Shax Engineering: The Biggest Little Board Shop in the Bay Area

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I recently had the chance to sit down for an interview with Isam Shakour, founder and president of Shax Engineering. This little San Jose, California company is a complete turnkey operation, providing PCB layout, fabrication, and assembly services. We discussed the company’s growth since its 1998 founding, and Shakour’s plans for Shax going into the future. Isam is also doing the important work of mentoring young people into our industry so we introduced him to a bright young inventor, Jonathan Zinski, who brought along his latest invention.

Barry Matties: Isam, please begin by telling me about Shax Engineering.

Isam Shakour: Shax Engineering is a designer and manufacturer of printed circuit boards. We’ve been designing printed circuit boards from concept, prototype to manufacturing since 1998. We started basically with the function and specification and began to generate block diagrams, components, and schematics.  We also work with hardware descriptive language VHDL and Verilog. After our work is complete, the intellectual property is solely owned by our clients and customers.

We ran into a situation where some of our customers asked, "Do you know anybody that can do the layout for us?" So we added the layout capability, where we generate the output such as Gerber files and fabrication documentation and pass that on to the customers.

shaxposter.jpgLater, our customers again came to us and asked, "But how can we manufacture this?" So we aligned ourselves with other manufacturers in the Bay Area and gave them the documentation, supervised the manufacturing and produced the boards. Eventually, customers said they wanted assembly. So we aligned ourselves with assembly providers. We provided these services from 1998 to 2003, and then we started to think about going into our own fabrication.

After 2001, we saw significant opportunity for integration with our services; at that time we were integrating through business alliances. In 2003–2004 we started planning to provide integration ourselves and 2005 started Shax Engineering’s assembly business. We bought the PCBA equipment, put it into place and went into full production by the end of 2006. It has worked extremely well for us. Our customers gave us the whole idea from start to finish, from the schematic to fabrication. So in 2012 we started PCB fabrication and completed the process. Since then we have been a company from concept to production.

Matties: Which markets do you serve primarily?

Shakour: Basically we serve the commercial market right now, but we also do some work for the military.

Matties: Is your company ITAR registered?

Shakour: We are not ITAR yet, but we expect to be by June. We are applying for ITAR because most of our manufacturer representatives and business partners are looking for ITAR capabilities. But most of the product we have done for different companies, especially the military, does not require ITAR. They have been basic circuits in the early stage of design.

Matties: How many people do you have in your fabrication facility?

Shakour: For fabrication, we have six per shift but can increase to eight, and in the Shax facilities we have 10-12 people.

Matties: I think you are the smallest shop in the Bay Area. How is it for a small fabricator in the Bay Area?

Shakour: We basically focus on prototype and NPI which need quick-turn capabilities. Many customers must stay local because they don't want a long wait or they don’t want to leave their engineers with nothing to work on. It’s a very high cost to maintain that manpower, so we try to provide what they  require as quickly as possible. When we receive the PCB order, we aim for five days or less. Now, for assembly, we do high-mix complex boards; they are high-mix in terms of the surface mount technology as well as the through-holes. Those also need to be a quick-turn type of service.

Matties: In terms of the assembly, are you just loading the board or are you doing the box build as well?

Shakour: We don't do box build here; it’s just assembly at this time. We are trying to achieve the high-quality assembly that is required for high-technology, specifically for commercial and some prototypes for the Navy and so forth. That is where we are focusing right now.

We are assisting in design and building boards that incorporate brass and metal into the PCB. These types of boards are utilized in the RF and microwave industry. We are targeting this area since we see expansion in high frequency and LED light industry utilization.

Matties: Specializing in this sector really gives your sales team great focus to tailor their message to that industry. What sort of percentage will this segment represent in your business?

Shakour: Right now, PCB fabrication and assembly is the lion's share of our business. Design and layout is 10–15%. I would say fabrication is around 35–45%. Adding a new technology would change the percentages a little and generally it will increase the revenue of this company, because we are always seeking expandability and profitability.

Matties: What sort of revenue gains are you looking to make?

Shakour: We are seeking revenue beyond $5 million.


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