April - 2016 - issue > Company of the Month
Sierra Circuits Triggering the Signal Integrity Revolution
SI Team
Friday, April 1, 2016
Ken Bahl is not your typical CEO. As head of Sierra Circuits, a fast-growing Silicon Valley company that produces and assembles high technology Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs),he is a man who cherishes ideas and loves to convert ideas to reality."If we envision a server farm that could store twice the data and produce half the heat that it does today or if the solar energy produced was two to three times greater than energy currently being produced, this would have the power to change the world." These are not just ideas, "but are dreams that will transform to reality in the coming years"-with Sierra Circuits' mission being revolutionizing and implementing change," begins Bahl.

With over three decades of expertise in the semiconductor arena, Sierra places emphasis on educating the designer community on what it takes to manufacture electronics and avoid common pitfalls, seen day to day. "Manufacturing a few pieces is very different from making 10,000pieces. We can help in the transition from prototype to production," Bahl adds. In a prototype environment, when 100-200customer orders are shipped on a daily basis, it is amounting challenge to ensure every order is shipped on time with no compromises pertaining to quality. Real-time management of activities and quick resolution of issues arising from any aspect of operations is the need of the hour. Bala Bahl, Sierra Circuit's VP of Operations and Co-Owner, understands this requirement. Thanks to her management, Sierra boasts above 95 percent on-time delivery rates. With astonishing energy and commitment, Bala tackles customer service, product pricing, production, purchasing and accounting functions instantly.

By creating high-end technology and bringing value to designers, Sierra strives to create a technical revolution that enables Internet of Things (IoT) devices. "This goal can be achieved by solving the common challenges found within IoT devices," Bahl asserts. Some of the largest IoT challenges include maintaining and improving the integrity of information that is transmitted from one device to another in a cost effective, timely fashion. "One must carefully inspect complete path of the signal-from the moment it is created, to the end point and ensure it has been fully optimized." "If we consider the cost of each device that transmits the information to be less than what it is today, and the data integrity to be the same at twice the speed, then one has created a value for the industry that does not exist today."

Sierra is strengthening these four legs of our proverbial tool-customer service, tools, manufacturing, and responsiveness after the customer has received the product. The company's specialty products are high-density interconnect, fine line geometrics down to 25 microns with one ounce of copper, flex, and rigid-flex materials for products with space constraints. "What makes Sierra unique is our ability to proffer both service and support for the manufacturability of newly designed products." One of Sierra's most crucial benefits is their quick turn time. Because they do the design, fabrication and assembly in-house, they alleviate any miscommunication between multiple vendors that might occur with other vendors.

With an emphasis on continuous improvement, Sierra recognizes that one of the crucial aspects of running any successful business lies in customer satisfaction."Our focus is on developing partners and not just one-time transaction customers," says Bala. In one instance, Bates Research and Engineering Center at MIT was engaged by the Brookhaven laboratory to design readout electronics for an upgrade to the detector system of the STAR experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC). Bates is part of MIT's Lab for Nuclear Science. The first prototype module was a composite of two boards nominated together, which distributed the chips' inputs via bond wires to edge connectors. This was very expensive to fabricate and assemble, and permitted no rework once a chip was bonded to the board. To reduce the cost of the module, enable the readout chips to be tested immediately before installation, permit rework and simplify the application, Bates developed a ball grid array (BGA) package and redesigned the readout module. When the BGA subtracts faced few challenges, Sierra fabricated the subtracts as well as the boards for the tracker modules, each of which monitors640 channels. As a result, the packages were assembled appropriately. When a BGA test socket was used to evaluate the basic functionality of the assembled devices, 94 percent yield was achieved.

By offering customers with unique solutions needed to be successful, Bahl also believes in hiring determined, loyal and productive employees, who can experience secure employment at Sierra. "We also provide them long term benefits like profit sharing, 401k, and recognition for jobs well done," Bahl says. By continually reinvesting in the capabilities and training to manufacture the best PCBs possible, Sierra is also initiating a revolution of technology efficiency.

With continuous improvement and zeal to excel, Bahl assures that in 2016, Sierra will be able to mass produce one mil lines for all of electronics-with very high yields. Being the winner of the "2015 Excellence Award for excellence in consumer solutions" awarded by the U.S. Commerce and Trade Institute, Sierra is also focused on creating the intellectual property for the signal integrity revolution. "Facebook created the social revolution; Elon Musk revolutionized the space and automobile industries, and Sierra will trigger the signal integrity revolution in the communication industry," concludes Bahl.
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