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Diane Maceri and Jessi Hall discuss how Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL) has been working with Alex Stepinski of GreenSource Fabrication to build their own captive PCB facility in Moscow, Idaho; the thought process behind that decision; and their involvement in the Managers Forum at IPC APEX EXPO 2021.
Barry Matties: Diane, can you give us an overview of the decision process to build a new captive PCB factory?
Diane Maceri: We produce a high volume of PCBs, they’re lower complexity, and we have great supplier partners, but we have to take into consideration that they’re buying equipment and working toward manufacturing more complex PCBs. There’s always that tension between the capacity we need, and the complex needs of making a higher profit margin.
Because of this, and because we’re always growing, we looked at whether we wanted to bring on another supplier partner to expand. Do we want to buy an existing PCB factory, or do we want to build our own? We weighed those pros and cons. Through a lot of work over the past two years, we concluded that we wanted to build our own factory. We met Alex [Stepinski of GreenSource Fabrication] and mapped out a path that looked very interesting to us as far as the facility not having waste and that kind of thing.
Matties: Alex really focuses an automated process. Is that what you moved toward as well—a fully automated process?
Jessi Hall: Our primary concern is the flow through the factory so, yes, I would say it’s pretty automated, although not fully automated. There are some things where we don’t feel the technology is quite ready and we want to ensure that we have a reliable product—that’s very important for our industry. We decided to pursue automation for the things that make sense now, make sure we have space for future automation, and then we can invest in new technologies depending on where our designs go.
Matties: From a supply chain point of view, this must have been just a breath of fresh air. Now everything is under your control, even your timeline. What advantages do you expect to have from a supply chain perspective?
Maceri: It will ensure that our demand is covered, because we have a large volume of PCBs that we use every day. Another thing that’s interesting about SEL is that we have a five-day lead time from the time we get an order from a customer until we’re shipping it. Not that we don’t have great partners, but this will ensure—since we have such a short lead time—we can tie that PCB demand straight into our assembly and out the door. It’s bringing the whole process closer.
Matties: I would think that the cost of the circuit board itself has gone down a certain percentage. What savings, on a percentage basis, do you think you’ll gain here?
Maceri: We don’t know exactly. We have multiple different layer counts and so, at the lower layer counts, we’re looking at a much higher percentage, but we don’t know exactly what that would be. As you go up in layers, the percentage comes down a little bit.
To read this entire interview, which appeared in the April 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.