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42 SMT007 MAGAZINE I FEBRUARY 2020 manufacturing pro- cess. They recognize that buying a sten- cil that's made on a high-quality machine versus one that is 20 years old and out of calibration makes a huge difference for them. It doesn't come down to saving $10 on the cost of the stencil; it's about sav- ing thousands of dol- lars in the manufac- turing process by buying a quality tool that is reliable for manufacturing. Johnson: Since you have laser technology involved, have you had to increase accuracy within your equipment, or have you been able to deliver the necessary cutting accuracy already? Where is the pain point right now? Schmidt: Remember, we are not selling sten- cils; we are manufacturing the equipment that goes to produce the stencils. Many sten- cil shops have been, for the longest time, under enormous pressure for price. There was a big race to the bottom for the lowest stencil price of it because many stencil buyers didn't have enough of an awareness of how important the stencil is in their manufacturing process since it only costs $200–500, depending on where you buy it. Many stencil manufacturers don't necessarily have the research horsepower by themselves to convince the buyers how important the qual- ity had to be for them. However, we have pub- lished a number of white papers to educate stencil buyers about the factors that impact the stencil quality. Johnson: Do you see other manufacturers—not the stencil specialists—start to bring stencils in-house because of this? Schmidt: Yes, we have some situations like this. I am surprised there aren't a lot more yet. I can only explain this by a lack of enough awareness at the EMS companies to address that prop- erly. If I were in charge of this, for something as important as a stencil, I would want to have full control over an important printing tool in my process. Manufacturing this in-house with a controlled quality environment is an inex- pensive step to make that happen. Also, some companies have recognized that and brought this technology in-house. Others continue to purchase this on the open market. Barry Matties: Why wouldn't they bring it in- house? What's the logic there? Schmidt: In many cases, it's driven by price. It's an industry where some EMS companies say, "I buy the products in the market, and they seem to work for me." There's not a lot of research going on about why they should work or not work, so they continue on like this, but it's sur- prising. In an industry like this, you would think somebody would want to get end-to-end control over the quality of the tools they use for their manufacturing process to control quality tightly. Matties: Today, utilizing the equipment should be pretty straightforward, as well. Schmidt: Absolutely. It's easy to use. With mod- ern equipment, you a put a piece of sheet metal in a frame, select your artwork, press a button, and that's it. You have all the information that can be easily done from anywhere. Johnson: They're already passing along the cost of the stencil to their customer when they're getting it outsourced. You can do the same thing with an in-house tool. Schmidt: Exactly. Most EMS companies believe they don't use enough stencils to make it worth their while. They probably compare the total cost to buying from a stencil shop that makes stencils every day; therefore, they can offer stencils at a relatively low cost. At the same time, they might be giving up their full quality control, but by outsourcing it, there might be a gap in the quality control process. Stephan Schmidt

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