Two years ago I wrote about why printed circuit board (PCB) shops in North America were continuing to close. Now, in the last two weeks, we have seen two more shops (Dynamic & Proto and ITO Industries) cease their manufacturing operations.
As the former owner and operator of three domestic PCB facilities, I can sympathize with the management and the loyal employees that tried to make the company successful. However, much of the damage is self-inflicted as I previously discussed so rather than rehash past information I wanted to discuss some of the attributes that every customer should look for in their US PCB manufacturer.
Are They Financially Fit?
First and foremost is size. As a PCB manufacturer, you must be large enough financially to do all of the things necessary to be able to invest in the business and thrive over the long run so that your customers don’t have to keep changing suppliers. Having worked with and acquired 15 distressed PCB manufacturing companies in the US, we have worked with a lot of customers who have had to change facilities several different times.
Your printed circuit board vendor needs to bring in at least $30 million in yearly revenue to be able to protect your best interests. At this level or above they are able to invest in the appropriate people, process, equipment, and relationships to assure that they have a long term future.
Even if they don’t make all of their own PCBs themselves, they need to be big enough to have leverage in China and with shipping companies to ensure that they get capacity and that their important enough to get the best treatment.
While some smaller companies allow you to deal with the owner or to be a bigger fish in a small pond, that is usually part of their demise. They don’t have the people to work with the customers on new designs or develop new processes or even the simplest tasks like making sure that they have updated cost parameters defined when they are determining their pricing. Not all small manufactures are bad. Some manufactures do have a very specific and profitable niche that will keep them in business for a very long time.
Those companies have recognized that being specialized give you an edge so they invest in that specialty which is why they are still around today.
Focused Relationships with Customers
The next thing to understand when determining best in class PCB manufacturers is how many employees do they have that maintain direct relationships to customers? We have all seen the job titles that incorporate many functions such as “Quality Manager/Customer Service/Production Planner”. Which of these comes first? Usually it depends upon the day. In order to get the service that you need as a printed circuit board customer, you need people focused on customer service, customer technical support, sales, and a dedicated quality manager who instills the right quality culture throughout the entire organization.
To manufacture a PCB you must have quality control and strict processes all the way from your quote process to the time UPS picks the package up.
Plan for the Future
Lastly, make sure that the company you choose is setup today and has a plan for the future to do the type of work that you need. If you walk into a factory running large volume double sided parts and you want them to run high mix, low volume 6-layers, that is not going to work. They can absolutely make the parts, but the mindset, procedures, and the long term thought process is not there to support that type of work.
Having to find new PCB suppliers is traumatic, especially when you are under the gun because the printed circuit board manufacture closes abruptly. Unfortunately, many do meet their demise as the people try whatever they can to keep the factory open even though it has no chance of staying alive.
While I would like to see more facilities open back up in the United States, a lot of things need to change for that to become feasible. In the meantime, doing your due diligence on choosing your next manufacturer is a very critical step.