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Publication Date: 08/1/2010
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Made in the USA: the NBS Story
NBS president Michael Maslana in front of newly installed production line.

Founded in 1999 in Santa Barbara, California as a printed circuit board layout firm, NBS soon expanded its activities. The company privately raised funds and started up manufacturing services in 2004 and located its plant in Santa Clara, California. Since that time, it has grown to nearly $100M in annual revenue.

Thus NBS was able to ride the wave of increased outsourcing that has gradually taken hold to the point where virtually all manufacturing is contracted to electronic manufacturing service (EMS) providers. The U.S. electronics business, like much of our economy craves cheaper labor and logistics costs. This has caused much of the American electronic business requirements to be sourced in low cost regions such as Asia and Mexico.

Non-Traditional Approach
Traditional EMS thinking involves the costs associated with courting, landing and servicing clients. This mental set dictates that it is far better to have a smaller number of large customers instead of the other way around. NBS embarked upon the second path to develop and offer a unique set of services that would enable the company to capture a large and diverse customer base.

This was accomplished by selecting new product introduction (NPI) and high mix low volume (HMLV) as its gateway. This meant diversification was achieved not by specializing in any single technology or industry demographic, but by creating a factory that could build product more rapidly while producing many more different models than its competitors. And the market has clearly responded. NBS currently has nearly 200 active customers and adds 50 to 60 new accounts per year.

The decision to cater to this niche was born from the relationships with engineering departments, starting with its roots as a layout specialist. The selection to locate in Silicon Valley, widely recognized as the world-wide leader in invention and innovation, was also crucial to NBS' success.

The majority of OEMs prefer their contract manufacturer (CM) to be local. As products are designed and developed there is a need for close and frequent contact and interaction between the parties. The result is a steady flow of new opportunities and business, without the large-scale loss of business to the traditional low-cost manufacturing regions of the world. And the expertise gained by seeing and mastering so many different technologies has benefits for all.

Commitment to Quality
We have all heard the statement that quality is a given. We can all agree that a company cannot succeed nor survive if it doesn't provide consistent product that meets its customer's requirements and expectations. When the founders of NBS were envisioning being able to offer manufacturing, they made a commitment to utilizing a technology that had never before been mastered — structural testing and verification — the use of 3-dimensional x-ray technology to verify the integrity, quality and long-term reliability of its solder joints. Before long NBS was recognized as an industry expert. Not only were its OEM customers specifying this procedure, but many of its EMS competitors were outsourcing to NBS. Electronic manufacturing of highly technical complex custom product in an NPI environment is extremely challenging. The majority of the builds are one of a kind, never to be repeated. NBS utilized data collected from its structural test and verification to learn much in the way of improving its programming and processes — needed to ensure the highest possible quality first time, every time. Engineers and quality personnel alike appreciate the fact that NBS product works as designed, thus shortening the product development cycle.

Engineering Expertise
OEMs have been downsizing for years. As a result, the more that an EMS provider can offer, the greater are its opportunities to capture, grow and maintain lasting relationships. At NBS this began with computer aided design (CAD) services. Once the decision was made to offer manufacturing, the mindset was to introduce design for manufacturability (DFx) evaluative engineering services to the NPI world. Before and perhaps since no company has provided the level of detailed scrutiny and feedback of its customer's designs. The goal is both the success of its customer, and what might be termed a selfish aim: to be the best. In such a rapid-paced environment, there isn't room for delay where lines are changed over in but a few minutes and 100+ different PCB assemblies are manufactured on a weekly basis.

When one of its founders expressed a strong desire in 2006 to return to live and work in his native land, a business within a business was born. An important engine for NBS' NPI success is its manufacturing engineering group based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The time difference provides a very special advantage, enabling the factory's equipment to be programmed the day before, tremendously aiding in the execution of rapid builds and frequent product changeovers.

Since its formation, the charter of the group has been increased to include component engineering services. It began with the industry mandate for the removal of lead in electronic components (RoHS) and continues in today's challenging market of long lead-times, short-supply and obsolescence. To address the needs of some of its layout customers for lower cost, the group now performs some of the initial tasks required in designing PCBs.

Bold Capital Investment
From the beginning, the thinking and practice of its founders/management team was to purchase only what they carefully evaluated as the best equipment for the application, without regard to its cost. And everything was purchased new, affording the company the latest and greatest in performance features, as well as the technical support from its supplier partners.

Equipment in the lineup include Cadence Allegro for CAD, Valor Trilogy for DFx, Juki Automation's pick-and-place machines, and Agilent automatic optical inspection (AOI) and 3D X-Ray — a total that is truly greater than the sum of the individual parts. The company has spent more than $10M to capitalize what is now widely recognized as one of the finest NPI, HMLV operations in the U.S., if not the world.

More than anything else, what has enabled NBS to achieve its success is its investment in off-line equipment. NBS has more component feeders and trolleys than perhaps any EMS of any size.

It was the strategic acquisition of CompServ in January 2009 that was extraordinarily daring. To purchase another company during the worst economic slump in anyone's memory was indeed a bold move. CompServ was a project management company that was an original NBS customer. Its acquisition brought with it two new members to the NBS senior management team, bringing with them a wealth of customers as well as the team's collective experience. The result has been dramatic. NBS has since doubled its revenue and increased its profit margin.

Innovation and Opportunity
At NBS, opportunities drive innovation and innovation creates opportunities. Its most recent initiative is to provide medical, aerospace and military customers with product traceability through use of radio frequency identification (RFID).

This new system will support the tracking of all material used in the various processes for the assembly of PCBs. All materials — boards, components, solder paste, and flux can be followed from their receipt through all the processes right down to the individual placement position on the board, including printing, assembly, inspection and soldering. All data are stored in a database which facilitates tracking and generating traceability reports. This ensures complete transparency for process validation and error analysis.

At NBS, a successful company is based on people relationships, not business to business. While boasting a substantial sales channel consisting of direct account managers and manufacturers representatives, the company's best sales force consists of client referrals.

A business euphemism says that you market a product and sell a service. In spite of this, NBS saw the need and importance of marketing itself. Brand creation and identity was created with the proclamation: "NBS means No BS". An international marketing firm, Protean, was enlisted to assist in creating first-rate collateral materials, and its website, as well as to regularly publicize important milestones. The result has been that a regional company has obtained attention from and customer leads from all over the U.S.

Contact: NBS, 2950 Patrick Henry Drive, Santa Clara, CA 95054 408-654-1100 E-mail: Web:

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