Fast Interconnect: Engineering Services for the Masses
Gary Griffin and Ana Rosique are co-founders of Fast Interconnect, an Arizona-based product engineering company designed to serve an underserved market: the small product developers, inventors, and anyone with an idea for a “cool gadget.” I caught up with Griffin recently to discuss the new company, its innovative business model, and the challenges facing smaller OEMs and product developers.
Andy Shaughnessy: Gary, why don’t you start off by giving us some information about yourself and your background in the industry?
Gary Griffin: I have been in the industry since 1984. I started out as an IC product engineer and then went into the ATE interface industry where I spent 20 years. The last 10 years have been in the product development industry where we get to see and create many really interesting products for large companies as well as for individuals and small business concerns. I am very passionate about this industry and I love the verity that comes with it. When I get to see the face of the client when they are presented with a working prototype, it is priceless to me.
Shaughnessy: Tell us about Fast Interconnect. You have a very interesting business model, with 200 independent engineers.
Griffin: Yes, this is a model that I put together. It was, as they say, a midnight revelation that this was the type of model that was missing in this industry. Personally, I have had the unfortunate experience with having to charge quite a bit to develop product, and often this is enough to squash the idea right out of the gate, simply because the costs were just too high. Keep in mind that large companies can handle the cost and indeed expect it, but what about small business and individuals that have this really cool idea and need a way to get it off the ground? There is nothing out there for them. Sure, there are places that tell you that you can design your own PCB and have them fabricated, but these packages are limited and fraught with issues that cannot be overcome unless you are an experienced layout engineer. This does not cover the software integration issues.
Going out and collecting the resources to cover these bases enables Fast Interconnect to offer true solutions to folks at a manageable cost that was previously out of reach. We are all familiar with the World Wide Web and have a basic understanding of how it works. Consider this company the “Internet of Product Development.”
Figure 1 is a simple graphic showing how our business model works. I have spoken to many people about this business model and without exception, I have been told that this is a novel way to do this kind of business, and no one has ever heard of such a thing.
Shaughnessy: So, I understand Fast Interconnect is co-owned by a woman? We don’t see women starting companies very often in this industry.
Griffin: Yes, Ana Rosique is the business brains behind this enterprise. She has a lot of experience with start-ups and her business acumen is outstanding.
Shaughnessy: You all offer quite a bit more than PCB design. What would you consider to be the sweet spot for Fast Interconnect?
Griffin: Our knowledge in product development, manufacturing, assembly and signal integrity ensures the right quality and timely deliveries. All stages are process-oriented and controlled; the expertise from each field is put together to develop each and every process which in turn empowers us to deliver better and faster. Particularly, our PCB designs are done under the motto of "Get it right at the first version."
Our knowledge and the latest tools in signal and power integrity help us to simulate the PCB design data; based on these results, the design will be optimized before getting into fabrication, which helps eradicate unwanted fab cycles during product development. This helps us to stay ahead, particularly when we are handling high-frequency signals in our designs, which is becoming a more common requirement nowadays. If there is just a PCB design to be done, our process is astoundingly fast and has high customer value.
Shaughnessy: Talk a little bit about your product development services.
Griffin: This service encompasses as many or as few of our available services as the customer may require. Our engineering community is made up of specialists in innovative and cost-effective embedded product development technologies. They can do it all for you.
Product development is a complex problem that requires a multi-disciplinary approach for fast and innovative solutions. Our engineering resources feature a combination of expertise in hardware, firmware/software, board design and product integration that can shorten the overall product development time. We help you in selecting the right hardware and software components, designing and prototyping the complete product or part of the product, developing the firmware and software, integrating the hardware and software modules, and delivering a finished product. With our agile-oriented process approach, product quality is assured at every stage of the product development life cycle.
The customer sends us an idea and we develop it. It sounds pretty simplistic, but of course there are many steps involved as I mentioned earlier, and we help the customers navigate through the process. There are many checkpoints along the way to make sure that the development process is still on the path to the final product that the customer has envisioned.
There are costs associated with these steps, which should not be a surprise, but there is not anyone out there, at least in the USA, that can compete with us. At least this is what I think and feel to be true. Of course, if the customer has done his or her homework, the cost will be lower. The more the customer can supply and define, the more positive the impact on development costs will be. If a customer just says, “Hey, I thought up this cool gizmo and I want to connect it to this or that,” all they have to do is tell us what the input needs to be and what the output needs to be, and we will do the rest. If you don’t know, just tell us what you want it to do and we will do all of the work.
A really important facet of this business model is that we can protect the customer’s ideas so that the ideas remain theirs. If the customer wants to have that protection, we have a contract that will provide that for them.
Shaughnessy: I know Fast Interconnect offers IoT solutions. Isn’t this an exciting time to be in that space, with so many IoT developments happening almost daily?
Griffin: Yes, in today’s IoT era, every device that has electronics and embedded software is connected. With every device becoming a smart device, a whole new era of smart solutions are becoming a reality. With our strong expertise in sensor technologies, ultra-low microcontrollers and wireless communication we build custom devices for specific business needs.
We design the hardware and add intelligence to our device solutions with technologies such as Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee and WLAN. Our firmware and software are intelligently engineered for low-power operation. We also build the IoT gateways to connect the smart devices to the external world. With our Android mobile application, the smart devices can be monitored and controlled from anywhere, anytime.
Shaughnessy: Are your engineers located around the globe, or just in North America?
Griffin: Out of necessity, this is a worldwide effort.
Shaughnessy: Have you seen an increase in RF and mixed-signal design work lately?
Griffin: Personally, RF means a lot of things to different people, and RF to me is 100MHz and up. To some it is in the kHz range. So yes, there have been quite a few projects in these ranges. As for mixed-signal projects, yes, all of the time. It seems that mixed-signal is the rising star.
Shaughnessy: What do you see as the biggest challenges in this industry?
Griffin: For the customer, I would say that cost is the biggest challenge. Engineers tend to be expensive and it costs a lot to run a traditional “brick and mortar” engineering company that houses the engineers and the overhead associated with that. As I mentioned, think of us as the Internet of Product Development. We don’t have the overhead and there are quite a few engineers out there that feel the same way I do. The cost is just too high. I feel this business model is the answer.
The second-largest challenge a customer faces is just getting the attention of an engineering company. Please, don’t get me wrong. There are some really amazing companies out there. However, with amazing companies you get an amazingly high cost.
Also, semiconductors with fast switching rates and rise times are more common these days. What worked well in a previous design might not work for the upcoming signal frequency range and switching rates. The designed interconnects that were transparent to the circuit performance in the past are not going to be the same now. A guy working out of his second bedroom probably hasn’t kept up with stuff like this.
For the increasing switching rates and frequency of operation, the parasitic of the interconnect might degrade the actual circuit performance, and as we move towards more sharp rising/falling edges we are facing a higher level of difficulty in the future. Constant research in layout and interconnect implementation and spending more time in signal integrity and power integrity simulations are the best ways to face these challenges, and our team does this day to day.
Shaughnessy: What are your plans for the company for the next 2-5 years or so?
Griffin: Our current plan is to grow this business and help people realize their dreams to develop cool gadgets. Almost anyone can come up with an idea, but they just don’t know how to implement them.
Also, helping out small businesses with their new product development enables them to save a lot of cost and headache over what they currently experience with the traditional engineering companies or individual designers working from home. Yes, some are really good, but they are all limited, and Fast Interconnect is not limited at all.
With all of this going for us, I think that we can grow and really take advantage of this business model, help people realize their product needs and help small businesses with their engineering needs. What about the big guys out there? If they need some cost-effective help, we are here for you too.
Shaughnessy: It sounds like an innovative idea. Thanks for speaking with us, Gary.
Griffin: Thank you for the opportunity.
For more information, visit www.fastinterconnect.com.