Hunter Technology on Design Operations and Business Strategies
Immediately following IPC APEX EXPO 2015, I paid a visit to Hunter Technology’s facility in Milpitas, California, where I had the opportunity to interview Ian Grover, vice president of design engineering, and Chris Alessio, vice president of sales and programs. We discussed Hunter’s design operations as well as the company’s overall business strategy.
Kelly Dack: Ian, thank you for having me. Through serendipity, I’ve been teaching a Certified Interconnect Designer class for IPC, and two of your designers happened to be in the class. So I spent the last few days with Zev Gross and Jeff Davidson, who went through the two-day process, and all the weeks of study, and passed with flying colors. We welcome them to the world of CID and congratulate them and Hunter for sponsoring them.
Ian Grover: Thank you very much and thanks for stopping by. I’ve heard good things about your course and your class. They came back with smiles on their faces, and I've already photocopied their certificates and placed them on the wall already!
Dack: Ian, can you tell us about your design department? How are you set up, and how do you satisfy your customer needs?
Grover: Hunter has eight designers on staff. We use Cadence Allegro as well as PADS and Mentor Graphics design tools when needed. All of our designers are senior designers and at the end of the day, we want to basically insert ourselves into a value-add model for other companies. In some cases, the customer may have a design team already, and we take their overflow work and just support them that way. Or we engage with a customer that has a product or an idea and a schematic and therefore needs design services and outsourcing. So we serve both those models and we do it very successfully with about 30 customers currently.
Dack: What is your customer base? Do you service the world or mostly the U.S.?
Grover: I wouldn't say the world. I would say we're very much a national organization, since I have designers not only in California but also on the East Coast. In the San Francisco Bay Area, where, as Chris Alessio always says, there are 9,000 companies in a 30-mile radius, it's pretty easy to pick and choose customers. But on the East Coast we have a design team that gives us a wider reach, such as the networking and telecom companies from Boston, etc. It's a good place to have designers in technical areas, and maybe college and university areas across the country where there's a hotbed for technology.
Dack: What would you cite as the main reason that your customers outsource design to Hunter?
Grover: Two things: Number one, experience. We do well over 150 different types of designs a year, so from a library standpoint, from a knowledge perspective, with regard to industry and technology, we've seen it all. Customers can come into a meeting and we can say, "Yes, been there, done that." We've already done that with XYZ Company, or we've already used that technology and therefore we have a pool of canned designs and canned technology to pull from.
And number two, we have an EMS engine backing up the customer. That's the most powerful aspect. We can come in and close the deal by saying, “Not only can we design your design very robustly and design it for manufacturing, we’ll have it endorsed and looked at by all the different facets of our company: front-end engineering, design for manufacturability engineers, quality, and test engineering.” So, when the board is designed it's not just a prototype; it's a ready for volume manufacturing product. That way, the customer can quickly say, "I've built my protos, let's go to manufacturing immediately," minimizing the amount of iteration and design change.
Dack: Part of the curricula in the CID program includes using standards and specifications that have been developed to allow parts and designs to be manufactured anywhere, by anybody; it's really neat to see two designers who are embedded in an EMS company, who can design. They have the answers and can design for manufacturability and are right down the hall.
Grover: That is well said. In fact, that's exactly what they said when they came back. They are very experienced designers, without question, but what they learned and came back with is knowledge of fab and assembly and industry terms and maybe even specs. In fact, they are sitting with a customer right now. When the customer found out they had passed the CID course, he said, "Now you're going to be able to tell what you can and can't do, right?" So with more knowledge comes more experience to say what we can and can't do.
Dack: Since you do design and assembly here, the missing link on site is fabrication.
Grover: It's the worst part of the whole manufacturing process. That's why we're not involved (laughs).
Dack: Tell us how it works. How do you qualify a bare board vendor?
Grover: I'm going to tell you from my perspective, because from a design service bureau mentality, we engage with customers, like I alluded to earlier. We engage with them in their current supply chain where we're going to do design help for that organization, outsource and then it goes right back into to that organization. They pick their own fab path. That's already set in stone. In other cases, we engage with the customer with an initial product and if they have no option or have no experience, we drive that selection. That's what you're referring to.
Grover: In that case, we typically want to use a local Bay Area shop. The reason that's important is turn time. If they can drive the fab over here when it's done, the three-day turn really is three days because it can get here that third-day afternoon. So that's key.
Those organizations typically tend to be Streamline, Viasystems, TTM—those kinds of fab shops. We pick them based on the complexity of the board, the technology, and their price.
Dack: That's a good concept. It's a good topic from the standpoint of acknowledging that everything's got a tolerance. Everything has a range that we're trying to fit into. Everything has a risk. When things do screw up, how is it resolved? How does your customer or your supplier resolve it?
Chris Alessio: If there's a fab issue, we'll first try to understand what that fab issue is and then get the quality department involved and their supplier corrective action request. Then there's also mitigation, which is financial. Depending on at what point in that process we found the problem and what the root cause of that problem is, whether it's a design-related aspect or a fab-related aspect, we have arrangements with key suppliers to cover bare board costs, consequential loss type of components, and labor content. It's across-the-board.
Grover: From my perspective, though, Kelly, if somebody screws up I'm just going to use the next guy, because I have kind of free range in that environment of the front-end engineering prototype world. To Chris’s point, that's more on the production side. To be honest, really, that's the production model of Hunter. I'm kind of a rogue entity where I can pick and choose what’s best for the initial protos to get built, tested and delivered on time and free of defects.
Dack: We side-barred into what happens when things go wrong. I think we got a good answer. You audit, you check and you go through a process that doesn't lop their head off right away.
Grover: They're still in the queue, still in the AVL, but we just start using another guy. Dack: Importantly, you keep a queue or a stable of sources/fab shops, and that is very wise.
Grover: That is correct. You have to have a stable because in some cases one guy's got a proven recipe for a certain board or a certain type of technology or a certain stack-up and can build it well, we’ll stick with him. If we were to try that with another customer, they may fall down on their faces or fall on their sword, but that doesn't mean they're a not a good fab shop for other products. You have to have a plethora of fab shops to choose from that are experienced in areas from RF, digital, large stack-ups, to flex boards. We have a stable.
Dack: Something I emphasized to designers during the CID course is to get out and shake hands with your suppliers, your bare-board fabricators, and your assemblers. That's one of the reasons I'm here today: to shake your hand and to take a look at what you've got to offer and learn your processes.
Grover: Right, and we do tours as well.
Dack: Tell us about the tours.
Grover: We basically reach out to our fab shops that we're selling. Remember, our design team gets boots on the ground early on in these engagements. Really, a lot of times it's not the fab shop that's telling the customer where to go to build their boards. Our designers are saying, "Hey, I've got a design and we've got a good relationship with this fab shop. We're just going to send the files over there for a quote." That's how it really operates. It's very important that early on, all of my designers take tours of these fab shops so they kind of know the technology and know what's going to happen. We can basically pick and choose from a design that comes forward and say, "I know where I'm going to send this design based on the tours I've taken at fab shops."
Dack: Another great reason to do business locally is you can drive over and take tours. Well, Ian, and Chris, it's been a pleasure talking to you both.
Grover: Thank you, Kelly.
Alessio: Thanks, Kelly.
About Hunter Technology: Founded in 1968 to meet the growing needs of Silicon Valley, Hunter Technology is the industry's premier supplier of trusted and reliable Electronic Contract Manufacturing Services. From day one, Hunter has been dedicated to complete customer satisfaction through high quality service, professional communication and on-time delivery.
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