Interview – Scott Fillebrown of ACD and JUKI’s Bob Black

Automated Circuit Design (ACD) of Richardson, Texas, is one of the most dynamic and fast growing design and contract assembly companies in the greater southwest. Building on a successful 27 years in business, ACD recently invested in a new production floor and two Juki high speed surface mount lines, increasing their production capacity dramatically. For this interview I had the unique opportunity to talk with both Scott Fillebrown, president and CEO of ACD, and Juki Automation Systems president and CEO Bob Black about these exciting new developments.

 

Scott, ACD is a well-established company that seems to be in a dynamic growth phase right now. Please tell us about your recent expansion?
Yes, we have just expanded our existing facility by a further 13,500 sq. ft and expanded our SMT, box build, test and repair areas. We have also increased our capacity from 95,000 placements per hour to 355,000 placements per hour and and expanded from two production lines to five.

Can you describe for our readers the services ACD offers its customers?
We offer physical design, PCB manufacture, prototype & small production assembly production, box build and logistics. We also offer large overseas production and can offer all of these as a turnkey service. Both functional test operation and development as well, flying probe and boundary scan test.

You are vertically integrated in that you offer design, PCB manufacture, assembly and test and logistics. What benefits does this bring you and your customers?
Most importantly, it allows them to get to market faster with a more robustly designed product that is more producible. We can do real DFM (design for manufacturing) and turn revisions around very quickly. Having complete control of the process allows us to run in parallel and start buying components for the pilot run while we are still running the prototypes.

What is your typical customer profile?
Typically we handle large or small customers with no manufacturing capability and want to run a lean operation by outsourcing their manufacturing. Our customers are mainly in the medical, defense and semiconductor (ATE and evaluation boards) industries.

At what point do you move customers offshore and how does this work?
We often recommend a customer to let us take their work offshore when they are running non-complex boards and they exceed at least 1,000 and in many cases tens of thousands of board assemblies. Moving jobs offshore is also suitable for customers with sensitive price points, e.g. consumer-type products. ACD manages the entire overseas production, liaises on the design, procurement, manufacturing process and offers the same warranties and guarantees on the product as they do for products manufactured in the United States.

What factors do you think set ACD apart from other EMS suppliers?
One significant factor is our IT department that synchronizes accounting, payroll and all manufacturing operations. Employees can see the status of any job at many terminals throughout the factory. Customers are all assigned a customer service contact who liaises constantly with them on the progress of each job. In the near future, we plan to expand this service to allow customers direct access through the internet to monitor the progress of their jobs. I believe we will be the first contract manufacturer in the United States to offer this service.

Scott, ACD chose Juki equipment for this expansion. Can you tell us what factors led you to that decision?
We compared three different manufacturers of pick and place equipment. The price to performance was significantly better, and JUKI’s engineering department and support are very strong and impressive. They offer lifetime support in software upgrades and don’t charge for training.

How many turns do you have on each line per day on average and how do you manage this?
On our medium to high volume lines (JUKI) we average 1.5 turns per day. On the slower MYDATA lines we usually do up to four turns because these lines are doing prototypes or small batch runs. The JUKI lines also have this capability, and this flexibility allows us to do small BOMs back to back.

We also had the opportunity to talk with Juki’s Bob Black about ACD’s recent expansion. Bob, can you give us your thoughts on adding ACD as a Juki customer?
Of course we were thrilled to add a fine company like ACD to the Juki customer list, and to be chosen for this vital project to facilitate their growth. It’s a big responsibility. Scott and the ACD team put their trust in us, and our team will work hard to meet and exceed their expectations.

Bob, the SMT equipment market really took a big dive in 2009. How has Juki recovered from the downturn?
BB: Well Trevor, let’s say I am much happier today than I was in 2009. Our business in the Americas has returned to 2007 levels, which was a good year, and we are seeing further growth this year above that level. We managed to keep all our people in 2009, when many in the industry experienced layoffs, and we are adding some positions this year to help deal with the growth.

Back to ACD, can you describe the lines they have chosen?
BB: The two new lines at ACD are Flexible High Speed Lines. They are very high speed but can still be changed over from one production program to another in a short time. They feature the latest versions of our FX-3 chip shooter and the new KE3020 fine pitch machines. These lines give ACD production capacity that very few other companies in their region can match.

Back to Scott. Let’s talk a little about your test strategies. What is your typical test routine and what special test systems can you offer?
We have four flying probers (two of which are double-sided Acculogic probers). Most boards will go through the probers and/or functional test. We also do boundary scan and functional test development.

What percentage of boards do you clean and what systems do you use?
We use batch systems and clean 80% of the boards we produce using an EMC system. The reason we prefer batch cleaners is because they do not need operator and are more cost effective. Typically, we will do a saponifier wash followed by a DI water rinse.

Do you anticipate any supply chain issues or other problems resulting from the Japanese earthquake and Tsunami?
Yes we do. We do a lot of work with the semiconductor factories. Component supply has been difficult for past 18 months and one of the biggest problems in our industry. We fully expect there to be further disruptions of supply as a result of this tragic event.

We are very careful about the quality of our component procurement and have supplier agreements in place to protect against contraband materials, which thankfully we have had very little experience of.

What do you see in ACD’s future over the next few years?
We definitely plan to grow the test and development department. We will also be expanding the number of jobs we manufacture offshore. Another area where we anticipate robust growth is turnkey work, from design through final box build and logistics. To enable us to accomplish all of these goals, we will be adding more equipment over the next few years.

I want to thank you both Scott and Bob, for taking time with us today.

—Trevor Galbraith

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