Sierra Circuits: Quantifying Efficiency, One Board at a Time

Ken Bahl, CEO and Amit Bahl, Director of Marketing & Sales

In the race between technology and efficacy, one seldom leads the other. The semiconductor world is on the cusp of a revolution as the humble printed circuit board (PCB) stands to be challenged by a better, and more advanced technological innovation. There is a vision, to change every part of the electronics industry, starting with the education of the electrical engineers who build the electronics to creating the service function for the designers who design the product. All this, in a way that engineers can take the 6-month long job and reduce it down to just one—changing the efficiency of the entire electronics industry in terms of its cost, cycle time, reliability, functionality. That vision is now real and is the lifeblood of Sierra Circuits, an electronics design, manufacturing, and assembly Skunkworks, specializing in state of the art semiconductor product development.

The company was founded on a “roll-up our sleeves” reaction to everything that founder thought inefficient about the electronics industry. “What I was looking at in the industry was so inefficient that it destroyed my motivation to be a part of it. So I knew that this had to be changed,” states CEO Ken Bahl. He started the company as a PCB manufacturer, and his original observation was that it took months to make them, something Sierra was going to achieve in one day. Sierra is one of the top 50 companies in the PCB industry today. What mushroomed out of an overwhelming amount of inefficiency of the people, processes, and designs, gave strength to Sierra. The formation of the company led to them inventing new technologies, in a setting where everything started becoming more possible, to make a substantial difference in the industry.

Selling Time on Demand

The core of Sierra’s capabilities includes PCB design, manufacturing, and assembly. The idea behind their methods is to get things done quickly. Sierra does not outsource anything and performs all their operations internally, which in and of itself, is a huge competitive advantage. For Sierra, being able to come up with a design means that they are developing their solutions to their manufacturing capabilities with a clear view of everything together, from concept to manufacturing. Traditionally, in the PCB industry, there is a separate design company, PC fabrication company, and assembly company; and none of these companies talk to each other in any meaningful way. For what was once very horizontal process in the industry, now with Sierra, customers are able to do amazing things as they try to change the world with their products and doing so very quickly. Sierra is aware that the process of design and manufacturing is slow and that it is very difficult for clients to have to manage processes end-to-end.

Sierra’s tech allows you to shrink your electronics so much that what used to be in 1 huge server rack can be now an edge device

When a customer comes to Sierra, they don’t have to worry about getting a good product, they need only be concerned about their business and what is important to them. They don’t have to manage the supply chain, especially in the prototypes and the R&D phase—a hassle-free solutions provider, in the truest sense of the word. Sierra is not only servicing the industry, and the people associated with it, the company is also trying to make their lives richer. The solution provider wants to make their clients’ value system better, while educating them in terms of how to have a meaningful business model, around what they do best. Sierra is creating a culture of excellence in their people, be it their own workforce or that of the customers. A culmination of the best technology and the best way to manage the people around give Sierra an unbeatable combination to make the difference. Today the process of making a PCB is 100 steps long, but with the technology that Sierra has invented, it becomes 10. There is a substantial reduction of processes which have to be done with today’s technology and they all get eliminated by the company’s patented technology.

"Everywhere, whenever you are into a new technology of this nature, the adoption becomes very critical and that is why we are going into the design business, to create this technology in the product itself, which becomes natural for the people to accept it"

The Ultra High-Density Trenched Circuit Board

Sierra is in the process of creating the specifications of their proprietary tech that companies can use to design their products. “Everywhere, whenever you are into a new technology of this nature, the adoption becomes very critical and that is why we are going into the design business, to create this technology in the product itself, which becomes natural for the people to accept it,” adds Amit Bahl, Director of Marketing and Sales. The minimum market for a technology of that nature is $ 250 million—couple that with the cost for the assembly, components, board, and the final product, the total will be closer to a billion dollars. It is thus not a question of the dollar space of the market, but it is a question of that product line which cannot be brought forth today, creating a very apparent pent-up demand for this type of technology. There is, of course, a thought benefit and a size benefit to the end product. Sierra today is changing the so-called “high-density circuit board.” They have developed “Ultra high-density circuit board”, which is no longer a printed circuit board, but a trenched circuit board—a revolutionary new way of establishing contact path on a silicon chip with precise trenches carved with lasers, filled with copper.
The new word on the tech vine then is all going to be about the TCBs.

TCBs reduce time, cost and it also creates product innovations that are currently impossible to achieve with existing processes. For example, the minimum width of most PCB products is 3 mils, which at this time, is the beginning of Sierra’s new technology, can easily achieve 1 mil, and well below it. As a result, the products will have better reliability, quality, cost, and cycle time; and most importantly, better size. Every board can be half the size of what it is today and still do all the same functions. Imagine the effect of that on the world, if every box was half its original size, the value in the source utilization and effectiveness of everything put together would be substantial.

The Method to Precision

Sierra strives for precision in every aspect of their development, and always motivates their clients to get the product designed by them. The company provides prototyping and the production service as well. With a design in hand, their average turnaround is in 3-4 weeks. Looking forward, just a year or two from now, Ken asserts that it would be no longer than a week. If a PCB design is simple, Sierra’s cycle time is 3 days, one day per service. And if it is complex, it would be no more than 3 weeks, at one week per service, which is still quite short as opposed to the industry average. The other side of the capability is the specific application of Sierra’s technology, which has very recently been the tech that Apple used for developing their new iPhone. A task such as that, to produce tech using this process, a fabricator needs to invest billions of dollars. With Sierra’s patented tech, they can enable anyone to use the same level of sophistication without having to go to a fabricator or investing so much money in the factory, making it more accessible to everyone to design amazing things in a small space. An additional benefit of the same can be assessed in edge computing, where everyone is trying to render operations on data created at the edge of the network, where all the computational power exists so that decisions can be made very quickly with no latency, all the way back to mainframe servers. “Sierra’s tech allows you to shrink your electronics so much that what used to be in 1 huge server rack can be now an edge device,” reiterates Amit.

Towards a Better Tech-Enabled World

Software is always starving for better hardware in the tech space today, and Sierra allows customers to utilize the full power of their software, to enable the next generation of computational power. The company wants to create new initiatives which would independently create revenue and all of them will grow into substantial businesses in the future to come. For the immediate future, however, the purpose of Sierra is to grow, both in revenue and in technological prowess. With the current turnover that the company has achieved, they look toward giving back to the community by way of their many philanthropic efforts and foresee a brighter tomorrow that they can help build.