Finding value in value added services (part 2)

Finding value in value added services (part 2)

November 29, 2016 in Case Study

Value added services are a defining feature for circuit manufacturers. This series will explore how to ensure your partner delivers value in circuit design, fabrication and assembly.

Circuit design, fabrication and assembly are offered as value added services by many circuit and contract manufacturers. These services aim to deliver a cost-effective and less-stressful experience for the customer, because all activities can be managed through one supplier.

But for many customers, finding true value isn’t just about services. It’s about a supplier’s expertise and the skills they add to a project.

In part two of this series on value added services, we’re going to talk about circuit fabrication and how to ensure a manufacturer delivers value to your company.

Circuit manufacturers: Commodity or much more?

While it seems to many that any circuit manufacturer can produce any circuit. It is not the case! The common view of circuit fabrication companies is that they produce a commodity that can be chosen simply by the lowest cost. Many OEMs and contract manufacturers choose their suppliers this way. And many OEMs and contract manufacturers have been disappointed by their choice at one time or another.

The fact is that some fabricators are good at certain type of circuits and not good at others. For instance, a manufacturer whose focus is consumer type 1 or 2 layer boards may not be the best choice for a multi-layer, impedance controlled design. And conversely, a manufacturer whose core business is multi-layer, micro trace/space and via constructions would not be the best choice for a disposable, one and done, circuit design.

However strong the urge to choose a circuit manufacturer based solely on price, it is strongly suggested that you delve a little farther into their core competency and experience to assure that your boards are done correctly the first time.

How to determine if your manufacturer adds value in circuit fabrication

When your contract manufacturer or design partner suggests that they can source your circuit board for you, it is wise to do due diligence to be sure that the manufacturer they use has expertise in the type of application your product is designed for.

It is fair to ask who that manufacturer is and to call and interview them to see if they understand the design as well as you do. You’ve done a lot of research to choose your design or assembly partner and it makes very good sense to do the same with their suggested circuit manufacturer.

Whether your application requires a simple printed circuit board (PCB) or a complicated PCB or flexible circuit, your discussion with the manufacturer can confirm their experience in that type of design. Or lack thereof. Either way it is worth the time and effort up front to avoid problems when the board is received, assembled and testing begins. We all know that finding out too late is costly both in time and money!

Finding out later that the manufacturer doesn’t have the proper experience to handle your project will negate the value in your partner’s “Value Added Services”

If your design partner or contract manufacturer offers circuit fabrication services, meet with them to determine the level of value and convenience this service provides your company. An experienced partner can be a valuable addition to your supply chain.

Finding Value in “Value Added Services”

Finding Value in “Value Added Services”

October 31, 2016 in Industry News

Finding value in value added services

Value added services are a defining feature for circuit manufacturers. This series will explore how to ensure your partner delivers value in circuit design, fabrication and assembly.

Circuit design, fabrication and assembly are offered as value added services by many circuit and contract manufacturers. These services aim to deliver a cost-effective and less-stressful experience for the customer, because all activities can be managed through one supplier.

But for many customers, finding true value isn’t just about services. It’s about a supplier’s expertise and the skills they add to a project.

In part one of this series on value added services, we’re going to talk about circuit design and how to ensure a manufacturer delivers value to your company.

The changing landscape of circuit design expertise

Circuit design is a complicated vocation. For decades there weren’t any classes available. The best way to learn was to visit circuit manufacturers and learn the fabrication rules from them. Circuit designers had to design the entire circuit board on paper and then lay tape to Mylar to create a 4:1 scale of each layer of the PCB manually. This hands-on experience brought deep expertise and knowledge of designing for an application.

Today, the landscape has changed. It’s possible to earn a certification for circuit design and design a circuit relying entirely on libraries in Computer Aided Design (CAD) systems. An inexperienced designer can simply call out the specified component in the schematic software and it automatically arrives in the circuit layout with all necessary specifications. You may not even have to specify the solder mask openings or drill sizes, unless your company has specifications that differ from those in the IPC guidelines.

For simple circuit designs, this approach may work fine. But as applications grow more complex, professional circuit board designers add value by drawing on product development experience across many industries and asking questions to understand how a circuit will be used in application. Customers see these designers as project partners invested in designing a board for application, not only manufacturing.

How to determine if your manufacturer adds value in circuit design

When measuring if design services from your circuit manufacturer add value to your project, it is important to decide if the circuit layout requires knowledge of schematic design and if your supplier has the expertise you need.

It is wise to interview the designer to be sure you can comfortably trust the layout to him/her, and the design will meet the company’s specifications for manufacture and/or assembly.

For instance, will the assembly have to be U.L. or CE certified? Is it an RF design that requires knowledge of analog circuits? Will it be exposed to FCC scrutiny? These are all things that can vastly change a circuit’s design. If your design must meet one of these requirements, you’ll want to make sure your supplier has experience navigating these regulations.

If your circuit manufacturer or assembler offers design services, meet with them to determine the level of value and convenience this service provides your company. An experienced partner can be a valuable addition to your supply chain.

Value added services are a defining feature for circuit manufacturers. This series will explore how to ensure your partner delivers value in circuit design, fabrication and assembly.

Tramonto Circuits: A voice of industry

Tramonto Circuits: A voice of industry

September 20, 2016 in Industry News

My voice is being heard at I-Connect007. Read “Voices of the Industry” here:

http://iconnect007.uberflip.com/i/712650-pcb-aug2016/20

Education & Industry meet for a first ever think tank session in Stillwater, MN

Education & Industry meet for a first ever think tank session in Stillwater, MN

August 9, 2016 in News

Today I had the pleasure of meeting with educators from Stillwater MN School District #834 in their first ever “Future Ready Think Tank” meeting. They invited representatives from several local companies to join them in a discussion about the skills and preparation we would hope for from graduated students.

It seems today that we hear a lot about what the schools could be doing better or how their average GPA compares to other countries. Mostly negative in nature. However, that is the attention grabbing headlines. The reality is, the people I met with today are genuinely concerned about the success of their students, our children! They took the initiative to seek us out and host us at their offices on Greeley St in Stillwater MN. A nice gesture in my opinion.

The discussions centered around what the schools can do better to prepare their students to enter the work force. That generated some very spirited conversations. With respectful collaboration between the educators and those of us from the local business community, the morning could not have been more pleasant. The leaders from the local school district weren’t looking for a magic bullet, rather for ideas that may shape the future of education in our district.

One of the ideas I shared with Roderic VanScoy, the Principal at Stillwater Junior High and Rob Bach, Principal at Stillwater High School was that they didn’t have to do it alone. I suggested that there are many of us in the business world that are willing to help. Help with questions such as “Why do I need to learn this?” or “When will I ever use this in the real world”? Those of us that design widgets and build them for the populace know really exciting answers to those questions that may help inspire their students.

The message that I have taken with me from that meeting is that the educators in our district want to improve the methods used to teach their students. And genuinely care. If those of us outside that industry are willing to complain about it, then it is my opinion that we should be willing to help find solutions as well. Congratulations to John Perry and Shae Seivert for spearheading this initiative! I look forward to the next Future Ready Think Tank meeting.

Flexible circuits for all of your electronic devices

Flexible circuits for all of your electronic devices

August 8, 2016 in Design Tips

Today’s electronics are smaller and lighter than at any time in history. If this trend continues, the use of flexible circuits will inherently increase.

For this widespread adoption, flexible circuits can no longer be used only as a connection device. They must carry all of the components necessary to run our devices.

A difficulty has long been the assembly of surface-mount and through-hole components to circuit material that is not solid or stable. However, that is being challenged by some talented and innovative companies that see the value of flexible circuits as the future of electronics.

Early use of flexible circuits

Flexible circuits have historically been used as glorified cables, with a connector crimped on each end to plug into printed circuit board (PCB) mounted connectors.

Next, they were used in membrane switches and flat panel controls. They were thin and light and ultimately improved the quality of the panels by containing the switches and cables on one circuit. Their use as a carrier of signals was valuable, but nobody thought much about mounting components to them. That was the job of the mighty PCB.

Then the electronic industry started to think about smaller and lighter products, like the first Walkman or handheld TV remote control. Our demands as consumers leaned toward portability and convenience. We wanted to bring our music with us on a walk or run. We wanted to turn on the TV and change the channel from our easy chair.

This started a more widespread use of flexible circuits in everyday electronics.

Assembly challenges for flexible circuits

Today as before, most designers still use PCBs for their electronic devices – at a ratio of more than 6 to 1. Over 85% of all circuits manufactured today are PCBs. Flexible circuits, however, are gaining in popularity. You’ll find them in the newest fitness wear sewn into yoga pants or those cool light strips on the front of new cars.

The biggest hurdle seen at Tramonto is fear of mounting components onto a flimsy, plastic material. The PCB lends itself well to the assembly of small surface-mount components used widely in today’s products.

The flexible circuit requires more attention as its inherent flexible nature proves tedious for attaching components. These assemblies also require special treatment to survive the rigors of today’s electronics that are strapped to our bodies and bicycles, being dropped onto the ground, or bouncing around in purses or cars.

Traditional assembly processes don’t work well for flexible circuits. However, there are companies that are very good at mounting components reliably to these circuits.

These organizations know how to design fixtures to assist in the assembly process and how to prioritize the flexible nature of the circuit without compromising the fragile solder joints. They also understand the many advantages of using flexible circuits in electronic products, and are building flexible circuit assemblies that are as robust as any PCB assembly.

A new era in electronics

With the popularity of flexible circuits increasing and the advent of “printed electronics” upon us, electronics will look very different in five years than they look today.

We’ll walk into our homes and a flexible circuit sensor will turn on our lights, adjust the temperature and draw the shades. A circuit in your clothes will download fitness data for the day to your laptop, then email it to review on your phone.

Forward-looking circuit manufacturers will see their factories or assembly lines change in ways they wouldn’t have imagined 10 years ago. Tramonto Circuits embraces the change. We are here when our customers want to break the mold on traditional PCBs and fill their new devices with reliable flexible circuit assemblies.

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