Things are booming at APCT, a printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturer based in Santa Clara, California. Since we featured the company in August 2017, it has grown enormously thanks to acquisitions and visionary work. It has also expanded both its technological capabilities and its presence in the aerospace and defense markets.
“A lot has changed,” states President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Robinson. “We’ve grown into one of the largest [PCB] manufacturers in North America. In 2020, we’re going to do $100 million roughly. And we made a strategic acquisition.”
Back in 2017, “we were running around $50 million [in revenue], and the defense and aerospace sectors were around fifteen percent of the business. We really wanted to target [defense and aerospace] as a growth segment and introduce some new technologies,” he continues.
As a result of recent company purchases, aerospace and defense work will account for “almost thirty-eight percent of our revenue for 2020,” Robinson forecasts.
APCT currently boasts 490 employees working in roughly 180,000 square feet of space in multiple locales in the United States. In addition to the Santa Clara head office, the firm has operations in Wallingford, Connecticut and Anaheim, California.
This network continues to grow. In January 2018, it purchased Cartel Electronics of Placentia, California and its affiliate firm, Cirtech of Orange, California. Cartel fabricates rigid and high density interconnect (HDI) printed circuit boards. Cirtech excels at rigid and flex, rigid-flex technology, and has a defense and aerospace-based clientele.
On top of expanding APCT’s defense and aerospace reach, buying Cirtech has enabled it “to introduce flex, rigid-flex capability into our portfolio,” notes Robinson.
Flexible circuits are made of a sandwich of conductive circuits between thin polymer layers. Rigid-flex printed circuit boards, meanwhile, are boards that feature a mixture of technologies on a rigid base. “We’ve been able to roll [Cartel and Cirtech] under one leader, one management team, to coordinate the two facilities. We’ve been focused on integration,” states Robinson.
Further acquisitions are not off the table. He says he’s “probably looked at ten companies over the last six months. Once you become a buyer, you get lots of leads. I’ve been looking all over North America, including Canada.”
The company is not planning any immediate purchases, however. First, it needs to fully integrate Cartel and Cirtech into its design and production stream. Then, there is the fact that it is picky about what companies it buys. It will not even consider acquiring a company that does not have “the right management team, the right infrastructure,” and the right fit for APCT, Robinson explains.
He estimates that annual revenues will rise to $125 million shortly but does not want the company to move far past the $150 million level.
“We’re looking at anywhere from twelve to thirteen percent growth yearly over the next two years. I think $150 million is the largest I would like this company to become,” he says, explaining that if a company gets too big, it runs the risk of becoming ungainly and inflexible.
He says that he wants the company “to become large enough that I have leverage but remain flexible and responsive. Technology and speed have always been our core philosophy.”
The company, once known as Advanced Printed Circuits Technology, was founded in 1977. Robinson acquired the firm in 2008, and a few years later steered it into private equity ownership. The original equity partners recently decided to exit, so APCT was acquired by a new investment firm, Angeles Equity Partners, in June 2019.
“It’s always a challenge when you have a new transition in ownership. But they’ve been great and supportive. They collaborate with me to develop strategic initiatives to grow the business. They point out strong ideas and suggestions. It’s been good,” he reports.
For all these developments, certain things have not changed. Designing and manufacturing printed circuit boards remains “our only focus,” he makes clear. The emphasis is on PCB prototypes with manufacturing done both in the United States and through partner companies in Asia. And it still values continuous improvement, excellent customer support, strict quality assurance, and bold marketing.
Demonstrating this strict quality assurance, the newly-expanded company boasts a slew of quality assurance certifications including ISO 9001, various military specifications necessary for doing defense-related work, International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) registration, and AS9100D.
“All certifications are up to date and maintained on an annual basis. We have every certification necessary to support any technology in any customer segment in North America,” he notes proudly.
This broad range of certifications and quality assurance programs is one reason to choose APCT over a competitor. Other reasons include its depth of service and knowledge, commitment to customers, and a wide range of capabilities. The company’s engineers design for manufacturability and will partner with a client’s PCB designers or product developers to come up with the best possible design. This early-stage support is complemented by round-the-clock engineering backup once the product is finished and delivered.
“We’ll provide you with a very robust solution that will allow you to be successful as your product matures,” states Robinson. “We’re going to design and give clients a reliable, robust solution, on-schedule or early,” he says.
“Our corporate motto is: passion, commitment, and trust. The passion [comes from] people wanting to do a good job, taking pride in their work, being challenged to do the best they can. The commitment is the willingness to do whatever it takes to meet customer expectations. Trust is about gaining trust from co-workers and delivering something the customer trusts. We don’t want to be a transactional business. We want to develop a customer base based on trust. That’s really what our culture is all about,” he continues.
APCT also endeavors to shorten cycle time to get products to customers faster. The firm achieves this through frequent equipment purchases and updates and by adopting new processes and technologies.
“We constantly challenge ourselves through equipment acquisitions. We also look at best practices in automation, scripting, tooling. In our business, we measure hours, not days. So, if you can shave off a few hours of cycle time, with the [type of work] we’re doing, it really makes a difference. You have to do it without sacrificing quality,” Robinson explains.
Given its multiple quality certifications, it seems the goal has been met. In fact, the company’s approach, in general, seems to be working, as evidenced by the many testimonials from satisfied customers posted on its website.
APCT enjoys outstanding customer retention and is rapidly adding new customer accounts. Robinson says that the company “has been fortunate to get involved with some really great programs,” in the aerospace and defense sectors and anticipates doing more. The company will be attending the two-day Space Tech Expo in Long Beach, California this May. This two-day exhibition describes itself as a platform to display “the very latest technology from technical designers, sub-systems suppliers, manufacturers, and systems integrators for civil, military, and commercial space.”
This year will mark the second time APCT has attended the American Space Tech Expo, a reflection of the firm’s growth in the aerospace and defense segments.
In addition to attending such industry events, it runs an energetic marketing campaign. “We’ve very active on our website. We have a very aggressive biweekly email campaign. We made a very significant investment in our marketing team. We’re constantly bringing in new opportunities, and most of them are coming in through our marketing effort,” explains Robinson. The firm also runs advertising campaigns that highlight its abilities.
Challenges include managing growth and “making sure the leaders of our company, including myself, spend enough time leading the company, and not being wrapped up in day-to-day firefights,” he says. In other words, company leaders need to be focused on what is important and not get bogged down in minor matters.
“We have a market that’s very receptive to our technology and our offerings. It’s just a matter of [developing] our strategies and setting goals and milestones to execute those strategies,” he adds.
And the goals of APCT’s president and chief executive officer are clear and unambiguous. “My goal, five years from now, is to be at $150 million and have the best reputation in North America as a reliable solution provider for your printed circuit board needs. And I want everyone to have the same pride I do in the company and to have the customer feel like we care. That’s really my goal,” Robinson states.