Great Vendors Ask Questions

dan-3Many of my exceptional clients, and they are all exceptional of course, are getting negative feedback from their customers because they ask too many questions. Questions, mind you, that are focused on making a better product for those customers in the end. Questions, that are meant to clarify some of the questionable data that the PCB vendors need to clarify, in order, to build those customers functional circuit boards.

Instead of getting impatient with PCB vendors who ask too many questions, our customers should be thanking them. They should be pleased that these vendors are making a conscientious effort to do things right, and build them good functional circuit boards

At an IPC meeting recently, one of our industry gurus stated that less than ten percent of the data packages received by PCB shops from their customers today are complete and many of those packages contain errors that are serious enough to lead to unusable PCBs. This means that ninety percent of the time, the customers should be receiving some clarification questions for their vendors. Ninety percent of the time!

And yet, board shops are continually criticized for asking too many questions. They are chastised for taking much too much time to submit their quotes. And yes, most of the time they lose the order for asking too many questions, and taking too much time. Now, it’s time for that adage, “Not enough time to do it right, but plenty of time to do it over.

What really is disconcerting being that some PCB shops don’t ask questions, they just make assumptions, hoping they are correct, whether they are or not, and then build the boards per the package, a package, I may add, that in their hearts they know has incorrect data. But heck, they are getting the quote to the customer within and couple of hours….and they did not bother the customer with any of those annoying questions!

This problem exists today and is only going to get worse. Many of today’s PCB designers have no idea as to how a board is built, because they have never set foot in a board shop. In many cases, they have not even spoken with anyone who works in a shop. They have simply designed the board with their limited knowledge of how that board is built, what processes it goes through and what kind of testing it sees. Instead, they complete the design as quickly as they possibly can and send it to the buyer, so he can place the order with the very lowest PCB supplier, especially the one who gets the quote to him as fast as possible. And the PCB vendor who does not slow down the process by asking annoying time-consuming questions will get the business.

Think about that for a minute, or think about it for more than a minute, scary isn’t it? Think about it the next time you are on a plane, or in an operating room, or have a pacemaker inserted. Think about who built the boards that are in those pieces of equipment. And then pray hard that by sheer luck the lowest bidder with the fastest quote, was just lucky enough to build the boards the way they should be built to function properly. Because, in the end how will we know they did in fact build them right, or wrong, until it’s too late…and who wants to see that happen?

Look, there is a way to solve this dilemma and its very simple. Ready for this? Talk to each other for heaven’s sake. Designers, learn everything you can about how a board is built. Call up one of your PCB vendors or all of them for that matter and take a ride over to their shop. Take a tour, talk to people, find out how boards are built.

Then, visit with the inside sales people or whoever is quoting your boards, talk to the people in CAM and learn from them what a perfect data package looks like and then work on providing that perfect package to all your PCB vendors.

Years ago, when OEMs had their own in-house board shops, designers knew how a board was built. They knew what kind of perfect data packages the CAM department needed, and they provided those perfect packages… or else right? Now, things have changed. It’s pretty common for an engineer or a PCB designer to come straight from university to a company and start designing boards without ever having seen a plating line, or a drill room, or a photo department, or an etcher. They have no clear understanding of how a board is built, and thus, how a board should be designed for maximum efficiency and producibility. It’s time that changes for the better.

So now, I’ll say it once again; if you’re a PCB designer or an engineer or anyone in a company that buys boards, the board shops would love to have you come visit their facility, and they would love to show you how a board is built more importantly they would love to talk to you and yes maybe even ask you a few questions. It’s only common sense.

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