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For PCB manufacturers in the U.S. and Europe, finding a suitable mass lam-outsourcing partner can be a challenge. Volume production has its dominance in Asia and Mexico, where low-labor and operating costs make it the most commercially viable option. But when it comes to the industries that dominate the U.S. and European electronics manufacturing, such as automotive, medical or mil/aero, the low-volume, high-tech and complex PCB requirements demand a unique capability quick-turn service that those high-volume producers don’t typically provide.
In this interview with Option Technologies, a Ventec International Group company, I-Connect007 Technical Editor Pete Starkey, and Option Managing Director Steve Law, discuss the ins and outs of this specialist market.
Pete Starkey: Steve, you are a multilayer engineer, with more than three decades in the PCB industry. From that perspective, explain how a provider to this specialised market must respond to the unique demands of U.S. and European PCB manufacturers?
Law: Of course, there must be the expertise to handle high layer counts, fine lines, small holes, exotic materials and complex stack-ups. I’m talking about multilayers up to 40 layers with 3 mil lines and spaces and mechanically drilled holes down to 0.1 mm. And then there are quick-turn capabilities—an absolute must. The market demands one working day for Europe, and two working days for North America. Three days would be pretty standard. To be successful, a company working in mass lam must not take on what it cannot deliver, and that we can achieve tight tolerances and high yields as well as saving them time and trouble.
Starkey: What does a typical mass lam order look like for Option Technologies?
Law: Orders of 1–100 panels are typical. Quantities of 500-plus are beyond our capacity and cost structure, but we can do the tooling and engineering here, and supply quick-turn prototype and pre-production quantities. Then we provide our partners at Ventec Taiwan with a ready-to-go, engineered package.
Starkey: The North American market requires cost-effective, high-quality and quick-turn services. How does being based in the United Kingdom impact on lead-time and additional cost?
Law: The way it impacts is entirely up to the company providing the service, to be honest. For us, our numbers speak for themselves. The North American market presently represents 30% of our business, and we are servicing customers throughout the Western U.S., the East Coast and Canada. We can fulfil orders within 2–3 days from receipt of technical specifications to delivery, and that usually includes drilling.
Starkey: Why drilling?
Law: If we take the responsibility for drilling what we have laminated, the customer can be confident that the drill-to-pattern registration is right, with the added assurance of real-time X-ray inspection in addition to 100% AOI of inner layers.
Starkey: Back to the bigger picture for a moment. What are the key requirements to be successful in an increasingly specialised and complex market environment?
Law: Like I said earlier, a company cannot take on what it cannot deliver. A strong understanding of the technology involved is important. Having good communication patterns at the engineering level is also very important. As the number and complexity of new-job set-ups increases, front-end technical expertise and CAM facilities are a must. Also vital are manufacturing processes that are scalable and can be engineered for small-batch, high-mix, quick-turn production, with the right controls and quality systems in place.
Starkey: What benefits does the integration of Option Technologies into a global group, like Ventec, bring?
Law: As you might imagine, the benefits are twofold: for us as a company, and also for our customers. We benefit enormously from our relationship with Ventec, who brought Option Technologies into the group as part of the strategic plan to broaden Ventec's integrated supply chain concept. This gives us not only security and consistency of supply and material quality, but also has an impact on cost, as there aren’t multiple margins to contend with. For the customer, we can be price-competitive on small volumes. Having global access to the Ventec network doesn’t hurt either.
Starkey: Steve, thanks for giving us an opportunity to share with our readers how one company is doing it.
Law: Thank you, Pete.