When it comes to manufacturing custom electronics, there are tons of companies out there that can do anything once. The true value of a manufacturing partner is a company that not only has the capability to manufacture your product fast to help you get to market quicker and cost effectively, but also consistently. Effectively accounting for Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) and product changes are factors that often get overlooked in manufacturers. Failing to find a supplier with stable speeds, costs, and a consistent process can cause major headaches down the line.
There are a lot of good things happening right now for many folks in the electronics manufacturing industry in the United States. The economy is going strong, unemployment rates are dropping, and there has been growth in the PCB industry over the past four months which hasn’t happened since May of 2016 according to the U.S. Purchasing Managers’ Index.
Over the past several years there have been several instances where battery suppliers that manufacture the highest technology batteries have run into financial difficulties (think A123, Boston Power) or change their business model and no longer want to supply small/medium volume applications (Panasonic). This has created several problems for OEMs as they have designed these cells and have passed all of the certification testing for UL, EMI, CE and UN DOT 38.3.
Even though the last financial crisis was over 8 years ago, most engineering departments at electronic OEMs have never fully staffed back to the levels that they were before the economic disaster. That means that there are many engineers doing two or more jobs, all while their senior management still insists on meeting tight timelines with limited budgets.
All companies judge themselves on simple things like revenue, expenses, and income. Most manufacturing companies measure even more metrics like capacity utilization, yield, inventory turns, and on-time delivery. All of which are very important to ensure that business is profitable.
Today, there are well over 3,000 companies that manufacturer printed circuit boards (PCB) in Asia (China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Korea, Thailand) with the supply capacity continuing to grow well ahead of the global demand.
The old saying “to the victor go the spoils” is now starting to apply in the battery supplier industry. Recently, Panasonic announced that it will no longer be supporting any new battery pack development projects that are not in the electric vehicle (EV) or solar storage space.
In 1999 there were over 1,200 active printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturing facilities in the U.S. Today, there are fewer than 130. What has transpired at a lot of these manufacturing companies are small service businesses that act as a liaison between a manufacturer and their customers. In many instances, this is a valuable relationship; the products are low in technology and the risk is very minimal. However, why is it that we require ISO certification for our manufacturing locations but not for service providers?
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.
Shipping of lithium batteries is a very important process that requires significant investment in training and equipment. In April of 2016, new lithium battery shipping regulations were passed that forbid lithium batteries from passenger aircraft and limited the SOC (state of charge) for any battery shipped via air cargo to 30%.