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26 PCB007 MAGAZINE I JANUARY 2018 for the first time, we spent six months travel- ing the world, and visited scores of PCB shops and equipment suppliers in 20 different coun- tries. We also researched customer roadmaps and had conversations with key OEM technol- ogists. What we quickly found was that most of the best equipment/processes in the world were not even available in North America. We also found that our potential customers had to often procure PCBs offshore to meet their ad- vanced technical needs. In the cases where off- shore manufacturing was not an option due to IP export restrictions/legal constraints, design limits had often been restricted by our region- al capability limits. This should come as no surprise since North America has not been a major center for PCB fab for almost 20 years now. We also found that if, as a board shop, you rely on local reps for guidance, then you may be significantly limiting your capabilities. If you work directly with overseas principals, you often find that there are much better so- lutions available than what your local reps tell you. This is especially true in North America due to its small share of worldwide PCB pro- duction, and even smaller share of PCB fab ca- pex investment, resulting in it not being a fo- cus market for the major equipment suppliers. Our conclusion from this stage was that, if we were to procure world class processes and place them together in a North American shop, we would have a good likelihood of de- veloping a strong competitive advantage with a good ROI. It was subsequently decided that we would design the factory to focus on ad- vanced HDI, tight registration tolerances (X, Y, and Z axis), high aspect ratios, and thin dielec- trics (including flex, ABF, etc.) across a wide overall thickness range of 0.050 - 6.20mm; we would do this with no significant environmen- tal footprint, and with the highest level of au- tomation possible. Stage 2: Measure Once we identified the key equipment sup- pliers, we began having meetings to bench- mark individual companies to determine their technical and commercial capabilities as po- tential partners. We then vetted their prior project performance by auditing multiple in- stallations, and contacting our industry con- tacts to sift through the marketing pitch and hearsay. The more reference data points col- lected, the closer to the truth of the matter we came. We quickly found that there was a high ROI for this research, and we had some sur- prises with what were previously perceived as top worldwide suppliers failing to qualify, and smaller regional suppliers excelling. After completing the measurement stage, we found that 80% of the suppliers we selected as partners were from Europe and Japan, with the balance from the U.S., Taiwan, and PRC. This regional distribution was driven in large part by the need for highly reliable processes, and a low total cost of quality, given our highly auto- mated/low-labor approach.

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