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At the recent SMTA West Penn Expo & Tech Forum, I had the opportunity to speak with Ken Moffat, of American Standard Circuits, based in Chicago. Among the topics we discussed was the importance of attending local chapter shows like this one, and ASC’s value-added services such as DfM, especially in the metal-backed and RF arenas.
Patty Goldman: Ken, you're kind of new with ASC, right? Tell me about your role with the company.
Ken Moffat: Yes, I’m two years in. The honeymoon is still ongoing I think, but I'm settling in. I understand now where ASC's niche is. American Standard offers a lot including flex, rigid-flex, metal-backed and metal core boards. Some companies just run and hide from that kind of stuff. But I’ve found our niche really is in RF/microwave and thermal management, so I'm concentrating on that arena in the Canadian marketplace, as well as around the Great Lakes in the U.S., because there's not a lot of competition. The nice thing with ASC's capabilities is they're unique. Yes, there are a few large competitors, the TTMs of the world, which we go up against, but we think we do a better job of customer service and providing value-added services than the bigger guys, who either don't want to be bothered with or really don't have the bandwidth to do.
Goldman: What kind of value-added services?
Moffat: Design for manufacturability, especially in the metal-backed and RF arenas. With that technology there's not a lot of competition, but we've got some in-house application engineers that have surprised me, and they're available to our customer base. I've brought my boss and our field applications engineering manager from Chicago out to Peterborough, Ontario, to put on a seminar for a customer, and they ate it up. They loved it. I'm planning to do the next one hopefully in the next month or so down in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, with a new customer that's designing an aerospace board that’s metal-back. They have some concerns on how to design it, so that's what we're going to help them with.
Goldman: Now when you manufacture, I know you obviously do prototypes and small volumes, do you get into any sort of volume?
Moffat: We do. We do offer larger volume, but our niche really is quick turn, high mix, low volume stuff. Of course we absolutely love to have large volume that we can plan for the whole year. That doesn't come around very often, but at the same time, when people say, “Do you do large volume?” it all depends on the volume of manufacturing panels.
Goldman: What do they mean by volume, right?
Moffat: Yes. How long is that piece of string? How many boards can you fit on an 18 x 24 panel, manufacturing panel? Is it one or 100? We consider a large order anything over, say, 40−50 panels. That's a fairly large order, and imagine somebody's quick turn two- or three-day order behind that large order. We have to handle that to get it past and get it through to meet our commitment dates, so that's why you pay a premium for quick turns.
Goldman: That seems to be quite a good niche.
Moffat: There's a bunch of us trying to carve a slice of that pie that seems to be getting smaller, but I know in my personal experience that there's a lot of shops that are circling the drain financially, and they're not going to be around another year or two or even six months, so I'm glad I made the move two years ago to ASC. They aren't afraid to take some chances to win customers.
Goldman: Are you finding that there’s been an increase in the number of new applications for printed circuit boards of the type that ASC specializes in?
Moffat: It's opening a brand new world for me because the metal-back stuff is a whole new marketplace that I hadn't even thought of. New applications are popping up and we’re educating customers and me, too. A lot of companies haven't heard of us. I'm from Toronto, Canada, and up in the Ottawa/Montreal area; when they think American Standard they think of plumbing fixtures, right? No, it's a circuit board shop. That's the reality. So I'm not only educating customers, I'm educating myself because I didn't know these applications were out there. That's what invigorates me because this whole industry is evolving.
Goldman: Are you exhibiting at many shows?
Moffat: Yes, we are. We're going to do Toronto next week, obviously that's in my backyard, and we're considering Michigan which is coming up soon and then there’s one in Cleveland in August, so we're booked in that. We did the Toronto SMTA last year and had a great response, so we're trying to hit a few more of them this year. We find a lot of the table top and regional shows are a better value for the money than the large ones.
Goldman: You get that local market and you can just focus, and the people that come by can focus too.
Moffat: Yes, and you're seeing your customers that you deal with, and it’s great to have them come see you all at once. You usually meet six or eight at a show typically, but even if you only get one, the show's worth it right then and there.
Goldman: Wonderful. What else is happening? Anything else you'd like to talk about? Any new equipment or new things going on at American Standard?
Moffat: We're about to get our AS9100C—our aerospace accreditation. That's due later this year, probably late summer or early fall. We took possession of laser direct imaging last fall, and that's been the greatest thing since sliced bread to everybody in the plant. They love it. We're hoping laser drilling will happen next year, but we just put in a new drilling machine last month, so we really need to find a way to expand the plant because we have no room left. It's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem. Everything is looking up. It's positive.
Goldman: Excellent. Thank you so much for your time.
Moffat: Patty, thank you. It's been great.