Leveraging Industry Shows to Create a Presence

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At the recent SMTA International show in Rosemont, Illinois, I had an opportunity to meet with Mark Osborn, president and owner of Colonial Circuits, based in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Colonial Circuits is a supplier of PCBs, mainly for the defense industry.

Patty Goldman: Mark, it is good to finally have a few minutes to talk with you. Tell me about Colonial Circuits. How’s business?

Mark Osborn: It's been good. Colonial Circuits has been in business for 37 years with 50 employees. We're in a 40,000-square foot facility in downtown Fredericksburg. In Virginia, our state motto is, “Virginia's for lovers.” So that's why we've been around for so long. We do a small amount of aerospace, but focus primarily on the defense industry. We do a little bit of everything and not all our customers are military.

Goldman: A few years ago, Vermont Circuits joined with you, I believe. How did that work?

Osborn: Correct, Vermont Circuits  had been struggling for many years and  decided to close its doors. Prior to making that final decision, the owners came down and took a tour of my facility and found that we had a lot  in common as far as customer base and technology capabilities, which finalized their decision. That has worked out very well because Colonial wasn't strong in the Northeast, where Vermont Circuits was located. So we picked up a few customers that are still with us today.

Goldman: What else is going on now?

Osborn: Oh, everything is new. We're finding ourselves running many different technologies. We're doing a lot of stacked via and rigid-flex prototyping not to mention other challenging technologies. On the new equipment end, I'm happy to report as of today our brand new MIVA direct imager is held up in Customs soon to be delivered. It will be our second direct imaging machine capable of producing  a mil-and-a-half to two-mil circuits, which is something that we can do now, but not as easily as we'd be able to do with the MIVA machine. I am also considering  the purchase of our third ESI laser drill!

Goldman: Excellent. How has exhibiting at SMTAI been going?

Osborn: To be honest with you, I was very impressed with the number of quality leads that we have received during the show. So it looks like we may continue this.

Goldman: That's wonderful. And as far as SMTA goes, do you participate in your local chapter?

Osborn: Correct.

Goldman: Have you considered going beyond that to other local shows? Some companies do.

Osborn: Well, to be honest with you, I'm thinking about doing the 2018 IPC APEX EXPO in February, as a result of the tremendous amount of interest we found here in Chicago. I say that because, from the people that I've talked to, board shop owners and contract manufacturers are all relatively optimistic about what's going to happen soon with the economy. It might be worth the investment to get our presence known on the West Coast.

Goldman: That's true. Now, on another subject, were you at IMPACT Washington D.C. this year? It was a great event.

Osborn: Well, in all honesty I wasn't there this year, but I had been in previous years. I think any time that you can meet and discuss things with your senators or congressmen, and get the word out as to what the needs are of your industry, that's a great opportunity. All of us need to take advantage of it. We've had congressmen and senators come through our facility. We're in regular contact with them, and most profess to be working as hard as they can for our benefit in Washington. So for those who read this, I suggest they get involved. At least call your local congressman and get them to visit your facility and understand what a printed circuit board is, or what an assembled circuit board is. I think it will end up helping us all in the long run.

Goldman: I understand it really opens their eyes.

Osborn: Yes, it does.

Goldman: First, they barely know what manufacturing truly is, and I've heard from different people that when they have somebody come through, that they literally say, "Wow, I had no idea." They have this picture of manufacturing as very dirty or repetitive or perhaps dangerous, and of course it's not like that at all.

Osborn: No. You're correct. I'll tell you a story. Several years ago, Senator George Allen, who was the former Governor of Virginia, came and toured our facility. At that time, we made him a key out of standard rigid FR-4 and gold-plated it. When he came in we said, "Here's the key to Colonial Circuits." That made such an impact on him. I mean it's just these little things you can do. I'm sure to this day that he remembers the printed circuit board industry, even though he's out of politics.

Goldman: I'll tell you, this year at IMPACT it was not like earlier ones. Everybody that spoke with us, from commerce, to education, to the Department of Defense, was saying, "Tell us what you need. We're here, we want to help you." Manufacturing is golden now. It was very, very refreshing.

Osborn: You're right. I think the recently completed study of the supply chain of the printed circuit industry by the Department of Commerce—that is just about ready to be published and made public—had a lot to do with that. With the IPC working with board shops and assembly shops, and meeting with members of Congress, we're finally getting the attention from the folks in Washington that we need.

Goldman: They're finally waking up and saying, "Hey!"

Osborn: "Hey, what are we going to do if this industry disappears here in the USA? We've got a problem." I mean, you're looking at less than 280 board shops compared to the 2,000–2,500 from 15 or 20 years ago, that's quite a change. And not only to the number of board shops, but also to the supply chain, because it just rolls downhill. Unfortunately, that's in the wrong direction.

Goldman: Of course, part of their interest is that we're losing our technology superiority. A big, big chunk, so what happens then?

Osborn: Well, we have an opportunity now to cut the losses and turn the tide. I'm going to do everything I can to turn the tide.

Goldman: That's good to hear. Anything else you want to pass along to our readers, your fellow circuit board shops, your suppliers, your customers?

Osborn: I would say this: Colonial Circuits has been a member of the Surface Mount Technology Association for two years now and I find it very rewarding. Because as a board manufacturer, there aren't that many board shops close by to support one another, unless you're in California.

Goldman: That's true, and there's not as many out there either.

Osborn: We used to have the circuit associations that were regionally structured throughout the U.S. Those are gone for the most part, at least on the East Coast. Becoming a member of the SMTA and going to their events is educational. I was at the one hosted by Johns Hopkins in August which gave me an opportunity to talk with current customers and meet new potential customers. I encourage people to join.

Goldman: That's where your “people” are now.

Osborn: Exactly, that's where the customer has shifted, from the OEM to the contract manufacturer. And there are a lot of good contract manufacturers out there.

Goldman: Yes, there are. This has been such a pleasure, Mark. Thanks so much for your time.

Osborn: You're welcome, anytime.


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