When you’re in the PCB business, the one thing you can count on is that something will go wrong; it always does. If you have a PCB vendor that says that nothing ever goes wrong in their company, don’t trust them because they are not being honest with you. Some examples of things going wrong could be the plating baths go off process, and you start seeing voids, or by some handling mishap, they lose a batch of boards and miss the delivery date. Sometimes, due to the success of the sales team, the shop overbooks, and they get behind schedule. Things like this happen all the time, and when they do, it’s time for you to step up and be a true partner to your PCB vendor.
Maybe you're thinking, "Why should I be patient? I can just go get another PCB vendor; they’re a dime a dozen." But don’t fool yourself; they are not a dime a dozen anymore. There are fewer than 200 board shops in North America, and when you consider the consolidations—such as TTM—the real number of individual shops is around 170. That’s not very many with which to work. I know you can go offshore, but that's not that much fun these days either. There can be challenges to working things out with a company that’s thousands of miles away.
Regardless, things are going to go wrong once in a while; as a true partner, it is up to you to work your way through the issues with your vendor. Here are six steps to not only help and support your vendor through problematic times but also use the adversity as an opportunity to develop a deeper and more productive relationship.
1. Have Open Communication
Above all, keep the lines of communication open. Make sure that you always know what is happening, what the problem is, and what they are doing to solve it. Set up regular checkpoint meetings to keep abreast of the issues. If things get bad enough that you have to get the boards elsewhere, be open about it, and maybe even ask for your vendor’s help in placing the orders for the hot boards with someone else.
2. Be Loyal
Let your vendor know that you consider them to be a partner and that you will stick with their company through these hard times; then, offer to help in any way you can. If they don’t have to worry about you leaving at the first sign of trouble, they will greatly appreciate it and be even more open and honest with you.
3. Avoid Berating
Don’t start giving them a hard time. The last thing they need is someone adding to their problems. If both you and your vendor have done everything right, you will have enough equity in your relationship to trust one another to do what is best for your partnership.
4. Be Patient
Many times, problems take a while to work through. No matter how much you need the boards, they have to solve the problem before you receive them, so be as patient as you can. Again, if you need the boards so badly that you have to go somewhere else, be open with your supplier and let them know; better yet, a true partner will try to help you get the boards somewhere else.
5. Be Helpful
Do what you can to help the situation and ease their pain. If they need some engineering help, then provide it. If they need more time, and it would help to ease the schedule, then do it. If it’s about the difficulty based on the design of the board, try to help by coming up with design changes that can make the board more easily producible.
6. Look at the Long Game
If this is a vendor you have worked with for years, then it is a vendor relationship worth saving, so do what you can to make sure you sustain the relationship for many years to come.
The important thing is to keep things on an even keel. Problems can cause people to become emotional. Try to avoid that at all costs. It’s not only the particular boards in question that you need today but also the cherished relationship that you want to keep for years to come. Good PCB vendors are no longer a dime a dozen, but rather a rare phenomenon to be cherished. Keep that in mind.