ECI Screenprint's world is populated by technical schematics, precision machinery, and demanding applications. But as you'll discover, it's the human element that ultimately allows this industrial-printing specialist to grow and explore new technologies.
The study is in its second phase. The first round of testing involved surface-mount-component application to flexible circuitry. ECI did the printing and surface-mount assembly, and industry vendor Nicomatic handled all of the testing. Phase two centers around the use of different conductive materials and different dielectric or insulating materials, combining them in multiple ways all on one printed sheet, and then conducting lifecycle assessments and aging tests under the care of Don Banfield, founder of Conductive Compounds.
“ECI is participating by printing the product. There are two other printers in the US in different locations who have printed the same pattern. ECI is doing all the assembly, and then we’re sending that over to Don to test different places on the patterns to measure breakdown and other factors.”
Cooks explains that the group’s goal isn’t to establish standards. ASTM already has standards for membrane switches that include a variety of switch types and methods for testing. Instead, the study aims to identify which processes and materials are most compatible and hold up best in producing membrane switches.
“We’ve got different types of materials out there, different types of conductive materials—not just brands, but actual resins and compounds. They’re used kind of carte blanche across the board. Some are better than other in certain applications,” he says. “We’re trying to prove some of those things out, because each company thinks its way is the best way. Don’t we all? If you pick through it, a lot of manufacturers do things in a similar way, but without testing they don’t really know which method performs better than the other and why. This is a blind test. We have three different companies printing the same thing, and no one knows who’s who. Each just sends its samples in for testing, and you come up with some data. It’ll be shared with the society, and we hope to find useful details that printed-electronics manufacturers may find useful and interesting.”
The secret to ECI’s success
Collaborating with customers is a major part of ECI’s culture and is one that is a significant contributor to the business’s growth. A customer who brings an idea or a project to ECI is first involved in what Cook calls a design interview. Cook joins ECI’s estimator, a customer-service representative, and a designer to meet with the client and discuss ideas, goals, and expectations. Attempting to understand the customer’s wants and needs is a critical step in the design process.
“It might be they don’t like the color blue—something as simple as that,” he says, “or maybe they’re trying to put too many things in a small package and we can foresee problems that may not surface immediately. Those are the challenges we love. Sitting down one-on-one with the customer is the best scenario because many times we get design drawings that are complete and released, which makes it very difficult at that point to get the customer to go back and change things.”
Cook’s preference is to get in on the ground floor with customers. As he explains it, the product always comes out better and is less expensive.
“There’s always something we catch or can show them,” he says. “That’s what makes us excited to get up in the morning and do this. It’s all about the new products, the new ideas, and the innovation. That’s the fun part of our business.”
Cook stresses that all of the company’s achievements—from relocating to a facility 15 times larger than the one in which ECI started, to enjoying double-digit growth for the past five years—rest on a foundation of solid customer relationships. And that’s one thing he says will never change.
“We’ve done a lot of interesting projects over the years. From the beginning until now the focus hasn’t really shifted, and that’s heavy customer service and a get-it-done attitude, where you do everything possible to complete the job for the customer. We built the company on that, and we continue to do so to this day.”
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