The true test of the vendor-customer relationship comes when you need innovative PCBs—boards that are not easily found in the common marketplace and are so technologically advanced that they require your designers and suppliers to work together to go where neither has before.
A situation like this commonly occurs when your company is developing new, advanced, innovative products that require PCBs outside normal parameters and board physics. What do you do when your end product needs these types of PCBs? You cannot go to an online supplier or a regular run-of-the-mill shop to buy your boards. Further, forget about going offshore because even if there was a company that could provide these boards, do you want to expose your proprietary products to shops in China who think nothing of knocking them off? Of course not. Instead, you must go to capable suppliers where your trust goes far beyond a standard NDA. Then you can start working smartly with your supplier.
Every smart company that uses PCBs has to have at least one supplier in their vendor base they can trust with their business life. Here are some tips to interact with your supplier:
- Trust: You must strongly trust your vendor and be comfortable enough to share your company secrets with them. Trust goes both ways, so you should also assure your vendor that you will not take valuable information about the process you develop together to competitors.
- Respect: You must strongly respect one another. Both of you have to believe that together you know what you are doing and are capable of finding a way to meet the challenges that your new requirements demand.
- Communication: Once you trust and respect your supplier, you are free to discuss anything that is pertinent to your product. You have to share specific information, such as divulging what your end product is, what conditions your product and the boards will be exposed to, and what kind of reliability will be required, including length of life, dielectric parameters, and management of the coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE).
- Cooperation: You will have to work together. Expect your engineers and designers to work with your vendor’s engineers and operations people. Both groups will form one team with the goal of developing a process to build the required PCBs consistently.
- Reward your vendor: There has to be a strong incentive for your vendor to work with you. At a time when PCB shops are short on engineering talent and other human resources, it is important that you promise them future business once you develop a successful process. The vendor has to understand that you will reward them for their hard work for and dedication to your company.
- Partnership: You must have an unencumbered partnership. Too many good PCB shops have been ruined by being lured into a partnership with a customer who desperately needed their help, only to be taken advantage of once the technology is learned and the production orders to go to a purchasing department whose loyalty extends as far as the lowest price. Be a true partner to your PCB vendor and all of your R&D challenges will be taken care of today and in the future.
In the end, it all boils down to mutual appreciation. When you have that with one another, you will be able to meet all high-technology PCB challenges that you might face.