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66 The PCB Magazine • July 2015 Selecting the right supplier for your flexible circuit needs is one of the most critical decisions you can make for ensuring the success of your product introduction. There are a host of criteria and surveys used for vendor evaluations; many businesses perform supplier audits, which in- clude reviewing the company's procedures, cer- tifications, equipment and facilities. While these audits are often useful, I would offer up four characteristics of a great company that are often overlooked or undervalued: Initial Responsiveness: How fast was the re- sponse to your initial inquiry? Did your phone call get answered, or did you get stuck in some- one's voicemail? Was your e-mail replied to promptly, or did you have to follow up? Grant- ed, a rapid initial response does not guarantee the company will be responsive in all areas, but a poor initial response is a red flag, and there may be some systemic issues that could impact that company's ability to service its customers. Employee Engagement: Having the best pro- cedures and mission statements in the world is meaningless without a workforce that is commit- ted to making the business successful by serving its customers. Empowered employees provide faster response and are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty to address an issue. Determining employee engagement prob- ably requires visiting the production floor and talking with key operators and technicians. Charts on the wall may be useful, but can the line operators explain what they mean and how it impacts their job? Does the employee know the company's business objectives? Talking to management can sometimes be misleading, but it is pretty easy to tell if a man - ager or owner really believes that the employees are highly engaged. A manager with strong en- gagement programs will be able to discuss them in great detail. Growth/Investment/Financial Strength: It is important to understand the financial situation of your prospective supplier. An ideal supplier is growing because they are successful in the mar - ketplace; they also have the financial resources to support that growth. Privately owned com- panies may not provide all their financial data, but they should at least be willing to honestly answer some frank questions about their short- term and long-term financial situation. Employee/ Management Talent: Start at the top. Who is running the company? A broad expe- rience level across the management team is a good indicator. If the entire salaried support staff is es- sentially homegrown, then there should be some questions about the company's ability to manage and adapt to change. Retention of employees, both in management and production, tells a lot about how well the company has been managed. In conclusion, "superior delivery" and "qual- ity performance" mean more than just perform- ing a series of fabrication steps per written proce- dures. Dedicated high-energy teams empowered to make decisions, result in the highest level of customer satisfaction. This needs to be accompa- nied by a management team committed to cre- ating an environment where employee engage- ment thrives. It also requires having the resourc- es to adequately invest in equipment, facilities and personnel. Sometimes vendor surveys and evaluations don't always address these impor- tant characteristics. PCB by Dave Becker all Flex FlexiBle circuiTs aND heaTers all about flex Four Characteristics of a Great Flex Supplier Feature Column Dave Becker is vice president of sales and marketing at all Flex Flexible circuits and heaters.

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