Catching up with…Prototron Tucson’s General Manager Kim O’Neil


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Prototron’s Tucson Division serves as the company’s military defense division as well. They focus on mil-spec and aerospace work as well as special technology PCBs such as RF, microwave and flex circuits. During the past few months Kim 0’Neil and his team have been working on updating their mil-spec qualification from MIL-PRF-55110 to MIL-PRF-31032. Since Prototron is one of the first companies to make this transition, I wanted to talk to Kim about this accomplishment.

Dan: Kim, I guess congratulations are in order since you just received your notification letter that you are now officially MIL-PRF-31032 approved. Can you tell us something about what MIl-PRF-31032 is, exactly?

Kim: MIL-PRF-31032 is the latest performance specification for manufacturing bare printed circuit boards from DLA. It is very different that MIL-PRF-55110 in that it focuses much more on the complete business activity through the Technical Review Board, and places much more of the direct communications between the business and the Qualifying Activity. In addition, it gives us the flexibility to implement “Best Commercial Practices” while providing a PCB that meets military performance.

Dan: I was under the impression that 31032 replaced 55110, but now I understand that I was wrong. It will not replace MIL-PRF-55110 and that will not become obsolete.

Kim: You are correct, Dan. A lot of people have made this mistake. MIL-PRF-31032 will not render MIL-PRF-55110 obsolete but to maintain or renew your MIL-PRF-55110 qualification, you must become qualified to MIL-PRF-31032.

Dan: Does that mean that anyone who does not gain their MIL-PRF-31032 will no longer be mil-spec qualified?

Kim: That is what I understand.

Dan: And why did you feel it was important for Prototron to maintain their mil spec?

Kim: We have several customers that do military work and I certainly would not consider cutting off that revenue stream. The further our team got into the new specification we saw the benefits of becoming qualified that ran throughout the company. This may sound a little goofy but several of us served in the military, or have family or friends that have served. We take a great deal of pride in building quality products for the military’s use.

Dan: While we’re at it, tell me a little bit about Prototron, including the Tucson facility.

Kim: Prototron is celebrating 30 years in business. Dave Ryder had a vision to serve the quick-turn/prototype side of the industry and has been doing so ever since. The company is also built around customer service—real customer service. Prototron Tucson has been here since 1999. While Prototron Redmond and Prototron Tucson complement each other in many ways, we also have different expertise. We in Tucson obviously serve military customers and a good portion of our orders each month are built on different materials other than FR-4. With our recent expansion into the flex market, Tucson continues to grow its opportunities.

Dan: Kim, when did you start in this industry and who have you worked with?

Kim: I started at Sperry Flight Systems in Phoenix in 1976. Like several people I’ve known through the years, I started as an operator on the floor. Lamination was my first position and then I moved into plating. I’ve worked for Digital Equipment, ACT 2, Continental Circuits Corporation, and Teradyne. For the past 13 years, I have been at Prototron. Over the course of 40 years I’ve worked as a process engineer, project engineer, engineering manager and now general manager.

Dan: Are there any other qualifications of registrations you’re pursuing this year?

Kim: Yes, here in Tucson we are working towards becoming AS9100 Rev D before the end of summer.

Dan: In your opinion, how do you see the industry going in the future, especially in North America?

Kim: From where I sit, the industry will still be very challenging and competitive. There are still many options customers can choose from. But there’s nothing wrong with good competition. It makes us all better.

Dan: Amen to that. What do you think a PCB company should do to be successful these days?

Kim: In today’s world, you need to have a vision and a plan of where you are going. Our industry has always been driven by technology advancements. The vision and plan must incorporate technology advances into it. With limited resources, it’s even more critical that ownership throughout the entire organization buy into this vision and plan and everyone is all pulling in the same direction.

In fact, I have posted in my office a few basic principles that Prototron was founded on, which I believe are still relevant today. Here they are:

  1. That our focus would be concentrated on serving time critical requirements.
  2. That service, quality and communications are the cornerstones of our business model.
  3. That mutual respect for our customers and employees is vital to our organization.
  4. That our success would be a function of listening to and continuously meeting our customers’ needs.
  5. That it is better to grow meaningfully than to grow large.

We also invest in a great training program for employees. We take the extra steps of explaining why instead of just what employees need to do to produce quality products. There’s lots of gray hair in the industry and a big gap in between. If a PCB company wants to continue to be successful, this gap needs to be filled.

Dan: I’m with you there. I can’t help but say that it's good to look around your facility and seeing several young people here. I think that’s a good thing. Kim, thanks for spending the time with me today. I appreciate it.

Kim: My pleasure.

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