Better PCB Buying with Greg Papandrew

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: December 6, 2022  |  Updated: May 14, 2024
Better PCB Buying with Greg Papandrew

Expedite your transition from prototype to scale with the help of an experienced PCB broker! In this episode, a returning guest joins us to discuss everything that involves cost-effective PCB manufacturing. Greg Papandrew, a PCB buying and selling expert, gives us a comprehensive understanding of PCB cost drivers and tips on a good supply chain strategy.

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Show Highlights:

  • The process of buying and selling, Greg Papandrew is a PCB broker with 30 years of experience in the industry
  • Greg emphasizes the importance of quoting smartly, learning when, where, and how to save money without sacrificing the PCB quality
  • What is a good supply chain strategy?
  • Greg dives deep into his role as a PCB broker, and his involvement in the decision making involving specs, materials, cost, and more
  • Sending too much information can be problematic, and it involves the vulnerability of intellectual property
  • Good communication with the PCB manufacturer and fabricator can go a long way; asking the right questions can help with the production of high-quality products with a fair pricing
  • What is the anatomy of a complete data package?
    • What's in a File list and a README file 
  • Greg answers, at what stage of the process does a PCB designer or manufacturer approach a PCB broker?

Links and Resources:

Connect with Greg Papandrew on LinkedIn
Watch a previous episode with Greg Panandrew: How to Buy PC Boards From a Board Shop
Watch Greg’s video: How to Avoid Self-inflicted PCB Costs
Visit DirectPCB - Better Board Buying website
Connect with Zach on LinkedIn
Visit Nexar website
Visit Octopart website

Claim the special offer for Podcast listeners only!


Greg Papandrew:
When it came right down to it, when I actually broached the subject on it, it's a million pieces a year. I was sending them 40 cents per board on this, and they said, "Greg, why are you pushing this so much?" I said, "Well, I'll stop, but I'm giving you 400,000 reasons a year why you should redesign this board."

Zach Peterson:
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Altium OnTrack podcast. I'm your host, Zach Peterson, and today I'll be sitting down and talking with Greg Papandrew, PCB buying and selling expert with direct PCB. Greg has actually been on the show in the past, and if you look in the show notes, I will have a link to his prior episode so you can take a look at that, and we hope you enjoy this talk with Greg Papandrew.
Greg, thanks so much for joining us today.

Greg Papandrew:
Yeah, thanks. Glad to be here.

Zach Peterson:
For the folks in the audience who may not be familiar with what you do and the process of buying and selling PCBs, as you've described yourself in your title, why don't you tell the audience all of this?

Greg Papandrew:
Well, thank you. Basically, I've been in the industry for over 30 years, become one of the older guys now, and I am a PCB broker. Yes, you can use the B word with me. I buy and sell boards from all over the world, primarily from Asia, and I help customers, OEMs especially in recent years where I'm concentrating them, helping them with their design for manufacturer on a circuit board, on how to make that as cost effective as possible. And that's what I really bring to the table when I'm talking with OEMs, and also EMS companies when it comes to, how do we make this board less expensive, at the same time not just cheaper but just less expensive? Because what happens a lot of guys, and gals, will go ahead and they'll design a circuit board that will, it's a Porsche. It's a great design, but do we have to have it this high tech where a Ford will get you there just as well?

I had a customer, just recently, developed a project with him almost three years ago and it came to fruition, it's a high runner, multi-runner, and it's practically a wearable. And they had it at a four layer board, and they said, "Greg, we need it to be a four-layer board. We want to mill down, it needs to be 12.8 mils, needs to be really thin." And they're going about it the wrong way, "Also, we have to use this material," and I actually looked at them and said, "You've really pigeonholed yourself in. Why can't we build this as a two layer? Why does it have to be black FR4? How about black solder mask? Why this material when it doesn't go through an assembly process? You picked the most expense material to build this board on, where 150TG works well."

And they just kind of looked at me, and when it came right down to it, when I actually broached the subject on it, it's a million pieces a year. I was sending them $0.40 per board on this and they said, "Greg, why are you pushing this so much?" I said, "Well, I'll stop, but I'm giving you 400,000 reasons a year why you should redesign this board." And so that's where I really help when I look at stuff, "Hey, do we have to have this kind of technology? Is that a question?" And in some cases, yes we do.

Another thing that I do quite a bit is array design. Sometimes they design arrays, you're paying for real estate, and whether it's domestically or offshore, you're paying for the full array size. Does the array need to have half inch railings all the way around? Does it need to be routed? Could it be scored? Could they be butted together? Because the green that's on the production floor, a lot of buyers look at that as being solder mask. I look at that as found money on the floor.

The print circuit board, yeah, the print circuit board represents 8% to 12% of bill material. The price is subjective, how quick you want the technology, where you want it from, everything. So take that all into consideration and buyers, program managers that understand boards better, what'll happen is they'll add to their bottom line without increasing their sales, either through designing it a little bit differently, and found money on the floor, or in the sense of they're winning jobs more because they're quoting smarter. Because if you quote wrong, like too high, then what'll happen is you probably don't get the job. If you quote too low because you didn't realize something, then what happens when you get the job, you're like, "Oh geez. Oh, it's got this. Now I got to go back to the customer or do I eat the difference just to save the sale?"

So that's where I really get into and I help. Even when it comes to technology, a thing I call tariff engineering. Where do I have something here? Yeah, I'm doing a lot of thin stuff. I have a customer, I will actually do two mil plated through holes, two mil core plated through holes. Okay? Very thin. It's almost like flex. Well, I have a customer that builds a lot of flex boards, and it's a one mil core. And I'm saying, "Do you have room for an extra mil?" And they go, "Well, why?" And I say, "Well, because this board here is a flex board, polyended. Right now with Tariff, they're getting from Asia, the tariff right now applies to a polyended board regardless of layer count."

Well I took the same board and that's an FR4 core, the same thing here. It's now a two layer rigid board. Tariff does not apply. So basically I'm going to the customer and saying, "Look, this is how you can actually save money." Now, the tariff will run out at the end of this year and I think they will extend it, the waiver for two and four layer rigid boards, but these are the kind of things that by looking to someone who, from a buyer's standpoint or program manager, actually work with a board house or work with a consultant who could actually come up and say, "Hey look, this is how you can save money without sacrificing quality, without worrying about getting the boards on time or what have you." That's where I really help with that, we're marrying the technology with the buying part of it.

Zach Peterson:
That's what I was just about to ask was, it seems to me like you play the role of almost like a manufacturer's rep but also a high volume DFM kind of consultant because you're really cutting, I guess, on the order of nickels or pennies out of the cost. But if you're moving up to high volume, all of those nickels and pennies add up. I mean you just brought up a great example of, we're going to produce a million boards a year and if you can get 10 or 20 or in this case 40% savings, or 40 cents savings I should say, that's a lot of savings. And that really does add up. I think at the prototyping phase, people build their Cadillac or their Porsche of boards and they think about cost, but I think they just generally assume that, well, once we go up to high volume it's going to be really cheap and the board cost isn't going to be something to worry about. So they don't care about it at the prototyping phase, but they don't really plan ahead for it in that scaling up to high volume phase.

Greg Papandrew:
Well, that's exactly what happened. And in some cases I'm kind of guilty of that myself because sometimes I'll ask, when do you think this project is going to come to fruition? All right, look, just prove out your design, build it the way you want to, and let me learn about it. And in this case here, that one, that example there, it's a very small board. You probably have one in your back pocket right now or know somebody who does, and so I'm under NDA, but anyway, so on this particular board it was like I came in after the fact and they were saying, "We want to take a look at it." And that's where I was able to say, "Here, here, here." And I was able to ask those intelligent questions at that time.

So in fairness, at the beginning they didn't know any better. Okay, fine, but at the same time they were willing to embrace a change and that's where a lot of companies fail is they don't understand to embrace that change or to at least look elsewhere to say, "Hey, are we doing this the best way?" I mean a good supply chain strategy does not include the words, "Well, we've always done it this way," or, "We've always used this vendor." That's not a good supply chain thing. And I'm not here, I believe in supply chain loyalty, vendor loyalty because you want the vendor to bend over backwards for you, understand when you may be late on payment, and when you call them on Friday at five o'clock, they respond. But at the same time it doesn't prevent you from trust but verifying and say, "Hey look, is this the best thing that we can do?" Or learn from others, say, "Hey, what else can we do?" And then take that back to your vendor and say, "Hey, can you do this?"

And that's one thing that, I don't know whether it's on my part, but I find that a lot of companies or people in my position who are, even more for board houses, I think a lot of people are overwhelmed these days between shortage of labor, things like that. No one's actually engaging and thinking about, "Hey, what if we did this?" Right now they're saying, and even when I go to a customer and I say, "Hey, we can do this with..." "Hey Greg, that board is set up, everyone's happy, customer's happy, manager's happy, everyone's great." I'm like, "But I get you another buck off a board on this." And they're like, "Well Greg, I'm working on the next quote, I'm working on the next design, I don't have time to look at that."

And so they're overwhelmed. And so everyone's just running around crazy. That's the biggest complaint. I'm not trying to take a tangent here, but that's what I feel the biggest complaint when I'm talking with EMS and OEM companies right now is, "Yeah Greg, this all sounds great, but we don't have the time to do that." Whereas you have this quality job one and let's have continuous improvement. There's no really a thing of continuous price improvement. And that actually comes from the design. Where's the continuous price improvement design department?

And it'd be nice where I've suggested as a couple of my OEM customers and I said to them, "You like Bill, who's the quality manager?" And he said, "Yes." "You trust him?" "Yes." "Well, how about this? Bill picks one board per quarter, let's take a look at it. We'll come up with design and come up something better and bring this in and if he approves it, is that okay with you guys?" And some are like, "Oh yeah, yeah, we could do that. Okay great." And Bill's looking at me, "Thanks for the extra work, Greg." But that's the point..

So what I bring to the table, and Altium design and everything else, what I bring to the table when I'm talking is not so much, okay, here's five and five space and four and four, three, I'm not going to technology how to route things differently. I'm just saying, "Hey guys, are we looking at materials? Do we really need that 180TG on this? Do we really need to be this thin of a line?" And one design here, a similar board to this right over here, sorry I got boards everywhere, but a customer did a-

Zach Peterson:
It's okay, I have them everywhere too.

Greg Papandrew:
So, I had a customer there that they wanted two mils of copper in the hole and they were combining a power board and a controller board on the same board. And I'm like, "You got these thin traces, you got this and all that." And so I took it to a design friend of mine and he said, "Greg, I understand why they want the heavy copper and all that, but if we put 10 additional 028 holes going through the ground planes and plate them normally, they'll have their heat dissipation and now it's one mil of copper in the hole." And I went to the customer and I can build this all day long now, just all day long.

I review... Part of that is also I review a lot of the specs. Specs today are not like what were used 20 years ago. A part of it is, I think, education. I do a lot of training on that. Part of that is they'll just throw something over the fence and say, "Here's the board." So I'll actually look through the specs, say, "You're actually costing yourself more. Is this 600?" I've I used this before, is it 600 or 6012 class three, class two? "Well Greg, it's commercial." Well they're both commercial, one has a lot more testing and coupons. What do you really want? And then when I explain it to them, they're like, "Oh okay, I understand." Well I'm calling this out. Could that other board house give you 6012 class two or class three pricing? Then you're wondering why.

And then at the same time, I love the competition, don't get me wrong, but I would want... How do I say this? Basically, that this vendor that you like all the time, well, why is their pricing always out of kilter on these boards? Well, they're quoting what you sent them. They're actually following the instructions and you might, as the buyer, don't know anymore. And quite honestly, it's back to the overwhelming thing, but buyers 20 years ago, we didn't have the email. We had actual silver films and we had the rep from the firm used to go down to the customer and say, "Hey Greg, I got some films for you. Got a job for you. Can you pick it up?" And we had desized prints as big as a picnic table cloth and there was an actual discussion, "Oh Zach, okay, you want this four layer board? I see you want it in array." Yeah, we discussed it.

Well most buyers, some them don't even know how to open up files, cover files, and program managers send it out. So there is a disconnect between what the engineer wants, what the program manager thinks the engineer wants, and what the buyer is sending out. And that's where there's a disconnect there where it's saying, "Hey." And then just from an NDA standpoint, I'll have buyers who send me a complete package of the Gerbers, the builder boards, the fab drawing, the assembly drawing, the bill of materials, everything, customer information, they send it to me and I'm like, "You've send me too much information." I mean you talk about intellectual property, I mean they just sent it out the door.

So it's like then, and a lot of them send it directly offshore, and I'm like, you just sent... Like I said to the buyer, "Hey, you need to be careful, you just sent everything overseas. How many other things have you sent overseas like this? Be careful." And then there's some things that'll come in, they go, I'll look at it and I'm like, "This is military.  offshore." "Oh Greg, it's..." I said, "Is it ITAR military?" "No, no, it's neither." "Please send that in writing to me." And there's a lot of stuff that, and I don't blame the buyer per se, it's just that they haven't been trained to know that hey, we need to protect our information at the same time. I don't mean to go off on a tangent, but these are the things I'm seeing where there's the disconnect between engineering, program management and the buyer, and who send the stuff out.

Zach Peterson:
Yeah. The data protection issue has become much more, I guess, front of mind recently and it's almost like you see cyber attacks every week or every month in the news. And I guess they've become so common at this point that you don't even hear about all of them in the news-

Greg Papandrew:
Well, that-

Zach Peterson:
Cybersecurity aspect isn't critical.

Greg Papandrew:
Well yeah, but what they're talking about on the news is external. I'm just talking voluntary-

Zach Peterson:
Oh, yeah.

Greg Papandrew:
... just sending the files out. Wow, okay, you know sent that out? And I'm copied and some buyers will keep me, they'll do a general email and I'm copied in and I see my competition, I'm like, "Ooh, that shouldn't have gone out." So it's like, and you let them know and say, "Hey, good luck with that. I mean because you got to be careful."

Zach Peterson:
So one thing I'm hearing from the discussion of, I guess, some of the choices that designers or engineers will make when creating their board is you brought up materials. And I think this is one area where it's easy to fall into the trap of some, I don't want to say myths, but maybe some misapplied design guidelines. Because I'm sure if you really think through your operating conditions and you really think through some of the needs for, say signal integrity or power integrity, you can determine situations where maybe you need that high TG laminate or you need that embedded capacitance material or you need the ultra thin dielectric or whatever it may be.

But I think sometimes those guidelines get misapplied by folks who maybe are new to design or they just heard that this is what you're supposed to do so you do it and then they misapply the guidelines. I'll give you an example. Just recently I was asked to review a design and it was for a high speed board. They had Rogers 3003 through the entire stack. Was it really necessary?

Greg Papandrew:

Zach Peterson:
Most likely not. Right. It was not necessary.

Greg Papandrew:
Yeah, I guess it comes down to training and I mean IPC, SMTA, whoever those long, what you guys put on as well. I mean I really encourage engineers and program, well especially engineers and it's good from an engineering standpoint it's great because designs, because you're not depending upon that from a buyer, but I actually like it when program manage or buyers will say, "Hey, this is the product I'm involved with. I'm not a designer engineer, but can I ask the question?" I mean that simple question, do we have to have the Rogers all the way through? You don't have to be an engineer to ask that question. And that's where I think there's the training that goes in where, hey, do we have to design or build this like this? And a lot of engineers are just not trained or go through or encouraged to go train.

I mean, of course COVID, like anything else, has put a damper on a lot of travel and there's a lot of things that are great done in person, but I really encourage people to ask that. Or companies that are doing those higher tech designs really invest in the training to do that because this is not an onshore or offshore thing because a lot of that stuff's done here, and you're saving pennies, you're saving dollars on a board, you're saving something that could be, yeah, I could do that because when you're talking about materials, you got lead time or you've got the cost for material. And that is a big thing where, okay great, I can't start this board.

There are board houses... And then if you're doing a lot of prototypes as an OEM, then, hey, we got to get this board on order, well, we got to wait for the material. Well there could be some negotiation with your domestic board house saying, "Look, this is what we intend to do." And if a board house can aggregate all their RF4 high tech board houses, I mean customers together and say, "Look, we plan to keep this on the shelf because we want your business," then that's fine because we want to keep the material on the shelf, but at the same time we don't want that material to go bad. And third, that's an investment lost if that material's not used. However, like anything else in business, if I'm doing a half million dollars a year with you in prototypes and I lose 10 grand a month on material spoilage, oh well, that's just the cost of doing business. I put that into the price of it.
But I mean our engineers being proactive, not only in understanding what they can build and what they really need to build with, but at the same time are they pushing that down the track so they can actually talk with their board house and say, "Look, this is what we have?" I mean you could even look back on the last year's purchasing and say, "Look, this is how much you bought, what can you do to help?" And that's sometimes just a simple thing. If you went to a board house and say, "Hey look, this is what we bought last year, this is what we intend to do. We want to keep the same. What can we do to get our costs down?" And it's not there to beat up, it's just to understand. And there's a lot of dialogue like that that doesn't happen.
And a board house that does not welcome that or an engineering company, software design, board design house or an actual quick term prototype house here that is doing that kind of work. If they do not welcome that kind of a discussion, then maybe it's time to look at another board house, because to me that'd be a gift. If a customer came to me and said, "Greg, I want to do this, but I need your help," that'd be a gift. And sometimes that question's not asked and unfortunately, a lot of times that question's not answered. And that's a shame, really is a shame.

Zach Peterson:
I think a lot of times those questions are not brought up because someone will put a board, they'll put their Cadillac or their Porsche of a board in with their short run, their rapid prototype house, and no one says anything, they just build it. And so I think there's an assumption that, okay, this is going to be infinitely scalable. Are concerns about cost at high volume? No one said anything, so we're just going to assume that those are answered. I think that's kind of a lazy way to go, but I think that happens. And then-

Zach Peterson:
Sure. And then I think the other consideration is that, well no one suggested an alternative route for this, either from a cost or engineering standpoint, so not only is it okay to scale this, but this is the only way to go for this product. I think manufacturers want to do a good job of satisfying customers, and so when they get an order, they're going to try and complete that as it's given to them as best they can. Because of course customer's always right kind of philosophy. But once you then go to scale, you might be in for some of those rude awakenings and you might get forced into considering some of those engineering questions that you brought up, whether it's around materials, board thickness, layer count. I mean I think the list goes on.

Greg Papandrew:
But whose... For lack of a better phrase, whose fault is that? Is it the OEM or EMS company that is not constantly pushing at that? Or is that the salesperson or the board house saying, "Hey look, I want to do a better job for you?" I mean part of the success that I've had over the years is that I've always looked, OEM companies, EMS, "Greg, you're the only person that's ever asked what our product goes into." I like to know what board I'm building going into. I enjoy that. I like knowing that I have boards that went into the voice recorder, boards that went on aircraft, boards that have done this garage door opener. I don't care, I want to know.

And I think, who should be engaging who? And sometimes when I look at it as part of customer service, I want to make sure that I'm doing everything possible for my customer and making these suggestions because it's not so much the business today that I want, it's the business tomorrow. And I think that same kind of attitude should be coming from, is there some kind of a quality of management, a sales, or designer that, from the customer side, should be saying, "Look, we love our design, but we want to still be producing this product next year and what can we do to ensure this? What can we do to make it smaller, better that we could put more options on it?" What have you. And that's chicken before the egg, who starts that conversation? And I understand completely with you on that, there just seems no forethought on either side saying, "Hey, this is what I can do for you." Because you don't want someone to bring the better mouse trap and you missed out on it, and that goes from either side. So...

Zach Peterson:
Well, I get that as a designer we should be asking those questions. So if you're a contract designer, I think it's your responsibility to understand what the customer's goals are with a design over the long term. So I think you should be willing to ask, are you planning to scale this? Is this a one off? Are you only going to make 50 or 100 of these so we don't need to worry about penny's worth of cost? I think those are fair questions for you as a design engineer to ask or as a contract design engineer.

But it sounds to me like the OEM, or the OEM in consultation with their design engineer should really be prepared to ask those questions of their EMS and vice versa. It should be either side ready to ask the question and have that conversation. And if it just boils down to, yeah, we've already thought about this, we've implemented everything we can, please just continue, maybe that's the way it turns out, but at least those cost and scaling considerations have been addressed, at least or hopefully early in the design phase.

Greg Papandrew:
No, you make a very good point. I've worked with, again EMS companies are just, I find a lot of, like I said earlier, everyone's overwhelmed. There are a few design houses that I really enjoy working with because they actually ask those questions. In fact, some of them when I get a design package from them, because I'm working with several OEMs and they have their design houses. So some of them, when I get the design package, like okay, there's a lot of work, but I deal with four of them. But there's one that every design package I get, I don't have an EQ, I don't have an engineering question, nothing. It is a perfectly complete, everything is answered. And the fact is, the design engineer I work with knows how a board is built. He came from that. And it's one of those things where it's just he's anticipating my needs before I got... I mean that's really nice.

So it's the anticipation needs because it's that handoff. And I think you probably hit the nail on the head there. It's that anticipation. When I hand this off to somebody, I'm not just, "Oh, it's your problem. Have a nice day." It's, what can I do to make this guy's job easier? And that's a good point because I was just thinking what you're saying, the four design houses I work with, one is just beautiful. No engineering questions. There's nothing left to chance or question. There it is.

I think there's a lot that goes back to asking those questions where in the case of that thin board I was talking about, we designed an array where I actually increased the cost of the board itself, but it made the assembly a lot simpler. By working with the EMS company I said, "Look, your labor's ridiculous on this," and it's domestic, and I said, "But how about we did this with the board?" And they were like, "The board costs go up." I said, "Yes, I work with the OEM. I'll explain to them, but the labor will go down and also it's easier for you to manufacture day in, day out. Yes?" "Yes." "So that means you'll be delivering on time. Yes?" "Yes." Okay. Everyone's happy. So it's like, yeah, the board costs went up, but the customer's getting their product and they realize it's because of their design, a very thin board.

So in this case there, we packaged and had a built-in array backer, instead of them putting on a tray, that very thin, they'll put boards on trays and go down, well we just ship in with a backup order reattached and it just goes through the shop life. Crazy, and it's nice. So tack time goes down, everyone's happy. So I mean that's... So here was, in that case, it was not like, "Oh, here's your board, have a nice day." It's like, what do I do to make their job easier? And I think that's the question that needs to be... I think if everyone does that part, I'm not going to call it pay it forward, but it's just do that, what can I do when I hand this off and is it clear enough? Is it easy enough?

Zach Peterson:
Absolutely. Absolutely. So you brought up something that I think is really interesting for designers. You said that there was one engineering firm, I guess, that you like to work with so much because when they hand off a data package, it is full and complete, there are no questions. So I'd like to ask you, what is the anatomy of that particular data package that you would prefer to see from a client that you're working with?

Greg Papandrew:
All right. I am... So what they do is they put together a nice data package, including, well since I work with the OEM on this one, there's an assembly drawing, a nice zip file. There is a fabrication drawing for the board. There's a nice bomb, everything is dated the same date. There is clarity to the print, the fabrication drawing as to material, what is needed on that? All the rev levels are correct, dated beautifully.

And then actually, in the actual email saying, "These files are ready for release," he has a nice computer-generated photo of the board itself. So we can actually look at the board and we can discuss it. And there it is, just a nice beautiful package. Here's the fab drawing, the board, drawn the bill material, the photo of the board, and he'll just list all the files that we're getting and everything is clear. And then if there's any additional notes, you'll put them within the email or within the README file, but it's all there. It's a really nice clean package. And just, like I said, I'll send that to my crew and no EQ. It's just, this is it. And it's-

Zach Peterson:

Greg Papandrew:
Go ahead. I'm sorry.

Zach Peterson:
You brought up a couple things there that I think most people don't supply. One, it sounds like you said there's a file list so that way everyone can check to make sure that everything that's in that list is in that data package, and then the other thing you said is a README file.

Greg Papandrew:

Zach Peterson:
I normally say something like a functional specification or a specification summary or something like this should be supplied, even if it's just a page in a Word document, but you're calling it a README file. Are those essentially going to be the same thing?

Greg Papandrew:

Zach Peterson:
Okay. Okay, great.

Greg Papandrew:
Yes. So a README file, it's just a beautiful list and the README file almost mimics the email that he sent. Very clear, very  here are the files, here's the part number. So the README file is almost exactly that of the email he just sent with a photo of the board that is going to be assembled or computer generated of the board. And so you can actually physically look at it, get an idea. And then what's nice about that, because we have that computer-generated photo of the board, or image, shouldn't say photo, image is that also, when we do flip that over to any board house, the board house, "Oh, this is what the board looks like." Okay. Because sometimes you'll have a cutout and board's been shipped in without a cutout. Well, nothing was mentioned-

Zach Peterson:
Oh, okay.

Greg Papandrew:
You have this legend square, but we don't know that's a cutout like that. So these are things that are not communicated, or there was not a dimension called out in it or something like that that says, "Hey, this is a cutout." It just has the legend artwork. So here it's like, "Oh, okay, what is this? Oh, it's a cutout. I can see it right there." So I mean having all those, a list of items written, documented, but also a nice visual cue as to what the finished product should look like, well that's half the battle.

And so I always say this about either dealing with miscommunication, whether it's going from domestic to offshore or offshore, domestic is in changing board houses, "Oh, we didn't know what you meant by that." Well, here there's no doubt. And some things are honest mistakes, some things are just miscommunication, but in this case here, it's like now you have an actual drawing here, I'm actually giving you a rendition of the actual board here and that should help quite a bit. And so it does.

And that's one of the reasons why I think we don't have any issues with this one. Because sometimes, and I'll even say this within the organization... That is one, but within the organization when there's a different engineer, I know the difference, even though it's there and everything's there, there's just a certain touch and I think that's what we should all strive for is that, how do I hand this off to make sure that I've communicated everything possible so that board is run right the first time? And that helps quite a bit.

Again, this is... There's cases where like that, but in the same organization, it's like you're saying, 10 pieces, we don't care. In some cases, most people can't do this two mil core for production, and I'm not a one day turn domestic, okay, well they'll go to someone domestic for a 10 mil core just to prove out a design. But when it goes to production, well it's to be built this way, two mil core. So it just depends. But again, it's that clarity there.

Zach Peterson:
I think there's also this assumption that we're going to build it a certain way as a prototype, especially when it comes to stack up, and as long as there's no major changes in the stackup for functionality reasons or EMI, EMC, something like that, it has to match the way we're going to do it in production. And you just brought up an important point, which is that it's okay to prototype on a stackup that might be slightly different from your production stackup. So you brought up the 10 mil core versus the two mil core, if you need to do the prototype on this particular design and you can't do a two mil core in a rapid prototyping house, it's okay to do the 10 mil core or a 40 mil core or whatever it's going to be. Whatever's just going to get you to that prototype.

Greg Papandrew:
Right, exactly. There's a lot of times, like on that one where I talked about that 400,000 reasons why, I mean they had specked in 370HR material for a board that has no exposure to heat whatsoever and it's like, you went with the most expensive product. And that's where it's like, what was it? Remember when ISO 480 came out a long time ago? And-

Zach Peterson:
Well, I mean I don't remember, but I know what you're talking about.

Greg Papandrew:
Yeah, well the thing is they called that material on every print, that material was called out. And I'm like, "I want to meet that salesman. That is a great salesman. He has that print. And it was true, I mean I'm not going to knock a great salesman, but I was like, do you need this most expensive material? And that was it. I mean back in the days of a pre-lead free, we had maybe five different types of material. That was it. Now we got everything because not only from lead free, but also from technology, speed, and everything else. And depending on moving from factory to factory, whether offshore or domestic, every board house, they're going to look at the stack up to get to what they need. And that's based upon each of their capabilities, their plating capabilities as well.

So, engineers designers have to be open to that, whether it stays here or goes there, but every board house is different. "Well we got this material, this is how our capabilities are. We can build it this way." So there's always going to be a slight change to the stack, always be. But like you said earlier, I mean do we have to spend all this money on this? Nowadays, I deliver quick turns in five days and I'm calling up the buyer, say, "Hey, how did we do?" I'm a salesman, I want to get the next order. "Yeah, Greg, the boards look great, but we haven't gotten the component yet." They're just waiting on the component. It's like, "All right, fine." So everyone busted their butt to get this in and we're waiting on a component that maybe I could've delivered in three weeks and saved you 500 bucks. Or you could have gone to somebody else on it or you could have gone to the production house who's already tooled and will be ready for it and do the final changes on it. So it's one of those things.

And sometimes, coming from the buyer, I'm not knocking the buyer, but he or she, they got their marching orders, they need to do this. But again, it's one of those things, ask a question. Do we really need it that quick? Do we have to have all RF material through it? Or all Rogers material? Or do we have to have the array this large? Just some kind of questions that, hey, have we looked at these things? Also, is this military ITAR? I don't want to send this out of the country by accident. So just ask those questions.

But yeah, so I think right now the industry is overall, I mean with all the challenges that we have, everyone just seems to be very busy. A lot of the EMS companies, a lot of the design, it just seems to be very busy. And I look at it as how fast I get a quote back. I do look at that. So it's interesting times. I think that this next year, depending on the economy, it's going to be really interesting. I think some people are going to get busier. I think a lot of domestics are going to get busier. But the supply and demand on that, we have a capacity issue when it comes to domestic manufacturing for production. Quick turn, yeah, we're fine. We'll be doing that all day long, but we'll have that capacity issue if it comes to production, it has to stay here and it may.

And in fact, I've tried to move business back here and I've been denied sometimes because, "No, Greg. It's too much for us." We're not even talking price, just capacity because they have to leave room for their other business. And I say, "Okay, fine. Understood."

Zach Peterson:
Interesting. Very interesting. Well, we've got a few minutes left, but one thing I wanted to get your take on and maybe you could inform potential customers about is, at what stage of the process should someone approach a PCB broker to get some clarity on some of these issues that we've been talking about? Should it be on the very front end of the design when they're still doing schematic capture? Should it be after they've done maybe their first prototyping run and really qualified everything? When is the optimal time to engage with someone like yourself?

Greg Papandrew:
Optimal, I would suggest, unless you're already engaged with a customer, unless that customer's already engaged with a broker or even a board house for that matter, or production house, it would be after that first run is done. I mean that's when, okay, you've proved out your design, this is what we'd like, now it's worth your time because you are overwhelmed, not you personally, Zach, but the fact is I do respect my customer's time and you are overwhelmed. And so, do we spend all this time on something that may not work or we really don't have the customer base for it? "Greg, unless we know for sure." So now they come to me, it's like that one that would say 400,000 reasons why, that was a goal concern, that was starting to ramp up. Now they were looking at different things, what can we do?

So I would say it'd be after that first one because then, as far as if the board house or supplier, and so when I say supplier, it's either me and broker or actual manufacturer, so when I say supplier it means... As a board supplier, I want to be involved as much as possible. I'm going to try, a good salesperson, I'm going to force myself onto you and say, "Hey, what's going on at this job? What can we do?" And the thing is, you're so overwhelmed, like, "Greg, I'm not sure. Look, I'll call you when I know where we're going on this." Well, I'll keep on top of you and make sure about giving you that offer, but at the same time, you're more incentivized to spend, invest your time with your board supplier if you know that project is going forward.

When marketing and sales, when upper management, the boss has given you the nod or tapped you on the shoulder, said, "Hey, what can we do about this?" And that gives you the incentive, the initiative, the kick in the pants to say, "Okay Greg, here you go. I need to do this. Don't worry about this project, let's discuss this one here." And that's where I think it's after that initial, because again, your time's valuable. I don't want to mess that up.

Zach Peterson:
Well, Greg, I think that's a great answer and I hope that provides clarity for some folks in the audience who are questioning how they're going to make that transition from prototype to scale. To everyone that's listening, I'd like to thank all of you for tuning into this episode. We've been talking with Greg Papandrew, PCB buying and selling expert with direct PCB. To everyone out there in the audience, make sure that you check out the show notes. We're going to have some great links there and of course, a link to Greg's previous episode with Judy Warner. And you can also connect with Greg on LinkedIn.

Last but not least, make sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel, you can keep up to date with all episodes and tutorials as they come out. And of course, don't stop learning, stay on track, and we'll see you next time.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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