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Getting to Know Your Designer
In this issue, we examine how fabs work with their design customers, educating them on the critical elements of fabrication needed to be successful, as well as the many tradeoffs involved. How well do you really know your customer? What makes for a closer, more synchronized working relationship?
In this issue, the biggest names in PCB manufacturing share their economic outlook for the upcoming year and beyond. As you will see, they were all bullish on our industry, but there was some apprehension as well. No one wants to get burned by another the supply chain disruption.
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Millennium Circuits on The MoveOctober 31, 2022 | Andy Shaughnessy, Design007 Magazine
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
I recently met with Daniel Thau, CEO of Millennium Circuits Limited, at PCB West. This Pennsylvania-based PCB distributor has been on an expansion path lately, so I asked Daniel to introduce us to MCL and explain where the company is headed. As Daniel says, it’s all about impacting the world in a positive way.
Andy Shaughnessy: It’s nice to meet you. How are things going, Daniel?
Daniel Thau: Things are going well. Great to meet you too.
Shaughnessy: Well, why don’t you start by telling us a little about Millennium Circuits Limited? How long have you all been in business?
Thau: MCL was launched in January 2005. Our core business is the distribution of printed circuit boards. Our customers are typically building complex boards. MCL has the technical expertise to increase their speed to market by 19.8%.
Shaughnessy: Tell us about how you founded the company and give us the back story. What’s your background?
Thau: I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and I went to a community college there called HACC, Harrisburg Area Community College. I specialized in engineering and I got my associate’s degree. At that time, I started the company, and I never went any further with my degree. The company took me in that direction instead of the school direction. We started in January 2005, and now we have about 400 customers across North America and about $20 million in revenue.
Shaughnessy: So, you launched MCL 17 years ago; you don’t look old enough to have spent 17 years in PCBs.
Thau: I started the company when I was 21.
Shaughnessy: What made you decide to be an entrepreneur?
Thau: Well, I had a partner back then. They were doing circuit board assemblies and they were getting manufactured in India and we basically started selling bare printed circuit boards. I really liked it, because it was a fast-paced environment and that fits my personality well. About three years into it, I bought him out and that’s when business took off. We built our building about seven years ago. It’s about 10,000 square feet and it’s about 6,000 square feet of office and the rest is inspection and warehouse and things like that.
Shaughnessy: So, you’re not doing actual fabrication?
Thau: We do not have in-house manufacturing. We have strategic partners overseas in domestic, and we take a right-fit approach. That means we look for niche manufacturers for each customer’s product. So, if the customer’s looking for a complex printed circuit board, and they need it quickly, we have a niche manufacturing partner for them that MCL can utilize. And, if they’re looking for a high volume, or ITAR jobs, or things like that, we have niche manufacturers for that need. Our customer will only deal with MCL here domestically. They’ll never deal with anybody overseas. We have the technical expertise for the customer, and we can answer any questions they have efficiently.
Shaughnessy: So, the customer won’t have to deal with anybody but you.
Thau: Yes, and we also have boots on the ground overseas.
Shaughnessy: So, you’ve qualified your overseas partners.
Thau: Yes. From a relationship standpoint, in my experience, if you don’t have boots on the ground over there, it’s very challenging to get answers quickly and get our customers what they need to support them in the right way.
Shaughnessy: How would you describe your sweet spot?
Thau: Great question. For customers who have a complex printed circuit board, MCL has the technical expertise to increase your speed to market by 19.8%. So, it’s really on the complex side where we shine. When customers have challenges with their boards, they come to us. Once we had a customer that had a high-impedance short on their printed circuit board and they weren’t sure exactly how to fix the problem. They came to us, and we were able to build the boards in about seven days and get them to them. It was a class three product, so it’s very high visibility. Through solving their problem and turning the boards around quickly, we became the sole source on that product now for them.
Shaughnessy: To move that quickly you must have a tight process at MCL, can you share that?
Thau: Sure, I can walk you through it. We call it our rapid launch process, and everything is geared to increase the speed to market for the customer. When the quote comes in, we do a DFM, which pulls out things like trace and space, smallest hole layer count, distribution of layers, impedance concerns, and things like that.
We can catch all of that on the front end. After that, we send the quote to the customer. If they like it, they’ll place the order with MCL. Then we’ll go through a more in-depth, 56-point DFM check, and then we’ll check things like copper slivers and we may have to clean up other items more in depth. We can be proactive and head off challenges that the customer may experience after the PCB s are made, from quoting to manufacturing to logistics. Everything we do is geared toward increasing the customer’s speed to market.
Shaughnessy: Do you test the boards, or do your partners do this?
Thau: Yes, from an electrical test standpoint, that’s done at the manufacturer. But like I said, we do have people there to verify that it’s being done, and all of our product comes with first-article inspection reports. If it’s Class 3, we’ll have all the proper documentation and things like that inside the package for the customer. All our PCBs will be electrically tested for opens and shorts and the proof of that will be with the documentation sent to the customer in the first-article inspection report.
Shaughnessy: That’s great. How many employees are in your company?
Thau: We have about 20 employees. We’ve developed an “All In” culture. It’s like having two feet in the boat and having everyone aligned on the same goal. We adopted the entrepreneurial operating system (EOS) as an accountability system, and we really put a big, big emphasis on our culture and our team environment. We’re all in for the customer, and all in for our internal and external suppliers.
Shaughnessy: Your internal customers.
Thau: Exactly. We’re a tight-knit group. Our purpose is advancing innovation to positively impact society. We work with groups that are doing nuclear fusion technology and things like that, that lends directly towards that objective. We hold a monthly meeting with the new customers and showcase the team and show them how we’re moving toward positively impacting society.
Shaughnessy: That’s what it’s all about. Thanks for talking with me today, Daniel.
Thau: My pleasure, Andy.
After working for a capital equipment supplier for almost 50 years, I’ve found that the most important part of getting to know your vendor is good communication among all parties. While contact between fabricators of a constantly changing product line and the designers of those products may occur daily or weekly, conversations between you and your equipment supplier may be years apart. That lengthy gap often means that previous contacts may have been promoted, retired, or moved on to other opportunities. You may have also migrated to a new supplier with whom you have little or no history. In either case, you will be interacting with someone you are unfamiliar with (as they are with you). Therefore, it is essential for both sides to communicate clearly so expectations will align.
The opening session of the second day’s conference proceedings focused on global PCB trends and was introduced and moderated by Dr. Michele Stampanoni, vice president of strategic sales and business development at Cicor Group in Switzerland. He opened the session with Dr. Hayao Nakahara’s knowledgeable and enlightening video presentation on the IC substrates industry.
The 2024 Winter Conference of the EIPC took place January 30 and 31 at the IHK Academie in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany. The keynote session will be reported separately. Here is my review of the first day’s conference proceedings.
Electrodeposition comes down to fundamentals. In the early days of plating, many users considered the nuances of metallization as black magic. Those days are long gone. Having a thorough understanding of the critical parameters that influence electrodeposition will determine success.
High Density Packaging User Group (HDP) is pleased to announce that Shikoku Chemicals Corporation (Shikoku) has become a member.