The PCB Norsemen: Building an Ability To Expect the Unexpected

Raymond_Goh.jpgHow do you find techniques and strategies to transform a business plan developed in the boardroom into a living strategy implemented into the company core and mindset of every colleague? And how do you do it when times are hard, as we experienced in 2020?

The answer is having a strategy with goals and objectives, or simply said, implementing good operational management. And when times are hard? That’s when you really see what the team can do for operations management.

To understand the factors that influence your workforce and your business—and then act accordingly—operations management must be related to more than cost securing and efficiency mapping. To make sure an organization runs smoothly and efficiently, your workforce must be supplied with not only information on quality, KPIs, and delivery performance, but with soft values like engagement, interest, and attention. I believe this is how your greater purpose can be achieved.

An operational management strategy might sound complicated and something that can only be achieved by hiring a fancy agency to design; meanwhile, it never gets implemented and is left to collect dust in a desk drawer. Rather, it is something every company needs because it is a strategic way of bringing the company together, providing measurable goals, and determining objectives that make the company stronger.

There is no one-size-fits-all, however. Just as organisations come in different sizes, structures, and cultural backgrounds, there are different styles and schools of thought when it comes to operations management.

A simple and common definition of operations management is the “administration of the best practises in order to achieve the highest level of effectiveness and efficiency through utilisation of the company resources.”[1]

This involves the responsibility of ensuring that business operations are efficient in terms of using only the most necessary resources to meet the customer’s requirements. Operations management is primarily concerned with planning, organizing, and supervising in the context of production, manufacturing, or the provision of services.[2]

This means we apply the most appropriate practises: map, implement, measure, and improve. It's a continuous, ongoing process, far away from a dusty map or plan in that drawer. It must have a loop where inefficiencies and undesirable results can be detected (if not prevented), corrected, and improved.

To develop a strategy and stick to it, even when times are challenging, can be hard. The strategy might need alterations on the way, but don’t forget your main purpose. Again, it is when times are tough that a team aligned with common goals will make it through. Operations management is not one-quick-fix for all unforeseen futures.

Encourage Early Problem Solving—No Procrastination
Once your management team has agreed on its strategic goals, it’s time to establish projects and key performance indicators (KPIs) that will guide the operations toward meeting the goals. We use the SMART strategy (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) to help us keep track of our performance.

We have found that assigning KPIs to the appropriate department is critical to our success. For example, customer satisfaction is one of our key goals, so the “Customer Delivery Performance KPI” is assigned to our Customer Service Department—the ones who are not making the product nor making the delivery. Rather, they are the “voice” for our customers, and using this internal voice of customers to drive a customer delivery performance from within certainly pays off.

In any organization, there are policies and procedures. These are established so that we can work within a controlled and systematic environment. However, we must allow our employees a certain degree of freedom and encourage innovation and ownership. How? We empower them to make decisions through cross-departmental communication.

Can You Handle the Unexpected?
However, we have all experienced how external incidents can impact your strategies and plans. Of course, I am referring to the ongoing pandemic that has proven that when it comes to operations management, you must always expect the unexpected. 

How We Managed the Unexpected
Elmatica has been in the PCB industry since 1971; in fact, we celebrated our 50th anniversary this year. It was not the best year for celebrations, however we do as we always do—we plan, adapt, and move forward. Not only did 2020 turn out as quite a different year, a bit surprisingly it was the best financial year in Elmatica’s history.

So, what was our secret to staying aligned with our goals, keeping motivation up, and our colleagues informed and on target? We made sure to keep in mind: lead, plan, support, manage, perform, evaluate, and improve.

It may have taken the wizard from Oz to predict the future, but we did our best. We looked at both our customers’ demands and our internal demands, and then we merged them to achieve the highest level of effectiveness and efficiency by utilising the company’s resources. Once the demands were mapped, the scope set, and the strategy composed, then we had some fun. It was time for implementation—the phase where many tend to fail.

We implemented EQMS—the Environmental and Quality Management System—where all document procedures, responsibilities, escalations, company structure, goals, and priorities are set. This allowed us to spend time in three phases:

  1. The first phase was at the officer and board level, where the main pillars and scope were decided.
  2. Then, managers were invited into the project with input, feedback, and further development.
  3. The last and critical third phase was where strategies were implemented, and the entire company was involved in the communication through regular town hall meetings, internal newsletters, and ongoing departmental updates.

Once a clear strategy was set and implemented, we could start collecting data from specific KPIs, evaluate, and then improve them. Because we had clear operations documentation integrated into our infrastructure that was easily accessible, it allowed our organisation to function more efficiently; we minimized the time spent searching for information. Research shows that digitalisation of processes and procedures can be the most effective investment to increase data security, optimize productivity, and reduce costs.

Communication and Implementation
At Elmatica, we have found that communication is one of the most important elements to achieving operational excellence. Everyone must be clear about what the goals are, why we have them, what our measurement of success is, and how we create a feedback loop for improvement.

To do this, we conduct quarterly company-wide town halls, where the CEO reviews our quarterly financials, reinforces the company goals, and recognizes individuals who have excelled. We also have a Managers Group that meets bi-monthly to focus on KPIs. Apart from these formal meetings, there are frequent informal meetings.

Strong communication has been especially important during the pandemic. When any crisis appears, information is the most valuable asset one can have. We have all been in situations where you are searching for answers and feedback; when you don’t get it, this leads to frustration and anger.

Instead, continuous internal communication will help your workforce feel more secure, impact how they perceive the company, and improve the dialogue between departments and customers. You don’t want customers getting the wrong feedback, or even worse, no feedback at all because no one knows what they can or can’t say to customers.

Elmatica_popup_collage_cap (1).jpgAt Elmatica, we have worked on our internal and external communication the past few years. Once shutdowns occurred in March 2020, we immediately formed a work group that met daily. This group initiated internal newsletters, regular updates on our website, and official letters to our customers and partners. In our official communications, we assured our customers that operations would continue, and offered “tools” in the form of Q&As from the customer service and sales departments. We wanted to be sure we provided information during a time when unpredictability was the only thing that was predictable.

But what about that daily chat around the coffee machine, the short message about one order, one issue with a stackup, a different material working perfectly, or the “not crucial for business but crucial for collegial relationships” update about the cat, dog, or family? The pandemic was a brutal interruption in our lives that often created isolation. How could we ensure that operations would run smoothly, and communication would continue if we weren’t face to face?

Our answer was to create virtual pop-up events, such as virtual lunchtime and drink hours. We planned weekly events, from wine tasting and games, to inspirational speeches, virtual tours of historic sites, yoga, playing games like bingo and Kahoot!, face masks for moisturising those dry indoor faces, learning to bind your own fish bait, and even a sheep shearing course.

Are You Ready for the Future?
We would all love a crystal ball that could predict the future. We may not have that crystal ball, but if we learn how to analyse our digital data, we can make some educated estimates. Our experience, backed with data, has helped us make a smart prediction of what is coming. Understanding the customers’ demands and patterns has allowed us to better prepare for capacity reservations and customer requirements.

Developing a system tailored to our operational needs, meeting compliance, and data analysis is key. A good traceability system and availability of historical data allow the engineers to carry out the failure analysis more efficiently and effectively.

The challenges of this past year have taught us that to build the ability to expect the unexpected, one needs a strong and committed team, routines on clear internal and external communication, and focus not only on operational management but also on relationship management among partners, customers, and colleagues. Happy employees bring the company forward, and

We all need a clap on the shoulder these days, even if it's a virtual one.


  1. Operations Management, Wikipedia.
  2. Same.

 This column originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of PCB007 Magazine.



The PCB Norsemen: Building an Ability To Expect the Unexpected


How do you find techniques and strategies to transform a business plan developed in the boardroom, into a living strategy implemented into the company core and mindset of every colleague? And how do you do it when times are hard, as we experienced in 2020?

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Don't Forget AABUS


The most important thing is to know a standard and how to use it. Here is all you need to know about AABUS, what it means, how to handle it, and basically a list of issues that needs AABUS.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Attacking the Loophole That Does Not Exist


When producing PCBs, we follow IPC standards for Qualification Performance and Acceptance from design, through production, to customer incoming inspection and acceptance. However, there is always a way of writing a standard and a different way of interpreting it.

View Story


The PCB Norsemen: Leading by Going the Extra Mile


This year has been far from normal. Here, Didrik Bech shares how "doing a little extra" often can change a lot, as well as his experience of how to attract new colleagues, welcome them, train them, and include them in the company's culture and style/methodology of leadership.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: So Much More Than Just Through Vias


As most people know, component holes are still highly necessary for components that require them, and clean lead-through-holes (vias) have increased in necessity over the last 30 years. John Steinar Johnsen explains how the challenges with smaller diameter vias, perhaps depth-controlled, have increased and are, in some cases, challenging for those who produce PCBs and have to assemble and handle solder components.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: A Path to Successful PCB Fabrication


In the PCB fabrication process, there can be multiple actors involved. How can you ensure that all these actors are cooperating to maximize the positive effects and minimize the negative effects of the pillars of PCB fabrication? It might sound like an insurmountable task, but Didrik Bech shares a path that can increase your chances of success.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Leadership Styles for Success


Leadership is the foundation of a successful business. Elmatica CEO Didrik Bech looks deeper into the various styles of leadership and shares his experiences and opinions.

View Story

PCB Norsemen: The Importance of Quality Management


Most companies have a quality management system, but the important factor is not if you have one; it's about how that system is implemented in your company's values, strategies, and goals. Didrik Bech explains how you can use your QMS as a competitive advantage and shares five top reasons for having one.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: It’s All About Being Prepared


COVID-19, known globally by now, and buzzwords like social distancing, isolation, home office, antibac, and lockdowns, are humming in every ear. Raymond Goh explores how this will impact the electronics industry and how to respond. Humans tend to stick to habits. Will the same happen to PCB production?

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Can Better Guidelines on Cosmetic Failures ‘Save’ Functioning PCBs?


Every year, fully functional PCBs are scrapped due to cosmetic “failures” that are not approved. Is this right, or do we need to make an even more precise set of rules on how to handle this? Jan Pedersen shares his thoughts on the issue.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: What Are the True Benefits of Going Digital?


2019 might have been the year when the trend word digitalization really kicked off and transitioned from being a buzzword to aligning with keywords and concepts as AI and IoT. Didrick Bech explores the future of digitization, which is already here.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Automotive Standard Elevates the Excellence of Electronics


IPC-6012DA (currently in WAM1) was the first automotive standard for printed boards; it also needs to expand to cover all types of rigid printed boards. To meet the PCB needs in the automotive industry of today and tomorrow, we have started to collect information and identify the types of printed boards not covered by the existing standard. One finding in the research is printed boards used for LED headlights and taillights, which have two requirements not covered; these are described as metal-core printed boards and high-power printed boards.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: New Trends in the PCB Industry at productronica 2019


Working with PCB technology and standardization as I do, it is always interesting to see the new trends and where the PCB industry is moving. Changes tend to happen at a slow pace; still, I visited productronica this year for dedicated meetings and expected to learn about new processes and production equipment. What hit me was the different manufacturing focus between Asia and Europe. 5G applications and smartphones—both making an impact in the news as a high focus in Asia, where most of the production is placed—were hardly mentioned at productronica 2019. However, I picked up on other new trends in the PCB industry.

View Story


The Laminate Market: What Will the Future Bring?


PCBs have been manufactured more or less the same way since we entered the industry in 1972, but the circumstances surrounding the boards have changed. The PCB Norsemen have addressed the copper situation several times in our columns as well as the component crisis affecting the PCB industry. Now, we’re experiencing external factors—such as Brexit and the trade restrictions between China and the U.S.—that are affecting the industry and causing delays due to raw material demand and prioritization by huge market players.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Avoid Failures in PCB Production With Compliance Control


Failures and reliability in the printed circuit industry are usually considered in the context of quality claims and non-conformity. This is a logical approach; however, there is a new context where these aspects are under close scrutiny, namely compliance—especially in the defense industry. Failing to understand import and export compliance for every country you deliver to and from will, at some point, result in challenges in your supply chain with potentially severe ramifications.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: From Wooden Huts to Homemade Go-karts—It All Starts With Design!


Whether building the coolest go-kart or the most sophisticated electronic hardware, the story is the same: It starts with design. And for designers and manufacturers, early involvement and commitment between all the involved parties in a product development process diminish the risk for mistakes and misunderstandings.

View Story

What Is Reliability Without Traceability?


High reliability and compliance are hot topics at conferences all over the world. If you are a supplier to industries like defense, automotive, medical, and aerospace/space, high-reliability and regulatory compliance are strict demands for electronic device manufacturers. This column discusses how high-reliability demands enforce the need for traceability, and at what level the traceability should be.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Merging the Best of Both Worlds—Young Superheroes and Knowledgeable Wizards!


Companies that dare be true to themselves, trust their employees, and provide direction, freedom, and responsibility to their most important asset—namely, their employees—are more likely to succeed. However, we can all rattle behind these positive words and agree with these statements. The real question is, “How do you actually create and sustain an environment that motivates and attracts people—especially millennials—in the wave of Industry 4.0?"

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: My Flexible Story—Flex Circuit Development Through the Decades


Senior Technical Advisor Jan Pedersen is celebrating 26 years at Elmatica. In this column, he shares his thoughts from his long experience in this exciting industry, and talks about those things that have changed a lot in the past few decades, and the others that haven't.

View Story

A PCB Broker’s Guide Through the Galaxy of Automation


A smart factory is defined by its ability to harness manufacturing data flowing throughout the enterprise and then convert that data into intelligent information that can be used to create improvements in productivity, efficiency, savings, yields, automation, enabled traceability, compliance, and reduced risk of errors and rework. All of these items are crucial factors when manufacturing printed circuits.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Technology’s Future Comes Together—A Great Slogan for Us All!


“Technology’s Future Comes Together” was the theme of this year's IPC APEX EXPO, which is quite suitable during these changing times. I guess we all need to come together, especially the automotive industry.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: PCB Standards for Medical Device Applications—A Hard Nut to Crack!


With digitalization, AI, and IoT, the traceability and transparency to how a PCB is produced will be even more important. We must rule out the PCBs that follow the standards to the ones that do not. The day will come when you or someone you know might need a medical device, and you want to make sure it does its job correctly.

View Story


Digital Specs for Automated Manufacturing: Find the Missing Link!


Automation and connected smart factories are the new manufacturing trend. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of things (IoT) continue to enter PCB manufacturing. However, if we continue down the same path with specifications and requirements written on electronic papers and unintelligent production files, human interpretation is still crucial to avoid mistakes. CircuitData could solve this problem because having one language for automated smart factories is the future!

View Story

PCB Norsemen: The Solution to the UL Challenge—Industrial Awareness


Writes Jan Pedersen: The solder-limit subject has been a "hot potato" for a quite some time, with many discussions around the new requirement from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) that UL’s Emma Hudson brought to attention in early 2018.

View Story

The PCB Norsemen: Lean Challenges—Standard vs. Non-Standard Products


Writes Didrick Bech: People tend to treat standard and non-standard products in the same way; however, they represent two parallel product segments and consequently different challenges for your Lean manufacturing process, especially in relation to production and logistical operations. When you fail to differentiate the processing of standard and non-standard products, not only is the Lean manufacturing process disrupted, but you also introduce a variety of production, financial and logistical challenges.

View Story

The Velocity of Technology— What Does It Really Mean?


PCB Norseman, Jan Pedersen: Driving a car is probably one of the areas where the user comes in direct touch with the technology development. And we understand the speed when we see how fast we get new versions of smartphones and other gadgets. But in what direction are we going?

View Story


Industry 4.0, AI and CircuitData


PCB Norseman, Andreas Lydersen: As automation works its way onto the shop floors, it still struggles to replace humans in the supporting roles, such as designers, purchasers, brokers, and back-office staff. Where automation on the shop floor replaces humans in doing repetitive manual tasks, the supporting roles (at least some of them) require intelligence to understand and utilise information.

View Story
Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.