Innovation is the name of the game these days. As our customers develop and produce more cutting-edge products, they expect their PCB suppliers to not only keep up with their needs but be ready to meet them in the future.
From the first independent board shop in 1951, our customers (the OEMs, as there were no CMs back then) did the innovating. Their in-house shops were staffed by their experts, designing and developing the circuit boards they needed. Once they had developed the process to build their boards, they passed them on to the independent job shops. They would teach the merchant shops how to build the boards they needed.
Only a handful of OEMs have their own shops today. They depend on independent shops to fabricate their products. They also rely on these shops to act as their PCB experts expecting the fan houses to keep up on the highest technology levels of PCB fabrication.
It means that the PCB shops must take the time and investment to stay at the top of their game. When it comes to equipment, technology, quality, and processes, we truly are the industry market leaders, and the ones that customers rely on to handle their PCB needs.
Those of us who are serious about the future of our companies and want to remain at the cutting edge of the technology curve must focus on innovation. We must stay ahead of our customers when it comes to PCB technology. In short, we must be the leaders of innovation.
Here are some of the things a PCB company should be doing to make sure that they are innovative and creative.
- Create a culture of innovation: Foster an environment where employees are encouraged to think creatively and share their ideas without fear of criticism. Remember that your employees are your greatest asset when it comes to ideas and innovation. Use them. Hire them for their brains not just their hands.
- Build diverse teams: Assemble cross-functional teams with diverse backgrounds, skills, and perspectives to generate a wide range of ideas. Make sure everyone in your facility knows how to build a PCB.
- Foster open communication: Promote open and transparent communication channels within the organization to facilitate idea sharing. Let your team members know that you value their opinions and their ideas.
- Allow for customer feedback: Gather feedback from customers to identify pain points and unmet needs. You have to bring the customer to the table if you want to understand their needs today and in the future.
- Invest in market research: Stay up to date with market trends and competitors to identify opportunities for innovation. This is key. Make sure you are aware of everything happening in our industry. Read, go to trade shows, and consult with your suppliers, especially your equipment, process, and laminate suppliers. It is their business to know what is going on. Their reach is often longer than yours.
- Conduct brainstorming sessions: Conduct regular brainstorming sessions to generate innovative ideas collectively. Conduct them with your own teams. Invite your customers and suppliers to these sessions as well.
- Hold hackathons and innovation challenges: Organize events where employees can collaborate on solving specific challenges or creating new products. Listen to even the craziest ideas. Some of these have led to some amazing ideas in the past. Reward your staff financially for great ideas.
- Do prototype and test: Rapidly create prototypes or minimum viable products (MVPs) to test concepts with real users.
- Fail fast: Encourage a culture where it's acceptable to fail as long as lessons are learned and applied to future endeavors.
- Have an innovation budget: Allocate a portion of the budget specifically for innovation projects.
- Perform cross-pollination: Encourage employees to learn from other industries and apply those insights to your company's context.
- Hand out innovation awards: Recognize and reward employees for innovative contributions.
- Develop innovation metrics: Develop key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of innovation efforts.
- Hold innovation workshops: Provide training and workshops on innovation techniques and methodologies.
- Invest in collaboration tools: Utilize digital tools and platforms to facilitate collaboration among remote or distributed teams.
- Form external partnerships: Collaborate with startups, universities, or other organizations to access external expertise and resources.
- Set up innovation ambassadors: Appoint individuals or teams responsible for driving innovation initiatives.
- Future Trend Analysis: Continuously analyze emerging technologies and societal trends to anticipate future opportunities.
- Take time for scenario planning: Explore various future scenarios to develop strategies that adapt to different outcomes.
- Establish feedback loops: Establish mechanisms for collecting feedback on innovation projects and using it to refine and iterate.
Share with other companies as well as the industry as a whole. I don’t mean giving away your intellectual property, but certain things are good for the industry as a whole that you should be willing to share.
Innovation is an ongoing process, and it's important to adapt these strategies to your company's specific needs and culture. What works best for one organization may not work for another, so it's essential to be flexible and willing to experiment to find the right approach for your team.