By Brad Smith | Dec 12, 2016
Printed circuit boards
Industry: Aerospace & Electronics
Products: Printed circuit boards
The company has invested more than $1 million in the last three years on new equipment for his relatively new 20,000-square foot facility in Longmont. But he envisions a day in the coming years when the facility will be too small.
Anderson, a mining engineering graduate from the University of Missouri, acquired Circuits West in 1997 after years in mining management because he saw "good upside growth potential" in PCB manufacturing. He expanded the company's catalog and started focusing on quick-turn prototyping (QTP). The QTP expertise means Circuits West can build prototype boards within one to five days, where the standard turnaround had been about 10 days.
Circuits West has about 350 active customers, including powerhouses like Seagate and Schindler Elevator, both of which have been with Anderson's company a couple of decades. Both have facilities in Colorado: Seagate, the global leader in data storage solutions, employs about 1,600 people in Colorado, mostly at a design facility in Longmont; and Schindler Elevator, whose parent Schindler Group is based in Switzerland, has 5,000 employees in North America.
Nearly all of Circuits West's customers are in the United States. The company has annual revenues of about $5 million.
Potential customers normally bring their own board designs to Circuits West, which uses the design to build the boards quickly. The customer can then take the finished prototype to present to their own investors or to complete their project.
One of the main attractions of PCBs for Anderson was his ability to use process engineering to translate the needs of customers into production capabilities. "We also have customers who just want printed circuit boards and we will build them," Anderson says.
The manufacturing plant has a daily capacity of about 100 panels, which are printed with as many as 20 boards that are routed out for the finished products. The plant has customers like Peterson Manufacturing Co. that uses Circuits West products for their own large runs numbering in the thousands. Peterson, headquartered in Grandview, Mo., uses PCBs for its vehicle safety lighting solutions for such customers as Harley-Davidson.
With its focus on quick turnaround, customer service is paramount for Anderson. The company has two representatives in the office handling requests for quotes, answering questions, and keeping customers up-to-date on production. In the QTP world, Anderson says, customers always want to stay informed because "getting the boards first may give them first place on a project."
The big differentiator in the QTP industry, Anderson says, is service. "Despite the complexity and required customization in building prototypes, technology allows most of us [in the PCB industry] to build them. How we handle our customer's unique specifications or exceptions is what sets us apart. Because we believe in those old-fashioned ideas like 'the customer is always right' and having live conversations, we can guarantee total customer satisfaction with service they can trust.
"We have created a can-do company culture and employ the latest manufacturing processes in order to increase capacity resulting in faster lead times to our customers in the United States."
Circuits West equipment upgrades include a direct imaging machine, a Micronic drilling and routing machine, circuit board testers and an automated optical inspection station. The Micronic drill is capable of drilling holes as small as three thousandths of an inch in diameter.
Colorado's PCB industry has come back from the 2008 economic downturn, although the recession did result in "some fallout" in the state. In recent years, "nobody has really gotten bigger or smaller," he adds.
Challenges: "We have to always be cost-competitive," says Anderson. "We also have to always improve our technology, with higher layer counts and smaller drill hole sizes and smaller line sizes." He says there also is the challenge of using sequential laminations and more exotic materials.
Opportunities: "We'll continue to expand our existing customer base with what we do best, quick turn prototyping," says Anderson.
Needs: "We always need more customers," Anderson notes. "We're always looking."