What to Look for in a Board Fabricator with Steve Williams

April 25, 2019 Judy Warner

Do you know what to look for in a new Printed Circuit Board Supplier? Today’s guest, Steve Williams, is the President of TRAC, also known as The Right Approach Consulting. Today he will share his tips, based on his visits to thousands of shops around the world, on what to look for in terms of certifications and how to look beyond the marketing and window dressing to source the ideal, reliable board supplier who will get the job done.

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Show Highlights:

  • Steve started in the industry in 1976. He gained extensive experience as a Senior Manager in the board fabrication industry, followed by 15 years in QA, evaluating companies for best practices and technologies which proved how many companies out there needed help.

What to look for in a good board fabricator:

  • Engineering Support: What kind of support do they have, how deep is their experience, and expertise? This combined with their people and the kind of software they use could save you a ton of money regarding materials selection in particular.
  • Cleanliness: You can identify a good board shop by their FOD (foreign object degree) and what effort they make to keep it clean. Yes it’s a board shop but a dirty shop is an indicator of their culture and practices that affect performance and product quality.
  • Dendritic growth is contamination on the surface of the board, that becomes encapsulated in the soldermask and will eventually galvanize the contamination leading to shorts from one trace or pad to another once the board goes under power, this is definitely something you do not want.
  • Modern Equipment Sets: Are they keeping up with technology? If all of the equipment is old, it shows that their scope is very limited.
  • Do they have Via fill, laser drills, planerizers, LDI, Inkjet printing, etc? This shows whether they’ll be able to support ongoing technology.
  • Merit Badges; Such as QMS certifications, has become a first screening tool. Also, IPC training of employees signifies management’s commitment to quality; customers expect that. There should be trained IPC inspectors on staff.
  • ISO Certification, must be part of the company culture, they need to be ready without prior notice for an audit. It should be a top-down culture within the company.
  • Is the shop busy? Another indicator of future performance is how much activity there is. An empty is shop typically an indicator of something being out of place, even during economic down times.
  • Speak to some of the employees, are they happy? You’re not going to get a good board from an unhappy employee, if the company can’t take care of their employees, how are they going to take care of their customers?
  • IPC Validation Services is an excellent program. Most validated companies say that customers love it, and it’s been good for them, another priceless merit badge and a great differentiator.

Links and Resources:

TRAC website

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About the Author

Judy Warner


Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry since 1984. She has a deep background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing with a focus on Mil/Aero applications in technical sales and marketing.

She has been a writer, contributor and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, The PCB Magazine, The PCB Design Magazine, PDCF&A and IEEE Microwave Magazine and is an active member of multiple IPC Designers Council chapters.

In March 2017, Warner became the Director of Community Engagement for Altium and immediately launched Altium’s OnTrack Newsletter.
She led the launch of AltiumLive: Annual PCB Design Summit, a new and annual Altium User Conference.

Judy's passion is to provide resources, support and to advocate for PCB Designers around the world.

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