On May 28, Joe O’Neil, CEO of Green Circuits, updated Nolan Johnson on how the company continues to operate during the COVID-19 restrictions. O’Neil reflects on the rapid chain of events this past March when lockdowns were instituted in the San Francisco Bay area. After a brief but rapid shutdown, Green Circuits was back up and in production.
Johnson also draws upon O’Neil’s 14 years of experience serving on the IPC Board of Directors to discuss standards work throughout the industry under current conditions.
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Nolan Johnson: Hi, Nolan Johnson here with I-Connect007. Today, I’m talking with Joe O’Neil, CEO of Green Circuits in San Jose, California, and recently retired from 14 years of service on the IPC board. Joe, welcome.
Joe O’Neil: Thank you very much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Johnson: Today, let’s talk about both Green Circuits and IPC, if you don’t mind. First, how has Green Circuits responded overall to the recent COVID-19 lockdown?
O’Neil: It has been a roller coaster ride. I think we’ve responded very well to our customers and had a lot of support with our partners and vendors. The date that I will probably never forget was March 16, which was when the county handed down the shelter-in-place order. The 48 hours that preceded that were a little bit of uncertainty going from navigating choppy waters to sheltering in place, working from home, and essentially winding down the business to essential services only, only to be thrown in the other direction within about 12 hours following that from DoD and SDA programs that had us ordered to remain in place and then ordered to continue operations. There were a lot of changes going on, and that made decisions a little bit easier because they had to be made quickly.
It seems like that was just yesterday in some ways, and it seems like it was years ago in others, but where we sit today, being able to kind of look back on it, it looks like we were impacted. There’s about a 10–15% level, and that’s pretty much in line with the production level inefficiencies that we had to put in place to ensure employee safeguards were in place—things as simple as eliminating a half hour overlap between shifts, stretching that through an hour and a half of empty factory to allow for deep cleaning between shifts, and things like that. That has an impact on productivity, but we also felt it was the right thing to do, bringing on additional staff for cleaning and working from home for everyone that is able to do that.
Those things had a bit of a learning curve, to be quite honest, but it has made us better, and it’s been interesting to watch. We have a couple of hundred active customers, and it has been very interesting to stay in touch with them and see how it’s being handled on their end very differently across industries and geographies. Having a broad customer base has helped us tremendously, but it has also been very interesting to see the differences there.
Johnson: Joe, do you have any insights that you’ve learned from your customers based on what you were just saying—some interesting information from them or anything you feel like you would want to share?
O’Neil: I think all of our customers tried to have a crystal ball, and, like us, none of us do. I was quite surprised by the amount of normalcy, if you will, over the past couple of months in terms of demand signals and business levels, given that almost all of the program managers and purchasing people that we were working with are all working remotely. It didn’t seem to have the disruptive impact that we were braced for.
With the working-from-home piece, a lot of people were already there to some extent. To be honest with you, we really weren’t, but we are now. I think it’s here to stay in a lot of functions, but with automation and flexibility, we see increased communication. I am quite sick of Zoom calls, but there’s something to be said for frequent check-ins versus less frequent fly-ins. That has been an interesting kind of epiphany that we can’t get on planes to go see customers all the time now, but it seems like it maybe is better for the relationship to touch base a little more often and manage it in that way.
Johnson: That is quite insightful and leads me to my next question. Work-from-home and remote activity has shown up in IPC’s work as well. From your vantage point, watching IPC over a number of years—and the standards work going on—do you see a change in standards work under this new normal?
O’Neil: Coincidentally, or luckily, as the global virtual footprint of IPC over the past 10–15 years has really taken hold, the need to put people from every continent in one standards committee has been there—the ability to have calls, and working sessions on standards remotely has been well-established for a number of years.
The benefit of putting those people all in one room once or twice a year is not diminished. That’s really good work being able to interface face to face with your colleagues and kind of build that relationship and comradery so that when you then go off and have a monthly or quarterly call, it makes those calls much more fruitful. There’s something to having established relationships. It’s going to be interesting to see how that plays out over the next year.
Even the timing of IPC APEX EXPO was relatively early in the year in 2020 and relatively unaffected with some exceptions of international travel. How will that look in the coming year as we go in 2021? It’s still TBD, but I know the standards work continues, and the committees remain in place and are able to function and do good work remotely.
Johnson: To wrap up, do you have any advice for our listeners on restarting and adapting to post-COVID?
O’Neil: The whole industry—in terms of automation, repeatability, and those types of things—has reinforced the need to make those investments. We’re all human. I think we’ve fatigued. It’s hard to always be playing defense, so we all are looking forward to playing offense again, but I hope everyone stays healthy, and we don’t let our guard down. But as an industry, it has been very, very helpful. The best tips I’ve gotten have been on calls with colleagues. Other people in the industry have been very open about sharing best practices and about doing Q&A. It has been a very good community effort to kind of figure out the path forward.
Johnson: Great. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us today, Joe. Once again, I’ve been speaking with Joe O’Neil, CEO of Green Circuits and a 14-year member of the IPC board. I appreciate your time.
O’Neil: Thank you, Nolan.