Rapid PCB delivery, no problem

An electronic products bill-of-materials is typically dominated by standard off-the-shelf components, from semiconductors to interconnect. However, no matter how simple the product, one component will always be bespoke: the PCB. Electronics Sourcing spoke to Spirit Circuits Steve Driver to discover how his company is manufacturing PCBs to meet
off-the-shelf delivery timescales. STEVEEXPLAINED: Driven by the migration of volume PCB manufacturing to the Far East, Spirit has streamlined its onshore production process, management team and workforce to meet the UKs demand for the fast, reliable delivery of prototype and small batches of PCBs. Completing the circle, the company also has a six-year business partnership with four Chinese manufacturing facilities (each specialising in different technologies, volumes and delivery times) to suit most customers volume needs.

48-hour turnaround

Out latest initiative is the Ask Dave service which offers a guaranteed 48-hour turnaround. If we fail to deliver, customers receive their money back, plus an extra 1,000. The service was originally conceived to illustrate our investment in rapid production capacity but has taken on a life of its own. In fact it has become a turning point for Spirit and its customers.
Some customers saw Spirit as a high volume PCB manufacturer, often specialising in exotic materials. With its launch at Southern Manufacturing earlier this year, Ask Dave was designed to prove Spirits agile capabilities. Since the launch, Ask Dave has delivered 18 prototype PCBs without a single customer claiming the 1,000 late delivery reward. The service has also attracted 13 new customers who are now placing repeat orders.

Naturally, to guarantee a 48-hour turnaround, each new Ask Dave order is carefully vetted. However, even if Spirit is unable to accept the order under the Ask Dave banner it can offer the customer the next best delivery which could be three or five-days depending on complexity and volume. As a benchmark, standard delivery is seven to 10-days.

By setting strict guidelines on the nature of jobs the UK factory accepts, we are not blocking rapid delivery capacity with low-value volume work. Jobs that dont match the onshore manufacturing model can be quickly migrated to a more suitable facility in China.

UV inkjet
From an investment perspective, our engineers looked for bottlenecks in the manufacturing process and identified the silkscreen printing process used for producing PCB identification layers. With the factory handling 30 jobs a day, a faster, more flexible alternative was sought. The solution is a new flatbed UV inkjet printer which is driven by customers Gerber data. The machine is one of four in UK and the first in the South of the country. Another area of planned investment is the plating lines, with volume lines being phased out and replaced with shorter, faster, more flexible ones.

With an active customer base of 500 companies and 150 new orders every month, agility is the key word. Design engineers and buyers are under enormous time constraints so there is the danger that PCB specification will be left late in the decision making process. With its investment in new manufacturing models and equipment Spirit believes it can deliver bespoke PCB on timescales usually associated with standard components. To complete its service, Spirit ensures all its customers receive an e-mail before 9.00am explaining exactly when their order will be delivered later that day.