We Are The Alchemists


I recently talked to a board shop owner who had a customer visit from a large military OEM. There were four younger engineers in the group and they had never been in a PCB shop before. When they were invited to tour the facility, they were actually stunned at the amount of equipment, people, and process steps it took to build a printed circuit.

The owner told me they were both fascinated and in awe of the complexity of building these things that people back at their own company called “cards”.

Which made me think again how little knowledge and respect people have for our industry. It is almost a case of strategic ignorance where people who use our products, people who design them, and especially people who buy them have been taught to not have much respect for what we do.

Now here is where I could go on a rant about and blame these folks and everyone who has come before them for not realizing how complicated it is to build a PCB.

I could use the line that I have used for years, “a twenty-eight-layer blind and buried via PCB is not a commodity! (Sorry, but I do love that line).

But I am not going to do that.

I am also not going to go into my rant about the fact that designers don’t seem to have much respect or even curiosity about what we do and how we do it.

Nope, nor am I going to complain about buyers who don’t want to know how difficult and complicated a process it is to build a PCB, demeaning our technology so they can get the best price possible by telling us that all board shop are the same so they just give the order the to the company that has the best price.

Nor am I going to blame our suppliers and vendors who for years have skipped over getting our opinion of a new product or chemistry they want us to use but instead go right over our heads to our customers getting them to spec it in and then leaving us to deal with it whether the product is good or bad.

No, that is not where I am going here.

I am tired of leaving it up to others to define us and our industry. I am also tired of all of us allowing ourselves to be the victims sitting quietly by and letting  the designers, our customers, and our vendors decide who we are and how important or even unimportant we really are to our industry.

What I am going to do is to urge all of us to take our place at the table.

For years we have had a seat against the wall while all of the other entities, the OEMs, the designers, the engineers, the PCBA companies and our vendors had their own seat right up front at the table. We were stuck in the back either behind the table or maybe even at the children’s table while they decided our fate.

While our vendors convinced our customers to demand that we use their laminates, their coatings, and their chemistry, we sat back without a voice.

For years we have waited to be invited, we have waited patiently to be let in, to be asked what we thought, to be allowed to voice our opinion about what we know best. HOW TO ACTUALLY TURN THEIR IDEAS INTO REALITY.!

Our customers told us what they wanted, and we shut up, even when we knew better. Our customers even railed at us if we asked too many questions. If we suggested that their design might not be perfect or their impedance calculations might not be correct, we were told to shut up and build it the way it was designed. And then we were   blamed when the boards did not work. When all the time we know in our hearts they would not.

For years we watched helplessly as our customers kept boards on shelves for weeks in jungle-like conditions and then pulled them out without bothering to pre-bake them and then returned them to us saying they did not solder— of course they didn’t, they were as filled with moisture as a wet sponge.

For years we were hit with regulations and rules that raised our costs while our customers demanded price cuts. Then  our customers went off to other countries without regulations, without human rights, but with that great price. All the while taking their IP with them and joyously handing it over to their newfound low priced friends.

If one were to really think about this we are in fact the true makers, the ones who actually do something. The only ones in our supply chain who actually build something.

We are the ones who have to have the equipment, the people, the technology and the wherewithal to actually build what others have designed and then used in their assemblies. We are in the end the true Alchemist of the supply chain and it is time we make people understand that.

Well it’s over. The chickens have come home to roost. It is up to us now. We have waited long enough, no one is going to give us that seat at the table. We are going to have to take it, we are going to have to wrench it from their cold dead hands and position ourselves as the true makers, the true innovators and yes, the true alchemist of the electronics industry.

Are you ready? Let’s go. It’s only common sense.