Eagle Electronics: Success through 'Building Everything'
During a recent visit to Chicago, Editors Andy Shaughnessy and Patty Goldman stopped by Eagle Electronics just outside of Chicago. Chief Operating Officer Brett McCoy gave them a tour of the facility, and spoke about the company’s plans for the future, and why Eagle is bucking the niche market trend and manufacturing a wide variety of PCBs.
Patty Goldman: We’re here at Eagle Electronics, and we’re joined by Brett McCoy, COO.
Andy Shaughnessy: Brett, why don’t you give us a little background on both the company and how you ended up here.
Brett McCoy: It is our pleasure to have you here today. Eagle Electronics has been in business since 1979. We build predominantly quick-turn prototype to high mix/low volume domestic production for the last 10+ years. This is the business in North America today and we are dedicated to supporting it. I’ve been with Eagle Electronics since 2007. My background previous to Eagle Electronics was in sales and engineering. My role today is overall company management along with the CEO of our company Mike Kalaria.
Shaughnessy: I understand you all do a lot of interesting stuff, like rigid-flex and metal back. Tell us, what's your sweet spot?
McCoy: We're building a wide range of different technologies, and that's important because the market is also very wide ranging. We build everything from metal backed, single- and double-sided boards to high layer count, 40+ layers, blind/buried via, microvia, hybrid constructions, high-speed low-loss, and edge plating/plated cavities. There's just a very broad range of technology that we can and do build. Quick turn and in-production.
Shaughnessy: You were joking about how you're not trying to be a niche manufacturer.
McCoy: The old saying is you can't be great at building everything; however, that's what we strive to do. We are building to specifications and technologies which drives us to build just about everything. This is important because we cannot turn away business in the North American market. It's incredibly important that we have the capability to support the market’s needs. Our capability and our ability to turn product quickly allows us to do just that.
Shaughnessy: When we were touring the building, you mentioned that about 70−80% of your business is from contract manufacturers. That’s pretty interesting.
McCoy: That's correct. Over the last decade, a very large portion of PCB procurement has switched over to contract manufacturers. The OEMs focus their core competencies on solutions development and design generation while relegating the assembly to EMS providers who are the experts. Full turn-key solutions are then provided to the OEMs and the PCB is the backbone of every assembled PCB.
Shaughnessy: What about your involvement in rigid-flex?
McCoy: That's a growing market for us which is also in line with the overall market trend. Our existing customers are supplying us with more of these opportunities and therefore we continue to innovate and expand our capability to support it. It is still a small percentage of our overall business but one that has seen increased demand due to limited suppliers with this capability.
Goldman: And how's business been?
McCoy: It's been consistently strong. We've had year-over-year of growth in every year since 2009. We are forecasting better than 10% growth in 2017 predominantly because of our continual investment in technology, capabilities, and personnel. We invest a significant amount of money back into our business, which can be seen when touring the facility. There are always areas we're looking to improve and add capability and/or technology.
Goldman: Tell us about some of the new equipment that you’ve been investing in.
McCoy: Most of the equipment that we've purchased has been either technology- or efficiency-driven. On the technology side, we've added critical pieces to support the HDI market. We have laser direct imaging for fine line exposing, via-fill and planarizing for through-hole via-in-pad technology, micro-mechanical drilling for microvia formation, and finally copper via fill technology to plate all microvias shut.
On the efficiency side, we have invested in additional AOI equipment expanding capacity, a strip-etch-strip line for more efficient outer layer etching, waste treatment facility upgrades reducing water usage, and we recently purchased two more micro-mechanical drill machines to reduce cycle time.
Goldman: Now, you told us a rather interesting story in the drill room when we asked about laser drills.
McCoy: Yes, several years ago, we began investigating drill systems which would allow us to form microvias. Laser drilled microvias were the industry standard, however mechanical controlled-depth drilling technology had progressed to the point where it could achieve the same. After reviewing all the capabilities of this equipment, it became clear that this was the best solution for us. Very precise, high reliability and repeatability along with the flexibility to drill any product requirement at high throughput speeds.
Laser drilling is one-dimensional, forming only microvias. Micro-mechanical drilling doesn't have some of the drawbacks that can be seen with laser drilling, like carbon deposits at the bottom of the laser via. We continue to make investments in this technology as seen with the purchase of two more machines. To one of these we have added autoload and unload capability.
Goldman: Speed counts.
McCoy: Capacity isn't measured in panels for us as much as it's measured in terms of batch time. How quickly we can get product in and out of a particular area is much more important than the number of panels we can produce overall because our business is predicated on these small batch orders. Even for production quantities, customers are still looking for product quickly, and our systems gives us the consistent cycle flow to meet these needs. This is a significant advantage over offshore solutions. We, of course, also have the advantage in being in close proximity to our customer base. Even if our customers are outside the Midwest, which many are, we're all within a one- or two-hour time difference, which speeds up the communication on these quick turn requirements.
Shaughnessy: I understand you’re via-fill department became kind of a profit center of its own.
McCoy: When we invested in this technology our focus was to offer quicker turns to our customer base. One of the additional advantages that we got from having this equipment was that a lot of the printed circuit board shops in the Chicagoland area did not have that capability and so they began to use Eagle Electronics as an outsource for via-fill. During this initial time period this service helped to offset some of the cost of the equipment while the need for via-fill grew. Over the years our customers’ demands for this technology have grown considerably. Today nearly 30−40% of the parts we build have via-fill requirements and as such we've had to use more of our capacity. We seldom support local PCB manufacturers today as our capacity requirements have changed.
Goldman: Now that you have the copper via-fill set up will that free up a lot of capacity?
McCoy: It will reduce the cycle time more than anything and also improve reliability. This will open up capacity to take on more of these types of jobs while improving overall turn time offerings. The department will be focused on sequential laminations (blind and buried vias) as well as through-hole via-fill. This technology requirement continues to grow so we do not foresee any reduction in workflow.
Shaughnessy: We toured your wastewater treatment department, and it’s quite an operation. I understand that some local officials have also checked it out.
McCoy: To our knowledge, we're the only printed circuit board shop in the Chicagoland area that treats 100% of our water. Several people from the EPA and Chicago Reclamation District came out and visited us a couple months ago,; they were interested in facilities that treat wastewater in the proper way. They received a big educational experience going through our shop, and that was exciting for us to share our challenges and accomplishments in assuring that we produce a product which maintains proper environmental requirements while being as efficient as possible.
Shaughnessy: It's good to be the good example, isn't it?
McCoy: Absolutely! The environment is important to all of us, and we certainly do our part.
Shaughnessy: I understand that this facility used to be a GM plant.
McCoy: Years ago, earth-moving equipment was maintained out of this facility before the owners of Eagle Electronics purchased it from them. Actually, all the concrete in the floors here is 18 inches thick, which is good for a printed circuit board shop given the chemicals we use. It provides a safety net assuring nothing ever reaches groundwater even if a spill were to occur. Schaumburg is an environmentally sound city; we are thankful to be a part of that and provide exceptional product which is environmentally friendly too.
Goldman: Great. Anything else you would like to add?
McCoy: The only other thing I would like to add is that Eagle Electronics is able to produce a high degree of technology for a very broad spectrum of customers. We build military, medical, commercial, industrial, computer, and we fit that gambit of customers very well. We're focused on building to specification of our customers and we're focused on always constantly improving and being able to provide the most cost-effective product we can.
Goldman: There's no standing still.
McCoy: It’s true.
Shaughnessy: Okay. Thank you for the tour and spending time with us today.
McCoy: Thank you. We appreciate it.