What to Look for in a Board Fabricator with Steve Williams

Judy Warner
|  Created: April 24, 2019  |  Updated: February 4, 2021

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 Author

About Author

Judy Warner has held a unique variety of roles in the electronics industry for over 25 years. She has a background in PCB Manufacturing, RF and Microwave PCBs and Contract Manufacturing, focusing on Mil/Aero applications. 

She has also been a writer, blogger, and journalist for several industry publications such as Microwave Journal, PCB007 Magazine, PCB Design007, PCD&F, and IEEE Microwave Magazine, and an active board member for PCEA (Printed Circuit Engineering Association). In 2017, Warner joined Altium as the Director of Community Engagement. In addition to hosting the OnTrack Podcast and creating the OnTrack Newsletter, she launched Altium's annual user conference, AltiumLive. Warner's passion is to provide resources, support, and advocate for PCB Design Engineers worldwide.

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