Williams and Beaulieu: Board Shops and CMs Must Communicate Better


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Two well-known consultants in the PCB industry, Dan Beaulieu and Steve Williams, have joined forces to try to help close the divide between CMs and board shops. I recently sat down with them at IPC APEX EXPO 2016 to better learn about their strategy for bringing the two sides together.

Barry Matties: You guys are two of the best consultants in our industry, and you’re bringing together a concept of communication. Why don't you just give an overview of what you guys are strategizing.

Beaulieu: Over the years, Steve and I have had a lot of fun talking about the animosity between CMs and board shops. Steve's a consultant and he's certainly an expert on the CM side of things, and I know something about boards, and they are polar opposites, if you will. We decided to get together and get these people talking. It'd be a better world for them and for the world if they could be much more productive.

We decided to form a partnership where we would offer to companies, let's say a CM for example, support on how to buy boards, how to approach board shops, and what type of board shops to approach. On the other side of it, for the board shops, we’d help them with how to deal with a CM customer, OEM customer, or a designer. Just to open up the communications. We've seen a need for this and people are now asking for it. They're saying, "How do we get better results from a board shop?" Well, talk to them. Get to know them as human beings. That's what this partnership is about.

Matties: Steve, Dan mentioned that you have a lot of experience. What sort of experience do you have?

Steve Williams: I spent the first 23 years in board manufacturing. Then I went to work for one of my larger customers, Plexus, which is a $3 billion contract manufacturer.

My job was to manage the supply base globally for them. As Dan mentioned, one of the problems especially is that PC fab guys are used to dealing directly with the OEMs. They put their engineers in touch with the OEM's engineers, and they're used to the relationship. Now, they’ve got to work more and more through the CM which is kind of in the middle. They don't understand how to navigate the CM's demands versus the OEM's demands. It's an art. You've got to learn how to do that. That's kind of what Dan and I have been talking about. So far, it's been pretty well received by the companies that we've spread this concept around to.

Matties: How do you implement this?

Beaulieu: The implementation part is actually not that difficult. We're putting the plan together and Steve is already talking to CMs, and we'll do the same thing with board houses.

Matties: Talking to CMs is a program you already have, correct?

Beaulieu: Yes.

Williams: We rolled this out to a number of Dan's clients who wanted to know how to sell more effectively to the contract manufacturing customer.

Beaulieu: The other reason we saw a need is because I've been approached by a couple of research labs. Quite frankly, one of them said, "Why do circuit board shops suck? Why can't we get out of them what we need? They're not keeping up with us." I said, "Because you're not talking to them."

There's a gray market that has occurred, which is the no-touch market. Nobody talks to anybody, and yet it's one thing if you're building garage door openers, but if you're building guidance systems or products that have never been built before, you need to talk to somebody who's going to build that product.

That's where the concept came from. We saw a need from customers. What we're doing now is completing the implementation, the actual package, and taking it out on the road. We'll do columns on it and we’ll do interviews like this and get people informed.

We both have pretty strong databases. I've worked with more than 125 companies in the 20 years I've been in business as a consultant. Steve's got a lot of friends also.

Williams: Not that many.

Beaulieu: You have a lot of friends from when you were buying boards. You were a pretty famous guy back then. Those are kind of the low-hanging fruit that we're going to approach first.

Matties: That's smart. There's another branch of that too, Dan, right? Please talk about the need for people to understand how to set that up internally. How do they set up their own internal PCB buying center? They may not have the expertise internally, or they don't have the resources, and they don't know how to start that.

Beaulieu: That's right. That's what I set up for Steve because that's exactly his thing. When he was buying boards globally for Plexus, he knew how to qualify, he knew how to survey, and he knew how to select. He knew how to get the most out of them, so we're tapping in on that.

I come from the voice of the frustrated board shop guy asking why Steve was doing all these things. Take the guy who thought them up and bring them to the board shop and he tells them, "I was doing these things for this reason. Guess what? I can show you how to get through those things."

Matties: One of the things we all know is price matters. Especially for OEMs beating up fabricators, if you will. I don't know if “beating up” is the right term.

Beaulieu: It is the right term.

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