Why Do Board Shops Ask So Many Darn Questions?

June 26, 2019

Steve Williams moderates the discussion between fab house Prototron Circuits’ Mark Thompson,  and layout engineer CA Design’s Bob Chandler.

 

Steve: Hi, Steve Williams for iConnect 007 and once again we’re here with Mark Thompson of Prototron circuits and Bob Chandler of CA Design. This is our series on getting board shops and designers to talk together, good morning, guys.

Steve: So, a really interesting topic to go over today is why do board shops ask so many darn questions? And this is questions back to the customer, right? Whether that’s a contract manufacturer, an OEM or a design service. So, Mark, why don’t you take that and get it started?

Mark: Well, ultimately, it’s to clarify the engineer’s intentions and ensure that they’re building to the engineer’s wishes. An example of that is something that Steve just brought up a minute ago, which is editing drawing notes. If you’ve got 15 notes that aren’t relevant to the board design, don’t call them out, get rid of them. And so that they don’t create those questions and those pesky phone calls from the fabricator. Sometimes they’re flat out wrong. I had an occasion this morning where I had a wrong call out for impedances. The drawing called out layers one, three, four, and eight and while looking at the data, I saw that they were actually on layers one, three, five and eight. So, having miscommunication like that could create havoc.

Steve: I know CA Design is really good with their doc packages Bob; what about other companies? Why do you think this is so difficult to do for other guys?

Bob: Standard notes. Everybody likes the idea of standard notes because they never have to touch them. The problem comes in that the standard notes are there as a starting point, not an ending point so many engineers rely on the standard notes as being the ending point that they don’t even have to look at.

Steve 2: Interesting.

Steve: Do you just think that one of the things we’ve talked about, it’s a little bit off-topic, but you know, the influx of new engineers and youth and people coming into the business that don’t have that experience. Do you think that plays into this a little bit as far as knowing what has to be on and what doesn’t?

Mark: Without a doubt. Okay, you going to get phone calls saying, you know, is that note I even need? I’ll say, yeah. It depends on what your intentions are. What’s your job application? What’s your board application?

Steve: Hmm. And what other, what kinds of things?

Bob: So many of them are engineers, the EE’s are doing their own layout and an EE may do one board a year where a PC designer may do one board a week and the PC designer knows to change the notes. The engineer might not.

Mark: Right.

Steve: So, one of the challenges that people like Mark have is frustrating the customer with a lot of questions, right? How do you balance that line between I’ve got to get the information I need versus ticking the customer off or asking too many questions?

Mark: I know one thing that I like to do is, if I run into something that I know the answer to already, I ask it in such a way that it’s a foregone conclusion. Netlist anomalies, for instance, a good designer always builds in an a-ground to b-ground short. But instead of just calling and saying, Hey, I’m stopping the job and you’ve got an a-ground short; I’ll say you’ve defined it as net zero or net one, it looks like it’s very much intentional. Can we safely proceed? Or an example would be castellated holes or edge-plated holes, something like that. It screens who this is going to be making a connection to a post at some point later on. It’s like, so I’ll come up with exactly 16 broken nets, but guess what I’ll have? I’ll count around the periphery of the board and I’ll see there is exactly 16 castellated holes again, if I can make it a foregone conclusion, it sort of comes off a little bit better and it takes the pressure off of them saying, hey, you know, what are you asking is silly question.

Steve: Bob, you guys offer not just the, does CA design, do you actually have design ownership on anything you’re doing, or does that go back to the customer?

Bob: That goes back to the customer, our clients always own the data. 

Steve: So, you’ve got, you’ve got another layer of communication to manage on these kinds of things too, where Mark may go to you and then you’ve got to go to your customer and all the way back through that supply chain, right? 

Bob: Yeah. 

Steve: Well one of the things Mark, that being from the other side of the table a while back in in a prior life, that one thing that really pisses a customer off is asking a bunch of questions, going back to the customer through Bob, getting them all resolved and then coming back with a second set of questions a week later. Right? How do we avoid that kind of a thing?

Mark: I’ll get all your questions all together with the first shot straight out of the gate, you know, I can’t tell you how many times I’ll say to a CAM operator, they’ll say, oh, I’ve got a problem here. And he’ll ask one question and I’ll say, have you run a full analysis yet? That’s the very second thing that comes out of my mouth. I’ll say, have you run a full analysis yet? We’re not going to go to the customer and I’m not going to ask him or her one question at a time and take the risk of pissing them off and ultimately ask all the questions all at once. 

Steve: Excellent. Any parting words of wisdom Bob on this topic? 

Bob: Just that designers need to not take it personally when a question comes up.

Mark: Yup.

Steve: That’s a great point because a lot of times they do, and a lot of them don’t want to go back to the customer for some reason, right? 

Mark: Right! They’re going to think it reflects badly on them and it really doesn’t, I mean, you’ve got to get these questions answered. Sometimes I’ll get situations where if I’m going through a middle party, that middle party may not understand completely what the intention of the question is. And they’ll say, can you just call the end-user on this thing? And because we have over 5,000 customers, frequently I’m calling directly to the end-use customer, but only with the authorization of that middle person. Okay? 

Steve: Right, they are your customer. 

Mark: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. 

Steve: Alright guys, well, important topic. You guys brought some, some light to it and I appreciate it. So, once again, Steve Williams for iConnect 007, and thanks for listening.