Getting the most from your PCB Vendors

Five things you have to do to get the most form your PCB vendors

Last week we talked about how most PCB users are missing the boat when it comes to getting the most from their PCB vendors. We discussed how the new age of buying boards with minimum communications and almost no face to face relationships between everyone from the buyer and beyond has really take its toll on the PCB industry to the point where the vendors are very dissatisfied with the relationship they have with their customers and the customers, well the customers are extremely disappointed with their PCB vendors.

Okay now that we’ve slammed that right there on the table in front of us what are we going to do about it? How are we going to get the board guys and their customers in the same room, talking the same language so that we can all start reading from the same page and heading in the right direction?

So here are five things you as a customer can do to get the most form your PCB vendors.

  1. Get to know them. I mean really get to know them. Of systems are fine, audits are necessary and of course you have to have qualifications but be careful. These things are not the be all and the end all of your relationships with your suppliers. In fact they can sometimes hurt the relationship because, well because they are after systems, only systems and systems don’t always mean that they take the people suing them into consideration. So yes get to know your board shops. Visit them, look them in the eye. Find out what kind of people you are dealing with, make sure they are people you can trust, that you can rely on. After all you’re only putting the success of your new projects and the future of your company in their hands.
  2. Share your information with them. Sure after you get to trust them. I mean trust them not because you have what you think is a rock solid NDA signed but rather because you have met with them, you have broken bread with them you know what they think and how they act and what their values are to the point where you can trust them enough to share your information with them. Let them know what you are working on. Show them what their boards are going into and thus why the boards have to build a certain way. Explain to them why that board thickness if critical, why those impedance numbers are crucial why you need to have perfect boards on time every time. Not only explain the product the boards are going into but the project as well. Talk to them about your company, your customers and your industry give them an understanding what it takes for your company to be successful and how they can help you be successful.
  3. Talk to them about the future. Let them know what your plans for the future. Share with them what you will be working on in a year or two years or five years. Show them where your company is going. Let them in on what kind of technology you will require of them and ask them if they will be ready to meet your technological needs. Ask them if they are willing to take this ride into the future with you and start them thinking about their future and what it will take for them to be ready to handle your needs in that future.
  4. Ask them to share their knowledge. If you are going to get everything you can from your PCB vendors you have to make sure that you let them share their knowledge with you. They are more than just a board building machine, they are a valuable resource they have years of experience building hundreds of thousands of PCBs so let them be your PCB experts. Use them that way. Ask their opinion and advice about your end products and your PCB designs. They can help you with this. They can help you develop a better, more producible and more economical design. Remember the adage that the design is not complete until the board is build? Well stick to that. Have your PCB vendors complete your design by building the board for you.
  5. Answer their questions. If a PCB shops ask you something about your design it’s because they want to build it right. They want to give you what you need. They are not trying to be difficult, they are not trying to me a pain in the neck, no they have a question and they need an answer to that question to do a good job for you. In fact be wary of the company that never asks any questions. I would inspect the heck out of their boards if I were you. Be careful of those guys

And of course there is one more, there is always one more remember under promise and over deliver.

  1. Respect them: see their value, appreciate the value they bring to your company. For yeas OEMs, CMs, Vendors, IPC and yes other board shops have found it advantageous to commoditize the PCB, to debase it as a low tech product, to trivialize its importance for the sake of getting the lowest prices on the market. All I can say is that it is that you were wrong to do this and stop doing it. One more time a 28 layer blind and buried via board is not a commodity, having one built in 48 hours is sure as hell not a commodity. Stop treating our technology like that. Some trying to find the cheapest boards on the market. If you products are important, if you feel that you are building the very best products in the world then stop insisting on putting low priced crap boards into that product…show a little respect.

As I conclude this column it strikes me how basic these guidelines are and how far we have strayed from just plain old business to business people to people practices that we have to even have a column about this. But we do. Imagine a column telling you that you have to communicate directly with your PCB vendors. The more we change the more we stay the same…it’s only common sense.

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