By Becky Hurley | Feb 03, 2016
Imagine creating patented stencils, squeegee blades, and tooling to manufacture electronic components as small as those in a smartwatch or FitBit. That's just the way Photo Stencil meets customer demand in a rapidly evolving nano-scale world. Today the company's high performance stencils, squeegees and tooling are used throughout the surface mount technology (SMT) assembly, solar or semiconductor industries.
"It's like applying the ink on a T-shirt, but much more complex," says Weissmann, adding that like silkscreening, solder paste or another material is squeegeed through and onto copper pads on circuit boards.
The use of stencils is no longer confined to just the printed circuit board (PCB) industry or to laser formed stencils. They now play a major role in the semiconductor assembly process and are made of new materials, in clean rooms, and often use laser direct imaging. Customers increasingly require smaller components positioned closer together. That means a solder patch can't touch, but must allow close enough contact, to get an electronic connection.
"Hundreds of companies make stencils for routine electronics assembly for televisions and washing machines," Weissmann explains. "But very few globally make stencils as small as 15 microns for semiconductor applications."
Value-added customer service support has also proven to be a strong marketing tool. Since about 50 percent of defects occur during electronic assembly as part of the printing process, clients can depend on Photo Stencil personnel to help manage stencil application. That teaming approach -- helping the customer improve yield -- has played a key role in building business.
It's a global market. "We export all over the world: stencils used in the U.S. for research and development and in Asia for R&D as well as for high volume electronic assembly," Weissmann says.
As a result, company engineers are developing innovative new products all the time. Examples include the patented AMTX E-FAB electroformed stencils, high-performance, proprietary NicAlloy, NicAlloy-XT, laser-cut, and chemetch stencils, and patented electroformed E-Blade squeegee blade.
Weissmann says 2015 brought a "significant uptick" in business from 2014, impressive because management decided to divest itself of one customer segment. "Five years ago we shifted away from commodity stencils and as a result, lost some users that are no longer a match for our higher-end, more specialized products and services. We expect 2016 will be another very strong year," he adds.
Challenges: "Photo Stencil must come up with the stencil design best-suited to the customer," says Weissmann.
A second one: "We've just moved our factory from Colorado Springs to our Golden facility -- a huge undertaking. In addition, the fact that we're creating a global state-of-the-art factory is big for a small company with a small budget. Our new facility is actually smaller -- about 35,000 square feet -- but is much more efficient."
Opportunities: Specialization, says Weissmann. "Our biggest opportunity lies in the fact that a lot of customers in semiconductor industries are outgrowing what they can do with generic stencils. As the requirements get tougher, there are fewer companies that can fulfill orders. It give Photo Stencil a chance to add value."
Needs: "Talent is always a factor," says Weissmann. "Also capital -- that's an ongoing challenge. We're privately held and are making an extraordinary investment in next-generation stencils. You could say we punch above our weight in technology. It's pretty amazing."