New Technologies, Novel Solutions

Surface Mount Technology Corporation

Headquartered in Appleton, Wisconsin, the company has provided fast, cost-effective, high quality manufacturing and engineering services since 1997, when it was started by Christopher Sumnicht. Coming from a tier-1 contract manufacturer that provided these services, he observed that companies were often cast aside by contract manufacturers in favor of larger customers. “Many companies still have the need for electronics manufacturing, but may not have an attractive volume of a larger company,” explains Chris Sumnicht, company President and CEO.

Offering engineering and manufacturing services has been the backbone of SMT’s business, and the company has evolved over the years to pursue larger companies that have select electronic manufacturing needs. “We’ve geared our focus on large industry leaders that are mechanical in nature, but need some electronics work,” Paul Walker, Business Development Manager, says. “For example, we manufacture electronics for a major high-end consumer electronics company. Most people think of their plumbing products, but they also have items that require electronics. Their electronics spend is smaller than what would attract larger contract manufacturers. That’s where we come in.” Specifically, SMT delivers electronic manufacturing services focused around the areas of Printed Circuit Board (PCB) assembly, rapid prototyping, testing, and high-level assembly services.

The company provides electronic manufacturing services (EMS) and solutions to improve product time to market, while reducing total costs for clients. The specialized knowledge and expertise SMT and its workers provide in manufacturing, supply chain management, and customer relations in the EMS industry make subcontracting to SMT a smart move for clients in a variety of fields.

SMT also provides inventory management solutions – designed for each customer and based on their needs – to allow flexibility while limiting total costs and material liability. Other specializations include global procurement, just-in-time shipments, managing 25,000 unique customer part numbers, multiple integrated vendor stocking programs, point of use and floor stock programs, supplier consigned Inventory, vendor managed inventory (VMI) and volume purchasing power.

SMT’s capabilities for its clients also include surface mount and through hole placements, x-ray, potting and conformal coating, 0201 components, flex circuit board assembly, file management, in-circuit / functional testing, global distribution management and logistics, and system level testing.

Mr. Walker feels that it is the firm’s engineering strength that sets the company apart in the contract manufacturing market. SMT Engineering, LLC (SMT Engineering) operates autonomously from SMT, and offers complete electronic product development services during the entire design cycle, from concept to production. The company provides turnkey solutions such as product specification, electronic hardware design, firmware / software design, PCB layout, mechanical design, prototype electronic assemblies, EMC compliance, and test fixtures. These services are also offered individually to clients depending on their requirements.

SMT Engineering has developed a variety of embedded controls for many industries, including industrial controls, medical, automotive, and the high-end consumer industries. “The amount of engineering depth that we have for a company of our size is pretty big,” Mr. Walker acknowledges. “We have customers that are large companies with smaller engineering departments than we do. We have very strong technical engineering resources.”

SMT Engineering’s focus on detail and simplicity provides robust, reliable, high performance solutions at minimal cost and faster time-to-market for its clients. These qualities, along with its strategic partnerships with key distributors and chip manufacturers, such as Microchip, have contributed to SMT’s overall growth and success.

“We’re tight with our suppliers – for example, we have multiple design partnerships with chip manufacturers such as Texas Instruments, Freescale and Microchip,” shares Mr. Walker. “We work closely with their R&D center and when new technologies are developed we make sure our staff is well-trained to promote new products such as MiWi, mTouch, Bluetooth LE, LED Lighting Controls, CAN and Motor Controls, and many more.” A new partnership just announced in the M2M space is with Intwine Connect, LLC (Intwine). Intwine is an independent company that develops hardware, software and services for Cloud-based monitoring, management and utilization of business-critical performance data. Intwine sought out SMT for its Linux development experience to help customize solutions for companies seeking user-friendly, real-time, two-way communications. “Finding the right partners to leverage experiences and services is key to offering customers a world class product made in the USA,” notes Mr. Walker.

These partnerships are key to SMT accommodating the needs of its customers. “With our engineering strengths, we like to keep our customers heavily involved and help them design the most cost-efficient, highest quality product out of the gate. Our philosophy is that if our customers have a product that is low-cost and reliable, they should sell more and in turn, we should be able to build more.”

In order to offer these services, a strong workforce is needed. “Here in the Appleton, WI / Fox Valley area, we work closely with the local colleges and staffing services for training and developing a highly technical pool of workers. Having the availability of good talent is necessary; we emphasize that people who work at SMT have the ability to make a difference and grow within our organization,” says Brian Lamers, COO. “We added 23 production workers in the last year and continue to bring in additional staff as the sales level continues to grow above forecasted levels.

Of course, new product development is strongly emphasized at SMT, whether clients use their own in-house design or work with SMT’s design company. While moving new products into the manufacturing stage can be a challenge in the electronics industry, Mr. Walker says that SMT is “very comfortable and efficient” when it comes to getting its customers’ products developed and transitioned to market.

In such a competitive industry, SMT has faced its share of challenges. With many companies looking to save money by off-shoring their manufacturing needs, SMT sees a lot of its customers trending to on-shoring to meet their needs in a way that other companies cannot. “A lot of our customers are price conscious,” Mr. Walker says. “A lot of customers have found that designing automation in, increases quality and decreases price.” Recently there has been a re-shoring effort to move electronics manufacturing back to North America as a result.”

Another challenge is that many of SMT’s customers are in the construction and housing markets, which have been largely flat in the United States over the past few years. However, Mr. Walker still sees opportunities for the company.

“Currently, there is a big push for machine-to-machine and Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, and other types of cloud-based, web technology from our clients,” Mr. Walker shares. “This represents a huge opportunity for us right now. We can develop and manufacture the products and work with cloud providers to set our clients up with this service. We have a strong network ready to address this industry trend.”

Another industry trend SMT plans to tackle is LED lighting, as more and more facilities focus on energy savings throughout the world. “LED continues to explode, and it’s probably in only 10 to 15 percent of lights worldwide, so there are lots of opportunities for this market to grow. Customers understand the lighting requirements, but they don’t understand how to design a custom electronics solution in this ever changing industry.” SMT works primarily with architectural lighting, special customized designs, and other unique circumstances.

Future plans for the company include attracting additional market leaders from a customer standpoint and transitioning the firm’s customer base toward higher-level assembly. “We have a business model that will drive up business for our clients,” says Mr. Walker. “We are looking to provide one-stop shop services for our customers and provide complete fulfillment for them – design, build, assemble, and box the entire product for them. We can assist them with distribution and shipping.”

Other plans include expanding further into the connectivity market and incorporating wireless design aspects from the engineering division into the manufacturing side of the company.

This ability to be flexible and adaptable to meet the needs of its customers is what helps keep SMT an attractive fit to many companies. “We’re in the customer service business,” Mr. Walker says simply. “We are flexible and nimble and can do business in many different ways to meet our customers’ needs. Thinking outside the box and our engineering strength have helped us stay engaged with our customers and provide them with the most cost-efficient, high quality, out-the-gate products. If our customers have a product that we designed that is reliable, they will keep coming back.”

As demand for new and emerging technologies continues to grow, SMT’s commitment and dedication to quality and cost-efficiency will ensure that the company meets with success for years to come.

October 20, 2017, 8:11 AM EDT

Wind on the Rise

In the world of renewable energy, wind power is growing fast. It is projected that 10 percent of the energy generated in the United States will come from wind farms by 2020. Offshore wind farms are a relatively new addition to the American energy market, but the technology has been well established in Europe and is now taking off state-side as well.