Williams and Beaulieu: Board Shops and CMs Must Communicate Better


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Matties: Does this program and education help the OEM learn that you have to leave some meat on the bone to have a healthy supply line? Because if they're eroding the supply chain, they're eroding the service that they receive and the quality of the product. How does your program address that, or does it?

Beaulieu: Well, from a board point of view, this is what has happened over the years. There's been a complete devaluation of the board. I mean we laugh about it. We call it a card. You've heard me say a thousand times, "A 28-layer blind and buried via board is not a card. It's not a commodity."

It's easy if you're blindsiding yourself to believe that. If you're negotiating, it's convenient to believe that and don't understand it, so you can denigrate it, and make it a cheap product. It’s different when they get an understanding. When we bring people into board shops and they realize there are 108 steps to this, or 124 steps to this, they start appreciating. Especially when you will be doing all levels, like price sensitive, smaller CMs, but also those labs where the price is not as important as the quality and the technology. Like if a shop can keep up with the stuff of tomorrow even if they don't know how to build it yet.

Williams: One of the biggest disservices that not only OEMs, but contract manufacturers have done to the industry is to label that term “commodity.” They've all got commodity managers and that sets the impression that it's like an off-the-shelf electronic component with no customization...Right. These are custom engineered products that take a lot to build.

Matties: The other thing that I hear frequently from is that the circuit board designers design circuit boards, but many have no idea about the actual manufacturing process. How do we help tighten that part? Does this program address that at all?

Beaulieu: The designers are asking for it, particularly  young designers. Without naming names, I ran three design centers that are gone now which were owned by Cadence. They had, I think, three or four design bureaus at one time. Those designers had never been in the board shop and they owned a board shop. There was a philosophy of don't listen to the board guy. You're the designer, build it the way you want, and tell this guy to build that card the way you want it built.

Now, when I talk about these labs, it’s the designers who are asking, “Can you come in here and can you help us with selection of laminates?” for example. You'd see laminates chosen that would have made a board very expensive and very tough to produce. The same CT management could have been handled at a much more affordable laminate. Things like that.

One of the targets is the designers and they're the ones who've asked for it, quite frankly. The new wave of designers wants to know. They're under 30 years old, and they want to know how a board is built.

Matties: Are we also seeing a shift in the way that boards are purchased? Steve, when you were at Plexus, you were in the office. You weren't a circuit designer, you were the procurement vice president of purchasing. Are you seeing more of that purchasing power shift to the designer to where they're actually becoming the purchasing agent as well?

Williams: In some cases you're right. That's where a lot of the frustration comes from, not only for board shops, but also for the guys upstream, and you've got the new designers that are responsible for it. They're dropping block tolerances on things. They're going by the book, and not really looking at the technology. The board shops are frustrated because they can't build it to that. That's where that friction comes. They want it build like they designed it, but it's not feasible. They are taking more ownership to it, but there needs to be a lot of education on the fab process, quite frankly.

Beaulieu: Another thing related to this is with the onset of what some people call “no touch,” which I call the gray market. Okay, well, that's fine when you're new product development's a garage door opener, or a Mr. Coffee card. But when it's the products of tomorrow, and you're seeing even the large OEMs do it because their sourcing process is so complicated. I picture the guys in the basement, the designers who have a $5,000 credit card, saying, "I'm not going upstairs to put this in the process. I'm going to hit that design, I'm going to hit that credit card, and I'm going to get this."

Really, a certain segment of the market has no business doing that. They really should not be doing it that way. That's another thing to educate.

Matties: When it's a poster board, sure. When you're building a car, absolutely not.

Williams: It's got to be technology specific.

Beaulieu: Yeah, but when you're doing products of tomorrow, you need to talk to somebody. You need to talk to somebody who's going to build this thing.

Matties: Not even just products of tomorrow, but products where the cost of failure are so enormous, why risk it? I think we see that in automotive industry. Whatever test you can get they'll buy, because the cost of failure is so enormous.

Beaulieu: What does it get down to? It gets down to everything you ever needed to know you learned in kindergarten. It gets down to respecting each other's genre, if you will. That's what we're trying to teach. At the end of the day, talk to one another, learn it from one another, and respect one another. Together you'll be putting out a much stronger product.

Matties: This sounds great, guys. If someone wants to get more information they can contact either one of you?

Williams: Either one of us.

Beaulieu: That's right.

Matties: Thanks for joining me today.

Beaulieu: Thank you, Barry.

Williams: Thanks, Barry.

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