Active-PCB celebrates 20th Anniversary

Active-PCB Solutions, a cutting-edge contract electronics manufacturer based in Reading, celebrates its 20th anniversary this month. Two decades of growth and development has seen the directors transform the company into a technology leader with over 200 active customers and a turnover of £11m.

Founded in May 1997 by Gary Turner, Leigh-Anne Swire-Thompson and Marinela Covachã,  Active-PCB Solutions began with no pre-established customer base but with a vision to deliver specialist printed circuit board assembly. They turned over £480k in the first year. The founding directors and 4 staff members who started Active-PCB 20 years ago have remained loyal to the company and today form part of the 93 staff members.

The AS9100 accredited company continues to adapt and offers leading-edge SMT PCB assembly, full electronics box-build and an extensive testing capability.  With a long-standing reputation for high-quality and high-reliability, the company operates in a variety of demanding market sectors that include aerospace & defence, motorsport, modern energy, power and the oil & gas industry.

Active-PCB continues to commit to investing in high technology equipment, ensuring that the company thrives in the electronics industry for many years to come.

Farnell & Active PCB Solutions donate Raspberry Pis to Reading school

Raspberry Pi donationFarnell, in partnership with Active-PCB Solutions, recognises the importance of investing in the future of the Electronic Engineering and Computer Science industry. To this end, Farnell has donated a batch of the very latest, third generation Raspberry Pi mini computers to a local, Reading-based senior school for use by both Computer Science teachers and students .

Head of ICT and Computing said: “It’s very generous of Farnell to donate this equipment. In doing so they are investing in the computer scientists of the future. Each Raspberry Pi is a fully functioning personal computer and as powerful as a standard desktop PC.”

“It’s incredible that this technology is now available. It’s a great training tool.  These systems will enable us to teach students vital programming skills and help them develop an understanding of how every aspect of a computer works. Hopefully we will encourage a new generation of computer scientists.  With built-in wireless and Bluetooth connectivity, the Raspberry Pi’s have no need for physical connections, so are very flexible and easy to use.”

Raspberry Pi’s were first launched in early 2012. Four years on, eight million of the credit card-sized mini computers have been sold.

Leigh-Anne Swire-Thompson, Director of Active-PCB Solutions, added: “It is great that Farnell are supporting senior school education by donating this equipment. It shows an awareness in the electronics industry of the need to encourage an interest in electronic engineering and computer science at the grass roots stage.”

www.active-pcb.com

Phil Crabb to Boost Business Development

Phil Crabb, Active-PCB SolutionsActive-PCB Solutions, have appointed Phil Crabb as Business Development Manager. He will work alongside Sales Manager Helen Montague, to increase sales and drive our activities in the UK and overseas.

Phil brings over a decade of experience in quality assurance and technical sales, with over eight years at Exception PCB and Exception EMS including international sales for UK, Europe, Israel and USA. His appointment will boost Active’s ability to support customers comprehensively from prototyping and NPI through to full production including high-volume assembly.

“Phil has an outstanding record in the manufacturing services business, and we are delighted to have his skills and energy on board,” said MD Gary Turner. “He will not only develop our core UK customer base, but will also connect with our overseas team to enhance service for customers with higher-volume production needs.”

“Active-PCB enjoys a strong position, with facilities and expertise among the best in the industry,” commented Phil Crabb. “This is an exciting opportunity to help take the business forward by strengthening our relationships with current customers and establishing new links with leading UK OEMs.”

www.active-pcb.com

Total Confidence in New Product Introduction

New Product Introduction is about more than simply ensuring the fastest possible time to market. It must also be extremely thorough. If there are any threats to your production schedule, such as kit availability problems or process-engineering challenges, NPI is the right time to identify and solve them.

At Active-PCB Solutions, our AS9100 aerospace-level Quality Management System gives us an edge when it comes to quick-turn, fully risk-assessed NPI. We have optimised our QMS to provide a framework for coordinating NPI efficiently and ensuring that every issue has been addressed, from the start of the supply chain to the very last assembly process.

We call this True NPI, and it gives our customers total confidence in the transition to full production. Customers targeting fast-moving markets from motor sport to consumer devices, partner with us to help ensure a smooth transition into full production, at volumes from a handful of units to hundreds of thousands.

Our True NPI service covers every aspect of building assemblies in high volumes:

  • Ensuring that all parts on the BOM can be sourced at the right time and the right price
  • Studying component status, including lead times, obsolescence, equivalent parts, second sources to ensure consistent availability throughout the life of the product
  • Supply-chain risk assessment: to design-out potential threats to supply
  • Developing robust assembly processes that can be scaled to the desired throughput and meet end-of-line quality/yield targets
  • Minimising reliance on processes that are difficult to manage
  • Eliminating potential for any unwanted surprises when full production begins

Addressing every issue fully is essential, to avoid potential delays or quality problems in production. But time to market is also critical. So NPI has to be both fast and faultless.

That’s why we rely on our AS9100 aerospace-industry Quality Management System (QMS) as the platform for our True NPI, from coordinating activities to ensure that no issue is left unaddressed, to providing the data structures that allow us to generate in-depth reports to the same high standard for every customer. Not all CEMs are able to do that.

Whether you are looking to get your new product into production quickly and smoothly here at Active-PCB Solutions, or at alternative high-volume sites including offshore, we can help you make that move confidently and quickly.

For more information about True NPI, or to arrange a visit to find out how we can help, call us on +44 (0) 118 9310292 or email us at sales@active-pcb.com

 

www.active-pcb.com

An Invaluable Head-Start for the Next Generation

Testing the circuit for the Land Rover Challenge with help from Stewart Capel, Technical Quality Manager, Active-PCB Solutions.

Kyle learns to test his circuit with help from Stewart Capel, Technical Quality Manager, Active-PCB Solutions.

Advanced engineering has an important role in modern economies. It is critical to sustain growth, which is vital for all members of society. But as technology continues to move forward, making further advances becomes increasingly difficult. That’s why activities like the Land Rover 4×4 in Schools Technology Challenge are extremely valuable, helping future generations gain a head-start in acquiring the skills and experience they will need to maintain the pace of progress.

Active-PCB Solutions has been pleased to support a team from a local senior school taking part in the 4×4 Challenge. Team “Supergrediatur” which means “goes beyond” in Latin, was tasked with the design and build of a radio-controlled, four-wheel drive model vehicle that displays Land Rover’s all-terrain characteristics. The team of 5 students managed roles of electronics design, marketing and logistics.

Our Technical Quality Manager, Stewart Capel, helped the young head of electronics, Kyle, to design the vehicle’s electronics, including tilt sensors, visible/audible alerts, and automatic head and tail lamps. While the rules encouraged the teams to research and seek guidance from all available sources, Kyle presented his original design ideas and built the electronics himself. With Stewart’s help, particularly in terms of engineering development and circuit design, he has learned about electronic design, component selection, testing, and assembly techniques.

Following the regional heats, team “Supergrediatur” was chosen for the national final at Jaguar Land Rover’s Gaydon Centre for Engineering on March 27. In the final, the team successfully negotiated a tough course conceived to test the vehicle’s electronics to the limit, and also gave a verbal presentation to the panel of judges from Jaguar Land Rover.

Challenges like this give young people a tremendous opportunity to benefit from experiences they would otherwise probably not encounter until later, having left school. All the team members have learned how to conceptualise, refine their ideas to create an achievable product, and communicate their solutions to a knowledgeable audience. These, as well as other aspects such as cooperating and coordinating as part of a team, are skills they are sure to find extremely valuable in the future – even if they decide not to choose a career in technology.

From our point of view, at Active-PCB, our investment in the project has been well worthwhile. Businesses today have an important role to fulfil in helping to educate future generations, and we are delighted to have had the opportunity to support team “Supergrediatur” in the 4×4 Challenge. We also work regularly with schools in the local Reading area to help older pupils gain the work experience they need to help them progress into employment. Only a few will choose careers related to technology or business, but all can gain more immersive experience of skills such as teamwork, organisation and presentation than is possible through other channels such as the Internet or television.

Congratulations to Team “Supergrediatur” on achieving an outstanding result. We look forward to continuing to help enthusiastic youngsters gain experiences that will help them realise their full potential.

Ends

 

Conflict Minerals Reporting: Coming to a Parliament Near You

Conflict mineralsAt Active-PCB Solutions we purchase large quantities of components and materials that contain metals such as tin and tantalum. We believe strongly in the need for responsible and ethical sourcing of all the materials we use, and encourage our supply-chain partners to uphold the same values.

Since the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act came into force in 2014, the sourcing of tin and tantalum, as well as gold and tungsten, has come under increased media scrutiny. Section 1502 of the Act aims to shut down the trade in conflict minerals: the violent plundering of ores in poverty-stricken areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and their illicit sale into world markets to fund the activities of militias.

The Dodd-Frank legislation requires companies listed on the US stock exchange to disclose the sources of any gold, tantalum, tin or tungsten in their products. Since the US is such an important part of the global electronics industry, organisations all over the world supplying products such as ICs, connectors, tantalum capacitors, solders and related products, must be able to provide the information US customers need to demonstrate compliance. The Act has drawn criticism from some, who say it is excessively burdensome on commercial companies. It has also been challenged, with mixed results. Moreover, opinion is divided as to whether the legislation will have the desired effect, without also disadvantaging legitimate mining activity in the affected regions.

The US legislation is just one of several initiatives that are ongoing, seeking to stop the many abuses that go hand in hand with the conflict minerals trade. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has for some time been building international co-operation to help with responsible sourcing of minerals. It has published the OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains of Minerals from Conflict-Affected and High-Risk Areas: Second Edition, which provides a framework for companies that are required to file a conflict minerals report. In fact, the Dodd-Frank legislation recognises the OECD guidance and encourages companies to refer to it when establishing their due diligence practices.

The European Union will soon introduce its own conflict minerals legislation. The European Commission is working on proposals to set up a voluntary self-certification scheme for companies exercising due diligence in their supply chains. The European Parliament still has to vote on the proposals, and may require amendments. Compared to Dodd-Frank, the resulting legislation is expected to be less burdensome for companies, in terms of demonstrating compliance. The IPC has been lobbying on behalf of the electronics industry, having also played a role in encouraging burden relief during drafting of the Dodd-Frank Act. The IPC broadly supports the European Commission proposals, and has published a white paper on the EU conflict minerals initiative.

At Active-PCB, we hope the legislation enacted will place a manageable burden on industry. More importantly, we support the primary objective, which is to end the tyranny of the conflict minerals trade and the wars that are funded from its proceeds.

The End of Lead-free Exemptions – How Will Critical Electronic Systems Cope?

Ready to go lead-free?When the EU’s RoHS legislation came into force in 2006, some product categories were exempted from specific aspects such as the demand for lead-free assembly; some had doubts about reliability and there was little if any long-term reliability data. Now, almost 10 years after RoHS’ introduction, some major exemptions are being phased out. Medical devices have been required to be fully RoHS compliant since 2014, while automotive electronics must come into line by 2016 and medical systems such as implantables and defibrillators by 2021. From an engineering point of view, these deadlines are extremely close.

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3D Viewing: A Miss for Movie Producers, but a Big Hit for X-Ray Inspection

Nordson DAGE XD7600NTOur last post mentioned the importance of making the right investments in equipment to remain competitive. Today’s economic conditions mean capital purchases always need a properly calculated justification. For the best return on investment, the chosen equipment should meet the company’s needs for some significant time into the future. It takes skill to make the right decision, considering the technology available in the marketplace, the financial outlay, and the company’s future needs.

X-ray inspection has become an important capability, which leading EMS businesses must possess. OEM customers are seeking greater assurances about every aspect of their assemblies, and new packages such as LGA and QFN, in addition to BGA, mean we need to be able to “see through” a higher proportion of ICs on any given board to verify the integrity of solder joints. With these packages, X-ray is the only inspection technology that can provide positive confirmation that all the joints are good.

At Active-PCB Solutions, we have recently invested in our second generation of automatic X-ray inspection (AXI) technology, to take advantage of the latest state-of-the-art equipment. Earlier, when we installed our very first AXI machine, we became one of the first EMS businesses in the UK to have X-ray capability. Now, our new Nordson-Dage XD7600NT puts us once again at the forefront of the industry with its built-in X-Plane® Analysis 3D-imaging capability.

This cutting-edge equipment captures the subject from multiple angles and constructs a detailed 3D digital model. We can then slice through the model to analyse any plane we choose, which gives more power than ever before to inspect solder joints and check for other issues such as damaged connections or hidden shorts that would be undetected by optical inspection. This helps us develop perfect processes by identifying issues and designing-out their causes long before the project is finalised for production.

The latest 3D equipment gives us immense capabilities. Large magnification factors and high resolution provide clear images even when inspecting the latest ultra-miniaturised packages. Unlike a basic 2D X-ray, which includes information from behind and in front of the plane of interest in the same image, the latest technology allows us to ignore other planes and so concentrate only on the features we need to inspect. And at the touch of a button we can colour-code regions according to their density, which provides a clear indication of solder joint quality.

We think we got the timing of our investment just right, including training our staff to get the best from the system. Customers in sectors such as automotive, aerospace and medical frequently specify 100% X-ray inspection of hidden pads on all boards, and we are able to capture the required images and store these with the data for each assembly to aid verification and future traceability.

We are still using our first AXI system; it is more than able to meet the needs of many existing projects. So not only have we added the latest AXI to our in-house capabilities, we have also increased total X-ray inspection capacity. Our new AXI should deliver a similar long-lasting return.

Find out more about our test and inspection services.

www.active-pcb.com

Why the Lights Can Never Go Out – Onshoring

The lights can never go out - onshore manufacturingOnshoring has been a trend in electronics manufacturing in the west for some time. A common perception is that labour costs are still high in Europe, and that a high level of automation is the key to being competitive. We are all influenced by images that often accompany TV reports into the national manufacturing sector, which so often depict impressively robotised equipment executing pre-programmed tasks with relentless efficiency.

The ultimate in automation is lights-out manufacturing, which conjures an attractive vision of a future requiring zero human intervention and giving freedom to manage the gritty business of making things from a more pleasant location – like a cafe or golf course! Of course, investing in the right automation is crucial to remaining competitive. But it’s a fact that building electronics requires a huge amount of human input both before and after the high-speed surface-mount lines have played their part. Actually, this is true in any manufacturing location worldwide, whether labour costs are high or otherwise.

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Get Lucky in Farnborough, and Avoid Trouble this Valentine’s Day

Southern Manufacturing and electronicsEvery trade show exhibitor needs to offer a unique attraction, to draw as many visitors as possible. At this February’s Southern Manufacturing & Electronics Show, we will not only be relying on the magnetism of our manufacturing experts to turn you on to our high-quality assembly services – we will also be offering a free glass of bubbly and a chance to win a bottle of champagne for yourself.

Why the romantic gesture? Well, if you’re still stressing over what to buy that special person in your life for Valentine’s Day (reminder – it’s just two days after the show closes), you might be that little bit more inclined to visit us and try to win.

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