With so many things changing right now, as well as lots of innovation happening and new products being developed, it’s important that you share your vision of the future with your PCB suppliers. In a true partnership, the partners not only work on current technology, but they also need to look forward to future products.
Your company’s R&D teams should share what they are conceptualizing or working on with your PCB suppliers to make sure that you are developing a product where the PCBs can be manufactured in the most economical way possible—or if they can even be built at all. The product development stage is when you should work with your vendor partners seeking and welcome their expertise and advice on the part of the new product they are going to build.
Some companies keep new product innovation secret, and that is perfectly understandable. But if you have a truly trusted vendor and all of the NDAs are in place, you should feel comfortable to work on with on your products of the future.
For example, we do a great deal of R&D work and have found it extremely useful to work with our customers on their new products at a very early stage. Many of our customers/partners have come to rely on us as their PCB experts and consultants. Since a true R&D partnership is based on trust and confidentiality, I cannot share exact examples of what we are working on, but I can offer six of the general logistical processes we use when working with one of our customers on their product innovation and development.
- Put the right team of the individuals together. Keep this team small and pretty much siloed during the innovation process. The members of this co-company team should be tight-lipped about what they are working on. The key is confidentiality until the early stages of the product are thought out and developed.
- There should be a comfort level with the inner group working on the new products—a kind of “circle of trust” where members of the team can brainstorm, freely knowing that what they are working on will not be discussed outside of the group.
- There should be a free and open discussion, where everyone feels comfortable enough with one another, which allows a solid flow of ideas with no worry of ridicule. The best way to brainstorm is to operate under the premise that there are no bad or stupid ideas and that everything is on the table. Many times, a crazy idea will end up being the right one, so everyone must be open to everything.
- The customer needs to believe in the PCB vendor to the point that they trust them to be their expert. They acknowledge that their PCB partner is a true resource to them and that they know more about their technology than the customer does. The customer is in the business of building their end product, not the PCBs that goes into that product; that should be left to the PCB vendors/partners.
- A good PCB partner should be comfortable bringing their ideas and expertise to the table. They should be open in telling the customer when something will work, and something won’t and most importantly offering a better way. They will want to help their customers develop the best PCB design possible and be willing to share all of their expertise with the customer.
- Both partners have to be committed to the success of the project, even if giving the right advice is tough. Sometimes, this can be difficult. Let’s take an example of when the PCB vendor concludes that the best PCB solution for a particular project requires technology that they don’t have. In this scenario, they are a rigid PCB supplier, and the best solution for the project is a rigid-flex PCB—a technology they do not provide. There can be some consternation about this, but for the sake of playing the long game, the true PCB vendor/partner will not only let the customer know what the right solution is, but also offer to take it upon themselves to recommend a good PCB shop that can produce that rigid-flex PCB that is needed for the project’s success. In the end, this will create an even more iron-clad circle of trust between the two partners, and, of course, a better new product will be produced.
When partners from two companies work on a new and innovative product for the customer, the ultimate goal has to be making the best new product possible in the most efficient, economical, and manufacturable manner. In the end, this is the true purpose of a great customer-supplier partnership, where everyone wins.