PNC in Nutley New Jersey is a truly unique company. Started in 1968, and then taken over by Sam Sangani in 1996, it has evolved into one of the premier PCB companies on the east Coast, if not the country. Over the years, the company has grown to the point where it now offers Circuit design, Layout, fabrication and assembly to its customers making it one of the few total concept under one roof companies in North America. If there is one word that sums up the company’s philosophy, that word would be convenience. They strive to be as convenient as they can to their customers, always making sure that they are providing their customers with everything they need to succeed. I talked to Calvin Switzer, Vice President of PNC Inc., recently and he was very open and candid in his responses. This is an interview you are going to enjoy
Dan: Okay first all, tell me a little bit about the company.
Calvin: Sure no problem. The company was actually started in 1968 by a gentleman named Rene Gabbai, and then in 1996 we bought the company. We saw an opportunity with the current business of original ownership and felt we could increase business by studying each process and upgrading them systematically to increase our technology with new equipment for each process.
Our vision was to become one of if not the best printed circuit board shops in the Northeast, which we feel we have achieved. Since then, our vision has changed slightly by integrating a Circuit Design, which we started in 2004, and an electronic assembly division which we stated in 2010. These changes were driven by our customer base, especially our Assembly Division. Over time, when PO’s were being placed, we were always asked, can we have the PCBs assembled and delivered as a final product? With such a high demand of interest, we decided collectively to go in that direction.
Dan: So you provide what I like to call Total Concept then, Circuit Design, Layout, Fabrication and Assembly?
Calvin: Yes absolutely. So many of our customers were asking us to provide the complete service package that it was a no brainer to start doing just that. Our President Sam Sangani likes to say that we sell convenience, and I think he is correct.
Dan: Yes I agree with Sam. I think today our customers are looking for a more convenient way of doing business and certainly offering Total Concept under one roof provides is convenient to say the least so now let’s talk about your technology. So let’s talk about that some more.
Calvin: PNC’s total concept company makes us very unique in the industry. We currently are engaging in electronic circuit design through final assembly box build under one roof. For those customers looking for efficient and expedited turn times, it’s become a big advantage over our competitors. I’d say most competitors who advertise the same practices actually have to subcontract portions of that work out. Doing so turn time efficiency and quality control are more difficult to control.
Dan: Okay, I like that. I also have to say that I consider a true service for the future that you have here today. I am quite sure that in a few years many others are going to follow your lead. Okay let’s talk some more about your technology. What capabilities do you have at PNC?
Calvin: Well yes, I can list them for you. Our PCB manufacturing capabilities increase with technology demands yearly including 3/3 Trace Space; .250 Thickness panels; Blind and Buried Vias: Controlled Depth Routing and drilling: Controlled Impedance: We do more and more controlled impedance and are seeing the demand for that increasing all the time; Filled vias both conductive and non-conductive; PTH down to .006 and we use an array of materials from Fr4 to Polyimide to Rogers Ceramic and PTFF, Aluminum clad and a number of hybrids.
Dan: So you pretty much cover the gamut of technologies and laminates then?
Calvin: Yes of course.
Dan: Okay. Tell me what you are best at. What makes you outstanding?
Calvin: I would have to say first of all the fact that we can do Circuit design, fabrication and assembly all under one roof is our single biggest differentiator. There are not many companies that can do that. That allows us to offer our customers a much more streamlined process where we can take them from literally an idea to reality. Besides being so much more efficient, all of this can be done with just one phone call, it is also much more economical for them as well. This is where the convenience factor comes into play with our customer base. They only have to cut one PO making their jobs more efficient and easier since they can communicate with one source instead of multiple sources to get one final product task completed.
Dan: I’d like to know a little bit more about your Circuit Design capabilities that you keep mentioning?
Calvin: Sure. We started that portion of the business in 2004 with one highly experienced Electronics Engineer, and our Staff has grown to 15 Engineers due to design demands. We can work from ideas and concepts to having existing schematics and performing the layouts. The area of design that is evolving at frantic pace is altering existing designs. There are many existing products in the market that need to be updated due to technology changes over time. We can take an existing designs and incorporate new technology, such as Wi-Fi, or even write new software. Our Engineers have experience in the Medical, Automotive, Aviation, Industrial and Commercial sectors. 100’s and Blue Chip
Dan: That’s pretty impressive. Especially at this time when there is much more new product development than there has ever been. So let’s talk some of the special boards you build at PNC.
Calvin: We have refined our process over the years to allow us to manufacture an array of printed circuit boards for multiple Industries. We still fabricate double-sided boards, but a majority of the boards manufactured at PNC are multilayers using FR4 or polyamide.
For microwave/RF applications we typically build double-sided and multilayers using Rogers’s ceramic materials, and a few FR4. A majority of the single-sided antenna boards are usually PTFE materials from Rogers. For double-sided antenna boards we also use the PTFE Rogers material and plate through from a strip line to the antenna.
Aluminum clad boards have become very popular in the last few years for LED applications. We fabricate single-sided aluminum boards from .0 2 to .125. We can also do HI- pot testing on all aluminum clad PCBs as well.
Another technology that we have been manufacturing for some time, are hybrids. Most of the hybrids we see use aluminum laminated to either Rogers ceramic or FR4.
Dan: Okay let’s be honest now where would you rate PNC in terms of technology?
Calvin: In terms of technology I would rate PNC on a scale of 1 to 10, somewhere around 9. In saying that, we are only a few processes upgrades away from being a solid 10. One of those processes would be plating. Currently we are plating at an aspect ratio of around 10 to 1. With a new plating line we can increase that aspect ratio immensely. We are looking to install our new Plating line in the fourth quarter of 2016. With the tolerances becoming tighter and tighter LDI would really help us with registration. This technology is also under review, but the return on investment just is not there yet to justify it.
PNC has spent over $2 million in the last 3 to 4 years upgrading capital equipment such as new routing machines, new drilling machines, new scoring, horizontal brown oxide, etching, primary developing, micro sectioning, reverse osmosis for DI water, inner layer cleaning, LPI, resist strip, tin strip, two ET machines, and video inspection.
Dan: I have to mention Quality. Do you have all of the registrations and specifications that your customers require these days?
Calvin: Yes of course we do. We have all of them including ISO, 55110, 31032, ITAR, UL MBE, DBE, SBA, NMSDC and of course for our employee certs we have IPC-A-600, IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001:
These are things we take very seriously at PNC. We feel that multiple Certs/Registrations can be a big advantage for our existing and prospective customer base. It builds flexibility to our customers whom are looking to break into new markets or industries, such as, bidding on DBE projects, knowing that we are a registered DBE. This is only one scenario in which we can say we have the advantage over our competition.
Dan: Do you do any R&D work at the company?
Calvin: Yes of course. We do many R&D projects. Over the last 2-3 years, there has been a big push for new and different materials. Examples would be, Board on Board, Hybrids, Carbon and Resistive Polymer Inks, and controlled depth routing to create ledges or cavities in the PCB’s. We participate in an array of R&D, in fact we welcome the opportunity to work with our customers on their future projects helping them with the process and making sure they are building the best products possible.
Dan: A while ago you mentioned a large investment in the company. That is interesting to me can you go into detail on how much you spent and on what?
Calvin: Yes I can, because this is something we are very proud of. During the past few years we have invested over $2 million on the board side of our business and over a million on the assembly side. Some of the equipment we purchase were: A new screen printer, A Universal pick and place machine; and eight zone reflow oven, A BGA rework station, AOI and a selective soldering system. We also added 8000 square feet of manufacturing space for additional SMT Assembly lines.
Dan: That’s a significant investment. What was your thinking on doing that?
Calvin: Well I should have mentioned that we also own a facility in Chicago, an assembly facility that we use for production runs. But with that facility we could not compete with quick turn turnkey projects so we decided to add an additional lines in our Nutley facility. This has grown to the point where we had to add additional square footage here in Nutley. Our goal is to have 4 Assembly shops throughout the US in the next few years. We have accomplished 2 of the four in the last 3-4 years.
Dan: What types of companies as customers are you best suited to work for?
Calvin: Over the years, we have diversified our work with multiple industries. We currently work within the medical field, power supply, music, automotive, microwave /RF, and military. Can’t say that one is better suited for us over the other, since PNC’s model is to service all industries with printed circuit and electronic assembly needs.
Dan: So tell me Calvin, what are your plans for the future?
Calvin: Our five-year plan is to have an electronic assembly facility on the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, as well as the South. At this point we SMT lines in the Midwest and on the East Coast.
Dan: How do you see the market today?
Calvin: It’s constantly changing so we really do not compete in any single market. We attend different Market trade shows to get leads as well as Internet leads and they can be from multiple markets. Regardless of the Market, the most common and biggest challenge we see is pricing.
Dan: Where do you see technology going in the future?
Calvin: From what we are seeing, there seems to be a lot of interest in Flex and Rigid-Flex.
Dan: Now let’s talk about service, what do you consider good service?
Calvin: Well obviously everything depends on how you execute when it comes to quick responses to RFQ’s: such as emails and phone calls, But it is actually much more than that. It is how you treat the customers. How you let them know that you are in business for them and that if they succeed you will succeed. After all the customer is why we are in business. I also feel that our responsiveness to all facets of the business, Sales, Production flexibility, Support, to on time delivery makes us a preferred service provider in the end.
Dan: What do you think your customers are looking for when it comes to service?
Calvin: Unfortunately, many of them are just looking for the lowest price – with Brokers involved in the PCB industry, they many times use Asia manufacturing, which sets the target dollars for US manufacturers. We try to show them the value that a company like ours can bring them. By using our complete package we can save them thousands of dollars in both time and real money. This is what we try to get across to them.
Dan, Calvin as you have already proved, In order to stay at the top of the technology ladder you have to invest in the future. What are your plans for investments in the near future?
Calvin: We are always looking to invest in the future. If you don’t keep up with capital investments you will fall behind in a big way, it’s as simple as that. So with that in mind we are looking to invest in a Plating Line that can produce higher aspect ratios for the board shop and Additional Assembly Equipment for the additional 10,000 square foot assembly space we have added to our facility in which we are looking to do in the very near future. We are also looking at purchasing a new lamination press and LDI for the board shop and additional equipment for the assembly facility.
Dan: So this is all a part of your plan for the future then?
Calvin: Yes, additionally our plan for the future is to have Assembly shops located throughout the US, East Coast, Mid-West, West Coast, and the South. In turn, we feel we can bring convenience to all geographic areas of the country.
Dan: And what new technologies and services are you looking at?
Dan: Continuous evaluation throughout the shop with continuous upgrades as needed. We have completed most process areas over the past few years, but we are always evaluating. We also want to do more total concept from Circuit Design, Layout, PCB Manufacturing, Electronic Assembly, Test and Box Build.
Dan: Let’s talk about the fact that you are in New Jersey. There are not many shops left on the east coast today, how does this affect you?
Calvin: I think we get a fair amount of jobs from Companies on the East Coast. OEM Manufacturing in general on the East Coast is down over the years which makes it tougher to develop new business. There seems to be an over-abundance of CM’s on the East Coast and those numbers keep increasing yearly. With the number of CM’s increasing, we are seeing new business opportunities through those companies.
Dan: Is your business mostly on the east coast?
Calvin: The majority of our business is within the east coast comprising the tristate and New England area. Although a majority of new business opportunities are on the East Coast, we hired dedicated salesperson to follow up all Internet and tradeshow leads, so our business has been expanding throughout the Midwest and West coast.
Dan: How do you compete with shops that are not from here?
Calvin: We compete very well in terms of pricing, we are not the lowest and not the highest. As mentioned earlier geography plays a role in the minds of some companies. The biggest hurdle to jump is persuading a prospective customer to change over from their current supplier, but once given the opportunity though, they quickly realize we stand behind what we say.
Dan: Finally what are your thoughts of our industry?
Calvin: I feel the PCB industry has been compromised with so many Brokers out there that are taking away the US business and sending it to Asia. Now just about every customer/prospective customer is used to Asia pricing which makes it very difficult to compete when it’s only price driven.
Dan: How do you see things in the future?
Calvin: We believe the future is bright with our total concept model with the amount of inquiries we are receiving. The message of total concept and convenience is what we need to get out to the industry. Companies need to know of all the advantages of us having everything they need under one roof.
Dan: I agree and I have to say that I think that you have gone in the right direction with your total concept offering. Let’s hope that this proves to be true. Calvin thanks for taking the time to talk to me today I truly do appreciate it.
Calvin: Thank you Dan, it’s been my pleasure
To learn more about PNC please go to: www.pnconline.com