Standard of Excellence: Five Ways to Ensure You Have the Right Military PCB Supplier

With the current shortage of qualified and certified military PCB suppliers, finding one has become more challenging than ever. We once had over 1,500 PCB companies in the U.S., with perhaps one-third of them being mil spec (military specification) qualified, but with about 500 now, there are just a handful.

The trend toward consolidation over the past few years has only added to the shortage of qualified military PCB vendors. TTM’s buying spree over the past 10 years reduced at least 10 military PCB suppliers, by my count, down to one, causing a severe problem for those military board users who are required by law to have at least three qualified vendors bidding on their contracts. This situation makes it more important to choose, develop, and nurture a solid relationship with your military PCB fabricator, or rather, at least three of them.

To help you with that partnership, here are five guidelines you should consider when developing a bilateral relationship with your military PCB supplier.

Guideline #1

Follow all the traditional rules for creating a good partnership, most of which boil down treating your PCB partner as you want to be respected.

Guideline #2

Use all the mil spec qualified PCB suppliers on the qualified manufacturers list (QML) on the DLA website. We have heard several mil-aero companies say that there are no longer enough qualified suppliers, yet we hear from many suppliers who are on the QML, but who are not being used. Check out all the companies on the listing and investigate the ones you have not been using. And since qualifications are product specific, some of your military PCB suppliers may not be qualified for all products. Encourage them to get qualified on all the board types you need. Extend your partnership with them by offering to help them attain their MIL-PRF-31032 and AS9100 for all technologies and board types. Give them a reason to do this. Be open about it and show them the added business they could be enjoying with these wider qualifications.

Guideline #3

Help and support the military suppliers you have already through the following tips.

Share Your Technology Roadmap

Make sure they are up to date on the technology you need today and in the future. Share your technology roadmap with them and urge them to develop their own based on your needs. As true partners do, plan your future together.

Make Sure They Are Financially Sound

In these very competitive times, you must nurture smaller companies if you hope that they will be around to serve you tomorrow. They are not only competing with offshore competition for some of their business but also with big companies that want to buy or bury the smaller shops with which they compete. The road to this conclusion is getting shorter all the time, and if you want to avoid a situation that is already causing you headaches, you must step in to help and nurture your smaller PCB partners.

Other Suggestions

In addition, there are specific things you can do to help your partners, such as offering:

  • To prepay and stock hard-to-find and expensive laminates: These materials are expensive, and making these vendors act as your bank—waiting months and sometimes years to get their money back—is unhealthy and unfair.
  • Progress payments: This is a legitimate way to help your vendors. There are already government set process pay points you can use when doing this.
  • Fast pay terms: There is no good reason that a company with $10 million a year in sales has to wait 90–120 days before getting paid. That’s just not right. And please don’t offer this only if they will give you a discount. Their margins are already paper-thin. If you want to be a true partner, you will not contribute to the further deterioration of those slim margins.

Guideline #4

Create technology teams by inviting your PCB vendor partners to collaborate. Seek their participation and advice. Share your plans with them and understand their plans as well. Make sure they are on the right track to handle your future PCB requirements. Have them work with your engineers and designers, advising them on the best ways to design the boards, the best materials to call out, and the best design parameters to make the PCBs as manufacturable and economical to build. This will help both companies.

Guideline #5

Consider all the work you do to develop and nurture your partnership with your PCB vendors as an investment in the future. Investing in a partnership with your PCB vendors will be the best investment you can make for your future and for your country’s defense as well. Otherwise, you’ll end up dealing with a PCB monopoly that will limit your own transactional leverage with that one vendor, which is not a healthy situation. Or you’ll be reduced to having your country’s Trident or Tomahawk guidance system PCBs built oversees, and nobody wants that.

Anaya Vardya is president and CEO of American Standard Circuits; co-author of The Printed Circuit Designer’s Guide to… Fundamentals of RF/Microwave PCBs and Flex and Rigid-Flex Fundamentals; and author of Thermal Management: A Fabricator's Perspective. Visit I-007eBooks.com to download these and other free, educational titles. He also co-authored “Fundamentals of Printed Circuit Board Technologies.”

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2020

Standard of Excellence: Five Ways to Ensure You Have the Right Military PCB Supplier

09-21-2020

With the current shortage of qualified and certified military PCB suppliers, finding one has become more challenging than ever, and the trend toward consolidation over the past few years has only added to the shortage. Anaya Vardya shares five guidelines to consider when developing a bilateral relationship with your military PCB supplier.

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Standard of Excellence: Looking at the Future Together

08-10-2020

With so many things changing right now, as well as lots of innovation happening and new products being developed, it’s important that you share your vision of the future with your PCB suppliers. Anaya Vardya shares six general logistical processes to use when working with customers on their product innovation and development.

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Standard of Excellence: Being a Valuable Customer

07-14-2020

We always talk about being a valuable vendor, but what about being a valuable customer? Anaya Vardya shares five guidelines for making sure that you are always your suppliers’ most valued customer.

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Standard of Excellence: A Great Partnership Is a Two-Way Street

06-08-2020

Are you a good and true partner to your PCB vendors? Are you doing everything you can to participate in an honest partnership where both partners equally look out for one another? Anaya Vardya shares 16 questions to consider when contemplating how good a partner you are to your PCB vendors and others.

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Standard of Excellence: You Get What You Pay For

05-12-2020

When you work with a good PCB fabricator, you need to have a good understanding of the total value of the product. Many companies look for the bottom-dollar price of PCBs and do not take the time to make sure they are getting the very best deal they can. Anaya Vardya discusses the value of a PCB and what makes up the true costs.

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Standard of Excellence: Partnership in Challenging Times

04-14-2020

Now, more than ever, we need to partner with one another. Traditionally, Anaya's columns have focused on developing a strong working bond with your PCB vendor partners. In this column, Anaya discusses how we must have partnerships with everyone we deal with during our daily business lives.

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Standard of Excellence: Successful R&D With Your PCB Partner

03-17-2020

Now, more than ever, we have to rely on our PCB partners to help us with new product development. A great deal of trust and confidence in our PCB vendors is required to create and fulfill this type of partnership fruitfully. Anaya Vardya shares eight things that must be in place to have a successful R&D relationship with your PCB partner.

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Standard of Excellence: When Your PCB Vendor Gets in Trouble

02-24-2020

It happens all the time, and even in the best-run companies: Something goes wrong. This is especially true in PCB fabrication, where some of the boards they fabricate can take up to 120 process steps to build. Anaya Vardya shares four ways that you can help your PCB vendors when they run into trouble.

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Standard of Excellence: Five Ways to Stay on Track With Your PCB Vendors

01-14-2020

One of the most important aspects of the customer-vendor partnership is to keep the vendor aware of their standing with you. Anaya Vardya shares five ways to ensure that you and your PCB vendors are on the same page when it comes to how both of you are doing as working partners.

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2019

Standard of Excellence: Respecting Your PCB Vendor Partner

12-10-2019

One of the more important aspects of any partnership is mutual respect for one another. And, of course, this is extremely important when it comes to your PCB vendor partner. Many times, in the past, PCB fabricators have been treated as the third wheel in the relationship, stuck between their suppliers on one side and their vendors on the other. In most cases, both of these other entities were much larger and more powerful that the PCB shops.

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Invite Your PCB Partner to a Strategic Sales Meeting

11-11-2019

The best way to work with your PCB vendors is to treat them as strategic partners. This means not only sharing your current needs but your future ones as well. I know that this requires a great deal of trust on your part as well as that of your PCB vendor partner. But if you have been reading this column, and doing everything we have recommended, then you should already be prepared for this. If you want your PCB vendor to be prepared to meet your future needs, you have to tell them what they are; it’s that simple.

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Standard of Excellence: Your PCB Technology Partner

10-15-2019

There are regular PCB vendor relationships, and then there are the partnerships where you invest in future projects, such as developing processes for a new technology where you will have to share the work, responsibility, and success of the project. In short, project partnerships require a much deeper and more trusting relationship with your vendor.

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Standard of Excellence: Great Partnerships Are Forged in Adversity

09-24-2019

When you’re in the PCB business, the one thing you can count on is that something will go wrong; it always does. Here are six steps to not only help and support your vendor through problematic times but also use the adversity as an opportunity to develop a deeper and more productive relationship.

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Standard of Excellence: How Strong Is Your Vendor Partnership?

08-28-2019

For the past year, I’ve talked about various aspects of developing a great vendor-customer relationship with your PCB fabricators from trust to confidentiality and sharing the future. Here are 10 questions to ask yourself when testing the strength of your current partnership with your vendor.

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Standard of Excellence: Finding a Global Solution With Your Domestic Supplier

07-23-2019

As the world goes global, so does the PCB industry. It is no longer sufficient to have a domestic PCB vendor; it has become critical to have a portal to offshore PCB acquisitions as well. But here are six reasons why, in many cases, it is better to go through your own domestic PCB supplier when you want to take advantage of the global PCB vendor base.

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Standard of Excellence: Choosing the Right Replacement Vendor

06-24-2019

What happens when you have all of the suppliers you need, but a larger firm acquires one of them all of a sudden, and there is only one qualified supplier left when there used to be two. As a smart PCB user, you always want to keep your options open in case you are going to have to qualify another supplier to buy your PCBs from.

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Standard of Excellence: Three Ways to Face the Future With Your PCB Suppliers

06-03-2019

Once you have established a solid, trusting relationship with your PCB vendor, you can start working together developing new products, technologies, and in some cases, services. There are even times when your PCB supplier will bring projects to you. Here are three ways that you can work with your PCB suppliers to face the future.

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Standard of Excellence: Four Tips on Listening to Your PCB Suppliers

04-29-2019

Once you have done your due diligence, have developed a strong working partnership with your PCB suppliers, and now feel confident that those suppliers are the right ones, the next step is to recognize that your PCB suppliers are indeed the true experts, and that you can trust them enough to listen to them. Here are four tips on listening to and learning from your suppliers to ensure that you have the best PCB value that money can buy.

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Standard of Excellence: Buy Based on Value, Not Price

04-02-2019

There are only two ways to buy PCBs; the first is based on price, which is the wrong way because it encourages a very shallow relationship based on just one thing—the price of the boards; and the second, and right, is based on value. A great company should understand what it means to buy value.

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2018

Standard of Excellence: Preparing Your Vendors for the Future

12-03-2018

Now, it’s time to talk about the future with your PCB vendors. Referring to our previous columns, if you’ve done everything right so far, you will now have a strong working relationship with your PCB supplier. They understand all they need to know to fabricate perfect boards for you at this time. With trust and respect between you, you’ve truly formed a strong partnership going into the future.

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Standard of Excellence: Forging Partnerships Through Adversity and Problem Solving

10-29-2018

For the past few months, this column has discussed how to find and work with a great PCB vendor, and most importantly, how to form a strong, productive partnership. This month, Anaya Vardya will address how adversity can forge a great partnership between you and your PCB vendor that will last for life.

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Standard of Excellence: Working for the Future—Partnering with PCB Vendors on Innovative Technology

10-01-2018

The true test of the vendor-customer relationship comes when you need innovative PCBs—boards that are not easily found in the common marketplace and are so technologically advanced that they require your designers and suppliers to work together to go where neither has before.

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Standard of Excellence: Preparing for the Future with the Right Supplier

08-13-2018

Is your PCB supplier ready to take you into the future? Sure, they are doing a good job today, but what about tomorrow? What will happen when new designs require boards to be made with thermal or RF materials, or have lines widths down to two mils?

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Material Selection: The Key to RF/Microwave Success

07-23-2018

This month's column is written by Anaya Vardya and John Bushie. In today’s environment, there are a number of suppliers that may have similar materials but price points and lead times may vary. If you are open to trying different options, it is a good idea to work closely with your PCB fabricator so they can educate you on these aspects. Another option is to do parallel builds with multiple materials in the early stages of honing a new design to determine the optimum material set.

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Standard of Excellence: Making Your PCB Fabricator Your PCB Partner

06-12-2018

Are your PCB needs exceeding your vendor base’s capabilities? Do you feel that your suppliers are no longer able to keep up with your PCB needs? Do your designers feel limited by your vendors’ limited capabilities? Are you finding an issue locating alternate sources for PCBs due to the consolidation of the larger shops in our industry? If so, you are not alone.

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Standard of Excellence: 5 Things a Total Global Solutions Supplier Can Provide

01-10-2018

Our world now extends far beyond the traditional brick and mortar of the domestic board suppliers of yesteryear. Now our customers demand that PCB fabricators provide them with a complete and total printed circuit board solution, from domestically built ITAR-registered defense and aerospace boards to high-volume, offshore solutions.

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2017

Standard of Excellence: Customers are Shooting for the Stars—Are We Coming?

08-17-2017

For years we have been calling them “science projects,” those PCB orders that did not quite fit into our normal process stream and therefore needed special attention, as well as special handling. Often, we have had to use trial and error to come up with just the right process to successfully complete the order.

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Standard of Excellence: The Challenges of Hiring Good People and Methods for Success

05-17-2017

Increasingly, we hear about the challenges of finding and hiring good people in our industry. We are being hit on all sides; much of our work force is aging out while young people don’t seem to be too interested in joining the printed circuit board industry. Let’s face facts: Fewer young people are going to college to become circuit board process engineers.

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Standard of Excellence: The Advantages of Flex and Rigid-Flex Circuits

05-01-2017

Since their introduction, flexible and rigid-flex circuits have been steadily moving from the fringe of electronic interconnection towards its center. Today, flex and rigid-flex circuits are found in countless products from the very simple to the highly complex. The reasons for this shift to the center are numerous; most of them are related to the advantages they offer. An examination of some of the benefits and advantages will make this clear.

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Standard of Excellence: Staying Prepared with Operations

03-08-2017

Handling the operations of a PCB company these days is a challenge, to say the least. When I started in 1979, we were building single-sided, double-sided, four-layer multilayers, and the occasional six-layer if you really had your act together. We were using FR-4 materials sprinkled in with an occasional polyimide build.

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2016

Standard of Excellence: Selling Technology—A PCB Engineer Transitions to Sales

12-21-2016

Selling technology today takes a great deal of time, patience and most of all knowledge of the product. There was a time when a salesperson was just that, a salesperson. Now, with the onset of all the new technologies, from RF and metal backed boards to flex and rigid-flex boards, to HDI and microvia boards and heavy copper boards, a salesperson must know what he’s talking about.

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Standard of Excellence: RF Microwave Technology—The Future is Now

11-29-2016

Although RF/microwave technology has been around for a considerable amount of time, many people are still not sure exactly what it is. This month, I am going to dedicate my column to explaining exactly what it is, why it is used, and in what products is it used. I’ll also discuss who needs it.

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Standard of Excellence: Let’s Get Flexible

11-18-2016

Although flex and rigid-flex technology has been around for many years, it is only in recent years that it has come into its own. The reason for the increased requirements for the flex and rigid-flex technology is simple: Devices are getting smaller.

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Communication Breeds Success

08-29-2016

We all need to talk to one another. You need to work closely with your customers. And we all need to work with the new generation of PCB designers and design engineers, many of whom have never set foot in a board shop. Fortunately, they make up for their lack of DFM knowledge with their hunger for information.

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The Future is in Fine Lines

07-11-2016

The age of much finer lines and spaces is upon us. After years of slowly moving towards this technology our customers are now demanding that all of us provide them with fine lines and spaces.

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LED and Metal-Backed Technology—Today and in the Future

05-25-2016

Probably one of the hottest, or should I say coolest, technologies today is LED. I would also venture to say it is one of the fastest growing as well...

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Tips for Finding a Great PCB R&D Partner

04-06-2016

This new column, Standard of Excellence, represents a cooperative writing effort by a team of experts at American Standard Circuits. This month, we begin with CEO Anaya Vardya, who focuses on R&D. In his piece, he provides his insights on what characteristics to look for in a good R&D PCB fabrication vendor partner, and a few things that are expected of them to do for you.

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