Modern Printed Circuits
With no prior experience in PCB manufacturing, Ken Bahl built, from the ground up, one of the most successful prototyping businesses available today. What are the most challenging aspects of your quickturn prototyping service? The PCB manufacturing process is certainly one of the most complex industrial fabrication processes. Every step requires perfect quality control, beginning with the selection of exactly the right material and every subsequent manufacturing process. Any one variable that is not precisely controlled among dozens of steps could easily scrap the boards. In a quickturn environment, when you commit to a turnaround of from one to five days, quality must be consistently perfect. To achieve that quality, the equipment must be perfectly maintained and all wet processes must be continuously monitored. The manufacturing staff must be highly trained to regulate each process perfectly and the handling procedures for the product must also be precise. The human factor is the biggest challenge in the PCB and prototyping business—there simply is no time to scrap and remake prototype PCBs. All of the exacting control I mentioned is dependent on people, so a crucial aspect of the quickturn prototype business is managing people.
You’ve been at it for many years and I’m sure your processes have evolved and your customers’ requirements have evolved as well. How would describe your relationship with your customers and how that has developed? Customer relationships have always been directly dependent upon the level at which you are meeting the customers’ needs. Two things have happened since the beginning of our business. One, the technology has exploded. Designs today are much more complex compared to when we started. Designers today need a lot more assistance so that they can give us a manufacturable design. We have responded by changing our internal organization to provide that service to them. Two, designers need a lot more education so that they can design good products independently. We are bolstering our efforts in both of these directions. To help our customers better achieve manufacturable designs, we are