American Standard Circuits’ Unique Offerings Contribute to Long-term Success
At the recent IMS RF and microwave show in Phoenix, Arizona, I had a chance to catch up with Anaya Vardya, CEO of American Standard Circuits, which has been in business for more than a quarter-century. In this interview, we discuss market trends, recent equipment investments and where their growth as a company will likely come from.
Barry Matties: Anaya, the IMS microwave show, as you said, is a large part of your business. Why don't you give me a little history about American Standard Circuits—where you guys started and how you got where you are.
Anaya Vardya: We've been in business for about 27 years now, as of this August. The shop started with four people, so it was a very small facility. We've now grown to more than 100 employees. We're about $17 million in revenue, so we've grown fairly significantly over the last 20-plus years. A good portion, between 60–65% of our business, is focused on the RF/microwave sector. We have a pretty large portion in automotive telematics. We also do a fair amount of business in communication and a lot in mil/aero.
One thing that is pretty unique about us is the fact that we're able to build a lot of different kinds of metal-backed PCBs for the RF/microwave space. We have a couple of patents in that area. In addition, we've got some very unique offerings in the metal-backed sector, including the fact that we can do some very quick turns on this kind of technology. We're probably one of the only shops that can turn metal-backed technology in five days or less.
Matties: So your patents have given you some competitive advantages.
Vardya: Right, our patents give us competitive advantages because we have the ability to actually bond circuit boards to metal with our proprietary materials. Some of the proprietary materials have advantages over the commercially available materials and are preferred by many of our customers.
Matties: With the RF market, the automotive sector has grown a lot for you then.
Vardya: Yes, it has. In the last few years we've seen significant increase in the amount of electronics content in automobiles, with technologies like blind spot detection, automatic braking, and stop and go in crowded areas. What you're seeing in a lot of these applications is RF/microwave–type circuits, and because of that you're seeing a lot more RF microwave boards in the automotive sector.
Matties: What sorts of process requirements do your customers have?
Vardya: Several things: many different kinds of materials; a lot of very thin boards; very tight registration requirements; and then very fine lines and fine circuits. What's really important in the RF/microwave space is the tight tolerance on requirements.
Matties: You mentioned military as well.
Vardya: We're participating in a large number of different sectors. We've built boards that have ended up in IED collision avoidance devices worn on backs of marines. We've also done boards for satellites and the F-35 fighter jet program. We really have a very large variety of applications.
Matties: There's got to be a great sense of pride in your organization when you're building products for such important missions.
Vardya: Yes, there absolutely is.
Matties: All the manufacturing is done in your facility in West Chicago. Is that where you started?
Vardya: We started in a facility in Libertyville, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago. Our facilities have moved a couple of different times. Currently we're in a 52,000 square-foot facility in West Chicago.
Matties: You've been at this for 27 years; 27 years ago there were almost 3,000 circuit board fabricators in the United States. Today there are somewhere around 280. Do you see any growth in the numbers of circuit shops or have we just surrendered the volume production to overseas?
Vardya: The volume production has gone overseas. I think we will continue to see more shops shut down as time goes on. The reason for that is that the technology demands continuous investment and a lot of companies, given what technologies they're working on, really aren't capable of making those investments. As a result, over time, the number of shops will continue to decline.
Matties: You guys, at 27 years old, understand what that kind of longevity takes and what it requires. When you look at your investments, what sort of allocations do you make, or how do you prioritize your investments?
Vardya: There are a couple of things. Not only do we have to worry about capital equipment investments, but we also need to worry about human capital investments, so we're continuously investing in both. It's basically based on customer requirements, so we are continuously working with our customers, trying to understand where the gaps in the market are versus the gaps in our ability, and what is going on at our facility in order to prioritize capital investments.
Matties: What technology are you looking at? You probably already have the direct imaging systems in place and that sort of thing.
Vardya: We do have automated auto exposure systems, where you have camera alignment and things like that, but we don't have direct imaging, so that is something that we are currently looking at. We are also looking at some better drilling technology. Those are two key areas that we're working on today.
Matties: When you look at better drilling technology, are you looking at laser technology or mechanical?
Vardya: We're looking at both laser and some better mechanical capabilities, too. We are seeing controlled depth requirements that require mechanical drilling, but require significantly tighter controls than what we're capable of today, so we are continuing to look at that also.
Matties: It looks like you are doing well and you're still here, and your sales sound solid. What do you see in the coming year or two?
Vardya: We see continued growth. We see growth in the RF/microwave space, for sure. We also see growing requirements in the medical sector, and that might be more for our flex and rigid-flex types of applications, but we're seeing that. Then the last area that we're seeing a fair amount of growth in right now is LED-related. LEDs are taking off and we see more and more requirements for that technology.
Matties: Do you have your eye on wearable electronics at all?
Vardya: We have not spent a lot of time on that, but I believe that's one of the next frontiers that we're going to start looking at. One of the things to be careful about wearables is that in the long-term, wearables are going to be very high-volume, so, again, that marketplace is going to start to be Asia-dominated. For us, our claim to fame is specializing in things that are going to stay in North America and that are niche marketplaces. Those are the places where we, as a company our size, are going to be successful.
Matties: Anaya, thank you so much for spending time with us today.
Vardya: You're welcome. Thanks a lot, Barry.