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A Word about IPC – and How It Keeps OEM Electronics Competitive

PCB globeIn a $2.02 trillion global industry such as ours, where printed circuit board components can be fabricated in Taiwan or China, assembled in the United States or Canada, and then exported to Italy, Brazil, or Australia, the need for coherent qualitative standards is a constant one. Because, let’s face it, sometimes products can get “lost in translation.” A 3 year-old PCB manufacturing company in, say, India might not possess the qualitative standards that a PCB assembler in the United States or Japan has had the time and investment opportunities to develop. In order to ensure profitability (and compatibility with the global market), companies need a level of nuts-and-bolts guidelines that goes far beyond international free trade pacts.

Commerce, creativity, and competitive quality are what IPC, otherwise known as the Association Connecting Electronics Industries, seeks to foster on a global level. By striving to develop an overall qualitative standard for the international PCB supply chain, IPC seeks to benefit all of its members by ensuring that the products assembled in diverse locales meet the highest expectations of their end consumers. By employing IPC standards in our own manufacturing and assembly process, we at Badger Technologies have benefitted by gaining control over end product quality, improving communication with our PCB suppliers and component suppliers, and have been able to curtail unnecessary costs in production and assembly.

Just as English is oftentimes considered the language of international business, IPC strives similarly to develop a common “lingua franca” for OEM electronic manufacturers.  If everyone keeps on the same page, that can only mean higher levels of cohesiveness, success, and profits for all.

Posted on: June 11th, 2012 | Posted in: Uncategorized

Impending Withdrawal from the Middle East

America’s Disengagement from the Middle East – and its Effects on the U.S. PCB Industry

Planet Earth Middle East By announcing a 2014 deadline for all NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to reduce its presence throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. While the situation in Afghanistan remains, to say the least, incredibly fluid, American politics would seem to be shifting its focus from abroad and towards the home-front.

What, then, are the general effects of America’s withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan on our domestic PCB manufacturing and assembly capacities? After all, the armed forces of the United States rely critically on American-made electronics to perform their daily functions. Some analysts make a point of how the decrease in American ground forces (the Army cut by 80,000 and the Marine Corps slashed by 20,000), and the delayed purchase of new military systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Virginia-class submarine, would negatively impact American electronics as a whole.

But other analysts would disagree. A study of federal spending conducted last year by UC Berkeley economists showed that government spending in other areas, such as in health care, education, transportation, infrastructure, and energy, had an overall benefit to the US economy of up to 50% more than did defense spending. With the impending retirement of the entire Baby Boomer generation, the medical industry in this country is set to skyrocket phenomenally, more than off-setting the short-term reductions in military spending. Regardless of inevitable importing of PCBs from other countries, the need for ever-more precise electronic instrumentation for OEM medical devices will surely come as a boon to American PCB assemblers.

Even so, there is the reduction in R&D defense spending to consider. 55% of all federal spending on research and development is related – either directly or indirectly – to the Pentagon. With the Pentagon’s R&D coming out to be $81.4 billion this past year, it seems likelier than not that innovation and seismic breakthroughs in electronics and PCB assembly will be affected by this latest budget.

Both the White House and the Pentagon have emphasized the need for, in President Obama’s words, “a leaner military,” which nonetheless relies on high-tech applications to accomplish its missions. While $450 billion is set to be cut from the Pentagon’s budget for these next coming years, there is still the matter of realizing that defense budget spending will actually increase, though less exponentially so than in this past decade of conflict. But what the future entails profit-wise for our industry, no pundit, politician, or researcher can fully ascertain.

 

Posted on: May 14th, 2012 | Posted in: Uncategorized

The Coming “Drone Age” and its Impact on American Wire Harness Assembly

According to the weighty bundle of papers known as the Pentagon’s Aircraft Procurement Plan 2012 – 2041, the US Department of Defense doesn’t foresee any vast, Cold War-scale increases to its air forces in the coming decades. Indeed, it plans on more-or-less maintaining the current number of bombers, transport aircraft, and refueling aircraft, in addition to reducing the number of fighters and ground attack aircraft by around 10%.

The one aircraft program that the DoD forecasts rapidly expanding is its drone fleet. As it turns out, the Pentagon wants to double its drone capabilities within the next nine years, which would run current with its current focuses on terrorism and a possible (though unforeseeable) clash with China. With the Predator drone now retired from production, the emphasis is now placed on a newer (and deadlier) generation of drones, such as the MQ-9 Reaper, the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the Army’s so-called Gray Eagle drone, the Navy’s carrier-based strike/recon drone, and an as yet undetermined drone for the Marines as well.

In short, it’s going to be a field day for the American electronics industry, as it bestows the DoD with its new line of pricey, high-tech aerial platforms. With aluminum, copper, and copper alloy cables poised to help power these weapons, it remains a question of when, not if, the DoD comes calling to our industry with plans to increase its custom mil-spec wire and cable harnessing supplies.

Posted on: April 23rd, 2012 | Posted in: Uncategorized

Capacitive Sensing and its Relation to Printed Circuit Boards

Capacitive sensingIf you are familiar with the “touch-screen” technology of today, the sort that is ubiquitously replacing the need for a mouse, then you have most likely at least heard of the technical term, capacitive sensing. Capacitive sensing is an electrical engineer’s term that simply denotes the capacity of an electronic item to detect and measure qualities exterior to the item itself; qualities such as velocity, temperature, placement/displacement, and the like. Clearly, if you are the proud owner of an iPod, an iPad, a Kindle, a Nook, or even a laptop computer, your fingertip has come into contact with the principle of surface capacitance, and the PCB technology that drives it.

Printed circuit boards are the driving root of electronic devices, and the “touch-screen” capacitive sensors on a Nook (for example) are no exception. Fashioned from various types of wiring depending on the operating conditions for which the electric device is intended, the general guideline is the same throughout: a layer of material with conductive properties is coated onto the surface of the destined touch-screen. Upon application of this conductive layer, a minute, unnoticeable measure of voltage (at least to human touch) is then applied to the layer. Whenever a human hand touches the conductive surface, the surface voltage informs the PCB capacitor underneath to respond appropriately, thus creating the user-friendly ease of the iPhone we have all come to enjoy.

No longer are pressed buttons needed to activate the printed circuit boards beneath the surface of the application. With the simple coating of an insulator, and the appropriate underlying wiring (Indium tin oxide, or ITO, is most frequently used for touch-screen phones), technology has become a more seamless, “humanized” experience.

Posted on: April 10th, 2012 | Posted in: Uncategorized

Some of Our Work in PCB Assembly for the Medical Industry

As recent statistics show, the Baby Boomer generation is fast-approaching retirement age. Every day in America, some 10,000 members of that generation enter into formal retirement from work. A full 78 million Americans, a sizable percentage of the population, will be hitting 65 in the next 15 or so years. The demographic shift in American society will be without parallel. Our country will have changed.

This monumental increase in the number of retired and elderly citizens insures that the healthcare and medical equipment industries will become even greater driving engines of our economy than ever before. The level of senior care will be unprecedented, as will the number of advanced technology medical applications that monitor and provide for the health needs of these citizens.

It’s common knowledge that social trends drive sales trends. Indeed, many of the new printed circuit board assembly orders we’ve seen at Badger in recent years come from the medical device market. Since the medical device market combines (frequently) the need for high-quality products with high-volume of products, we haven’t seen the full-scale off-shoring of this industry that we have in other prominent sectors. Medical device production runs strong in the United States and Canada, to say the least. Statistically, the industry is forecasted to grow at an average rate of 10.3% each year, which is in startling comparison to the average annual 1.8% GDP growth for the corresponding time period.

Here at Badger, we’ve performed numerous PCB assembly jobs for medical devices of all kinds and stripes. We have done everything from standard assembly, to turn flex, to ultrasonic flex, to back flex assemblies on behalf of medical device OEMs. With our extensive resources, experience, and well-trained staff, we are fully capable of meeting the demands of tomorrow’s senior care devices. An exponentially growing demand requires an exponentially growing supply, and our high-grade assembly facilities in Farmington, NY are just the ones for the job.

Posted on: March 28th, 2012 | Posted in: Uncategorized

Badger Technologies Goes to Washington (and Vice-Versa)

29th Congressional District Congressman Tom Reed (R)

On January 9th this year, we received a visit from Congressman Tom Reed (R) of our 29th Congressional District. Being that western New York State continues to lag behind the overall economic recovery our nation seems (very gradually) to be experiencing, Mr. Reed wanted to commend Badger’s success at bringing employment back to the region. He also wanted to help figure out ways where he could help our company grow to become internationally competitive, on par with any PCB house that Taiwan, China, or India currently boasts, whether that meant providing assistance to our company or cutting government red-tape that might hinder its growth.

Recently, we had a follow-up conversation with Tim Kolpien, Mr. Reed’s Chief of Communications, where we discussed some specific actions Mr. Reed is taking to help businesses across the 29th District expand their payrolls and profits so that everyone benefits. Mr. Kolpien was nothing but genial, straightforward, and generous with his time in answering our questions.

We wanted to know what specific pieces of legislation Mr. Reed was supporting that would help improve conditions for small business growth in America, particularly in the manufacturing sector. Mr. Kolpien pointed out to us that Mr. Reed is a champion of the H.R. 10 REINS Act, a piece of legislation which passed the House in late December. The stated purpose of the REINS Act is to allow Congress the power to negate any regulations imposed by the Executive branch that Congress deems harmful or overreaching to the businesses affected. With the REINS Act in place, Federal regulations on anything ranging from environmental impact, to business procedurals, to the taxes that businesses need to pay, would be subject to a Congressional “Yea” or “Nay.”

We also asked Mr. Kolpien about Mr. Reed’s position on the proposed minimum wage increase being debated by the New York State legislature. For those who aren’t aware, many people in New York State can legally collect unemployment benefits that outweigh the payroll of lower-end jobs, thereby discouraging some of those who are unemployed from seeking out new work. We wanted to know if Mr. Reed had any specific thoughts about finding a way to help subsidize the minimum wage so that minimum wages would be higher than unemployment. Mr. Kolpien said that while the minimum wage debate was a State and not a Federal issue, there were nevertheless initiatives that Mr. Reed was advocating that would encourage those on unemployment to seek new jobs. Mr. Reed is a proponent of reducing unemployment benefits from 99 weeks (which obviously totals almost two years) to a shorter period of time. That way, those who might otherwise not seek employment on account of receiving benefits would be compelled to seek just that. The other proposal Mr. Kolpien talked about was Mr. Reed’s advocacy for mandatory drug-testing for those who are unemployed. That way, people would not be putting Federal money to unsupervised (or illegal) use, the idea being to keep them on track and focused on finding new livelihoods for themselves, not immediate gratification.

Congressman Tom Reed visits Badger Technologies

Congressman Tom Reed visited Badger to discuss how Washington can help New York based small business thrive in the economy.

The final question we posed was this: given that the vast majority of PCB manufacturing (i.e. most of the high- run/low-cost PCB assembly) is going off-shore, what is the plan for the US to become much more competitive? We wanted to know, short of closing our borders to imports, what Mr. Reed’s position might be.

Mr. Kolpien immediately pointed out that some of the greatest costs to American industry are ongoing energy costs. It’s true that a sizable chunk of any American manufacturer’s budget goes into securing the necessary amount of energy to help power his or her production process. But all that could change with pending legislation in Congress, where there is now a debate on redirecting our energy focus inwards. For example, said Mr. Kolpien, with the discovery of energy in the Marcellus Shale Formation in Upstate New York, cheaper and cleaner energy could be produced locally, thereby reducing New York manufacturers’ dependence on foreign oil to help power their industries. Not only that, but the Marcellus Formation would provide sorely-needed jobs to the people of western New York.

The conversation could not have been more informative. We would again like to thank Congressman Reed in honoring Badger Tech with a visit, as well as thank Mr. Kolpien for answering our highly industry-focused questions.

Meet Badger’s “Secret Weapon” in Taipei: Joseph Bao

While it’s true the United States originally invented the concept of the printed circuit board, it’s also true it’s hard to find American companies who assemble actual PCB technology in high-volume. As it stands, there are some 350-odd PCB design, manufacturing, and assembly companies operating in the United States. Otherwise, the market is dominated by East Asia.

While other American tech companies have long since outsourced their assemblage abroad, Badger Technologies remains planted in its domestic roots. Here at our facility in Farmington, New York, we pride ourselves on performing the sort of cost-targeted/high-volume jobs that most American PCB assemblers have simply given up on. The fact that our company has been aggressively expanding its capabilities and employment roster this past year is proof and testament that our willpower and corporate strategy are paying off: American PCB companies can be driving engines behind a vigorous economy.

Of course, given the nature of the global electronic market, and given the fact that the ten largest PCB manufacturing companies are all headquartered in Taiwan, a small degree of outsourcing is essential in retaining our ability to perform large-volume PCB assemblage on the domestic front. To meet that challenge, we have done our homework and done it well. Our “secret weapon” at being cost-effective on an international scale? His name is Joseph Bao.

A lifelong native of Taipei, a husband and a father, and a graduate in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Taiwan, Mr. Bao has been essential in acting as a liaison between our team in Farmington and our Taiwanese industrial partners – a PCB assembly house and a custom cable and wire harness manufacturer. Joseph ensures the quality of product procured from these Taiwanese companies meets American quality standards and globally efficient pricing.

In addition to being a tech-savvy interpolator between the American and Taiwanese markets (Joseph had previous experience working with Cisco Systems in procuring security monitoring systems for their American corporate offices), Joseph is a bit of a renaissance man. At 57, he enjoys the rigors of hiking in the mountains as well as scuba-diving. A devotee of Western classical music, he admits his favorite composition is Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

As well-versed in international culture as he is a connoisseur of international technology, Joseph is the right sort of man for getting Badger’s work done overseas; the ideal co-worker in turning Badger into the momentous success story it continues to become. We look forward to many additional years of collaboration with Mr. Bao in growing Badger into a high-volume PCB assembler that can serve as a model for American business.

Posted on: February 1st, 2012 | Posted in: Uncategorized

We’re Honored to Be Included as One of Rochester’s Top 100 Businesses in 2011

It’s no industry secret that American manufacturing has had to adapt itself to ever-growing complexities and trends in the global supply chain. In order for our manufacturing sector to remain competitive in a tremendous sea of international competition, challenges which previous generations of American businesses never dreamed of facing have become our daily and constant reality. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that companies like Badger Technologies are flourishing across America. By creatively adapting themselves to the realities of changing business and production models, industry of all types remains strong – and perhaps even is priming itself for a comeback – in the United States. We’d like to offer our own company as a case-in-point example.

At present, Badger Technologies is known worldwide for the quality of its printed circuit boards. But believe it or not, Badger started out in an entirely different line of work: as a cable and wire distributor. But after time, customers began asking for assembly as well as distribution services, and by the early 1990s, we were facing an entirely different (and lucrative) business market. After purchasing a small printed circuit board production company in Ohio, we began manufacturing our own PCBs. People began to notice and business began to take off.

Today’s world is very different than those bygone days. But Badger continues to thrive as it adapts itself to the challenges that it – and manufacturing as a whole – continue to face. While other American manufacturers have been busy laying off their factory floors, we’ve actually been expanding our hiring of new engineers. We’ve relocated our facilities to an ideal new setting in beautiful Farmington, NY, a peaceful 25 minutes’ drive south of Rochester. Furthermore, we’re honored this year to announce we’ve been listed as one of the top 100 businesses to look out for in the greater Rochester metropolitan area. We’ve managed all these tasks while still handling all necessary manufacturing assignments with no factory downtime. Thomas Edison said it long before we did, but it bears repeating sometimes: the winning formula remains, “Inspiration plus perspiration.” That’s what it takes to grow and flourish as an American manufacturer.

Posted on: January 10th, 2012 | Posted in: Flexible Circuit Board Assemblies

Top Holiday Gadgets with PCBs in Them

 

The days of Tickle Me Elmo are dead and gone. The new product lines that attract holiday shoppers are – for the large part – pieces of state-of-the-art wizardry that came with the advent of the technological revolutions in the late 90s and 00s. And many (if not all) of these popular holiday gift items employ printed circuit boards in order to function.

Take the Xbox, one of this year’s leading contenders for a Christmas gift. Venturing a look inside an Xbox game controller, we can see just how integral PCB technology has become in providing high-tech holiday cheer. When you press a button on the surface of an Xbox game controller, this activates a particular circuit, which then performs a particular game function. Once the button or switch is brought back to its original position, the electronic circuit goes dormant again. All that loveable shooting, jumping, hurdling, and carjacking action that an Xbox brings you is translated by your thumbs and fingers into ones and zeros on the game console, allowing it to understand your intentions and allowing you (with any luck) to get to the next level.

For tablet computers, the perennial (if the term “perennial” can really be applied to a product that’s only been on the market since January, 2010) contender this year is the mighty Apple iPad. Gobbling 75% of the tablet computer market for 2010 alone with over 15 million units sold worldwide, the iPad relies on PCBs that are intricately designed that other, larger parts (such as batteries) can be integrated inside the tablet with more room to spare. The success of the iPad is reflective of the ongoing trend in PCB technology that allows for ever greater functionality on an ever shrinking total surface area.

Then of course there’s the smartphone, which is being touted already as the most popular tech gift of the 2011 Christmas season. Here the playing-field grows ever wider, with smartphones diverse as the iPhone 4S and the new Droid Razr raking up huge sales-marks across the nation. In fact, 2011 is supposed to mark a watershed year for North American smartphone sales, in that smartphones now predominate (constitute over 50%) cell phone sales in the United States and Canada. Not bad for a technology that was introduced largely back in the stone ages of 2007. Again, the reason that smartphones have been able to dominate as quickly as they’ve been able to (besides their sexy sleekness, their aptitude for Apps, and their high degree of interactivity) is the ability for PCB makers to place higher-performing circuitry on smaller playing PCB playing-fields.

Indeed, the days of Tickle Me Elmo already feel like Neolithic history to today’s yuletide shoppers and shippers. Until that inevitable day when Apple launches their new iElmo, that is.

Posted on: December 23rd, 2011 | Posted in: Flexible Circuit Board Assemblies

Badger Pays its Respects to the “Chairman” of All Circuit Boards, Steve Jobs – Part II

Badger Pays its Respects to Steve JobsIn our last blog entry, we gave a short history of Steve Jobs; how he started his career as a programmer for Atari, and how – true to his restlessly brilliant and creative nature – he quickly grew dissatisfied with his work there, and proceeded to found one of the most path-breaking companies the world has yet to see: Apple, Inc.

Apple’s effect on America and on the world at large is now completely self-evident. But what seems inevitable today didn’t necessarily always feel that way. There was a time back in the late 80s and early 90s when other companies began to outdistance Apple right and left. Microsoft, Cisco, Sun Microsystems, and many other companies began producing computers and software that captured a much greater share of the public eye than Apple could attract.

It didn’t help Apple that Steve Jobs had decided to quit his position there. Ever the restless lone-wolf, and known for having an irascible reputation in an office setting, Jobs decided to build yet another computer company from the ground up, a company he called NeXT. NeXT would be everything that Apple was (in Jobs’ eyes) failing to become: a wellspring for innovative PC programming that would, through sheer application of innovative genius, vault itself to the top of the high-tech heap. Jobs began manufacturing a computer that became known as “the Cube,” a new computer that employed a state-of-the-art (for its time) Motorola 68030 CPU supported by a 68882 FPU for better and faster mathematical calculations. It was a good computer for its time, and it employed excellent printed circuit board technology, but it failed to catch on. By 1990, the Cube had tanked. NeXT and Jobs were both viewed as “space oddity” has-beens.

In the meantime, without Steve Jobs at the helm, Apple continued to fall further and further behind its competitors. In 1996, Jobs was invited back to become a “temporary” managing CEO for Apple, Inc. Jobs accepted his new position with a rekindled passion for taking Apple to the heights he had initially envisioned. At the time Jobs came back to Apple, Apple was working on a sprawling diversity of products. Jobs stopped almost every single one of those projects dead in its tracks, and focused his company’s efforts on developing a mere six new products for that year.

But the products were ahead of their time. Already Jobs had begun imagining – and sometimes actively producing – prototypes for the iPod and various new iMac desktop and laptop computers. The new ideas began to pick up steam, and spread like wildfire. Apple began taking back its share of the market from its overblown behemoth of a competitor, Microsoft. Microsoft still had an amazing and voluminous line of products, and dominated the market, but Apple’s newfangled credibility made smart heads turn and eyebrows raise in wonderment and appreciation.

These new Apple products featured ever more sophisticated drives and digital signal processors, and monitors with smaller printed circuit boards that focused on connecting with USB and Firewire pass-throughs, unlike other, larger, unwieldy PCBs.

The designs continued to improve, the circuit boards grew continuously both smaller and more powerful, to the point where, for example, an Apple Nano iPod, or an Apple iPhone, contained technological programming that couldn’t be matched by competitors at the moment of its introduction.

With Steve Jobs’ recent passing due to pancreatic cancer, the future remains uncertain for Apple. Will Apple continue to follow in the almost mythological path mapped out by its founder, or will it slump into just another computer company among dozens? Time will tell, but no-one will be able to soon forget the heyday of Steve Jobs as CEO (and temper-tantrum boss) of Apple, and the incredible products that seemed to follow from everything he touched.

Posted on: December 12th, 2011 | Posted in: Uncategorized