Ask the Experts: Why Are Fabricators Reluctant to Share Capabilities with Designers?

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Q: No offense to your experts; I love your publication. But wouldn’t designers be better off posing questions to fabricators’ CAM departments? But they won’t answer them anyway! Which begs a question: Why don’t most fabricators share their capabilities, Valor settings, etc., with designers? And then they complain?

Lee Ritchey: Getting a fabricator's CAM department to talk to you is a tall order. Most won't do it.

Cherie Litson: Ha! Totally feel your pain. That’s why you ask us. We’ve been down this road before. You do have to pose some questions to your fabricators. And don’t just talk to the salespeople; it’s not their job. Talk to the fabrication engineer. Know that they are very busy people and don’t have much time to train you. Also, the fabricator doesn’t want to tell you that what you did was basically stupid, from their point of view. It helps if you know the right questions to ask. Take a good DFM class or earn your Certified Interconnect Designer (CID) from IPC. This will help you find out how to ask the question so that they will give you the answer you need to hear. It may not always be the answer that you want, though.

Stephen Chavez: No offense taken. I’ll just ask a rhetorical question. It all comes down to relationships. How good is yours with your suppliers? If you have a very good relationship with your supplier, then this is not an issue you would run into. If you don’t have a good or established relationship with your supplier, then why not? What are you doing to improve this?

You should be engaging with your fabricator’s CAM department regularly to ensure overall success. Good designers and engineering teams do this regularly and have well-established relationships in place with their supplier(s). I would agree that some suppliers don’t openly share their Valor settings, which many consider their IP. Most suppliers will share their capabilities, though. You simply need to ask for it. Many suppliers share this on their websites. If your supplier will not share their capabilities with you, then maybe you should rethink utilizing that supplier. As for the Valor (DFM/DFA) settings, I would think that once you have an NDA in place with that supplier, getting that information would not be too difficult. Again, this comes down to relationships and simply asking for this data for the mutual benefit of a long-term relationship between your company and the supplier.

If the supplier is good and in it for the long haul with you, chances are that you can obtain that information. You can blame industry competition between suppliers. Suppliers don’t openly share such content simply because every supplier has set up unique internal processes and structures for their long-term success. It all comes down to what is considered internal IP and the competitiveness among companies eager to get ahead and survive in today’s industry. 

Heidi Barnes: The correct answer is that you need to ask both the engineer and the fabricator. There are always conflicting trade-offs and it would be a rare case where someone is an expert at both.

Chris Young: This is an opportunity to ask a broad range of questions to a group of people that collectively have a massive breadth and depth of experience. These people have business relationships spanning decades that have generated millions, if not billions, of dollars in PCB fabrication and assembly revenues. If there is an answer to be had, these people can find it.    

Rick Hartley: I don’t know who your fabricators are, but I’ve never had trouble getting answers from the fabricators we used when I was employed full time. Maybe you need to encourage your company to switch fabricators. Good fabricators (and assembly CMs) know that working closely with the customer benefits everyone.     

Carl Schattke: In my experience, fabricators will share their Valor setups if the business case presents an opportunity for them. Almost all vendors will answer questions about improving yields and what can make that happen. Overwhelmingly, I find PCB vendors really are willing partners to work with us on making a better product. As we succeed, they succeed. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2021 issue of Design007 Magazine


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