In 2016 there were ten printed circuit board (PCB) factories that closed in the United States, including some highly sophisticated shops that were part of the TTM/Viasystems merger. Having been involved in the closing and transfer of part numbers for fifteen PCB facilities in the past twelve years, we have some first-hand advice as to how you can best minimize the risk as you change suppliers.
While there is nothing more inconvenient than having to move part numbers to a new PCB manufacturing factory (especially legacy part numbers that have little or no data), a lot of times it provides an opportunity to improve cost, lead time, inventory management, or to even work with your customer to improve a design.
You Must Take Action!
- Ask for the working files before the factory closes. This should be something that is easily provided, as you paid tooling for.
- Keep a part from the existing vendor. The older the part or the weaker the documentation, makes it very important. Familiar with the term called “tribal knowledge”? Unwritten information. A lot of times the only way to obtain the information you need is to x-ray or review a reliable part.
- Send one of the reliable part(s) to the new factory to have them do a comparison versus the documentation. Even the small things like all of the hole sizes being on the high end of the tolerance make a big difference in your assembly. There is nothing worse than getting a board that is in tolerance but you can’t use it.
- Get samples before you go into production. This is especially true if your documentation has not been updated in the last 24 months.
- Send your new factory a cross section of reliable PCBs. If your previous vendor was using 10mil cores on 6-layers because they had a better buying position but the new vendor uses 6mil cores, you could have a problem even though the overall thickness is in tolerance.
Manufacturing Warning Signs
- Just one last production run. While this sounds like a good idea, remember what the goals are of the closing facility; reduce cost and save cash. Having to use inventory in-house could mean changes to your parts. Not to mention the fact that it is being built by employees who are losing their jobs and by a company who cannot warranty the parts as they will be closing.
- Moving tooling from one factory to another. Back when we were all doing punch and crunch SS and DS PCBs, moving hard tooling that cost $40K was a very feasible solution. However today, there is very little hard tooling and everyone’s process has different process parameters so using different tooling at a different factory will only cause issues. Getting the tooling for reference on the other hand is a very good idea. Note: With the advent of LDI most of the old films from outdated shops would no longer be of value.
- Assuming your low quantity simple part that is 20 years old is easy to make. While 20 year old technology is much different than today, these are the parts that are the most at risk in many cases. There have been so many personnel changes during the life span of this part there is no way to know how many telephone changes have been made over that time.
- PCB companies that want to “nest” your parts with others on a single production panel. This technique is good for prototypes, low technology, and lower reliability parts, but, how do you provide consistency when your part is on a different production panel every time? Imagine if your part is next to a very dense part, meaning your part gets less plating and the next order the part is next to an open area and it could get more plating. Consistency in soldermask, legend printing, and hole sizes from lot to lot are also a concern.
There are a lot more issues that need to be addressed, and being the oldest PCB manufacturer in North America, we would be happy to discuss any issues and provide any customer with the assistance necessary to ensure that your risk is minimized during difficult situation of a factory closing. You can always find more info on our PCB homepage or leave a comment or email our team at Epec with any questions!