A Look at the High-Reliability Interconnect Market
I-Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties recently met with Mark Cormier of Miraco Inc. to discuss the latest trends and drivers in the high-reliability segment, and their customers' increasing demand for quality.
Barry Matties: Mark, let’s start with an overview of Miraco.
Mark Cormier: We design interconnects and source interconnects. Most of our business is created from the need for a custom interconnect. The vast majority of our opportunities (~85%) are in the medical and military fields that require Class 3 high-reliability solutions. Our commercial business is only 15% of our total business.
The military designs we do are mostly avionics. We've had history in the past with doing a lot of ordinance, but right now that's not our big driver. Our ITAR registration has helped improve our visibility to more military designs.
Our medical designs are predominately medical device types of products. We seem to do very well in that area. It is long lead time, long design cycle.
Matties: What sorts of needs do your customers currently have?
Cormier: Typically they need an interconnect and they are short of time, short of manpower, or short of material knowledge. Miraco’s advantage is we're unbiased in the approach. We don't care if the design requires a flexible printed circuit, a flat flex cable or a wire harness. We can design and source any of the three options and have the capability of building the complete solution at either our North American facilities located in Manchester, New Hampshire or in Tijuana, Mexico. When volumes dictate, and with customer approval, we also have the option of building a full turnkey solution at our off-shore partner’s facilities. In summary, our customers benefit from our local design capability, our global sourcing network, and our multiple assembly options while keeping the quality assurance group in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Matties: When we look at medical electronics, that's a fast-moving market with a lot of changes being made.
Cormier: Yes, it is fast moving, and it slows down because the design cycles are so long from when you do prototyping to actually getting it into production. We just delivered a prototype that got a first-time order for something that we've been working on for eight years. We understand the material traceability requirements that our medical customers operate under.
Matties: When you say design, are you talking about from concept?
Cormier: Yes, that's the optimal way to do it. It works best when the design team can have inputs in choosing materials and developing the manufacturing process. We don't have to change it once the prototypes are done. It's getting in after the fact that creates unnecessary cost constraints. It is rare to take a solution out of the lab and hit your target of a quality, cost effective, manufacturable component.
Matties: The best advice you could give is to get in early, bring the designers and the manufacturers in, and do it concurrently.
Cormier: I think it's pretty much an on-demand service; you don't realize you need us until you find out you need us, and how are we going to do this? That's when we get the calls.
Matties: What trends do you see in the medical and military markets?
Cormier: Medical will always be there. It will hit some slowness, some downside, but in general I think it's a stable place to be. The military is going to have its deeper cycles.
Matties: How do you manage your assembly work?
Cormier: We try to outsource the assembly work wherever possible, where it's cost-effective. We have suppliers that will do value-add service for us prior to shipping the units to us. If the value-add needs to be done by us, that's when we do it; but we try to find the best deal for the end-customer based on cost and quality.
Matties: What sort of audit process do you do to find an EMS?
Cormier: We are ISO-certified. We follow ISO standards. We allow self-auditing in our preliminary evaluation, but we will visit all of our suppliers over some period of time, say in a year and a half we're going to see them all.
Matties: The demands for quality are high in the markets you serve and they are willing to pay for it.
Cormier: Price doesn't matter if you can't deliver quality.
Matties: Exactly. Now, one of the things that I noticed in some recent interviews for automotive, medical, and mil/aero, is the amount of inspection that is utilized in the process. Because the cost of failure is so high, they're willing to pay for inspection at every step.
Cormier: We have many steps within the quality procedure to make sure that what goes out works. If we get failures, we trace back to the material. We trace back through all the steps to find out what failed and how to prevent the failure in the future. It is all about getting to the root cause. Find the problem, handle the problem, and make sure the problem doesn't happen again. Those are the guidelines. The people who run our company built a $35 million flex company and sold it to Amphenol. It was Advanced Circuit Technologies, so they know the process and how to manage the process on the quality side.
Matties: The thing that I see is, no matter how good your process is, and how robust it is, there are always variables.
Cormier: Variables in material, especially.
Matties: Mark, thank you so much for sharing today.
Cormier: Appreciate talking to you.