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  Manufacturing Insights   |   September, 2006 (I)
New Process Changes Automation:Printed Circuit Board Technology Solutions
by Thomas R. Cutler

The Printed Circuit Board (PCB) industry is focused on solutions which bring significant Time-to-Market and Time-to-Volume benefits to the global electronics interconnect industry by allowing manufacturers to access and act on the best, the most accurate and up-to-date information. Mehul Davé joined Made2Manage Systems as general manager of the Cimnet Systems business unit; it is established as the de facto standard for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software within the Printed Circuit Board industry.

According to Davé, “Advances in technology and more automation are a result of a new process called Laser Direct Imaging or Direct Imaging. The traditional photo process, you take a photograph, make a film and expose the film onto the PCB material. Nowadays there are machines doing that through Direct Imaging rather than going through the photo process. This technology allows higher density of lines and spaces between circuits.”

These innovative e-manufacturing automation solutions and services enable PCB manufacturers, EMS and OEMs to leapfrog the competition with innovation, speed, and flexibility.
Davé insists that, “Improved technology solutions to help the global electronics interconnect industry regain competitive edge is absolutely essential.” PCB ERP providers must include an open enterprise-class architecture platform, web centric intelligent applications, and an ongoing process of performance and quality improvement.

The idiosyncrasies of the PCB sector are so great that specialized ERP, Pre-Production Engineering, Global Quote and Order Management, Tooling Management, Collaborative Manufacturing, Business Intelligence, E-Business and Supply Chain Integration must all be taken into consideration for technology selection.

Davé details PCB industry-specific results that nuanced technology solutions can achieve in a highly competitive industry.
  • Agility. Rules-based automation solutions dramatically reduce pre-production engineering time while cutting production cycle times to achieve unparalleled on-time delivery. Collaborative and tool management solutions enable real-time order status tracking, automatic tool generation and process optimization, so PCB manufacturers can act quickly.

  • Flexibility.
    With information readily available, customer service is greatly enhanced by achieving a high degree of flexibility and responsiveness to ever changing customer requirements.

  • Visibility.
    Plant level visibility is the cornerstone of participation in the fast evolving extended supply chain. Technology solutions must be tightly integrated to provide full visibility, both upstream and downstream, to the electronics supply chain.

  • Quality.
    Time-to-market initiatives, such as dock-to-stock and on-demand vendor managed inventory models, require ultimate levels of quality. Technology solutions must be designed to deliver a proactive approach to product quality, resulting in significantly higher yields.

  • Cost.
    Electronics manufacturing is a highly competitive business. The business intelligence capabilities built into technology solutions must allow management to quickly identify key performance indicators to radically reduce costs and improve the bottom line.

  • The Future of PCB
    The North American and European companies that have survived a highly competitive environment have focused on the aerospace and military market segments where they build prototypes: small volume, high margin, and quick turnaround.

    According to Davé these companies have had to adapt and face many pressures:

  • More agile, more responsive

  • Process more parts in smaller quantities

  • Reducing lead times from months to weeks and sometimes days

  • More of an (Engineer-to-Order) ETO business. 60-70% of parts are new

  • Dealing with a lot more front-end engineering

  • The high volume business is now in Asia and these companies now have to deal with higher volume and more sophisticated production. These companies are facing a different set of challenges:

  • Pricing pressure. New products are becoming cheaper

  • Raw material prices, particularly copper and gold increasing

  • Product lifecycles are much shorter

  • Need quick turnaround to adopt new designs

  • Need to improve yields as this is a low margin business

  • DavĂ© prognosticates about the near future of the PCB industry:
    “Volume production is expanding in China and very soon in India. I’m seeing parallels to what I saw in China ten years ago. There will be a large PCB industry in India within the next five years.”

    Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., the largest manufacturing marketing firm worldwide – Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium of twenty seven hundred journalists and editors writing about trends in manufacturing. Cutler is also the author of the Manufacturers’ Public Relations and Media Guide. Cutler is a frequently published author within the manufacturing sector with more than 300 feature articles authored annually; he can be contacted at

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