Tuesday, September 27, 2016
VOLUME -24 NUMBER 2
Publication Date: 02/1/2009
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Archive >  February 2009 Issue >  Tech Horizons > 

Chicago PCB Fab Company Marches to a Different Drummer

An interesting company on a fast growth track in Chicagoland is finding success and a better bottom line in bare board fabrication, even in a tough economy, even in a racket that is brutally competitive and highly price-driven. It happens through hard work, innovation, and a different way of thinking and working with customers. A board fab in Chicago? In America, even?

We tend to think of such operations as smelly and toxic using chemicals, plating and etching solutions — old technology that no one wants to think about anymore because this production has been shifted overseas. Not so. The company, Electronic Interconnect Technology as well as its founder and president, Pratish Patel, love turning people's noses around and shattering traditional misconceptions about board fabs, what they are supposed to be and make, and how they are supposed to operate. EI has been a professional printed circuit board manufacturer located in the Chicago area since 1985, serving design engineers and contract assemblers, providing all types of PCBs from single-sided to complex multilayer boards from prototype through production.

Realizing that he was working in a highly competitive industry, Patel early on decided to take a different track from the rest of struggling fab outfits, focusing on custom boards, small lots, difficult applications, jobs that required close cooperation with customers, something that would be difficult for an offshore company. He also recognized that working closely with customers, as well as designing, specifying, and producing prototypes as simply and quickly as possible would give him a competitive edge, as well as providing a wide range of associated services. "Make it simple for the customer, make it easy, make it price competitive", Patel says.

Highly Competitive Market
"We provide custom PCBs and lot sizes of all types in a market that is very competitive," Patel explains, "so we focus on quality, speed, and service to keep ahead. During the past few years, EI has enjoyed over 25 percent sales growth per year. Our continual investment in technology makes it possible to expand product offerings to include FR-4 heavy copper (10 oz.), Teflon, Polyamide, metal clad substrate technology and, recently, lead-free solder as a standard finish on all printed circuit boards."

EI is also an innovator in board fabrication. "We're now offering an ENIG finish for all types of PCBs. ENIG is a lead-free finish that will meet RoHS criteria. It is one of the most popular finishes next to lead-free solder. Our ENIG finish is provided by Uyemura USA chemistry and is a fully automatic process as well."

EI is housed in two facilities close by one another, one for administrative, design, and engineering services, the other strictly for board manufacturing and production.

"Board fabrication typically has a number of inherent problems associated with it, especially for a new product, and it can be frustrating for the customer," Patel says. "Going from concept through design to prototype and then to volumes of finished boards is a very complex process, a real hair-puller. These problems are endemic to all fab operations. There are design issues associated with the manufacturing process — DFM issues that have to be worked out in the beginning. That's why we have skilled design engineering talent on hand to work these issues out so that potential problems are identified and solved in the early stages. Because it is such an involved process, it is important to be able to accurately track and trace the evolution of the product every step of the way, and to provide that information to the customer on a real-time basis. That's where so much of our work developing a computerized system of tracking and reporting has come in." "We've developed our own unique approach to the design, quoting, tracking, and other steps in the chain that streamline the entire process to make everything easier for the customer. Our clear, simplified online quoting system is only one of many efficiencies that help our customers get answers and size up a project quickly. We also decided to offer a full range of PCB layout services, adhering to established standards for acceptance and delivery that result in a rapid design cycle. The engineers here at EI each have more than 20 years' experience in electronic design, printed circuit layout and manufacturing."

Designing Boards Online
EI has put as much of the process online as possible to make access to services and information easier for the customer. Quotes, ordering, and tracking are all internet-based, which Patel believes makes EI somewhat special among board fab companies, and what he believes is EI's most significant innovation. "Online, the customer can track their orders — even phone orders, and in real time. They can keep track of online quotes and truly access all of their information 24/7. They can get instant on-line quotes, place an order online, place a bid, that is to say, order with their target price, even place purchase orders online. Of course, there is a lot more information available as well, such as a comprehensive list of PCB guidelines."

Patel says that the success of the operation, however, begins up front; it's all about getting things right from the beginning in terms of organizing and interpreting data. "For every success, there is a backbone, or pillar supporting it in terms of a comprehensive procedure. For example, in the initial evaluation of a job, when a customer sends us a file, we analyze that file with 57 parameters in our custom quote program. The analysis generated directly impacts delivery and product quality to that customer. Our manufacturing process people get detailed instructions to meet that customer's requirement from acceptability all the way through to detailed shipping instructions. This is how we meet our commitment to each customer."

Keeping it Green
Patel rejects the idea that a PCB fab cannot be a good neighbor and a "green" manufacturer. Thee are many toxic chemicals traditionally used in the manufacture of PCBs, but EI is green. To prove it, he undertook a company-wide effort to reduce pollutants, and EI won an award for it. In 2007, the company received the Illinois Governor's Pollution Prevention Awards (P2). To win the award, EI had to satisfy stringent evaluation criteria applied to its implementation of P2 projects and technologies. These multiple criteria included waste volume/toxicity reduction; economic benefits; raw material, labor, energy, water, and disposal cost savings; management commitment; benefits to workers, community, environment; and others. "We initiated several projects to decrease our chemical consumption and waste generation by a range of 10 to 45 percent for eight major chemicals," Patel explained. "The liquid hazardous waste generated was reduced by 40 percent in a period of two years, which is almost 40,000 gallons per year. We also substituted less hazardous chemicals in other processes and eliminated the in-house consumption of lead-bearing materials."

"Building a more streamlined, competitive, and profitable fab business has a lot to do with increased speed, efficiency, ease of access, and simplification" Patel says, "As well as dedication to working very closely with the customer in real time. That's a big part of our edge outside of the realm of simply providing quality product on time. You have to remember that there are many ways that a board project can be slowed or delayed. The more uncertainty that we remove, the more straightforward, trackable, and easy we can make the process, the less likelihood of delays, and that makes everyone happy. The investment in expanding the role of our web site and online services has had a direct beneficial impact on our board fab business."

Contact: Electronic Interconnect Technology, 2700 W. Touhy Avenue, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007 800-364-4844 or 847-364-4848 fax: 847-364-4892 E-mail: sales@eiconnect.com Web:
http://www.eiconnect.com

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