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Publication Date: 07/1/2011
Archive >  July 2011 Issue >  Electronic Mfg. Services > 

Automated Circuit Design: The Quality's Built In
The production floor and one of the new lines of Juki autoplacers.

Based in Richardson, Texas, Automated Circuit Design (ACD) was founded in 1984 as a design service bureau. Founders Chuck Michie and Darrell Vaughn not only took a chance starting a circuit board design company, but also took a leap of faith buying a newly released CAD system, Cadnetics. It was the first of many decisions that would build and grow the vision of ACD to offer high-technology engineering services in a schedule that meets the customer's needs. This vision would later come to include printed circuit assembly.

Rapid Growth
ACD quickly grew to be one of the nation's largest design houses. This growth was due to its ability to lay out very complex boards in short turn times. Over time, ACD would add more services, excelling at each. These included laser photo plotting services, becoming a manufacturers' representative, and even becoming a value-added reseller (VAR) for computer-aided engineering and design tools. ACD offers R&D through production support for electronics OEMs.

Assembly Services Added
Today, it still offers circuit board design and, in 1999, led by President and CEO W. Scott Fillebrown, it added consigned and turnkey assembly services to its offerings. This addition would transform ACD into one of the fastest growing companies in North America as well as a national leader of electronics manufacturing services.

The assembly services support R&D engineers with prototypes, support production ramp-up with pilot builds and handle typical domestic production. The company's latest added production capability is its ability to handle high volumes through its international production option — offering the overseas price point with a domestic service and warranty.

Change in Ownership
Owners Scott Fillebrown and Steve Schwaebler purchased the company in 1999 from original founders Chuck and Darrell. Scott had been working there since 1990, and Steve for a couple of years. With the new ownership came a new commitment to reinvest in the company on an ongoing basis. So many times owners are eager to take the profits out of a company for personal use. This is not the case at ACD. This year alone the company expects to reinvest close to 13 percent of the total revenues projected for 2011 sales. In the previous five years, ACD has averaged close to 5 percent of annual sales in reinvestment. This is even more significant considering what the economic climate has been like over the last two years.
CEO Scott Fillebrown with PCB assemblies made overseas.

What does ACD invest in? During 2009 and 2010, it was mostly for improvements in infrastructure. While it may not be considered a glamorous or exciting way to spend money, a 35 percent increase in sales was planned, and there was a serious need to have the facilities and systems in place to operate effectively. These upgrades included building expansion, Valor DFM and DFA software tools, paperless production, and enforced routing software, servers, and numerous other behind-the-scenes improvements. This has been a more exciting year: ACD began 2011 with a total production floor makeover and capacity expansion. The cornerstone of this expansion was the transition to Juki Automation Systems as the major surface mount placement machine. ACD purchased not one but two new lines, each rated at 140,000 placements per hour. These lines are fronted by new DEK Horizon screen printers and end with Heller Industries' Mark III ovens.

However, ACD has not stopped there. The company has expanded its support operations with more personnel and equipment. The most notable addition is Aqueous Technologies' Trident Quad wash system, increasing the production lines' throughput and quality. "You will find that our infrastructure and commitment to production equipment are second to none. We believe the competitive advantage is won through capability," said Fillebrown. One of the other winning strategies is the company's MIS (Management Information System) resources.

Overseas Manufacturing
"Our goal is to offer the capability and expertise of a tier one contract manufacturer, with the friendly customer service of a regional company," commented co-owner Scott Fillebrown. The product offering, however, is just one portion of ACD's success; to look at just this one offering is not fair to the whole.

The company's offshore manufacturing uses facilities in the Philippines, and this depends on customer requirements. There are actually company employees sent there to monitor the overseas vendors to make sure that they follow both the contract in place and the scope and status of the work. ACD has hired an industry expert with 15 years' experience doing this sort of thing, with just these shops. Finally, the company follows the Ronald Reagan view: "trust but verify everything." That means extensive in-house testing of boards brought in from overseas before they are prepared for customer shipment.

Without a sound approach to network infrastructure and software integration, life would be significantly more difficult, if not impossible. ACD employees consist of a team of programmers and systems administrators who helped create and maintain many electronics manufacturing industries. Some of these innovations include real-time customer e-mail alerts, flight status touch screen monitors to alert process centers of incoming work, and customer self-service Web logins for job status and quality reports. This team also is responsible for customer-specific reports and other IT applications — customers are able to login remotely to their supplied text fixture using the Internet. "Really, they (the MIS team) wear two hats; at times they are an extension of our customer service department and other times they enable ACD operators to harvest efficiencies out of equipment that other companies leave behind, becoming an extension of the production team," Fillebrown explained.

MIS/IT Programs
There are very few companies that have the luxury of a MIS/IT department that can create commercial quality programs. ACD is one of the lucky few. Extending beyond that is the fanatical support of the mostly wireless manufacturing floor (another first of its kind) and wired network. In today's world, a good network is not good enough; you must have an extremely fast network with 100 percent uptime. "Your network is like the front line of a football team: you don't appreciate it until it fails, but when it does you are flat on your back, black and blue, going nowhere," Fillebrown continued. With that said, superior equipment and great MIS resources aside, ACD's real advantage comes from its employees.

ACD is known in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area as a great place to work. In fact the company received "Top Places to Work" honors by Workplace Dynamics and The Dallas Morning News the last two years, finishing in the top 100 in 2009 and top 150 in 2010 out of more than 1,000 employers. This is an honor that only the employees can make happen through a confidential survey.

"Our equipment is the best, but our employees are even better. They have that ?do anything for the customer? attitude," said Fillebrown. "We try to have the same attitude toward them as they have toward our customers." This is a company that understands that it is not perfect, but strives to be better. The outcome is a company with very low turnover, with an average tenure of more than eight years even with adding 15-20 percent to its workforce a year for the last two years and 200+ percent over the last 10 years.

There is a saying: "Past performance is not an indicator of future performance." While that may be true in many cases, it is not the case for ACD. This company has what it takes to succeed — a solid reinvestment plan, a timeless product offering, financial stability, industry leading equipment and world-class employees. What more could one ask for?

Contact: ACD (Automated Circuit Design), 1250 American Parkway, Richardson, TX 75081 972-664-0900 fax: 972-690-6234 E-mail: Web:

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