By Brad Smith | Feb 17, 2020
Printed circuit boards
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Printed circuit boards
Early on in his career, Davis says he learned that companies that make their employees and customers their top priority will be successful. "Most companies don't do that," he says. "If you do that, your employees will like to work with you and your customers too."
Davis started Advanced Assembly after a couple of decades on the business side of a retail drug store chain and a leading rental car company. The latter, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, taught him his basic business philosophy. After leaving Enterprise, Davis says he became interested in printed circuit boards (PCBs) and saw a niche in that industry that was unfulfilled. His research showed that companies using PCBs could get large volumes of the boards manufactured but had difficulty on the prototyping.
"These folks were not happy," says Davis. "I talked to people about what they needed and they told me they wanted the job done quickly using [pick-and-place] machines." Contract manufacturers focus on huge board runs so companies that want help prototyping boards have to turn to mom-and-pop operations and try to do it themselves, he explains.
That led to the creation of Advanced Assembly, which has experienced significant growth, especially in recent years. Revenues have grown steadily -- 17 percent in 2019 and 58 percent the last three years -- and the number of employees has gone from 80 in 2016 to the current 107. Advanced Assembly even grew during the 2008-09 recession because its customers still needed to work on future products.
"Our business model is the hardest to eliminate," Davis says. During the Great Recession, "companies had to retrench and cut back . . . but one department that doesn't see a severe reduction is the R&D guys. They still have to have the coolest widget out there."
The company's focus is on the assembly of a few prototype PCBs in three days or less. Advanced Assembly has assembled more than 40,000 unique board designs in the past decade for some of the largest and most innovative tech companies in the world, Davis says, although sometimes the company doesn't even know how the boards will be used.
"I know some boards go into nuclear stuff, some go into clocks, some deep underground fracking, some aeronautics," he says. "It's really cool things. We know the company name but the board itself isn't always identified for what it does."
Advanced Assembly uses sophisticated surface-mount technology, better known as pick-and-place machinery, to make boards for its customers. Davis says he's constantly upgrading production with the latest and most efficient machines. The result has been constant expansion of its plant in Aurora. About 5,000 square feet was added in 2019, bringing the facility to 35,000 square feet.
Many PCB manufacturers have plants dominated by the machines inside, but Davis says he wants his focus on his employees. Where other manufacturers might hide their employees, 40 percent of the employees of Advanced Assembly are in the front-end space.
"We have the biggest sales and customer support team in the country, probably in the world. We have a very elaborate engineering team whose whole purpose is to make sure the jobs are set up properly before it goes into the production room. We look at ourselves as a service company that happens to build PCBs," Davis says.
Challenges: "It is basically getting our name out there," Davis says. "Our customers in general are electrical engineers doing the design work. Our market is heavily pointed toward the early stages of design. Our biggest challenge is to let them know we can do quick-turn assembly with machines and help them through the process."
Opportunities: "Design innovation is one of the strongest growing fields in the U.S. today," he says. "It is recession-proof. We have to continue to go out there (the marketplace), tell our story and why we do what we do. Give us the opportunity to sell our story and the sky's the limit."
Needs: Davis says his employees need to get credit for the things they do, which is high on the company's goals. "One of the things I've always done is reinvest in the company. My employees and what they do is important, whether it is production, sales, customer support, quality control. I don't think [the company needs] a lot."