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Six Things That Will Guarantee A Great 2018

dan-5Okay here we are again. The beginning of a brand-spanking shiny new year. 2018! Who would have thought we would make it this long?  But we did, and the North American PCB business is still alive and kicking. But, as we turn the page on another new year we should consider what we want to do with this new year.  Are we going to do what we have always done and expect different results? You know the answer to that old saying, don’t you? This is what I think, I think, that if we all do things a little bit differently this year, if we all make a resolution to look at our business model a little differently this time, if we all change our attitude just a little bit, things will change for the better. Yes indeed, we can make a difference and we can have a better maybe even a great 2018.

Here are six things we can do to make sure that this year will be a great one.

  1. Stop being so desperate, so scared that our business is dying. Because it’s not. The pros tell us that we could see a $70 Billion-dollar market this year. Think about that, $70 Billion! And then think of the relatively small fraction of that business you need to make 2018 your best year ever.
  2. Tear down those walls. In the end we are all in the sales business. We sell PCBs, all kinds of PCBs. You are already paying for that sales force, you might as well leverage it as far as you can. Offer you customers everything from value-added offshore to domestic ITAR, to flex and rigid-flex. If you don’t build it yourself find a partner who does.
  3. Make you sales effort intentional. In simple terms this means treat sales like you mean it. Give it the respect and attention it deserves. Sales is the most important department in your company. It is the only one reaching out to the market with the goal of growing your business. Anything else you do from buying new equipment, to growing into new technologies, is all dependent on how good and successful your sales effort is. Too many of you have been treating sales, and everything it encompasses like a necessary evil; and as far as that goes you’re only half right, it is necessary, extremely necessary to  your company’s future.
  4. Get your name out in the marketplace. People need to know who you are if they are going to find you and buy from you. Your competitors are marketing thier companies using everything from traditional advertising, to social media, to SEO (sales engine optimization), this is no time for shrinking violets. This is a time to get out there and tell people about your company and what you can do for them.
  5. Hire new blood. We have all been horrified at the lack of youth in our industry here in North America, let’ stop being horrified and do something about it. In the past few months I have come across a number of aggressive, well-educated, young people who are passionate about our industry and want to join us. They are out there, and they are ready to get involved, learn everything they can about both bare board fabrication and contract manufacturing and get to work. Once again, I’ll use that word “intentional”, let’s intentionally seek out, hire, and train the youngsters. We are not going to live forever, and the way things are going our American PCB industry is going to die off with us, if we don’t do something about it.
  6. Forget the “good old day” they are all a figment of your imagination. I was there, and I can tell you they weren’t that good. You just remember them with those rose-colored glasses we use to view the past. So, forget about them, and for heaven’s sakes stop, please stop waiting for them to come back because first of all they won’t, and second of all you wouldn’t like it one bit if they did.

And yes, one more as always under promise and over deliver. And you’re not going to believe this one. Have some fun. That’s right have a good time for once. Let’ stop being so darned serious about our business. Let’s look at the bright side of things and realize that we have a lot of good thing going for us right now. The industry is growing, the technology is rising, our customers are getting smarter and more appreciative of what we are doing for them, and over all things are getting better for those of us in both bare boards and contract manufacturing. So, lose the gloomy attitude and get to work and “intentionally” do what you have to do, and it will be a great year. Have a good and prosperous 2018. It’s only common sense.


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Does Your Plant Look As Good As You Think It Does?

dan-6It’s all of those little things that make a big difference

How good do you think your company is? How do you think you’re doing? What do you do well? What do you need to work on? What do you people think when they walk into your lobby?

These are questions you should be asking yourself at all times. You should be constantly thinking about your company how it presents itself to the outside world; what it looks like when you walk through it; what it sounds like when you call in. Does your company appear to be a well-run lucrative company or does it look like a company on its last legs ready to go out of business?

Then you have to consider what you want your company to be. What do you want to look like to your customers?

Walk into your lobby: What does that look like? Is it clean and welcoming? Is there a live person there waiting to help you? If you must have some sort on contact system make sure it is apparent, effective and easy to use. I have been in a couple of companies lately who are using an I-Pad on a stand to connect you with the person you want to see. If you’re going to have system instead of a person this is by far the least of all evils

Make sure the lobby is well lit and well painted and clean. It is after all the face of your company. Make sure your magazines are new. What do you think a ten your old copy of Circuitree says about your company?

The same with plaques and awards unless it’s the Noble Prize for Technology don’t display awards that are more than ten years old! No one will be impressed with an award for your work on The Minute Man Missile program,

You want your company to look good, sharp and up to date.

This is not a money thing; paint does not cost a fortune, clean floors look great and don’t cost anything but a little soap and elbow grease…and don’t get me going about those restrooms. I once talked to a Quality auditor for a large OEM who told me the first places he looked when he surveyed a company were the restrooms. He told me that was the most telling place in the factory when it came to indicating how the company was run… really!

So now here is a list of seven things you can do to make your company look fresh, modern and well run:

  1. The lobby of course we just talked about that. Make sure it is well lit, freshly painted, has modern comfortable furniture and up to date awards and samples of your product. Remember that your customers and your vendors will spend a lot of time with nothing to do but study your lobby.
  2. Those restrooms. They have to be spotless. Not just for your visitors but for your own employees as well. Sloppy restrooms indicate a lack of caring, that’s all there is to it, no argument.
  3. Hallways should always be clean, the floors should shine and you have windows that look into the various departments they should be as clean as that proverbial whistle.
  4. All departments from the drill room to lamination to inspection have to be neat and orderly. Everything in its place. Shelves and racks neat and well organized. They should reflect the look of a craftsman’s workshop.
  5. The same applies to the offices. Desks should be clean and organized and look like people who know what they’re doing work there. I don’t want to hear any excuses from that slob who says he knows where everything is despite the mess. Take my word for it he does not. Oh and make sure that the calendars are turned to the right month….never mind the right year! Or the right decade? I’ve seen that before.
  6. How about the front lawn? Let’s not forget that. Make sure that everything in front of your company looks great. That shrubs are shaped and the lawn is mowed. By the way things should look great all around the building especially shipping and receiving. I once visited a company that had four wet mattresses on the ground in front of the loading dock those mattresses completely destroyed that company’s image.
  7. Make sure all your lights work inside and out. You don’t want any dead light bulbs and forget that energy saving every other light bulb missing crap…you look like you’re going out of business.
  8. And one more. Always under promise and over deliver. Make sure your equipment is all up to date and taken care of. There is nothing that gives better impression than well-maintained equipment.

There you have it. Now it’s time for you to take that walk. Look around and see what your place looks like. What do you see? Does it look fresh and clean and new and well organized? Does it look like the people who work there care about what they do? More important does it look like the people who work there know what they’re doing? If the answer to these questions is yes then you’re on the right path to success. It’s only common sense.

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PCB Vendors vs Customers: This Is What We Do About It


Two weeks ago, we talked about PCB customers who were not happy with their vendor’s performance and last week we talked took things from the other side of the issue and talked about why PCB fabricators have a hard time being good and productive suppliers (both articles can be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of this page). Both sides had a lot of complaints about the other side and not much good or productive to say about each other. So, this week in the interested of seeing a problem and solving it, we are going to talk about what we should do about it. What needs to be done.

Here are seven things that we have to do to improve the PCB vendor / customer relationship to make it as productive and yes as rewarding as possible:

  1. Choose suppliers you trust: and the only way to trust them is to know them personally. Get off line right now and get your top PCB supplier on the phone and talk to her.
  2. Visit that supplier. Go and see the people who are making your boards. See what their facility looks like, see for yourself how difficult it is to build boards, your boards, and most importantly talk to the people. Learn everything you can about their company and the way they work and ask them what you can do to make sure they have everything they need to build your boards correctly.
  3. Create a co-company team. This is the most important advice I can give you. Vendors and customers need to create partnership teams where they openly discuss the projects they are working on today and the projects they will be working on in the future. Get all those NDA’s signed in preparation for good open and productive discussions about your products and how as a team you can work together to a successful end.
  4. Bring in key people: Make sure key people from each company are on these teams, including engineers, pcb designers, operations, and quality people.
  5. Use fewer vendors: Because this takes time and effort on both sides, maybe a little more on the vendors’ side, at least more effort than is being expended now it is important to choose your venders carefully, if you follow these guidelines you will need fewer vendors because through these concerted efforts you will be investing time and money into developing a vendor base of key board fabricators who will be able to handle all your needs. The pcb fabricator will be able to develop special and unique processes just for you. And with your cooperation they will become the supplier you have always wanted to work with.
  6. Talk about the future: Once you have found the right pcb vendors and have created partnerships with those vendors, you will have the comfort and trust in them to be able to share key information about your company and some of the products of the future you are going to be building. By having the trusted pcb manufacturer as your partner you will gain valuable inside into his perspective that in the end will help you design the best and most economical PCBs possible. Your PCB partner will be able to advise you in laminate selections and design for manufacturability. This will save you literally thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.
  7. Fabricators: trust your customers: Get rid of that “we have met the enemy and it’s our customers mentality”. A good and effective and open partnership with your key customers will make you a much better fabricator in the end. Your customer will actually drive your technology to a higher level. Just by listening to what your customers need you will be able to implement technologies and services that will make you a much better supplier not only to that particular customer, but other similar customers as well. You will be raising your overall level of excellence as a great PCB supplier

And yes, one more, under promise and over deliver. Customers…Vendors… treat each other with respect. Create an atmosphere of regard from one another. Face facts your need each other to make this all work do the sooner you understand and undertake this attitude the sooner everything will get better.

Many of you (customers) are building products of the future. Products that require PCB technology far beyond the normal technology of today; and you are heading in a direction that is going to require PCB technology that we could only dream about just a few years ago. PCBs of this technology level cannot be bought inconspicuously on line. They cannot be bought from a faceless unknown source. They can only be bought from people you know. People whose capabilities you understand and people who in turn completely understand your specific high tech needs both today and in the future. So for heaven’s sake, start talking to each other! Its only common sense.

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The Other Side Of The Story

dan21We ended last week’s column with a group of designers from a high-tech company asking me the ignoble question, “Why do all PCB shops suck?” And, I promised, I would not only address that question but also explain why there are two sides to that story.

First, let me say that the designers who asked me the question work for a company that builds innovative products of the future, that fact is vitally important to this story.

Now I will tell you what I told them.

For the most part board shops are trying to do the best they can with what they have. But the problem lies in the fact that most of our customers are now making a concerted effort not, and I repeat not, to talk to us. All sorts of barriers have been created to keep board shop representatives, engineers, and quality experts from talking to anyone at your companies:

  • You get furious if a CAM person from a board shop asks too many questions about your design. In fact, some designers have been told to never listen to anybody at a board shop telling these designers that they are in charge and the people at board shops don’t know anything. Tell them to shut up and build it the way you designed it.
  • You have created such a barrier ridden bureaucracy that it is almost impossible to get through to you to have a decent conversation about your board needs today and in the future.
  • You have found middle men purchasing systems like Exostar which contribute nothing but “gorilla dust” to the vendor customer relationship. Thus, making it near impossible for the vendor to talk to the customer.
  • In fact, some of the larger companies have created such a barrier-ridden bureaucracy that their own engineers avoid going through the “proper channels” when they need to buy prototypes or proof of design boards, preferring instead to use online board buying services and their credit cards, thus circumventing the clumsy purchasing system completely.
  • Part of your purchasing strategy is to “commoditize” the PCBs to the point where you feel comfortable saying that all shops are alike, so you just got the cheapest one, justifying your decision to use sub-par vendors who probably really do suck.
  • You would rather listen to your suppliers who will work with you to spec in something, (laminates for example) without even talking the board shop who will have to process boards with that new product without knowing or even caring if that product might be impossible to process in a normal board house.
  • You play fast and loose with your qualification expectations creating a double standard for the Asian board houses versus American board houses
  • You subscribe to the theory that board shops, particularly American board shops, are making too much money, so you must beat the ever-loving crap out of them to get prices as close to offshore prices as possible. And then you wonder why they can’t afford to buy that LDI or Laser drill that they are going to need to build your boards of the future.
  • And in the case of this particular company, remember them? The one who asked me the question in the first place, you are building products of the future with technology that no one has ever seen before, yet you are discouraged from having any communications whatsoever with the people who are going to be building your boards. So that the first time they ever see these requirements is when you send them the quote. And then expect those boards quoted in one hour, and please no questions asked!

Once upon a time companies talked to one another. They worked in partnership; vendors and customers working hand in hand to develop processes to build innovative technology boards that had never been built before. Companies like Martin Marietta, Lockheed Sanders, Raytheon, and others used to send teams of experts into board shops for weeks at a time to work with the board shop’s teams to find ways to build boards out of everything from LMR Kevlar, to Copper Molybdenum to Copper Invar Copper to Thermount, boards that would go into programs like Tomahawk, Lantern D-Smack and Trident. And these teams would stick to it until they developed a process and got the boards right. That’s how things got done.

Now our customers won’t even allow sales people to enter their building. Customers won’t even pick up the phone when a vendor calls with a question or an idea, never mind allow that vendor to talk to their technical people.

Some of the top companies in this country, companies building products of tomorrow have people engineering and designing those products, who have never even been in PCB shop and because of that have no idea how a board is processed.

These then, are all contributing factors to why board shops suck.

I hope that someday our customers, and yes, our vendors will get it. Someday they will realize that PCBs are much more technologically challenging than they like to believe and that there will be a new-found understanding that a twenty-eight layer blind and buried via printed circuit board is not a commodity. That today’s high-tech circuit boards are very sophisticated and not easy to build, especially in the 72 hours or less you give them to get them built. Its only common sense.

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Five things Contract Manufacturers Can Do Right Now To Get More Business

Dan 8Everyone is struggling to fill their factories these days, as the fight for more business heats up. It used to be that contract manufacturers had a good solid base of good customers, they could depend on year after year. Many of them were satisfied to pick up a couple of customers a year as their base remained stable, But, all of that has changed for a couple of reasons. The first being that attrition has set in, stuff happens, companies go out of business, or change direction, or have their products built overseas or they are acquired and somebody new and more powerful is making their contract manufacturing decisions.

So now my contract manufacturing friends have to find new and innovative way to capture more business. And, as we have been talking about, the last few week, finding new contract manufacturing opportunities is a much more intense process than selling bare boards, for example. Winning new EMS customers is a much longer and more arduous process, one that takes more planning, persistence, and yes, patience. This means that if you want to increase your business you have to start early, in most cases so early, that you won’t even feel you need new customers when you start in. Or, I have a better idea, never stop the first place.

Working with CM’s over the years, it has always surprised me that many of them managed to keep their companies full with little or even no real sales and marketing effort. When I’d asked them how they got their business they would tell me that it was word of mouth, or just a good reputation, or a good base of a few solid customers.

But now things have changed, and many CM’s are out there looking for new business, if you are one of them, here are five things you can do to kick start your sales and marketing effort going forward:

  1. Get your name out to the marketplace. No one is going to buy from you if they have never heard of you. Develop a good marketing and branding plan that includes social media, and implement it immediately. Tell your company’s story. What are you good at? Why do your customers like you? Why should potential customers work with you? Make sure you get some of your good, longstanding customers to vouch for you. Get their testimonials, these will be the most effective and powerful part of your marketing plan. Remember, you have over one thousand competitors out there and you have to be the one that is outstanding.
  2. Offer quick turn to new product introduction companies. Quick turn assembly services are in demand right now. You customers want to be able to get their initial products very quickly, and they are willing to pay for this service. Many times, they will provide you with the complete kit and you just have to assemble it ,I know that many of you don’t like to this because of lost revenue on the parts, but be patient, offering this service will pay off in the very near future. Your chances of getting the production business go up ten-fold if you have built the prototypes.
  3. Be willing to collaborate with other companies. There is always strength in partnerships. Instead of being limited by your own brick and mortar capabilities, be willing to extend a hand of partnership to other CMs who cannot do what you do and also CMs who can do what you cannot, because together you will be much stronger, and create a much stronger offering to your customers.  There are many large CMs both domestic and offshore who are looking for smaller and more flexible CM’s to collaborate with to use as their new product introduction partners. Seek one of those and partner with them. It will be good for both companies.
  4. Find some good independent sales reps. And I mean good ones. Make sure they have business at hand that they can bring you. Let’s be get real, a good rep can bring you introductions. She can bring you RFPs but she cannot bring you the business. You are going to have to win the business yourself. But a good rep can bring you the opportunities and that is what he is paid to do. Find two or three very good reps and then treat them like part of the company, part of the family and they will deliver for you.
  5. And finally, pay attention to your customers. Go out of your way to always give them spectacular customer service and they will love you for it. They say I most businesses it costs about ten thousand dollars to acquire a new customer, but I would suspect that it takes even more of an investment to win a contract manufacturing customer so protect your investment at all cost. When you finally win that customer, do everything you can to keep him.

And finally, one more, always under promise and over deliver, right? Never stop, never ever stop your sales and marketing effort once you have started it. Keep it going, week after week month after month year after year and always be improving, getting better at it all the time and in the end, it will pay off. It’s only common sense.

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Contract Manufacturing: Winning Those Big Accounts

dan21Contract manufacturing is a service not a product. As CEMs, we are actually building someone else’s product, someone else’s baby. Our customers are putting the fate of their companies in our hands. If we build the product incorrectly our customers will be the ones to pay. In the end they are the ones who have their name on the product. They are responsible for designing, engineering, and marketing the products, we are responsible for the manufacturing of that product.

Think about that for a moment. Consider how much trust comes into play when our customers decide to turn over the manufacturing of their products to our contract manufacturing services. They are putting their company’s reputation in our hands, they are putting the entire future of their company in our hands.

This is a huge decision on their part. They must make sure that we are able to handle all their needs. They should be certain that we have all the processes in place to deliver a product that is as good, if not better than the one they themselves could produce, and at a better, more competitive price. So, these companies have two very difficult decisions to make. The first being if they should use a contract manufacturer in the first place; and the second, which contract manufacturer will they select in the end? And this is where, we as professional sales people come into the picture. It is our responsibility to convince our customers that they will be in good hands if they decided to trust out company with the fabrication of their product.

When you consider all these factors that go into a decision like this, it become evident that ours is not a simple sales process. It’s not merely holding up a product and giving a sales pitch for why the customer should buy our product. No, not at all. This sales process is very personal and some would even say emotional. In a way is almost like turning over your child to be raised by others.

When selling contract manufacturing services, as great sales people, we should focus on making our customers feel completely comfortable and yes, safe, and secure, enough in our company to choose us to build their products. This means that when selling to these customers we must focus on the following key factors:

  1. Reliability: They need to understand, nay believe, that we are completely reliable. The best way to do this is through references and testimonials. They should be able to see a track-record fully based on happy and satisfied customers. Customers who are happy enough with our performance that they are willing to talk about it to other customers. If our target accounts see that we have customers who are willing to stand up and vouch for our reliability they will feel safe a secure in making their decision to engage with us.
  2. Consistency: When potential customers come to our company we must prove to them that our process is in control and that are production lines are putting out the same great consistently high-quality products from the first assembly, to the last. We must demonstrate that we have all the right systems like ISO in place, assuring them that we have a fool-proof quality assurance system.
  3. Credibility: This is key. They need to know that we are completely truthful in all our business transactions. This is the time for open-kimono discussions. Our company must be on an open-book basis to our customers. We should concentrate on showing them that we are a real, viable, and yes financially sound company, that will not only be there for them today but in the future as well.
  4. Flexible and easy to work with: This is so very important. As a CEM, you are literally their business partner in a relationship that is much more intense than the typical vendor/customer relationship. As a great CEM partner, you must always have the customers’ welfare at heart, realizing that you are playing an integral part in their success as well as yours. You have to always be prepared to walk that extra mile to assure that your customers are selling the best products money can buy, products that your company is producing for them.

As a salesperson, it is your responsibility to convey all of these points to your customers, to assure them that your company will indeed treat them as true partners. But you cannot do it alone. The most important thing to remember about selling contract manufacturing services is that the entire team should be involved in the sale. From the owner/president of the company, to the program managers, to the Quality managers, to the department leads, to the all-important purchasing manager, everyone should take part in convincing your customers that your company is unquestionably the most qualified, reliable, consistent, credible, flexible, and capable company in the industry to build that their products, it’s only common sense.

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Better Relationships With Your PCB Vendors Will Yield Better Boards

dan-5We have talked a lot in this column about how board shops should treat their customers. How they should try to get to know their customers and their needs. So now let’s switch things around and talk about how customers should treat board shops, how they should work with board shops to get the best products and the best performances out of them.

For years now we have been talking about the new way of doing business. We have discussed things like what I call the “gray market” where companies like to buy their PCBs on line without ever having to talk to anyone, which by the way I consider the ultimate step in the commoditizing of the printed circuit board as a product. The trend in the electronics market has been to trivialize the circuit board to the point where the technology is considered pedestrian, repeatable and in some cases not even worthy of its own ITAR protection.

Companies can buy boards off web sites with a computer and a credit card without ever having to talk to anyone.

The sales people I work with find themselves overwhelmed with frustration caught between a rock and a hard place with their management whipping (yours truly included) them to get out there and visit those customers. Meet with them face to face; while those wily customers do everything they can to make sure that doesn’t ever happen, putting up barriers made of anything they can imagine to keep those sales people from seeing them face to face and in person. And that’s just the buyer, forget the chance of ever seeing anyone from the rest of the project team.

In short the relationship between the board shops and their customers is now virtually (no pun intended) non-existent.

And that spells trouble. Big trouble. All business is about people, people talking to each other, people understanding each other and yes people caring about each other. And now that has been lost. People are not talking to each other…pretty much never.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us to where we are today when we have the biggest gap between the people who design and engineer the end product and the people who build the boards that go into that product so that now the people building the board have nothing more to go on than what they are asked to build actually; just what is in front of them. They are operating in a vacuum.

In the old days, back in the days before the internet these people used to talk to one another. The customer’s project team would visit the board house or vice versa or both and then they would discuss the project. Then the customer would talk about the project in detail with her vendor. He would explain what they were doing, she would explain why the boards needed to be the way they needed to be and make sure that the people building the board understood why the board needed to be the way it needed to be. In these meetings the board guys would get a good understanding of what their boards were going into and why certain parameters were extremely critical. They would be exposed to the whole picture to the point where the customer’s call outs would make sense to them. And yes often around that meeting table ideas would be exchanged. The board guys could and did come up with suggestions and improvements for making the board a more effective component of the end product as well as more easily manufacturable and yes often, surprisingly often, less expensive.

And then through this process another thing would happen. The teams, the customers and the fabricators would bond, they would start becoming one team, real partners to the point that they were all working on the same project with the same goal in mind, the success of that project. They would become brothers and sisters in arms working for one common goal. This of course would cause them to be open and honest with another. People from both sides of the relationship would get to know each other. The company to company relationship would far exceed the buyer to salesperson only relationship (if you want to call it that) we have today. The teams would get to know each other all of them from engineers to the quality people to program managers they would work on the project together. If the boards were particularly difficult and the shop was having a hard time building them; their customer, their partner would send their team in and they would work side by side solving the problems and thus successfully producing good boards…together….as a team.

Now the irony is that today our end products are more sophisticated than ever. The PCBs to go into those products are more complicated than ever but now we have no partnerships. People in both companies seldom if ever talk to each other never mind actually meet. This has got to change. We have to go back to those pre-internet days where people met, discussed, came up with common solutions and goals, got to know and trust each other and work together building the products of tomorrow. As an old PCB guy I am looking right at you our customers right now and saying clearly and in plain English. “Dear customers we can’t do it without you. Come and visit us, Let us visit you, come and get to know us, come on let’s work together on making your products better than they have ever been.”

Stay tuned as in future columns we’ll talk about the specific steps we have to take to develop those partnership; steps that will make both of us better together than we can ever hope to be apart, the way things are going now. So check in with me next week and we’ll go there…together. It’s only common sense.

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