Catching up with Winonics’ Mark Eazell

I have always thought of Winonics as one of the hidden gems of the North American PCB industry. Their well-equipped and well-laid-out facility in Brea, California is one of the more impressive looking PCB facilities in North America today.

Winonics is one of three PCB companies owned by JR Controls, the other two being Cosmotronic and Bench2Bench. I had the opportunity to talk with Mark Eazell, the general manager at Winonics, who also oversees the operation of all three JR Controls’ PCB companies.

Dan Beaulieu: Mark, tell me about Winonics.

Mark Eazell:  Winonics Inc. is a part of the JR Controls Inc. family of circuit board fabrication facilities. JR Controls, located in Ontario, California, is owned by Rod Savage, who is the company president and chairman. Mr. Savage founded JR Controls in 1970 and has been involved with the circuit board industry since then. Mr. Savage started his career in the United States Air Force, so the company is recognized as a Veteran Owned Small Business.

Beaulieu: So you said there are a number of companies in JR Controls. Can you tell me about those please?

Eazell: Mr. Savage started in the industry in the late ‘60s and has owned a number of PCB manufacturing facilities over the years, starting with Winonics Fullerton (est. 1967), and including JR Controls (founded in 1970 as parent company). He acquired Cosmotronic in 2006 and then founded Bench2Bench in 2008. Those three PCB manufacturing companies, along with West Coast Enterprises, a PCB laminate and materials distributor, currently make up the JR Controls companies. He has also owned a number of other companies over the years, including Darby Circuits, Super-Tech, JR Utah, and Winonics Texas, all of which were consolidated into the companies we have today.

Beaulieu: Winonics is one very well-equipped facility. What are your capabilities?

Eazell: Winonics offers three mil lines and spaces, multilayer PCBs with 2–30+ layers, controlled impedance, stacked microvias, and via-filling. We also offer a wide variety of surface finishes (many of which are RoHS compliant) and a wide variety of base materials with UL approval, bromine-free, and high Tg. Winonics has a host of in-house processes including laser drilling, LDI imaging, lamination, via-fill, HASL, AG and ENIG finishes, CAD/CAM department, wet lab for cross-sections, and countless others, all internal at our facility. Having all of these processes in-house means a faster turn time and tighter controls. We also have two staggered shifts for manufacturing, allowing PCBs to move through the facility even faster.

Beaulieu: Mark, I am always interested in how people started in the industry. What is your story?

Eazell: In 1980, I started straight out of high school working for Mr. Savage at his Fullerton facility. I started at Winonics as an NC driller and worked my way up to programmer and finally drill room supervisor. I left in 1988 to pursue the dream of business ownership in the graphics and printing industry. On meeting with Mr. Savage in 1995, with much trepidation, I decided to sell my shares in that business and return to Winonics at the newly acquired Brea facility. I again started as a drill room supervisor, which in time was expanded to cover fabrication and AOI.  Several years later, I was given the opportunity to move into procurement. In time, I was asked to handle shop operations and finally promoted to General Manager. Looking back, I still find it hard to believe it has been a total of 28 years working for Winonics. Time sure flies!

Beaulieu: I guess you made the right move when you came back then?

Eazell: Yes, I would say so.

Beaulieu: So what was the industry like when you started in 1980?

Eazell: Well, in the drill room at least, I remember being amazed at how small a 20-mil hole appeared. Also, how sophisticated bombsite programming and punched drill tape seemed to be. LOL. Amazing to think how far the industry has come with standard mechanical drilled holes now being 8–10 mils and even 6-mil in some cases. Not to mention the 4-mil and under laser microvias.

Beaulieu: What is Winonics forte—what are you good at?

Eazell: Winonics has provided an Alpha to Omega production model, meaning we provide engineering assistance, recommendations, and DFM and DRC for all multilayer PCBs we produce. We feel that quality electronics assemblies stem from quality PCBs, and the process starts with good planning and engineering. We excel at on-time delivery of a quality product.

Beaulieu: Mark, since there are actually three different PCB manufacturing companies that are part of the JR Controls organization, can you spend some time talking about each of them?

Eazell: Sure, let’s start with Winonics. Although Winonics was founded in 1967, the Brea facility was established in 1992 as a provider of rigid multilayer circuit boards, IPC 6012 class 2 & 3, serving the commercial marketplace. Winonics is ISO and AS9100C certified, UL 94VO, and ITAR registered.

Then there is Bench2Bench. While this Fullerton, California facility was founded in 1967, the Bench2Bench name was adopted in 2008. Bench2Bench (B2B) was founded on the idea that ultra-high-density interconnects require special expertise and handling, unique engineering considerations and close working relationships between customer and provider. The products built here are not your average PCBs, but are fully custom flex circuitry with ultra-fine features. These circuits can be used in a variety of applications, with special opportunities for use in the medical market. The process of revamping the Fullerton facility to accommodate this product mix has been quite extensive and required a complete overhaul of the existing 30,000 sq. ft. building. From the class 10,000 clean room with laser direct imaging, to the plasma etching equipment and laser drill, the facility and staff are ready to produce.

And finally, Cosmotronic was originally a family owned business started by its founder Said Cohen. Mr. Cohen made the difficult decision to sell Cosmotronic to Thayer Capital in 2001. Thayer subsequently sold the operation to its current owner, JR Controls Inc. in 2006. Cosmotronic is now part of a three-plant organization that specializes in providing a variety of printed circuit board solutions to a broad customer base. Cosmotronic continues to provide high-reliability rigid, rigid-flex and flex circuits to the defense/aerospace marketplace. They specialize in metal core, bonded heat sinks and heavy copper. They are ISO and AS9100C certified, ITAR registered and have just about every mil spec required to build complex circuits.

Beaulieu: Can you talk about the advantages of having three shops in one company?

Eazell: Well it certainly gives us the ability to provide most types of circuits to our industry, sort of one stop shopping, you might say. And also with our multiple company resources we have outsourcing available at our sister companies if needed in an emergency. Having three shops means that we can do just about anything from flex and rigid-flex to microvias to fine line medical products. We can handle defense and aerospace boards as well as value-priced commercial boards and of course quick-turn prototypes. It does give us a distinct advantage over other shops. We like to say that we have all the advantages of a large company but with the ease and flexibility of a small company.

Beaulieu: Going along that line of thinking, what makes your company outstanding? What are the differences between you and your competition?

Eazell: Like I said we can build just about every technology board and provide any type of service our customers need. I also feel that other advantages are our engineering support, our quality and on-time delivery, all of which really set us apart. I’d like to mention here that just about the most important advantage we have comes from having a great team. Our employees really care about our customers’ needs and always do their best to make those needs a reality. This is a very customer-focused company.

Beaulieu: I like that. This is a people business; people tend to forget that. Let’s go to the future. In what direction are you heading? Where would you like to be next year at this time? In five years?

Eazell: Winonics will strive to keep up with the ever-changing PCB designs in the future, both in the demands for new equipment and new materials.  The industry seems to be moving towards higher speeds with finer lines and spaces and also more RF designs. Our main focus is on process and equipment to improve quality and throughput.  We continue to evaluate our customer material requirements for additional certifications as well. In the past year or so we have invested in a number of key pieces of equipment, including most importantly an Orbotech LDI machine, a fully automated PAL electroless line, a Chemcut SES line, another Emma flying probe tester and just recently a new Excellon Cobra 10 Watt UV/CO2 laser drilling machine. We will soon be adding another LDI machine to keep up with the increase in demand for HDI requiring buried, blind and microvias. Many of our customers are looking for ways to achieve lower costs in their designs and they are looking at the use of hybrid boards, built combining FR-4 with either Fr408 HR, Megatron 6 or Rogers. We are taking that trend very seriously and making sure that we are at the head of that curve as well.

Beaulieu: Mark, why else should customers want to do business with Winonics?

Eazell: That’s easy; Winonics provides a reliable and competitive printed circuit board, built fast in America by caring employees. We provide the upfront engineering support to help our customers get their boards built right the first time and in doing so our customers save time and money in getting their product to the market fast.

As you know Dan, this has been and continues to be a tough business, what with most of the printed circuits being built offshore for lower prices. But for those of us who have survived making boards here in America, we have to love what we do and do it faster and better to help our customers survive. Because without our customers where would we be? As someone I know says, “It’s only common sense.”

If the PCB industry is going to survive here in North America we will need more companies like Winonics and the other companies that make up JR Controls—companies that are willing to change with the times, understand their customers and where their needs are going and then be willing to invest in equipment, technology and people to keep up with those needs.

Beaulieu: Thanks for your time, Mark.

Eazell: Thank you, Dan.