Custom Is Never a Commodity

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American Standard Circuits provides more services than strictly bare board fabrication. During a recent visit to the ASC facility in West Chicago, Illinois, Nolan Johnson spoke with Bob Duke, president of ASC’s Global Sourcing division, about the dynamics of helping a customer source custom commodity subassemblies. 

Nolan Johnson: Bob, would you talk about the mission of your division?

Bob Duke: I use the experience I gained working in Asia to bring in other custom types of products—outside of the printed circuit boards—for those customers who need a competitive price and understand the value of sourcing offshore for products like metal, metal fabrication, die casting, stamping, precision machining, and CNC-type machining. We source plastic injection molding, blow molding, and magnetics; transformers and coils are products that make sense for offshore sourcing. We also source membrane switches and wire harnesses. In other words, anything that's high labor content is an opportunity to save some money over domestic manufacturing.

Johnson: Customers come to you for their specific PCB needs, but there are the other pieces of the BOM that make up the subassembly for the PCB. Is that where you come in?

Duke: That's correct. When you look at the electronic assembly, it's ultimately a box build, and it's associated with these other things that we offer as a solution. Now, the customer can come to us and say, "We have other custom items. Metals and wire harnesses are part of our assemblies, so do you have anything in those areas? Those are very expensive.” In the past, some of our larger customers told us they considered going offshore to find more competitive pricing and needed some help with developing relationships.

Before long, when a customer sees that you've done a good job with a particular commodity, they get excited about other opportunities. "This has really worked out better than we expected,” they say. “Now, what about helping us with other custom projects?”

With our feet on the ground in Asia, it’s likely we can find a supplier, put them through our rigorous approval process, test them out, have some prototypes and samples made, and develop a source for a customer who has that need.

Johnson: I'm imagining that this turns into a complete kit for the EMS box build supplier.

Duke: It could be. On the printed circuit board assembly side, of course, there are a lot of components involved. We're not buying components; if it's not custom, and you can get it from a distributor, then it's not something we focus on. 

Johnson: Obviously, this works well as a supplement for ASC's customers. What feedback are you getting from customers? What is the need for this?

Duke: Let me share an example of a large industrial customer in the safety business with a product widely used in the market. They had an excellent reputation, and it was something everybody wanted.

But just because you have the best market share, don’t think you can fall asleep at the wheel; there are many competitors nipping at your heels. Over time, when their orders dwindled, the company slashed its budgets. Smaller, nimbler competitors were beating them on price and the company was losing market share.

To read this entire conversation, which appeared in the May 2023 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.


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