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Cosmotronic’s history spans a number of decades, from the hot-as-hell boom days of the '60s and early '70s when Southern California was leading the world in electronics, from weaponry to avionics to apace exploration. Today, as innovation has become more focused on personal electronics, Cosmotronic has been there, leading the way and serving a customer base that is uniquely similar to the one they had back in the day.
Always looking for a new perspective of our industry, I jumped at the chance to visit Cosmotronic and spend some time with General Manager Gary Abel.
Dan Beaulieu: Gary, thanks for inviting me to your facility. It’s good to see you again.
Gary Abel: It’s very good to see you. I have to say, one of things I have never had a problem with is talking PCBs, so this is my pleasure.
Beaulieu: Tell me a little bit about Cosmotronic, starting with its history.
Abel: Cosmotronic has been around for well over 40 years, during which we have always been focused on the high-reliability sector of the market. We are, and have always been, providing boards to the top defense and aerospace companies, from Raytheon to Lockheed and from McDonnell Douglas to Boeing.
Beaulieu: What is your story? How did you get started in this business and how did you get here?
Abel: In the mid-'70s, I saw my first board shop when I was in high school. I was involved in a work share program that my school had with McDonnell Douglas. It was a kind of precursor to today’s internship programs. I was at the facility one day when someone took me to their small, in-house board shop and I have to say, it was love at first sight. I saw that shop, I saw what they were doing, and I knew that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. That was 40 years ago and I have been doing it ever since. To this day, I love my industry, the board shops, and the folks who work in them. Along my path, I was approached by Cosmotronic and offered an opportunity to work with them and the J.R. Controls Group, which was an opportunity I could not pass up. Today, I am truly a fortunate man to have been invited to participate in this venture.
Beaulieu: That is quite a story; I have never heard a story like that before. Most of us got involved in this business on our way to do something else and then, well, I’m not sure why, but we just stuck around…maybe it’s something in the solder mask. So, what companies have you worked for?
Abel: I started with a Collins shop here in Southern California and then kind of went around the horn, working with various others, including facilities like Aero Scientific, Details, Ambitech, FTG Circuits and now Cosmotronic.
Beaulieu: Let’s talk about technology. What technology is Cosmotronic focused on?
Abel: As I said earlier, we have served the high-reliability end of the business, such as defense and aerospace, which means of course that reliability, traceability and consistency are always the key ingredients to our success. In addition, we do a lot of heavy copper boards.
Beaulieu: What is heavy copper to you…how heavy?
Abel: We are doing 10+ oz copper along with metal core, metal-back and heatsink product as well.
Beaulieu: If I can make a prediction here, this technology is going to take off in the next few years.
Abel: I couldn’t agree more, and we also put into the mix RF and microwave product too.
Beaulieu: Those are impressive technologies that are really hot right now.
Abel: Primarily, though, we do a lot of hi-rel flex and rigid-flex boards. For years, flex technology has been our forte; it is what we are known for and it is the core product of our business.
Beaulieu: I think everything you’re saying points to you being much more of a national company than a local one. By that I mean you must do business all over the country, right?
Abel: Absolutely, we work with most divisions of the high-end defense and aerospace contractors.
Beaulieu: You must do very well. I know, for example, that rigid-flex is still considered by some a kind of black magic technology. The last time I checked there were less than 40 companies in this country that build rigid-flex boards, which means that when it comes to boards that have to be built here because of ITAR, you have a pretty good edge in that market.
Abel: Yes, you’ve got that right. Like I said, we have been dealing with all of the big guys for many years and they have come to rely on us to provide them with the right kind of technology when they need it and the consistent reliability they depend on.
Beaulieu: How have you been affected by the TTM mergers?
Abel: We are hearing about that already. What they have done is cut down the number of qualified suppliers that big defense contractors, our customers, can use based on them having to have multiple sources. Most of these contractors are talking to us about this situation already. I believe this may ultimately help us to further our opportunities for new business. Some of the folks that have contacted us on this situation prefer to be a big fish in a small pond.
Beaulieu: Gary, one of the significant changes that has occurred since you and I started in this business is the closing of the in-house board shops. You mentioned earlier that the first shop you ever saw was a McDonnell Douglas shop, right? I started in a Rockwell shop, and you also mentioned working in a Collins shop; those are all gone, which means that vendors like Cosmotronic are now laden with the responsibility of serving as a kind of R&D facility for your customers. First of all, is that accurate? And secondly, if it is true, how do you handle getting involved in what some people call “Science Projects”?
Abel: First, yes, we do get involved in so called “science projects,” and I have to say we do it with a great deal of enthusiasm. Personally speaking, I just love working on these projects, especially when we can work side by side with the customer. Frankly, I consider these as a sort of paid tuition, like getting paid for learning new technologies that are going to help us and the customer in the long run.
Beaulieu: But it can be time consuming and expensive can’t it? Some companies just do not want to get involved in those projects.