Sierra Circuits: The Novel PCB Designing Mavericks

Amit Bahl, Director, Marketing and Sales

In many regards, a printed circuit prototyping shop is very similar to a photographic darkroom in both form and function. Engineers with the intent to create a vital powerful element of the electronics design, work behind the curtains to operationalize tools for experimentation, testing, proofing communication, and interaction. But what happens when the engineers have to design a board that might have characteristics beyond normal parameters? The lack of proper guidance in these situations gives rise to high chances of errors, a quandary that Amit Bahl, the director of marketing and sales at Sierra Circuits witnesses on a daily basis. He explains, “The way the industry works, the engineers have to ask their co-workers for an answer, who might not be an expert at building those characteristics.” That’s where Amit Bahl, the printed circuit board (PCB) guy comes in and revolutionizes the way shops work with customers and in turn steers the young and dynamic Silicon-Valley based manufacturing company, Sierra toward a bright future.

As one of the leading names in the PCB industry, Sierra manufactures boards for every tech innovative industry—automotive, aerospace, robotics, medical, etc. and differentiates itself by producing quick-turn high-quality boards for companies. To maintain the quality, it is a no-brainer that Sierra needs to put special emphasis on educating its engineers and keep them updated on the latest industry requirements. Amit Bahl explains, “One of the biggest challenges in electronics today is that everything has higher speeds, more functionality, and a lesser space on electronics and thus designers have to be well versed in signal integrity and controlled impedance. To mitigate this manufacturability gap for the PCB designers, we publish articles on Sierra’s blog and social channels so we can interact directly with designers to answer their questions.” The firm also publishes attractive marketing content, such as the V.E.R.N. (video on its YouTube channel) that refers to the controlled impedance campaign.

By helping Sierra’s customer base and designers in mitigating PCB challenges, Amit Bahl has truly become one of the mainstay for the company today, but what really transitioned Amit Bahl into becoming the “problem solver?”

The PCB Guy

It was in 1986 that Ken Bahl, the founder and president of Sierra Circuits ventured into the PCB prototyping industry. To help the designer community and make the prototype process efficient, Sierra came up with the unprecedented idea of combining its software tools, and products and services in a way that helps the PCB designers design manufacturable products that are cost-effective from the beginning.

To mitigate this manufacturability gap for the PCB designers, we have published articles and blogs on the social media so we can interact directly with designers to answer their questions

Gradually, Ken Bahl etched a success story of his own by offering “lightning speed” delivery of fabricated PCBs in as quick as 24 hours and fully turnkey-assembled PCBs in 48 hours, and assisted customers throughout the PCB manufacturing process. And while Ken Bahl grew his company, Amit Bahl was playing the role of a subject matter expert in solving the PCB queries that Sierra’s customer base would have. While answering their questions, Amit Bahl would always think, “There’s such a demand where every day I’m talking to customers who have these real-world problems with their PCBs, I need to scale this up and broadcast my suggestions globally.” Appreciating Amit Bahl’s intent and his prowess in understanding the pain points that the industry faced, Sierra started the concept of educating designers, marking the transformation of Amit Bahl into “The PCB Guy.”

The key to making quality error-free boards lies in educating the designers and to that end, Amit Bahl publishes videos, tutorials, blog posts, design guides, webinars, and uses social media to provide help and tips on how to design boards, as well as guidelines for manufacturing and assembly. He adds, “We’re hosting a workshop on May 17 and 18 at the Levi’s Stadium where we will educate the designers and provide them with a certification.” This will help Sierra in building strong relationships with customers by inviting them to the 49ERS games in Sierra’s suite at the Levi’s Stadium. Amit Bahl adds, “The suite is not only for CEOs and decision-makers, it’s about the men behind the boards.”

The Best-Fit for PCB Designers

Sierra’s strong assembly services and its patented technology complement its intent to find a new way to work with the designers. The layout and design services provided by the firm include Design for Manufacturing (DFM) and Design for Assembly (DFA) checks along with Bill of Materials (BOM) tools. This allows the firm to cover the whole lifecycle of PCB production as they also provide complete component engineering support. Unlike their competitors, Sierra plays the role of an actual manufacturer and assembler of its PCBs. By owning its manufacturing and assembly facilities, the firm controls every aspect of the production schedule and quality. “This is how we’re able to provide our customers unprecedented quality, reliability, and a single point of support,” says Amit Bahl. Sierra continuously updates its capabilities and equipment, such as sophisticated direct imaging machines which enables them to perform reliable and repeatable operations.
Once, the firm assisted one of its clients to go from ceramic to PCB material to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Amit Bahl mentions that Sierra’s technology capabilities include 25 micron trace/space on organic PCB substrates. Its Turnkey Pro allows customers to order their boards online and receive them in five days. Traditionally, PCB manufacturing is a subtracting process where copper is taken out and the process involved many steps. This not only caused a decreased efficiency but also made the process complicated. Sierra’s patented technology changed the focus to additive copper, where copper is added to the circuit boards and process variations can be eliminated and the performance can be augmented for the end-user. “Our patented technology has the potential to shrink electronics by half. It allows the lines to shrink down to 1 mil. Instead of the subtractive method, we are focusing on an additive process where we use a laser to lay down the copper,” says Amit Bahl.

"Sierra’s technology capabilities include 25 micron trace/ space on organic PCB substrates"

Further, Sierra’s unprecedented end-to-end customer service provides 24-hour support on all orders and ensures that all the boards are successful and reliable. What makes Sierra a cut above the rest of its competition and the best-fit for PCB designers is its ability to proffer both service and support for the manufacturability of newly designed products and its quick cycle-time. Amit Bahl states, “As we perform the design, fabrication, and assembly in-house, we are enabled to alleviate any miscommunication between multiple vendors that might occur with other vendors.”

The Ultimate Success Culture

Having carved a unique niche in the PCB manufacturing and production industry, the company looks poised for a bright and successful future, and aims to implement the ultimate success culture in the upcoming 12 to 18 months. Amit Bahl explains, “All of our measures internally and the goals that we have for our employees is to provide them with an environment where they can service the customer better. So, we’re changing our focus to enhance our internal culture and create the ultimate success culture.” It’s a specific campaign that the firm started internally and now aims to push globally such that all its clients will comprehend that the firm’s PCB and assembly shop are completely focused on the end OEM customer. This will also play as a stepping-stone for employees to realize that Sierra has an internal focus to develop its culture and treats its employees and customers equally.

Further, the firm is also excited about the upcoming workshop that they are hosting at the Levi’s Stadium. “As a company, we believe in partnerships with our customers, and through this event we are inviting the unsung heroes of the PCB industry so that they can get to know our company better and we get to know them better,” concludes Amit Bahl