Global Sourcing: The 5 Cs of Choosing the Right PCB Supplier

Global sourcing is a complex process and choosing a supplier is always an important decision. The higher the technology, the more important the process for choosing the right one. Considering the highly complicated process of manufacturing printed circuit boards, these guidelines will assist in your decision.

1. Communication

Establishing an open line of communication with any supplier is certainly important, but when working with a PCB manufacturer, it becomes mission critical. Effective two-way communication is at the heart of any strong business relationship. If you don’t talk to your suppliers, you won’t learn enough about them to build these relationships. Looking at all the various commodities within the electronics industry, the one with the most opportunities for failure is PCBs. Early engagement between the PCB fabricator and customer is critical during the initial stages of a new product launch. Technical questions are always part of the communication process and a breakdown at this stage will create delays and put product reliability at risk. Accessibility to a direct line of communication between both sides will avoid these concerns. However, this communication does not stop at the engineering door; it must continue throughout the PCB manufacturing process. A supplier that provides real-time order updates will minimize the impact to the customer. Keep in mind that the equation gets more complicated when working with an offshore supplier because the communication channel must bridge time-zone and language challenges.

2. Collaboration

Before selecting a global PCB supplier, it’s important to understand if the company has the internal capability and strategy alignment to make the relationship a success. Under-investing in this due diligence is one of the top reason’s supplier collaborations fail. The right supplier needs to have the capability to meet the customers’ current technological needs, and the ability to anticipate and develop additional technology to meet future needs. One benefit of strong supplier/customer collaboration is the understanding of what the PCBs supplied will be used for and what causes problems in the final product. Going back to the earlier point of communication, another key benefit of collaboration is the reduction of quality issues due to early design engagement. Perhaps the most important benefit of collaboration for the customer is cost reduction. Design for manufacturability (DFM), alternate material suggestions, and minimizing over-engineered designs will result in hard savings and avoided delivery delays.

3. Credibility

PCB manufacturing is engineering intensive and requires operational process excellence. One thing to look for is strong engineering expertise and a solid industry reputation for product quality in the technology you are going to be placing with the supplier. A proven track record on delivery, quality, and flexibility are good starting points. Looking at who else they do business with is another strong indicator of the supplier’s credibility. Other customers in the same market sector as you will provide confidence that the supplier understands the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of your business and meets them on a daily basis. Credibility is all about building trust, and trust with your supplier relationships is crucial for achieving supply chain excellence. Another aspect of credibility is whether the supplier is authentic; in other words, do they do what they say? When your PCB supplier give you a delivery date, you need to be highly confident that they are going to meet it. The same confidence must also apply to product quality; and since PCBs are the backbone of any electronic product, failure is not an option.

4. Complete PCB Solution

When choosing a global PCB supplier, it is infinitely more beneficial to select a supplier that can build as much of your technological requirements as possible. In the world of PCB sourcing, not following this model can quickly result in an explosion in the number of suppliers you will need and have to manage. While no supplier is a one-stop shop, minimizing the number of suppliers in your supply base will also minimize your supply chain costs. Technology, surface finish, layer count, and substrate materials are some of the variables that must be considered when assessing a potential PCB supplier’s capability. In addition, product-type capability must be evaluated, such as rigid, rigid-flex, radio-frequency (RF), and metal core PCBs. Covering all of your requirements with the fewest suppliers will pay dividends in both qualification costs and the cost of ongoing supplier management.

5. Continuity

One of the biggest supply-chain risks is continuity of supply, and working with a supplier on another continent adds a multitude of logistical challenges to the mix. This is listed last because the previous four considerations can all impact supply continuity. Poor communication can result in delivery delays due to process issues or miscommunications. Finding out in mid-production that a supplier can’t build a particular part results from a lack of collaboration. A supplier that frequently reschedules promised delivery dates does not have the needed credibility to avoid supply disruptions. A supplier with below average engineering expertise is not a complete PCB solution. Assuming these four aspects are covered, there are some other things that can be done to minimize supply disruption. One thing to look for is a supplier that has multiple facilities so that if one is subject to a natural disaster, for example, your product can be temporarily moved to another plant. In some regions of the world, having an independent source of electricity is another critical factor to avoid supply delays. Finally, choose a supplier that has a formal business continuity plan in place.

The credibility and reputation of your company is based in part on your supply chain and you are only as good as your weakest link. Choose wisely.  

Steve Williams is the president of The Right Approach Consulting.  

This column originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of PCB007 Magazine.

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2018

Global Sourcing: The 5 Cs of Choosing the Right PCB Supplier

10-30-2018

Global sourcing is a complex process and choosing a supplier is always an important decision. The higher the technology, the more important the process for choosing the right one. Considering the highly complicated process of manufacturing printed circuit boards, these guidelines will assist in your decision.

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The Right Approach: The Value of Coopetition

07-17-2018

As our industry continues to evolve and shape-shift, printed circuit board manufacturing continues to shrink through consolidations and attrition. Unfortunately, this trend will most likely continue, albeit at a slower pace than over the last decade. In what has truly become a global economy, partnering with worldclass suppliers is mandatory, and excluding a sub-set of this dwindling supply base because they also happen to be in a crossover business will severely hinder this effort.

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The Right Approach: International Automotive Task Force (IATF) 16949 Standard, Explained

05-22-2018

While this list is not all-inclusive, it will give organizations an idea of what they are signing up for by pursuing IATF 16949 QMS certification. The standard is very demanding and requires a high level of discipline, but as they say, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger!”

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The Right Approach: The Rebirth of Made in America

05-04-2018

I have been on the record for the past 10 years saying that jobs we lost overseas may move out of China to a new low-cost country, but they were never coming back. I have never been happier to be wrong! I talk to a lot of CEOs, and the first question I ask is, “How’s business?” The answers are overwhelmingly positive, and it is clear that their optimism is at a level not seen for over a decade. America as a low-cost country. Think about that.

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Willy Wonka: The Lean Case Study

02-16-2018

No matter where my travels take me, I hear a wide and limitless supply of excuses for why Lean will not work in “my” organization. One of my favorite ways of illustrating that Lean will indeed work anywhere is to take a Lean look at a very unlikely organization, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.

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The Right Approach: Culture Shift is Key to Quality Improvement

01-03-2018

Any major initiative, whether implementing ISO, lean manufacturing or introducing a new product, requires culture change. How this change is managed will be the difference between success or failure of the project. This column will offer some fundamental elements that will help navigate your next major implementation by shifting the culture.

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2017

The Right Approach: Steve’s Particular Set of Skills (to become a World-Class Quality Manager)

11-14-2017

Being a quality professional today is nothing like it was 20 or 25 years ago; on a personal level, I can attest to this fact. It is no longer adequate to appoint a quality manager simply based on a person’s command of acceptance criteria and industry specifications; in the 21st century, a truly hybrid executive is needed.

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The Right Approach: Navigating Process Change? TPC is the Key

10-02-2017

Change is a given. While this adage may be quite true and normally a good thing, it can wreak process engineering havoc in a printed circuit operation. Change is good, but the operative word is controlled change relative to the complex processes involved in manufacturing a printed circuit board.

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The Right Approach: Is Exceptional Service Worth a 40% Cost Increase?

06-23-2017

“When did this happen?” I asked myself during a recent visit to my men’s only barber shop as I noticed that my $10 haircut was now $14. While I vaguely remember the price going up a little every couple of years, I really hadn’t been paying attention. This caused me to revisit an article I wrote 10 years ago and research whether this 40% cost increase was reasonable.

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The Right Approach: Finding the Next Generation of 'Board Rats'

05-10-2017

Owners of printed circuit board shops across the country are united in their top concern for their businesses: finding new talent. While this problem crosses all industries, what is unique is the complexity and learning curve of our business.

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The Right Approach: Why Trump Will Be Good for Our Industry

02-22-2017

Regardless of which side of the political fence you fall on, what matters most around any election are the policy implications. Taking the partisanship out of politics and looking strictly at the Trump policy promises, there is cause for optimism in business.

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2016

The Right Approach: My Leadership Journey

10-20-2016

I have been in leadership positions for the majority of my 40-year career, but it has not always been a smooth and natural relationship. With the following three stories, I will attempt to share the lessons learned on my journey as a lifelong student in pursuit of the art of leadership.

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The Right Approach: FOD and the Aerospace Industry

10-06-2016

Unless you are currently building aerospace product to AS9100[1] you are probably saying, “What the heck is FOD?” What started out as a requirement to prevent damage to aircraft parts such as engines has been flowed down to any component or assembly including PCBs.

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The Right Approach: Our IoT Lives

06-08-2016

In March, at the 2016 IPC APEX EXPO show in Las Vegas, the next big thing everyone was talking about was the Internet of Things (IoT). Equipment manufacturers were standing in line to tout their machines as IoT-capable and just waiting for the industry to catch up. But the IoT has been at play in our personal lives for quite a while…

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The Right Approach: Quick & Easy 6S to Reduce Handling Issues

05-19-2016

Handling is often the source of many pain points for PCB fabricators, resulting in rework, scrap and customer returns. Quick & Easy 6S is a fantastic tool to minimize handling risk by reducing product travel and improving shop cleanliness.

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The Right Approach: Best Practices: It’s Only Common Sense

04-29-2016

One of the fascinating things about Best Practices is that it is occurring everywhere—and many times without the knowledge of the person or organization doing it! How can this be? Most best practice principles fall under a very old-fashioned ideal that some of us still remember: common sense.

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The Right Approach: Increase Profits by Minimizing Inspection

04-19-2016

Identifying and fixing problems instead of foolishly trying to “inspect in quality” by sorting will have a greater impact on profit than raising prices your product, hammering your suppliers for lower costs or most any other traditional profit enhancement initiatives an organization can implement.

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2015

Data Analytics through Statistical Techniques

11-30-2015

Many companies get caught in data traps. They focus so heavily on cost and survival that they end up using data as merely a marketing and sales tool. In doing so, they fail to realize the true power of data: It can transform every aspect of a business.

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Cycle Time Reduction with WORK, Part I

10-27-2015

Lean, theory of constraints, quick response manufacturing, cross training, and SPC are powerful, tried and true methodologies for process improvement--but they are rooted in high-volume manufacturing environments and don't always play nice in a high-mix, low-volume operation. This article talks about the new WORK manufacturing strategy specifically developed to overcome these shortcomings while capitalizing on their strengths.

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Computer on Wheels

10-05-2015

You could say that today's automobile is a "computer on wheels," but from a point of accuracy it would be more like 35 computers on wheels. With printed circuit boards being the backbone of our electronic products, this is major market segment for our industry. In this article, Steve Williams writes about the evolution of automotive electronics, and the future of the industry.

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Supply Chain in the 21st Century

07-28-2015

The shift away from vertical integration has pushed the topic of supply chain management to the forefront of strategic planning for many manufacturers. This wide-ranging article talks about supply chain management, a brief history of supply chain innovation, managing supply chain risk, as well as presents the "7 Rights" of supply chain management.

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Best Practices 101: Part 6

05-26-2015

One roadblock to achieving the true benefits of best practices is that traditional improvement efforts have always focused on reducing the time of value-added steps; in other words, reducing the amount of time it takes to do something to a product, or touch time.

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Best Practices 101, Part 5: Process Capability

04-06-2015

Not every process is a good candidate for statistical control, and that in these instances, alternate process control methods may be required. Steven Williams talks about continuous improvement when it comes to process capability.

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2014

Star Trek Inspires Medical Tech for 2015

11-30-2014

Close to 50 years after Dr. Leonard H. "Bones" McCoy of the Starship Enterprise first used a fictional tricorder to scan patients for ailments and anomalies, real-world medical science is turning that science fiction into a reality.

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Best Practices 101, Part 4

11-23-2014

"Looking back through the annals of the U.S. PCB industry, when it comes to quality, we have evolved from a reactive, to a proactive mindset. This evolution has led to what is loosely called the zero-defects methodology. The old gold standard of three sigma is no longer acceptable and has gone the way of the dinosaur," writes Columnist Steve Williams.

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Best Practices 101, Part 3

10-16-2014

Columnist Steve Williams writes, "Fresh out of training, the value stream mapping (VSM) team often runs out and starts mapping the first process they see. While VSM, if anything, is better than nothing, efforts should be focused on the critical processes having the greatest impact on the product."

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Best Practices 101, Part 2

09-09-2014

Process flow diagrams are a great first step, but they don't tell the entire story. Value stream maps add one critical ingredient that standard process flowcharts don't have: Time. Process flowcharts do not capture this important element. They simply present a snapshot of the sequence of steps in the process. Time is essential to understanding how one operation affects another and where your resources are being spent.

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Best Practices 101, Part 1

07-17-2014

In the global economy that is today's business environment, there are no guarantees. The need for best practices is present in every industry, but mandatory in technology industries such as PCB manufacturing. In this new series, Columnist Steve Williams conveys personal lessons gained through his involvement with more than 1,000 manufacturing companies.

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Customer Feedback: Perception is Reality

05-29-2014

What does it mean to be world-class? It means being on par with the top performers globally in your chosen craft. There are, of course, numerous quantitative metrics used to measure this, such as turnover, quality certifications, productivity, and the requisite financial ratios. But perhaps the most important metric is qualitative: How do your customers think you're doing?

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Capturing Tribal Knowledge

04-03-2014

Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, made the following salient proclamation more than 50 years ago: "It's all to do with the training: You can do a lot if you're properly trained." What has held true through the ages is not a secret; people perform better when properly trained.

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Time for a 'Lean Diet'

02-20-2014

In the drive to continuous improvement, while Lean is one of the most powerful tools available to organizations, it is also one of the most underutilized. Columnist Steve Williams offers a primer for companies considering the Lean journey.

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2013: A Look Back

01-10-2014

After a very challenging year for the domestic PCB industry, global business conditions are slowly improving. Columnist Steve Williams takes a look back at 2013 and also looks forward to what we can expect for the rest of 2014.

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2013

Point of View: The Value of a Strategic Consultant

12-12-2013

New blood, a fresh set of eyes, or an outside perspective: No matter what you call it, the right consultant can add exponential value to any organization. How can you make sure you choose the right consultant and avoid the wrong one?

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Point of View: 3D Printing - Tales from the Road

11-14-2013

In September of last year, columnist Steve Williams wrote about the potential of 3D printing to "save" American manufacturing, as it was quickly becoming the new industry buzzword. Fast forward a year and it is clear that 3D printing may be here to stay and not just another passing fad.

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Temporary Process Change

10-13-2013

Change is a given. While this adage may be quite true and normally a good thing, it can cause havoc in the documentation system of a printed circuit operation. To be successful, there must be a formal methodology to handle process change.

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Lessons from Lombardi - Not Just for Football Anymore

08-23-2013

Columnist Steve Williams writes, "It occurred to me after reading an article in a local paper recently that solid management fundamentals are timeless and cross all industries. It is critical that an organization have a foundation based on a practical management game plan to be in the chase for excellence."

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POV: Operational Excellence Through Continuous Improvement

08-07-2013

Continuous improvement is a journey, and as with most things worthwhile, needs to be an integral part of an organization's everyday life. It can only come from people, motivated and committed, learning what they can learn, solving problems that they can solve, and implementing solutions that they develop.

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Point of View: What Do Customers Want?

07-03-2013

Mel Gibson was able to read women's minds in the movie "What Women Want." Columnist Steve Williams, on the other hand, believes that he can offer guidance on what customers want.

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Point of View: Unleashing the Power of Teams

06-14-2013

One of the most powerful tools in the operational improvement toolbox is not something you can put your hands around, but, if mastered, it can take organizational performance to a new level. Highly-effective teams can make the difference between step function improvement and abject failure.

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2012

Manufacturing Advantage: Japan! Where is the Love for Kanban and Lot Size of One in the U.S.?

12-01-2012

More than 50 years ago, American industry rejected the manufacturing tools and techniques of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, while most of Asia welcomed and ran with this guidance. While this has slowly changed, a couple of important concepts still have not been embraced here in the U.S.

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Point of View: RoHS: Six Years After

11-08-2012

It is worth taking a look back at the span of six years, and the regulatory implications to our industry stemming from one regulation that has impacted the electronics industry in a mighty big way: RoHS.

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Will 'Old' PCB Technology Save American Manufacturing?

10-11-2012

3D printing is a hot topic right now, especially with equipment prices dropping and reports of this incredible technology entering the consumer marketplace. With its origin in the additive process of PCB manufacturing, will this technology save American manufacturing?

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Point of View: A Cautionary Tale

03-08-2012

As we all look to improve our manufacturing organizations in 2012 and become leaner and meaner, the fictitious canoe story is a reminder to focus on the right things and concentrate on activities that will improve the bottom line.

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