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Nolan Johnson recently spoke with Dean Marquart, product manager at Rogers Corporation about his role in managing parts so that customers are getting what they need—and when they need it.
Nolan Johnson: Dean, tell me about your role with Rogers.
Dean Marquart: I am a product manager working with all our RF solutions materials. My role involves managing our products, bringing those products to the market for our customers and ensuring that those products are at the right place at the right time for our customers’ needs and demands.
Johnson: That’s got to be a challenging job right now.
Marquart: Absolutely, not only right now with the way the market has had a lot of variability in the pull of materials through the supply chain, but over the last few years, as a lot of new technologies, such as 5G and others, have continued to increase with leaps and bounds. Those growths required not only having the right products available, but also required having new right products in the pipeline. This has certainly been a challenge for us to manage.
Johnson: And you have new product that you’ve introduced recently, if I understand correctly?
Marquart: Absolutely. At Rogers, as part of our high-speed digital portfolio, we have a new bonding material called SpeedWave 300P prepreg, which is thermosetting low-loss material. And we offer it in variable thicknesses from two and a half up to five mils with different glass and resin content combinations to meet the designer’s requirements.
Johnson: With all these different flavors, if you will, it must be challenging to keep track of the complexities of customer demand, manufacturing, and shipping. How do you handle that?
Marquart: Some of it takes a little bit of a magic eight ball to really understand and get a sense of what the market needs. But when we go through our product development, a lot of it starts with the voice of the customer, what they forecast, and what their technical requirements are going to be over the next few years. The start of the process is to make sure that number one, we are developing the right materials for our customers. And even with that work being done early in the development process, it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what we’re going to end up with. Again, as I had mentioned earlier, a lot of the technologies and the market demands are changing quite quickly.
During the development process, what the customers require may cause us to change the scope of our development project as with the SpeedWave 300P prepreg. What that required us to do was, go from a couple offerings up to 11 products. Managing 11 different products through a product launch is quite challenging. As we develop 11 variations based on customer feedback for a larger variety, there is no guarantee any one of those offerings is going to be the number one product.
Meeting the needs of our customers is our main goal. This includes not only partnering with them during the material development phase but also being able to supply them material where they need it as quickly as possible.
During the prototype phase, a lot of work may be done in one geographical region. Once it goes to mass production, the material requirement need may be in another location. So, we need to have a finger on the pulse of what needs to be available, where it needs to be available, and when. These are some of the key things that need to be managed when bringing a new product into the market.
Then there are factors that add complexity, you know, a lot of materials in the PCB industry have shelf lives. Some laminates may or may not, but a lot of the bonding materials have a short shelf life. Like with the SpeedWave 300P prepreg, which has a three-month shelf-life, other FR-4 type bond plys, and prepregs also have a three-month shelf life. Having materials available in the right quantities and maintaining inventory that is within shelf life, is just one of the processes that any material supplier needs to manage.
Johnson: How do you educate customers about all these products so they can pick the right one for their application?
Marquart: One way we educate our customers is through a Rogers’ product roadshow. We have a global sales force of sales engineers and other technical experts. Through regular contact with our customers, our fabricator base, and other designers, we can highlight our new products like this SpeedWave 300P prepreg and show them how the materials fit into the current designs, or future designs that they’re currently thinking about.
Johnson: Of course, with all the various ups and downs in demand, that’s got to be a challenge for manufacturing to schedule.
Marquart: Absolutely. As many companies are coming out of the pandemic, managing the manufacturing process has been a challenge. Not only from getting raw materials but managing a workforce that can ebb and flow with the demands of our customers. We see customers purchasing ahead as they look at the news within their geographic regions. You know, for Rogers, a few ways that we counter that and really get ahead of those ebbs and flows is, number one, by having manufacturing in more than one location. We have a few manufacturing locations within the U.S. that are here to meet our aerospace and defense customers. Also, a lot of the prototyping that is done for our fabricator base is done within the United States. We have quick turn inventory for small volume and prototypes available for customers in the U.S.
We also have manufacturing in Asia and in Europe for a lot of the mass production needed for automotive radar materials and wireless materials needed for the 5G rollouts. So, we were able to flex our manufacturing and a global footprint to ensure we have the right volumes in the right locations for the customers. We have warehouse locations in other regions around the world where we have strategic type materials available for our customers.
Johnson: Great. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me.
Marquart: Absolutely. Nolan, thank you.