with them to develop a series of heavy copper boards that were really the key to making the tools both commercial-grade and battery efficient. Their products are really taking off and we feel very proud to be a party to the development of that product. If you think about it, this is the way it used to be. Board shops and their customers used to sit down face to face and work on projects together.
Dan: I couldn’t agree more. So often now, things, especially boards, are bought almost incognito, with no one taking to one another.
Circuit Connect: Just look at the back of the trades, for example. Those pages are filled with ads for online board buying, where no one talks to anyone. It’s just slam, bang, give us your credit card and what you get is what you get. There is no discussion of technical ideas whatsoever. The poor designers have no idea what the board shops could do for them beyond just filling the order for exactly what they asked for. We do quick-turns and prototypes without losing sight that each design should yield a well-engineered product.
Dan: I agree. So let’s talk about your technology. What can you guys do?
Circuit Connect: Well, first of all, we have all of the necessary qualifications from ITAR to MIL-PRF-55110 and, of course, we have ISO. We do rigid, rigid-flex and flex boards as well. We deal with a number of special technologies also, such as Teflon, high-speed rigid-flex and pre-pasted PCBs...
Dan: Tell me about pre-pasted PCBs.
Circuit Connect: Pre-pasted PCBs arrive ready-to-assemble, right out of the box. No stencil or paste required. Appropriate for high-mix, low-volume work because it really cuts down the set-up times. It is a process where we use either eutectic tin/lead or lead-free paste and tacky flux. It is very popular with new product development companies, and larger assemblers who want to do prototypes without retooling a high capacity line. We also offer FR-flex, a cost-performing alternative to conventional rigid-flex, perfect for flex-to-fit installations. Customers like this product because there are many instances when the board just has to be flexible for end product assembly and FR-flex is much more economical than normal flex products. And of course, one of our specialties, heavy copper, is seeing continuous growth as the demand for it rises.
Dan: Why is that?
Circuit Connect: Well, everything has much more power these days. Take those huge windmills, for example. We produce a number of ringed heavy copper boards for that industry as well. Think of the amount of power that is generated by one of those giant turbines. The heavy copper board is acting as a kind of transformer, a conduit through which that power is conducted far more efficiently than conventional wire-wound devices.
Dan: I think I know the answer to this, but I’ll ask it anyway. What makes Circuit Connect a stand out company?
Circuit Connect: To begin with, we care deeply about what we do here. We have assembled a team of long time experienced experts who have a true passion for building PCBs. We consider PCB fabrication to be part art/part science and we have a very healthy respect for the technology. We consider ourselves the opposite of the mega shops. We never want to be one of those; rather, we want to be a center of excellence for product development. We want to work on new and innovative products that will not only help our industry, but our customers and the world as well—products that matter, products that are important. And we want to be a true resource center for our customers, too. We invite as many people as possible to come to our facility and learn about our technology. We want designers to come here and learn how a circuit board is actually built. We want to change their perspective of what a PCB is and what it takes to build one. And finally, we are willing to spend our time and energy actually helping our customers develop their products. We feel that if we know everything about their products and they have a good understanding of what we do here, then together, we will build a much better product in the end. That’s what makes us stand out today, and an extension of that goal is what we plan for the future.
Dan: Speaking of that…how do you see the future?
Circuit Connect: We are in the planning stages of setting up on-site seminars and what we call Lunch & Learns, as well as tours so that people can come and learn more about our technology. We want to be a true industry resource. In terms of the future of the industry, that goes hand in hand with what we have been talking about. If we are going to progress and continue to build cutting-edge products, then we are going to have to work together. Look, there is no doubt that this is still the most innovative country in the world, with the most new and innovative product-seeking consumers and we have to take advantage of that. We have to work together, pushing all of our technology envelopes, whatever our products are, to make sure that we are always at the very top of the technology curve.
Dan: Okay, does that mean all new equipment?
Circuit Connect: In some cases, yes. Certainly in terms of the new LDIs and systems like that, new equipment is on the horizon for us as it is for all board shops. But let’s not forget ingenuity. I guess being here in New England, we like to claim it as good old “Yankee ingenuity,” which means finding a way with what you have on hand. We do a lot of that here at Circuit Connect. We find new ways to do things using the technology we have already and, yes, it does work.
Dan: Well guys, thanks for spending so much time with me today. It has been fascinating to say the least.
Circuit Connect: It’s been our pleasure, Dan. We’re willing to do this any time. Like we said, we want to educate people on what we are doing here. Let them know that they can come here with their new products and we’ll do everything we can to support and help them create the best product that can be built today.