The Quickturn Era Print E-mail
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Written by Jeff Knight   
Saturday, 01 August 2009 00:00

Better ManufacturingThose who can’t ramp might lose time-to-market.

The electronics interconnection industry is continually changing. Not only is the technology becoming more complex, the nature of business itself is rapidly evolving. The rise of the EMS segment of the industry, accompanied by the swift demise of vertically integrated OEMs, has pushed printed circuit board design, fabrication, assembly and test expectations of the current suppliers to their technical limits. Today, with reduction of the new product introduction (NPI) cycle time, time-to-market is critical for businesses to remain competitive.

Quickturn and prototype services make up an important segment of the PCB fabrication market and it is imperative that North American suppliers offer this capability. However, today’s requirements go beyond the typical QT feature card designs and now include new dense PCB fabrication with more complexity, higher layer counts and more precise registration than previously required. Regardless of the complexity, fast cycle time has become an expectation, which in turn has led many suppliers to exit the business rather than make the large capital investment required for new, state-of-the-art tools with advanced processing capabilities necessary to stay ahead of the technology curve. Those suppliers that remain have picked up the customers of the departed, but continual capital investment, as well as investment in the technical personnel required to develop new processes capable of running new and advanced materials on state-of-the-art equipment, is required (not to mention expensive).

For the customer, the payback of QT and prototype services is recognized in a significant reduction in process cycle time and process costs, which provides additional capacity and gets products to market faster. Doing so, however, means that the production fabricator must be able to produce the same highly complex product as the quickturn fabricator, lest all the time and effort be wasted. Thus, many end-customers are looking for fabricators capable of providing a rapid turn for the early user hardware or prototypes along with the ability to supply the low volume ramp and volume production quantities of their products. To do this, the QT/prototype line must be a mirror image of the production line with identical processes, chemistries, and techniques implemented, plus a common set of design and data release tools used for both production and QT.

As readers know, defense programs have been a growing and profitable piece of electronics manufacturing over the past several years. In military programs specifically, suppliers have learned that in order to be considered for production work, fabricators must be able to provide quickturn, early user hardware/prototype boards. Customers use these boards to verify the design, and expect their fabricators to offer advice regarding design for performance and manufacturability, along with delivering on time and within budget.

Acceptance criteria for QT and prototype products is another matter to consider, as they may differ from the volume production requirements due to the use and expectations of those products. Furthermore, discussions defining when the clock starts for ultimate delivery of a quickturn order and requirements for accepting design data need to be clearly communicated at the forefront of any project.

Quickturn and prototype services are not only an important differentiator for North American PCB fabricators today, but it is also an essential part of remaining competitive and satisfying customer’s expectations. While there is an upside to providing these services – premium pricing, gaining entry into potentially higher volume production and new customers – huge investment is also required to maintain a competitive edge.

Jeff Knight is vice president of business development at Endicott Interconnect Technologies (eitny.com).

 

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