Standard of Excellence: Customers are Shooting for the Stars—Are We Coming?

For years we have been calling them “science projects,” those PCB orders that did not quite fit into our normal process stream and therefore needed special attention, as well as special handling. Often, we have had to use trial and error to come up with just the right process to successfully complete the order. We liked these projects because we learned something from doing them, it made us a better company, and we got paid for doing them as well. It was like paid tuition.

Years ago, this kind of R&D work was done by OEMs in their own in-house PCB shops. Those shops were more PCB departments than P&L centers. Their function was to provide the right technology PCBs for the company to build their end products. The people in these shops would work closely with the rest of their organization developing the right technology boards that exactly met their specific needs.

But, with the demise of the in-house shops, as well as the rise of contract manufacturers, it is now left to those of us still in the business of building boards to provide these companies with their R&D efforts. Which of course means, “science projects.”

The need for R&D is growing. Where we used to take on three or four of these projects a year, now we are seeing three or four or more of them a month, as innovative companies develop products of the future requiring PCB technology that has never existed before. In other words, these companies are shooting for the stars and they expect their PCB vendors to be there with them. And I don’t just mean the obvious ones like SpaceX and Blue Horizon either.

In the past few years, since the great recession, there has been a literal boom of companies establishing new technologies, making great strides, in all fields from medical, to solar, to batteries, to automotive, to communications and computers. All over our country—all over the world—companies are forming partnerships to build products of the future. Products that need not only the latest in PCB technology, but beyond that technology as we know it today.

For PCB fabricators to survive in this new world order, they are going to have to invest in the future. They are going to have to buy the right equipment, hire the right people, and expend the right resources sufficient enough to supply this new breed of customer with the PCBs they need today and in the future.

I also see a time when these new companies will have to invest in existing board shops if they want to get the technology they need to build their new innovative products. This means that, instead of buying their own shops, they can at least own part of one. Board shop owners can expect innovative customers to ask them what they are going to need to provide the kind of PCB technology these companies will require in the future. This is the only way these customers will be able to get PCBs they need.

The PCB market is so competitive that most shops just don’t have the resources to keep up with the needs of the market. Because the market is so competitive, margins—unlike what are customers like to think—are paper thin, leaving very little financial resources to acquire the equipment needed to build the PCBs with the technology these new companies need. Thus, the partnership approach. Our industry has already seen instances where a wealthy OEM will come to a PCB shop asking them what they need in terms of equipment and other resources to build their boards, and then offering to provide the funding that will allow the PCB shop to get those resources. This trend has already begun so we all had better be ready when we are asked the questions, “What will it take for you to be able to build our boards?" And, most importantly, “Can we buy that equipment for you?”

I believe we should look at this trend as a good thing—for our customers and for us. When your high-tech customer comes calling with an offer to invest in your company so that you will better be able to serve him in the future, take the call. 

Anaya Vardya is president and CEO of American Standard Circuits.



Standard of Excellence: Customers are Shooting for the Stars—Are We Coming?


For years we have been calling them “science projects,” those PCB orders that did not quite fit into our normal process stream and therefore needed special attention, as well as special handling. Often, we have had to use trial and error to come up with just the right process to successfully complete the order.

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Standard of Excellence: The Challenges of Hiring Good People and Methods for Success


Increasingly, we hear about the challenges of finding and hiring good people in our industry. We are being hit on all sides; much of our work force is aging out while young people don’t seem to be too interested in joining the printed circuit board industry. Let’s face facts: Fewer young people are going to college to become circuit board process engineers.

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Standard of Excellence: The Advantages of Flex and Rigid-Flex Circuits


Since their introduction, flexible and rigid-flex circuits have been steadily moving from the fringe of electronic interconnection towards its center. Today, flex and rigid-flex circuits are found in countless products from the very simple to the highly complex. The reasons for this shift to the center are numerous; most of them are related to the advantages they offer. An examination of some of the benefits and advantages will make this clear.

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Standard of Excellence: Staying Prepared with Operations


Handling the operations of a PCB company these days is a challenge, to say the least. When I started in 1979, we were building single-sided, double-sided, four-layer multilayers, and the occasional six-layer if you really had your act together. We were using FR-4 materials sprinkled in with an occasional polyimide build.

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Standard of Excellence: Selling Technology—A PCB Engineer Transitions to Sales


Selling technology today takes a great deal of time, patience and most of all knowledge of the product. There was a time when a salesperson was just that, a salesperson. Now, with the onset of all the new technologies, from RF and metal backed boards to flex and rigid-flex boards, to HDI and microvia boards and heavy copper boards, a salesperson must know what he’s talking about.

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Standard of Excellence: RF Microwave Technology—The Future is Now


Although RF/microwave technology has been around for a considerable amount of time, many people are still not sure exactly what it is. This month, I am going to dedicate my column to explaining exactly what it is, why it is used, and in what products is it used. I’ll also discuss who needs it.

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Standard of Excellence: Let’s Get Flexible


Although flex and rigid-flex technology has been around for many years, it is only in recent years that it has come into its own. The reason for the increased requirements for the flex and rigid-flex technology is simple: Devices are getting smaller.

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Communication Breeds Success


We all need to talk to one another. You need to work closely with your customers. And we all need to work with the new generation of PCB designers and design engineers, many of whom have never set foot in a board shop. Fortunately, they make up for their lack of DFM knowledge with their hunger for information.

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The Future is in Fine Lines


The age of much finer lines and spaces is upon us. After years of slowly moving towards this technology our customers are now demanding that all of us provide them with fine lines and spaces.

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LED and Metal-Backed Technology—Today and in the Future


Probably one of the hottest, or should I say coolest, technologies today is LED. I would also venture to say it is one of the fastest growing as well...

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Tips for Finding a Great PCB R&D Partner


This new column, Standard of Excellence, represents a cooperative writing effort by a team of experts at American Standard Circuits. This month, we begin with CEO Anaya Vardya, who focuses on R&D. In his piece, he provides his insights on what characteristics to look for in a good R&D PCB fabrication vendor partner, and a few things that are expected of them to do for you.

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