A lot of companies talk about the importance of good data management, but for some firms, this amounts to little more than lip service. Then there are companies like fabricator Bay Area Circuits. I recently sat down with Bay Area Circuits President Stephen Garcia and COO Brian Paper to discuss how automating and upgrading their data systems has significantly cut down overall process time, as well as their drive to educate young PCB designers and actively promote the industry to the emerging electronics industry workforce.
Barry Matties: Let’s talk about how you manage your data. Are you a completely electronic company?
Stephen Garcia: We have tried to go as paperless as possible, and we’re talking actual production data starting from the Gerber. We use Ucamco’s Integr8tor software, which is the entire company’s backbone. That is our database. Everything is automated. And then we’ve tied in our own software to connect supplement Integr8tor.
Matties: When you say your own software, is that something you developed?
Garcia: Yes, it’s basically a customized CRM platform. Some production data, like process cards, are still printed, but eventually everything is digitized and stored on our servers for easy access which is especially important given that a good portion of our engineering staff works remotely and needs real-time access to data.
As we continue to grow and identify bottlenecks, we make sure employees have the access they need. Not long ago, QC may have been inspecting a job but may not have all the details. Maybe they just had a fab print and the process card, so would have to walk over to Planning and say “I’m seeing something out of the ordinary; was this approved by the customer?” Today they have full access. Each job gets a tool number, and then everything is saved on our server for employees to access the data required.
That’s the hardest part of our job: incomplete or conflicting customer data. Every customer is different when it comes to Gerbers and their fab prints. We have a handful of customers who often provide us with Gerbers that rarely match the fab print. It might be a non-plated hole on their fab print, but then their Gerber is plated, things of that nature. Our system allows employees to have access to the data to investigate any issues and prevent production hiccups.
Brian Paper: We’ve put more emphasis on the netlist too, as far as ensuring that the customers are providing us with that type of information. We just posted a whole blog post on what a netlist is, and why it’s important.
Garcia: With every customer being different, our biggest challenge is trying to educate them about what we need to successfully manufacture their project and why we need it. It’s amazing that even when some of our larger customers put on a generic fab print, half of it doesn’t apply to the actual board, and we need to get approval. We say, “Hey, can we deviate away from your fab print?” and they say, “Yeah, that shouldn’t be there. Just ignore it.” It definitely slows things down. We’ve really tried to automate as much as possible from the minute we get Gerbers.