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.”

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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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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An Inconvenient Inevitability

Managing ObsolescenceThere seems to be a classic scene for almost everything these days: cars, music, lawn mowers, home computers. Even ageing chip designs like 74 series logic and the 555 timer are still widely used by engineers after decades in the market. Some application-specific standard ICs, on the other hand, have rather shorter lifetimes and are quickly superseded as new process technologies allow more features, less power, and smaller size.

This frequent updating, accompanied by obsolescence of the replaced components, is inevitable given the way the electronics industry works. However, it can be inconvenient – and worrying Continue reading

Common-Sense Quoting: it’s All About the Timing

Calculator, money and penBack in the dark days of the global banking crisis, sovereign debt problems highlighted the close link between timing and financial costs. As governments defaulted on their repayments, they were forced to borrow at higher interest rates making life even more difficult than before. The position is similar with personal credit: pay late, and the bank will apply extra charges and may withdraw that preferential rate.

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What Sets the Pros Apart

NPI ProcessHere’s a thought provoking phrase: “Following Simple Rules Sets Pros Apart From The Rest.” It’s actually from a magazine article about landscape photography, but it suggests that achieving outstanding results requires attention to detail, giving consideration to aspects that may be ignored, perhaps even considered trivial or boring, by “non pros”.

There is another element to being professional, and that is the sense of time. Continue reading