Standard of Excellence: When Your PCB Vendor Gets in Trouble

It happens all the time, and even in the best-run companies: Something goes wrong. One of the frustrating things about life is that you can always count on something going wrong. This is especially true in PCB fabrication, where some of the boards they fabricate can take up to 120 process steps to build. That’s a lot of opportunities for things to go awry!

If you are truly a close partner with your PCB vendors, and they respect that partnership, you will both look out for each other come the proverbial hell or high water. As we have heard many times, great relationships and partnerships are forged in adversity. More than one PCB shop has made its reputation not by avoiding problems but rather by how they handle problems when they happen. Here are four ways that you can help your PCB vendor when they run into trouble.

1. Process Issues

No matter how many process controls are in place, something can go wrong because there are just too many process steps when building a PCB for it not to happen. When it does, your job as their partner is to help them solve the problem. Give your partner space to solve the problem. Move some delivery dates around if possible, and take the pressure off. If you have a plating expert in your facility, then ask if they can be of assistance to them. Work with them through the crisis together.

2. Business Conditions

Your partner could lose a major piece of business to offshore competition. Or, through no fault of their own, they could have one of their major customers go out of business so that they not only lose that business going forward but also aren’t paid the hundreds of thousands of dollars that the customer owed them. As a solid partner, it is up to you to help as much as possible. See if you have more business you can send them. Help them win more business by writing a good reference or testimonial they can use and share. You can even go the extra mile and call some of your connections to see if they can send them some business.

3. Loss of a Key Person

Your PCB partner could lose a key player, such as a great operations manager or quality person, and be left high and dry. See what you can do. Maybe you can recommend someone or have some ideas for helping them find someone. Overall, be there for them through adversity.

4. Quality Issues

Everyone makes mistakes. Let’s say that something went wrong, and they built thousands of boards with the wrong revision. It was their fault; there is no question about that. Frankly, you would be perfectly within your rights to disqualify them. This is a case where they have really hurt you and put you in a tough spot. Those boards were critical for getting your product out on time so that you can make your revenue numbers for the quarter. So, what do you do?

This is when you get to show that you have grace under pressure. Instead of going ballistic, invite them to get together and figure out what both of your companies can do to solve this problem as a team by working together. Have your quality people convene to find out what happened and how they can make sure that it never happens again. While they are doing that, your engineering people should meet with them to make sure the problem is fixed and that they are ready to build the boards with the right revision this time. Your program manager should also speak with their production control people to discuss how many boards you need and when so that you can solve the shortage problem.

When all of that is ongoing, and they are building the replacement boards and delivering them on dates that won’t hurt you too badly, then have a discussion about what happened, who was at fault, and figure out the money.

Conclusion

Some would say that this is going above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to a vendor partnership, and maybe they have a point, but I disagree. Think of the strength of the relationship that is being developed by doing the four items I discussed. If you do, I have no doubt that your PCB vendor will be loyal to you for life. This company will do anything for you, any time, because by your grace, kindness, and cooperation in solving the problem, you created a partnership that will stand you well for many years to come.

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