We all need to talk to one another. You need to work closely with your customers.
An open, collaborative, and cooperative partnership will lead to both your company’s success, and the success of your customers.
Now more than ever, the communications between the people using boards and those building boards has never been more important. The demands from our customers for the highest quality and technology PCBs ever built have never been more stringent. The requests range from lines and spaces sometimes as low as two mils, hole aspect ratios that we could only imagine a few years ago, special CTE, high-speed/low-loss materials, and special thermal management requirements. The process of building today’s technology PCBs has become more of a science than ever.
We can look back with fondness when many boards had unique designs, from daughter cards to mother boards to IBM’s famous little paddle cards, to large back panels, all of which had more or less the same configurations even though the requirement for these PCBs came from various customers.
How many of us stared in wonder at the sight of our computer boards with 5-mil lines and spaces, wondering how things would ever get tighter?
Then there were the lead times. Remember when a two-week turn was so rare and unusual that it demanded a paid premium as opposed the standard eight-week lead times? Heck, remember when polyimide was considered an exotic material?
Now, everything has changed, especially when dealing with companies who are building products of the future—super medical electronics, private space exploration, electric cars and printable and wearable electronics.
Frequently, these companies are relying on us to do their R&D and more often than not we are talking about boards that have never been built before, which means that no one even really knows if they can be built.
And there is one more challenge in this new world order: new, freshly minted designers and engineers who have never been in a board shop. Up to a few years ago most OEMs had their own board shops so that their people understood boards. Designers and operations people worked in the same building sharing their experiences and knowledge of designing boards that could be manufactured. Now the in-house board shops, for the most part, are gone, and so are the people who used to work in them; so are the designers who had a good understanding of the board process and how the way the board was designed and laid out could affect that process.
Now we have lost of all that. In most instances, these designers have never been in a board shop and have no understanding on how to design a board the will have maximum produceability. That’s the bad news. But here is the good news, these new designers are hungry for information. They want to know how a board is built, they want to understand the PCB process, and this is a good thing. This is something those of us in the board business may want to take advantage of.
Here are my suggestions:
Get to know your customers, especially the designers and new product engineers.
Develop a good understanding of their products and what they are trying to achieve with their products.
Offer them all of the information they want: plant tours, classes on how a board is built, DFM tools, impedance calculators, assistance on material selection, books, articles, seminars, webinars, lunch-and-learns.
In short, whatever tools you can provide to educate your customers about how a board is built will lead to not only more robust designs, but better boards as well. This type of cooperative and collaborative partnership will in the end help your customers produce better products—products that will help them to be successful.
I encourage everyone in the board business to work with your customers. Invite them into your shops, visit their companies, check out their lines and see how your boards are being processed, from the very first step in the receiving department, through incoming inspection and assembly, to the final product. Doing this will make you a truly outstanding PCB supplier and fabricator.