Catching up With Flexible Circuit Technologies

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Flexible Circuit Technologies (FCT) is a full-service flex and rigid-flex supplier that has attained outstanding growth. FCT started business in 2000 with $300,000 in sales; now, FCT is nearly a $100 million global company. Since I am always on the lookout for companies with amazing stories—especially those that have reached success through creativity, strong customer support, and good old-fashioned business sense—I spoke to the people behind the scenes to find out how they did it. Here is my conversation with Troy Koopman, FCT’s president and co-founder, and Carey Burkett, the company’s VP of business development.

Dan Beaulieu: Thank you both for taking the time to talk with me today. Can you tell us about your company?

Troy Koopman: FCT is a specialized company that supports the design, development, and production of high-quality flexible circuits, rigid-flex, flexible heaters, membrane switches, and sub-assemblies to complete box builds. FCT supports customers in the commercial markets with as much or as little design consultation and support required to help develop cost-effective designs that will perform within our customers’ defined applications. We then help to manage the overall process from design through prototyping and then through production. We most often focus on Class 2 solutions but, at times, address Class 3 opportunities.

For some more background, in 2000, I met an engineer from a small local flex manufacturer where I learned about the industry and its potential for excellent growth; we were both looking for a change and an opportunity, so we decided to start our own company. We focused the business based on our ideas for sales and marketing on a global basis. We knew there was a definite need for flex and rigid-flex products, including assembly, and decided that it would be our path for growth. One of the things I had been successful with in my previous work experience was focusing exactly on the customers’ needs. I had spent a good part of my career working as a consultant and had learned a lot about how to run—and how not to run—a company, so I brought that experience to this company as well.

Beaulieu: You call yourselves a service company rather than a product company. Tell me about that.

Carey Burkett: The end-product is what we sell and make our margin on, but that is the end to the means. The services that we offer are the most important aspect of our business, including design support and consultation in providing our customers with expertise that will lead to the most cost-effective designs that will perform within the customer’s given application.

From there, our application engineers and CAD services team must do an outstanding job of working through the designs to pinning down the final design. We offer outstanding program management and communications in working with our customers to meet their prototyping deadlines and must do an excellent job of managing the process as we move to production, where we must provide quality products with on-time delivery. The services that we offer related to design support, communications, and management of the overall process is what leads to our success. The final product is the ultimate deliverable; superior service and support get you there. 

Beaulieu: What is the driving force behind the success of the company?

Burkett: Expertise and superior support are what we truly sell; the end-product is what we deliver. We have developed a great team of experts who understand flex and rigid-flex technology, not only bare boards, as well as expertise in specialized assembly on flex all the way to complete product box builds. Interestingly, it’s been a natural progression from being a flex/rigid-flex company to developing our expertise in EMS/assembly on flex all the way to where we now execute complete product box builds. Perhaps the difference is how we have attacked this. We have come from the inside out.

The flex circuit/assembly is at the heart of the application, device, or product. There’s no doubt it is critical to get the heart right. FCT excels in the design and production of flex and rigid-flex. Approximately 15 years ago, we began our assembly on flex services. Today, we are experts in EMS/assembly on flex. From there, taking steps to complete a product box build meant beefing up our test engineering capabilities and sourcing capabilities to where they are today. We get the heart or assembly right and then build around it. Not many companies can do that. 

Koopman: We always try to consider things from the customer perspective and act accordingly as to how we would want to be treated if we were in their shoes.

Burkett: Our mission statement comes down to one word—care. The bottom line is to take care of the customer by picking up the phone, communicating, meeting the deadline, or whatever else it takes. If each employee at every level comes to work with that attitude and motivation, the rest will take care of itself.

Beaulieu: Now, let’s talk now about your place in the market. What niche do you fill?

Burkett: We bring superior expertise to our customers. Given the growth and momentum of flex circuits and rigid-flex, many companies are jumping in to provide these types of products, but few offer true experts related to design. If a designer does not have a true understanding of the materials, properties, and what can and cannot be done, you can be sent down a costly path. Providing top experts in design is critical to helping our customers achieve success. This is one gap that FCT is proud to fill.

From there, we look to fill a gap related to flexibility—pun intended—to where we can take on low- to high-volume programs for our customers. We also offer a unique business model that allows us to provide expertise to our customers through our headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota, while utilizing our Asia-based production facilities that allow us to offer competitively priced products.

FCT offers significant capabilities and capacity. To me, we offer large company capabilities, yet are small enough to offer an improved overall experience for our customers with more focus on the services side. We also are large enough to support leading OEMs across all of the markets we serve.

Koopman: One of our biggest differentiators is that we are very experienced at assembly onto flex circuits. Many assembly shops can do rigid but struggle with flex. It causes turbulence between the flex shop and the assembly house when there are problems, and sometimes, the customer is stuck in the middle. Because we do both the flex and assembly, we can be a one-stop shop for the customer to get their flex assembly module and more if they want up to box build.

Beaulieu: How are you preparing for the future?


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