Like many other industries, the North American printed circuit board (PCB) industry has been unable to maintain immunity from the effects of rapid globalization. Overseas competition contributed to a rapid decline in the number of domestic PCB manufacturing facilities, from an estimated 890 just five years ago to fewer than 400 today. Customers with long lead-time, high-volume products have moved production overseas, where producers offer attractive cost savings.
As a result, PCB production is flourishing in Asia, while it remains a relatively flat market segment in the U.S. and Canada.
The North American PCB industry is at a critical juncture. It can choose to maintain the status quo in terms of products, services and methodology, and continue to decline. Or, it can choose to adapt by recreating itself. By innovating and introducing more efficient systems and technologies, America's PCB industry can provide customers with added value and a compelling reason to support domestic companies.
Collaboration Is Key
Increased globalization created greater fragmentation, with functional specialties dispersed geographically by outsourcing. In order to successfully orchestrate project teams in various disciplines and locations, collaboration has become an integral part of doing business in today's environment. Effective collaboration can help bring products to market faster and at lower cost. The North American PCB industry is challenged to examine just how effectively its existing systems support cooperative design efforts while remaining time critical. As overall sales of rigid PCB manufacturing remain sluggish, design starts have been increasing in recent years, a sign of the movement to build PCBs into new product areas and applications.
If the North American PCB industry wants to remain competitive, it must develop systems that can support design starts by getting them into the prototype stage more quickly and efficiently. Developing such systems requires a keen understanding of the engineering perspective and of the support and connections within the supply chain. Thanks to ongoing fragmentation, very few companies have the breadth of knowledge to fully understand both prototype design and prototype manufacturing.
Many designers — especially entrepreneurs and those at small companies — lack sufficient resources to design, manufacture and assemble boards within the production window. Design engineers often are forced to manage a supply chain in which the various players do not communicate with one another, contributing to design flaws and delays. In addition, with more "new" or "crossover" engineers — such as mechanical engineers — experimenting with PCBs, sufficient expert support is required to guide novice users through the process.
Without sufficient support along each segment of the supply chain, designers face increased risk of running out of funding, missing crucial deadlines, or simply failing to achieve their design goals. PCB supply chain companies that can innovate to support design engineers and relieve their pain points have a greater chance of surviving and prospering. By introducing added value in each major link in the supply chain, companies can provide superior service that will draw designers back time and again.
Given the increased pressures faced by design engineers and their teams, certain PCB fabricators are taking note of the voids in collaborative tools and systems and are innovating to fill them. Sunstone Circuits, for example, began as a manufacturing facility. Now Sunstone has its own design tool, PCB123, specifically designed to help engineering teams create boards by working within the parameters of the fabricator throughout the entire design process.
With our goal of helping design engineers get to market faster by creating first-time working prototypes, Sunstone is moving one step further toward integrating the four main parts of the supply chain in the Sunstone ECOsystem(SM) Design Environment. A one-stop resource for the necessary knowledge, capabilities and expertise needed to produce a PCB, the ECOsystem provides a collaborative, open environment in which any designer, vendor or supplier can participate. This system encourages a free exchange of information throughout the design process, ensuring that designs remain on target in terms of fabricator parameters, available parts and supplies and design schedules.
The ECOsystem integrates the four key components of the supply chain in an effort to anticipate and respond to customer needs. The environment enables designers to navigate each step of the PCB prototype/quickturn production process:
Knowledge — find the expertise to design and build a PCB. Tools — identify the appropriate software to aid in design. Parts and libraries — source and track necessary parts. Manufacturing — select sources for production and assembly. By creating a collaborative environment that can address the needs of new designers to top-level designers alike, Sunstone helps customers turn boards quickly while reducing costs. We believe that, in order to succeed as an industry, PCB manufacturers must become more responsive to customer needs and create the tools that best allow them to succeed.
Working in Partnership
Just as our customers must work in cooperation, our company's design environment was created in collaboration with various partners along the supply chain.
For instance, we work with design service firms like Stratford Digital in Canada and Stilwell-Baker in Tualatin, Oregon, to ensure that designs with our manufacturing facility deliver high-yield orders.
On the tool side, Sunstone increased collaborative opportunities by developing add-on software for products like Altium Designer and CadSoft EAGLE. These add-ons allow designers to check their work against the company's published manufacturing capabilities interactively. These additional tools save designers from creating their own rule decks; as a result, improved yield and reduced turns generate savings in terms of cost and time to market.
Down the supply stream, Sunstone partnered with EMS ptovider Screaming Circuits of Canby, Oregon, to standardize data packages so that boards could be easily transitioned from our production facility into assembly at Screaming Circuits.
Adapt and Grow
During the past several years, the PCB market in North America has remained relatively stagnant; Sunstone, however, has experienced 15 to 31 percent year-over-year growth. We attribute this success to our ability to adapt to a changing environment and to offer the collaborative tools and processes that today's customers need and deserve for their own success. Companies along the PCB supply chain must adapt to new demands or risk extinction.
Contact: Sunstone Circuits, 13626 S. Freeman Road, Mulino, OR 97042 503-829-9108 x555 fax: 503-829-5482 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web: http://www.sunstone.com