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Doing It Right in the USA
Technicians assemble mother boards into computer towers in box-build operation.

At a time when contract manufacturing (CM) would appear to be heading overseas, at least one company is interested with maintaining its capabilities within the United States. Located in Austin, Texas, Kodiak Assembly Solutions LLC is a fully equipped, electronic manufacturing services (EMS) company that started in 2004 and has more than doubled its revenue over the past nine years. The RoHS-compliant, ISO9001:2008 registered company is strong in printed-circuit-board (PCB) assembly, notably complex multilayer designs with surface-mount-technology (SMT) components and a variety of connector types.

The company offers PCB assembly, test, and integration services and has grown strongly these last nine years in spite of an unsteady economy in recent years. The privately held company has changed location twice during that time, now occupying a 60,000 sq. ft. facility with over 80 employees. With revenue expected to hit a new mark for the company in 2013, its three owners take active roles in the firm's day-to-day operations and point proudly to a wealth of loyal, experienced engineering talent, consistent high quality of products, on-time delivery, and responsiveness to customers' needs. The company's growth, at least in part, can be traced to its extensive capabilities in assembling complex PCBs, such as dense, double-sided boards with BGA and micro-BGA (µBGA) connectors and SMT components, to demanding requirements.

Treat it Like Custom
Perhaps another reason for the success of Kodiak Assembly Solutions has been the way the company embraces every new PCB project — not as something that has been done before but as a custom product. A custom thermal profile is developed for every PCB assembly that will go into a solder reflow oven. Every solder screen used as part of manufacturing a PCB assembly is custom designed to ensure the highest quality "print" during the solder print process. Careful attention is paid to every step of the PCB manufacturing process to help provide customers with the highest-quality, most consistent products. The company's engineering team has adopted a philosophy and practice of "measure twice, cut once" that guides them through their engineering and manufacturing steps.

Kodiak works closely with customers to ensure the smoothest and shortest transition from design to production. The company performs design for manufacturing (DFM) and design for test (DFT) reviews for a customer while that customer's PCB assembly is still in the design phase. This is a value-added service that provides a customer with the peace of mind that the PCB assembly will run smoothly, efficiently, and cost-effectively as a part of Kodiak's manufacturing process. Such DFM and DFT reviews can help a customer achieve tight financial budget requirements as well as critical deadlines for the production of a PCB assembly.

Latest Equipment
Backing Kodiak's high quality of engineering, the company has invested in some of the latest SMT production equipment available from suppliers such as Fuji America (www.fujiamerica.com). All three of Kodiak's SMT production lines can place components as small as 01005 SMT packages, which measure just 0.4 x 0.2mm (0.016 x 0.008-in.). Although current customers are not yet designing with such small SMT components, the company is equipped and prepared to handle the production of PCB assemblies using these miniature components.
Quality Assurance specialist inspects LED lighting modules that monitor the temperature of liquids or gases flowing through pipes in oil refineries.


The company's in-house test strategy includes the use of Takaya Flying Probe Test Systems, with their high inspection speed and comprehensive inspection coverage, and Mirtec Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) equipment. Production customers and their PCB assemblies are also supported by Kodiak's use of two-dimensional (2D) x-ray and functional test systems. The company's Box Build/Integration area has recently grown to over 10,000 sq. ft. If customers require conformal coating or potting of their PCB assemblies, those capabilities are also maintained in-house at the company's Austin facility. Several years ago, the company invested in a sophisticated manufacturing resources planning (MRP) system that helps it manage its resources efficiently and effectively. For example, the MRP capability makes it possible to generate reports for component shortages and "what if" scenarios in a matter of minutes.

Staying in the USA
The company has grown throughout its history by adhering to a simple motto: "Doing it right and in the USA." At one time, the lure of inexpensive labor had many companies seeking manufacturing help in other parts of the world, moving manufacturing facilities from the US to offshore facilities. But with rising labor rates in the Far East, and incidents where a company's intellectual property (IP) might have become compromised at those offshore facilities, terms such as "reshoring" or "onshoring" are now being used to describe manufacturing that is following a growing trend in electronics manufacturing to shift production back to the USA — not just for cost concerns but also for improved quality.

Kodiak has witnessed first-hand some of this trend of shifting manufacturing processes back to the USA in working with a company that was preparing for a new product introduction about two years ago. The company's CEO had decided to use an offshore CM to build the product. But after a difficult nine-month transition to the CM in China to produce the PCB assemblies for the new product, shipments of the new PCB assemblies were falling behind schedule and an unacceptable number of those PCB assemblies were failing incoming inspection and test.

To assess this difficult situation, the company sent a team to the Chinese CM for a month to study their manufacturing processes. When the team returned, the company's management contacted Kodiak with a request to quote building the same PCB assemblies in their facility in Austin, TX. In spite of an initial perception of lower manufacturing costs for a Chinese CM, when the "true landed cost" of building the PCB assemblies in the Austin facility was analyzed, moving the production of the PCB assemblies to the US appeared to be a practical alternative. Within eight weeks, Kodiak began delivering PCB assemblies to the company and "first pass yields" stood at 98 percent. Kodiak now regards the company as one of its five largest customers.

Onshoring No Accident
It would appear that the trend to bring manufacturing back to the USA is not an accident or unique, but is gaining traction because it is an alternative that makes sense for many situations. Several Fortune 500 companies recently announced that they were bringing some of their manufacturing production back to the USA. In addition, a major cellular telephone manufacturer announced that their new telephone models will be assembled by a large CM in the Dallas, Texas area. Such an announcement would have been unlikely five years ago.

Growth is made possible by investments, and Kodiak's investments in production equipment, its manufacturing processes, its MRP system, and certainly in its high-quality employees have all made possible the company's steady growth over its nine-year history. The growth is fueled by providing the highest quality products possible, with on-time delivery and the most attentive, personal customer service. And that growth is not taken for granted, but is part of a company-wide belief in "doing it right and in the USA." Contact: Kodiak Assembly Solutions, 2400 Grand Avenue Parkway, No. 103, Austin, TX 78728 512-275-1702 E-mail: mharlow@kodiakassembly.com Web: www.kodiakassembly.com  

 
 
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