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Company Strengthens Capabilities to Encourage Reshored Business
One of CEA's technicians is using a new Juki system in support of customer satisfaction.

Keeping business in the United States is part of the plan for Carolina Electronics Assemblers, Inc. (CEA), an electronics contract manufacturer specializing in the development and manufacture of printed circuit board (PCB) assemblies, cable assemblies, and related electronic products. By providing customers with a full range of services, from design to final test, and enormous flexibility, the firm works hard to maintain its US-based business and to earn growth by winning contracts that are coming back from China. With headquarters in Smithfield, NC, CEA operates out of a 50,000-square-foot facility and has the capability to expand to accommodate future growth.

The company has a two-part formula for "onshoring" or "reshoring," terms used for returning electronic design and manufacturing projects back to the US. The first part involves increasing efficiency without sacrificing quality. By doing this, CEA hopes to create a more aggressive internal pricing structure that, in turn, enables the company to provide a more competitive end-customer pricing model. The second part involves educating customers about the true costs of offshore manufacturing, and how those costs compare to manufacturing electronic products in the US. CEA has studied how many companies fall victim to misleading cost analyses on their own projects, because multiple departments may be involved within the company and may not properly estimate those costs. By educating its people at all levels to analyze a total true cost picture, the company has reduced the perceived cost gap. By performing more accurate cost analyses, the firm has discovered that the true costs of onshore manufacturing do not differ significantly from the costs of offshore manufacturing, and with fewer headaches and simpler logistics.

Employee Pride
Steve Yauch, President of CEA, explains that there is a great deal of pride among the workers who are pleased to have business back in the US: "I think there is a growing trend to bring manufacturing back to the United States. In addition to the issues listed above, I believe we are starting to see people really care about 'made in the USA.' Our employees take great pride in being able to say that the products we produce are indeed made in the USA and tend to be superior in quality (when compared to) many of the products we have seen made offshore."

Manufacturing Locations
When customers evaluate their options for manufacturing locations, a number of different factors are involved. Time to market is an important consideration and, because many electronic products suppliers would prefer to keep their inventories low while also maintaining short time to market, managing lead times with offshore manufacturers can be extremely difficult. In addition, a great deal of the publicity about working conditions in offshore electronic manufacturing facilities has not been positive. Yauch believes that the industry is becoming more sensitive to such conditions, and developing a "collective conscience" that will impact decisions made about manufacturing locations. Another strike against offshore manufacturing is simply that the cost of using offshore facilities are rising as labor costs around the world increase.

CEA's commitment to quality strongly influences the company's decision-making process, including the decision to keep manufacturing in the US. The firm's equipment and processes are optimized for maximum efficiencies, and its highly trained and experienced production personnel can recognize defects and potential problems before value is added. As Yauch notes, much of the company's success is due to the employees: "As much as it sounds like a cliché, most of our success can be attributed to our people. If you find a dedicated, conscientious group of individuals, give them the right tools and let them know they can impact their future as well as that of the company as a whole, success just seems to come on its own." He added that CEA takes a team approach to problem-solving and as such, conducts frequent "in-process" inspections to guarantee delivery of the highest quality products and services to customers. The complete satisfaction of each customer is CEA's top priority, and that pledge is the foundation upon which the company stakes its reputation.

Managing Lead Times
By managing its raw material lead times, CEA attempts to honor that pledge to its customers. Yauch observed that the company currently is seeing volatility in areas that historically have been stable. To combat this issue, CEA is spending more time managing material and working on creative collaborations with both customers and suppliers. And one of those suppliers that has made a difference has been Juki Automation Systems.

Yauch learned of Juki several years ago from CEA's local Juki representative, Bob Doetzer from Circuit Technology: "At the time, I was very impressed, but did not have the budget to purchase a new SMT line." In 2012, CEA began replacing some older surface-mount-technology equipment and spent several months evaluating major equipment manufacturers' products. Yauch added: "Once we looked at the price versus performance comparisons, it became an obvious choice."

In addition to favorable pricing, CEA saw many other reasons for partnering with Juki. One was the quality of the equipment. As Yauch commented: "When a company provides the type of warranty that Juki provides, you know they believe in the quality and reliability of their equipment." Another was the free training that Juki offers for the life of their equipment, which can add to a significant cost savings over time. In addition, Juki's close proximity to the CEA facility has allowed CEA to work closely with Juki on several fronts and create a partnership that Yauch believes will be the cornerstone for long-term success.

CEA finished the installation and training on its first Juki electronic manufacturing line in June 2013. At present, it is simply called "LINE 3," although Yauch mentions that after a few months, CEAs' engineers will name each piece of equipment on the line, and the entire line, typically after famous movies. Yauch noted: "One of the chip shooters we recently replaced was called Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and was installed on the Disney Line (also known as LINE 1)." Although this might seem odd, Yauch explains that it adds some levity on the production floor.

CEA will install a second Juki line in early September 2013 and has plans to purchase a third line sometime in early 2014. In addition, it is installing automated material handling and storage equipment from Juki in late September 2013. CEA has estimated that the combination of the three Juki lines and one of CEA's existing production lines will provide the capacity to handle growth for the next several years. "However," Yauch added, "Should the need arise, I will not hesitate to purchase additional Juki equipment as needed."

Diversified Services
CEA's range of services help its customers reach and maintain best-in-class status. The three main services include turnkey, PCB assembly, and value-added services. Turnkey services include building cable assemblies, box build, conformal coating, potting, labels/overlays/front panels, fully functional testing, programming, and mechanical design documentation. PCB assembly services include prototyping and production of PCBs. CEA can handle both through-hole and SMT automated component placement as part of its PCB manufacturing services. Through-hole assembly consists of dual-in-line-package (DIP), radial, and axial insertion. SMT capabilities include handling components down to 01005, BGA, and CSP and LED boards as large as 48-in. The value-added services, intended to help customers run their companies as efficiently as possible, including SMT tape-and-reel, through-hole sequencing, material management, manufacturing documentation, and SMT and through-hole board repair. Yauch says: "Think of CEA as an extension of your own manufacturing department. From concept to completion, we work one-on-one to provide customers with the exact solution required. The versatility of our manufacturing and engineering capabilities accommodates all production volumes from simple prototype assemblies to high-volume production."

CEA possesses an impressive lineup of manufacturing equipment and capabilities that help the firm serve as an extension to its customers' manufacturing departments, including:

  • Surface-mount equipment: Its facility is equipped with three complete SMT lines, each containing chip shooters, fine-pitch placement, and 10-zone ovens. CEA also uses advanced software with the flexibility needed to set up production on any of the three lines with little or no programming downtime, reducing set-up costs and lead times.
  • Automated through-hole equipment, including an axial, radial, and dip inserter as well as a sequencer.
  • PCB inspection: The facility is equipped with two AOI and an x-ray machine. The AOI systems help closely monitor all PCB assemblies for component accuracy, proper solder joints, component defects, and electrical shorts. The x-ray system provides the capability to look within and under components such as BGAs for manufacturing defects.
  • Cable/harness assembly: a full array of automated equipment provides wire processing capabilities from 350MCM to 28awg and harness board layout and assembly. It also uses IPC/WHMA-A-620 industry standards for assembly; it does not use drawing or BOM, and supports reverse-engineering needs.
  • Cable testing: The company uses industry-standard testers as well as a wire tester for harness board assemblies. High-voltage/current ground testing is available and custom tester development is available based on customer needs.
  • PCB repair is performed by means of a BGA rework station as well as a well-equipped designated rework area.
  • Wave solder can be completed on one of two totally independent wave solder machines. The first is for non-RoHS solder operations while the second is for RoHS-compliant assemblies, with SAC 305 solder alloy used on this system.
  • Engineering design services for electrical designs, mechanical design and in-house three-dimensional (3D) printing capabilities.
  • In addition, there are four slide lines and 22 individual work cells for manual solder operations. These work areas are separated into restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) and non-RoHS cells. Also, there are three final QC inspection stations, and a designated area for final assembly, cable assembly, and box build.

Finally, it is the customers that drive CEA. Yauch concludes: "We are constantly improving our people, our processes and our management in order to exceed our customers' expectations each and every time. We are committed to unparalleled customer service and earning long-term customer loyalty."

Contact: CEA, 132 Citation Lane, Smithfield, NC 27577 919-938-1086 E-mail: Web: and Juki Automation Systems, 507 Airport Blvd., Morrisville, NC 27560 919-460-0111 Web:

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