NCAB provides its customers with a full-service offering from design support to logistics solutions, with end-to-end accountability. Local presence, technical expertise (for example design support), rigid quality procedures (for example vetting and auditing processes for manufacturer qualification) and purchasing power are key components to the core offering.
NCAB owns no production facilities. Instead NCAB purchases its products from a network of manufacturers. NCAB currently has 18 preferred manufacturers, 13 of which are located in China. NCAB’s five other preferred manufacturers are located in Europe and the U.S. and are used primarily for prototyping and for orders with very short lead times. NCAB aims to account for at least 15 percent of the preferred manufacturers’ turnover to secure a close relationship, improve purchasing power and to gain priority of each manufacturer.
Through its manufacturer network, NCAB can offer its customers almost all types of PCBs. In order to ensure high flexibility, capacity, capability and strong purchasing power in its customer offering, NCAB strives to multi-source all PCB technologies. Through multi-sourcing, NCAB can offer high capacity and quality as well as low prices and short lead times in almost any PCB technology that the customer requests.
NCAB has a strong purchasing power since NCAB aggregates customer demand to manufacturers, creating large order volumes for the manufacturers to benefit from. This enables NCAB to offer its customers competitive prices and terms.
NCAB has built deep, long-term relationships with its preferred manufacturers. NCAB works closely with the preferred manufacturers to improve quality and efficiency in the production, making NCAB a preferred and prioritized customer as well as providing NCAB with solid knowledge of the manufacturers’ capacities and capabilities.
Technical and design support
As a part of NCAB’s full-service offering, NCAB offers design support for all new designs. NCAB’s design support aims to increase the efficiency of its customers’ PCB designs, ensuring that the PCBs are optimally designed for producibility and in accordance with the specifications. This enables lower production costs without impairing the function or quality of the PCB. NCAB’s technicians work together with its customers’ designers to advice on how to make more advanced boards with the latest technologies. One of the most important tasks for NCAB’s technicians is the handling of customer complaints, which is crucial as it normally means production stop for the customer.
The customer provides NCAB with their design in an image format specified for PCBs, the most frequent example of which is a Gerber file. A Gerber file is a digital drawing in a specific format and comprises all data needed in terms of design and specifications. However approximately 30 percent of all Gerber files provided by customers are faulty or incomplete, which is why NCAB’s design support is essential. NCAB points out potential areas of improvement for producibility and completeness of the provided specifications and recommends changes to the design. If the manufacturer has follow-up questions or remarks on the PCB specifications, NCAB acts as a filter towards the customer, forwarding only relevant questions and remarks.
NCAB’s technicians are experienced within PCB production. The technicians work daily with Gerber files and customer-specific solutions and most technicians have many years of experience of PCB production. NCAB’s technicians have experience of and aim at producing PCBs at the lowest possible cost without compromising the customers design goals. This service works equally well with either OEM or EMS customers.
NCAB offers prototyping to its customers, provided that the prototype order has volume potential. A PCB prototype is made in order to verify that the design of the PCB works in practice. As for prototype orders, the Chinese preferred manufacturers can typically not deliver the prototypes at a short enough lead time to European and U.S. customers. Therefore, prototypes are typically sourced from the preferred manufacturers in Europe or the U.S. NCAB’s ability to offer both prototyping and subsequent volume production shortens time to market and reduces risks of extra costs for the customer, since insufficient communication between prototype manufacturers and volume producers can make the process inefficient and delay time to market.
NCAB carries out both proactive and reactive quality assurance. Design support, rigorous manufacturer audits, and extensive production specifications are examples of NCAB’s proactive efforts to ensure quality. NCAB’s reactive quality assurance includes rigid processes for handling of complaints, to have a local point of contact for the customer, and to have local laboratories in larger NCAB of offices which can examine the PCBs for potential defects. If new PCBs must be produced as replacement for defect PCBs, NCAB has a wide manufacturer network which can produce replacement PCBs within a couple of days. NCAB takes full responsibility for any problems that occur, which decreases the customers’ costs for handling defects.
Institute Printed Circuits (“IPC”) is a global standards institution for PCBs providing established standards for PCB production. To ensure high quality, NCAB has introduced and applies its own quality standards on top of IPCs industry standards, with the aim of reaching higher quality levels. All stages of the production process, from design to freight, are optimized to ensure quality and minimize the number of faulty deliveries. Production is followed by a stringent product specification and quality control process. Each production batch goes through manual as well as automated inspection before delivery.
NCAB’s quality assurance work is performed by its factory management team, which works proactively together with NCAB’s manufacturers, at their factories to increase the quality of the products.
Through close proximity to manufacturers, rigid processes and dense follow-up, internally as well as externally towards manufacturers, short lead times and high delivery precision are ensured. To ensure high delivery precision, NCAB has a close relationship with its two main logistics partners. Further, NCAB has logistics functions in every country where it has presence. On-time delivery is a key feature as PCBs are often the last components to arrive in an assembly line.
Orders produced in China are delivered from the manufacturer to NCAB’s export terminal in Hong Kong and are shipped from there directly or indirectly, via one of NCAB’s warehouses, to the customers. PCBs produced in Europe and the U.S. are, with a few exceptions, delivered directly from the manufacturer to NCAB’s customers. Shipments are in some cases delivered directly to the customer, however in most cases they are stored at local NCAB facilities for a number of days to ensure on-time delivery. To ensure short lead times, factory management is monitoring all shipments from the manufacturer, making sure any deviations from the schedule are taken care of.
NCAB serves approximately 1,650 EMS and OEM customers, who mainly hires NCAB when purchasing PCBs within the HMLV segment. The customers are located in 45 countries worldwide. In 2017, the two largest customers combined accounted for less than 12 percent of NCAB’s revenues. The ten largest customers accounted for approximately 27 percent and the 50 largest customers for approximately 50 percent of the Group’s revenues, showing that NCAB has a diversified customer base.
Just over half of NCAB’s customers are active in the industrial sector. Typical industrial customers manufacture electronic components for advanced industrial products which makes quality and reliability important. NCAB also has customers in other sectors, such as med-tech, telecom and automotive.
Sales and marketing
NCAB has 51 Key Account Managers (KAMs) focusing on developing the existing customer base and on marketing NCAB’s offer to existing and new customers. The KAMs are NCAB’s local points of contact for the customers. The KAMs and their teams have a central role in NCAB’s business and they manage and establish customer relationships on a relatively independent basis. The KAMs ensure parallel interaction with the customers at all decision-making levels, creating a common understanding of the customers’ requirements with the aim to achieve the desired quality and delivery precision. The local companies have responsibility for the entire supply chain, from the design stage, via prototyping, production and quality control to delivery. In addition to its KAMs, NCAB has 14 Global Account Managers coordinating and assisting in the work towards NCAB’s global customers, i.e. customers who are customers of several companies in NCAB. As of 31 March 2018, NCAB had 365 employees, of which almost all have customer contact and are part of the sales process. For example, NCAB’s technicians interact with the customers’ technicians in the design support process, thus contributing in the sales process.
Marketing is primarily conducted through fairs, newsletters, blogs, seminars and NCAB’s website. NCAB also host open and customized seminars with different topics. For example, a topic for such a seminar can be PCB design and the technicians then take part in the sales processes and marketing activities.
The NCAB factory management organization aims to ensure the continuity and performance of all NCAB’s Asian manufacturers. The factory management consists of 61 employees, based mainly in China, creating close relationships with the manufacturers. The team is responsible for managing and developing NCAB’s manufacturing portfolio in line with market needs and NCAB’s standards. The factory management staff works closely with the manufacturers to ensure quality in the production through auditing and optimization of their production processes and sustainability practices as well as through the development of new sourcing opportunities. Their most important key performance indicators are quality, delivery performance and pricing.
NCAB uses multi-sourcing as each manufacturer has different capabilities and capacities, ensuring high capacity regardless of PCB type and volume. Manufacturers are typically more or less specialized within a few technologies, consequently multi-sourcing is crucial to ensure high capacity regardless of utilization levels at individual manufacturers. NCAB strives to multi-source every level of technology, resulting in the possibility to switch between manufacturers in the same category depending on price, quality and availability. Another important mission is to develop and maintain NCAB’s Preferred Supplier List. The sourcing of new manufacturers is an important task for the factory management team and is triggered by markets demands and increased capacity need.
The process of sourcing new manufacturers is rigid and entails research and benchmarking, factory visits to confirm data, sampling and verification, audits and follow-up visits, as well as educating the manufacturer’s staff. When a manufacturer passes the approval process, it is incorporated in NCAB’s development program. This means that NCAB’s factory management team works integrated with the manufacturers to improve production efficiency and quality down on a production line level.
NCAB measures quality as number of deliveries without customer complaints in relation to total number of deliveries and measures delivery precision as number of order lines delivered within the specified delivery time in relation to total number of order lines. Since the start-up of factory management, the quality has increased from 96.5-99.3 percent and the delivery precision has increased from 84-95 percent. NCAB is perceived as one of the leading market participants as regards quality control and quality assurance.