Cicor’s Approach to Miniaturization: Cost of Function, and More

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Matties: What advice would you give to a buyer of circuit boards?

Heinz-Fritz: They might be well-advised not to go for the lowest price. And we see that for our standard assembly, sourcing almost all of our PCBs externally, that you need to look at the whole package. You have to look at the service. You need to look at the responsiveness of your supplier, and not necessarily always just on the lowest price. If you just hunt the lowest price, you might need to buy a second time because of the quality. I've seen a lot of boards being assembled at our assembly sites, and there are quality issues on these boards that you might not even think should still be there. That's the advice. Look for the service, look for the advice. Involve your supplier as early as possible, or in best case, when a project is kicked off, already talk with your supplier to do it right the first time. That's one of the things we saw, because very often it happens that we are getting RFQs in from customers where the design is almost frozen. Then it's pretty difficult to really get rid of the design failures that were already done.

Matties: Once it's done, it's done.

Heinz-Fritz: Exactly. So especially in the medical industries, customers are very hesitant to do changes on a product that has, in worst case, already been qualified and approved by the authorities. So that's what the advice to a PCB manufacturer, or to a PCB customer, would be from my side. Involve your supplier as early as possible. Look for strong partners, and don't go shopping. Just don`t go wherever you have the lowest prices. That's the best advice I could give for this.

Matties: And the measure, though, that you mentioned, is cost of functionality, that's an interesting measure. Is there an equation that is commonly used for that? Or how does someone determine that cost?

Heinz-Fritz: Well, typically we are doing a calculation of the product price. If we are delivering just the printed circuits, very often we don't really know what the customer is assembling on them or how the product is used, in detail. Of course, we prefer to know the purpose of this product. There is no threshold, or there is no equation for that, really.

Matties: It’s a great term, but without an equation, how do we utilize or understand it?

Heinz-Fritz: Well, that's a way to tell our customer, "Yes, one manufacturing panel is more expensive, but you get more functionality from this." The cost per area is higher, but you get even more circuits on the area. The piece-price would go down, or you get more integration in that.

Matties: Really, they can say, "Well, currently it does three things, but with the new process, we can do five things." That's really the primary measure.

Heinz-Fritz: Exactly. They are doing very clear cost calculations. What, for example, would it mean to integrate a sensor of the ones I mentioned before? What if the sensor was on a dedicated PCB or on a separate PCB? Or, what would be the cost if we were to assemble this component, this sensor, on the PCB we have in the circuit anyway? But that's a piece of information we very often do not see.

Matties: So I'm looking around your booth, and I see assemblies, molding, tooling, box build. When someone comes to you, they can do circuit board design as well? Do you start with the design level?

Heinz-Fritz: Yes, we can do that as well.

Matties: We talk a lot about designers and how designers will design something and then throw it over the wall. But when someone comes to you and they have your turnkey service, the designer is talking, or understands the manufacturing process completely.

Heinz-Fritz: That's clear. If we do that internally, there is of course a close collaboration between the different areas of expertise; our PCB designers are in close contact with our PCB shop to get assistance in the design, to do design verifications, and so forth.

Matties: And the fact that they're designing for one shop consistently, day in, day out, makes their knowledge base just so much stronger.

Heinz-Fritz: Exactly.

Matties: I think that's one of the best approaches to product development, to have it designed where you're having it manufactured.

Heinz-Fritz: On the PCB side, if you sell PCB only, design is typically coming from the customer.

Matties: And they don't typically talk to you in advance, do they?

Heinz-Fritz: They do. Depending on the customer and depending on the relationship. Of course, what we do is give our design rules to our customers, and we have classified within this design rule three groups, where one group is considered to be standard, one is advanced, and one is development. And depending on the complexity of the product, the designers are using the values given there.

Matties: So they at least start off with a guide. Is there anything that we haven't talked about that you feel like we should cover?

Heinz-Fritz: Well, I think we've talked about pretty much everything. One of the most interesting parts of Cicor is really the integration along the value chain. You can see over there, on display, a product that has been developed, built, packed, and shipped B2B to the distribution center of our customer.

Matties: And if someone is looking for miniaturization, they should look here first, is what I'm hearing. Because it sounds like you're leading the charge in miniaturization.

Heinz-Fritz: Yes. We are clearly advising our customers what to use. Our focus is that we always give the most effective solution to our customers and propose the most effective solution to our customer. We’re not trying to necessarily sell something complex where something with a lower complexity would also do the job. That's not what our focus is. One of the things that is very important to us is to be open with our customers. If something doesn't work, put the fish on the table, so to speak. It doesn't work like that. Or, "There is no solution we can offer you." That happens, that's clear. But this honest approach, this open approach to customers is the right way to go. That's the foundation of the relationship. Mutual trust is something that is very important.

Matties: Karl, thanks so much for spending some time with us. The knowledge you’ve shared is wonderful. I know we could talk for hours more.

Heinz-Fritz: Probably, yes. Thank you very much for having me.


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