Standard of Excellence: Be the Vendor—Walk in Their Shoes

We have been constantly reminded over the years to step into our customers’ shoes so that we’re: looking at things from our customers’ perspective, seeing what they see, feeling what they feel, and understanding the challenges they face to make it in their own marketplace. We have been advised that this is the best way to gain insight into what it takes for us to become valuable to our customers.

Now let’s turn that around and look at our vendors, especially our PCB vendors. Let’s put ourselves in their shoes and try to get a true understanding of the challenges they face every day while building products to help us be successful. Let’s take a look at them and thus try to help them face those challenges.

It’s all part of our journey to be good customers: a little insight, a little getting used to doing this. As we all come together in a spirit of cooperation, we are all going to be asked to empathize with one another so we can work better together and help one another out in any way that we can. That is the trend we are reading and hearing about.

As I have said a number of times, the new golden rule of “He who has the gold makes the rules,” is finally being replaced by the original golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

That’s a good thing, as nothing has ever been solved through adversarial relationships, especially with our customers and even our vendors.

Take some time to talk to your vendors about some of the challenges they face daily, and then figure out a way to help ease the burden of those challenges.

To get you started on that path, here are six of the challenges that PCB vendors deal with every single day and how we can help them face down these challenges.

  1. PCB shops are often excluded from the original design conversation. Although PCB shops are the ones actually building the boards, PCB designers quite often do not consult them for advice on the practicality of the actual design, including how difficult the PCB will be to build, or whether there is a way to design the board so that it will be easier and more economical to produce. You will be amazed at how much time, effort, and money can be saved if you just bring the PCB fabricator to the design table.
  2. PCB fab houses often do not know the end products for the boards they are building. This makes no sense at all. If the fabricator has a good understanding of your end product, they will be able to come up with suggestions to make the PCB itself more adaptable to that product.
  3. PCB shops are often left out of the loop when it comes to the success of the product itself. Often PCB customers are reticent to share the predicted forecast for the product that the PCBs are going into. By giving the PCB fab house insight into the length of the program and the life of the board, they can improve their process, from value engineering and stocking the right laminate, to forecasting and scheduling. This helps assure you will be able to count on them to deliver the product when you need it. It will also allow your vendor to be flexible when you have to pull delivery dates in.
  4. PCB shops get little respect for what they do. Have a respect for the technology. Get to know their process, go into their factories, and watch your boards being built. You will be surprised and impressed at what a complicated process it really is. The more highly technical PCBs today have a building process of well over 100 individual steps. You need to know that; the people designing your boards need to know this. And, most importantly, your purchasing people who are trying to squeeze every penny out of the price need to know that. The better you understand the process, the better you will understand the challenges that your PCB supplier is facing every day.
  5. PCB fabricators are very restricted when it comes to environmental regulations (and rightfully so). You need to know about these restrictions before you develop designs that call out for materials that are difficult and even dangerous to handle.
  6. Listen to your PCB fabricators; they are the experts when it comes to their processes and their product. In the end, it is your product, and they are a “job shop” building your products, your designs—your baby. But they are also the experts of their own process and the product, even if it is your product. You will be better off to respect that expertise and listen to what they have to say about the best way to use their process and build your product. Always remember that even though it is your product, it is their process, and no one knows their process better.

In the end, this is a very simple thing to do. Walk in your vendor’s shoes, and gain insight into what their business is like. Gain respect for what they do and, most importantly, what they do for you; you will be a better customer and they will certainly be a better supplier.


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