By Brad Smith | Sep 25, 2020
Printed circuit boards
A University of Colorado graduate in electrical engineering, Karsanbhai worked for several technology companies, including Conexant Systems, before acquiring Nova Engineering in 2013.
"We are what they call high-mix, low- to medium-volume," Karsanbhai says. "That's the market in the United States. There are customers that their demands, in terms of quantities, are not high enough to justify going to foreign countries so they come to people like us. In other cases, [it's] maybe for protection of intellectual property or they just feel more comfortable working with a manufacturer in the U.S."
Since he bought the company, Karsanbhai has sought to diversify Nova as much as possible, including meeting quality control standards set by the International Organization for Standardization.
Nova now manufactures printed circuit boards (PCBs) for medical devices, automotive, environmental monitoring, in base stations for satellite launches, in some specialized equipment for physics laboratories, and for oil and gas. "Our products end up around the world, including Europe, Australia, China, and the U.S.," says Karsanbhai.
Nova Engineering had been located in Golden for many years, where it won accolades, including the 2014 Best of Golden Award for its marketing program, which Karsanbhai says he has worked hard to upgrade under his ownership. The effort has paid off, with the company outgrowing its Golden facility and moving to its current Denver location in 2019.
"We didn't have room left in Golden and had to move to another facility that would have the power and space for future expansion," he says. Nova has added another surface-mount assembly line which includes an oven, stencil printer, and two surface-mount pick-and-place machines.
Nova gets its raw circuit boards from circuit board fabricators and then assembles finished PCBs based on the customer design, primarily using surface-mount technology (SMT). That's when electrical components are mounted directly onto the surface of the board, as opposed to the older through-hole technology.
Karsanbhai says Nova can do through-hole PCBs but doesn't do much of it because it is a manual process that takes more time. "The surface-mount machine is really a robot," he says. "It just doesn't look like it."
Customers typically come to Nova Engineering with plans for their products, including a design, and often Nova will build a prototype circuit board before building more PCBs. "We've worked with some other customers where they might have just given us boards to rework but it took maybe two years to bring them on board and have us do their boards," says Karsanbhai. "We've had a concerted effort to diversify and add more customers."
Challenges: "One challenge for sure is finding a trained workforce," Karsanbhai says. "The other one is, given the current situation with COVID, it seems to be very strange how you get in touch with customers. All of a sudden you get real busy and then it slows down. The RFQs [requests for quotes] slow down. It's a bit of a challenge. Reaching out to customers is a bit of a challenge. We try to do all online and phone calls and stuff like that but the interpersonal piece of that is lacking and we can see the effect of that."
Opportunities: Karsanbhai says the biggest opportunity "is hopefully the country becomes more serious about onshoring. I don't see an organized, concerted effort from the government. There's a lot of talk about it but it does require some work behind that talk in order to realize that. For the last 25 years there is a lot of manufacturing that's been off-shored and that is kind of an automatic process now. Companies continue to send their manufacturing requirements overseas. The opportunity, I think, is if we become serious about on-shoring a lot of manufacturing that could be an opportunity for us."
Needs: "What I need most is trained workforce," says Karsanbhai. "Second after that is being able to convince customers to work with a U.S.-based manufacturer. In a lot of cases we might build prototypes because those are more complicated to deal with."