“A one-stop shop for anything the customer needs”
By: Mudeeha Yousaf
Perceptions of manufacturing companies in Canada are often construed as uncompetitive by the global market conditions, however innovation in design combined with an optimistic outlook is the key to strive in the market, both of which can be found in ECI – a design and manufacturing company specializing in product development and manufacturing solutions across multiple industries. Formally Electro Circuit Inc. – ECI is a complete turn-key service providing a complete “one-stop solution” for product design, development and manufacturing. Headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, the company excels in providing customers with very cost competitive manufacturing in Canada by utilizing its global procurement channels and maintaining low overhead.
The company opened its doors in 1997 with the hopes of securing a place as a leader in the PCB industry and a commitment to providing multifaceted technologies at a low cost. Jash Patel current CEO, graduated from University of Toronto in 1987 with an Electronics Engineering Degree, and his vast experience, working with technology companies for 15 years prior to joining ECI in 2002, has been helping the company through a steady growth path. Re-investing in employee training and up-to-date equipment is a philosophy the company is driven by, which results in efficiency and lower costs. Jash has realized that without these components it is very difficult to compete in the market. Concurrently, Jash also realized that engineering expertise is crucial to support the company growth, and having the ability to sustain a product and to support customer issues is as important as cost containment. Customers are approaching ECI not only with PCB blank board fabrication but take advantage and comfort in the company’s ability to deliver the total manufacturing solution within cost targets. No finger pointing for customers is a value add and provides less process for the customer to control, resulting in improved margins for total customer satisfaction.
Mike Gleeson, the Director of New Product Development, brings with him over 25 years of experience in product design and manufacturing and has spent years in the senior management positions in the defence and medical industries in Europe and North America. Mike points out that “not too many manufacturing companies in North America are growing like we have over the last three years. When you look carefully we have a very effective strategy with regards to offering not only aggressive cost effective manufacturing but value added flexible engineering services to react to customer changing environments.” Mike says, “Adaptability is what gives us the edge over our competitors resulting in improved efficiency and how well we react to customer issues to improve our overall performance.”
As patterns in the world of technology shift from second to second, the electronics industry is rapidly moving, faster than anticipated, and ECI does whatever it can to keep up with the high-mix environment. “No doubt there are challenges in updating our knowledge base and techniques to build products, however the experience we have gained from our engineering and manufacturing teams allows us to stay current and gives us the ability to stay ahead of the competition. Manufacturing in North America is always perceived as a challenge in maintaining quality, cost and performance, so we look at the overall project and try to come up with solutions which are more competitive to Asian prices.” Mike adds, “We’ve built global activity partnerships in the last number of years in Asia and India and this provides cost effective, high quality partnerships… I think that’s our advantage here, including the technical expertise that we provide along the way for each stage of the process, which gives us the margin that we need to satisfy customers in North America.”
Though the ECI niche market is in North America, the company may be expanding to international markets in the future. “What we have been concentrating on is low-mid volume, high mix type products. Many customers are building specialized products which are difficult to go directly out to Asian suppliers, as many times they are so sophisticated that they may require changes during the early build cycles prior to stabilization into full production, or sometimes they need a shorter time to introduce the product to market. In that regard we are in the ideal position where a customer can benefit from our quick turns and technical ability to support modifications, which is difficult to do if you are dealing with Asian suppliers. That’s one advantage we have,” says Jash. “What we see, at least for the next year or two, is more concentration in North American markets and in the future we know if everything goes as we planned there will be opportunities to expand.”
“Typically because of our global procurement, we have all the equipment and the components on hand because of synergy across many suppliers; therefore it gives the customer the advantage of being able to have quick turnaround, and quick responses in growing their markets. When they see that we can provide that capability and cost effective balance after product introduction, they’re more inclined to stay with us and this is the key to our growth.”
The company follows a “one-stop-shop” model where they take on any step of the process – from full turn-key solutions to building the product start to finish. Customers are quick to turn to the company when they need a third party to evaluate the product quality, or a mechanical strategy of the product. “The ‘model’ is that we support any step in the process the customer requires. Some customers come with concepts and they have no electronics or mechanical background, so we help them to finalize products and some customers may already have the expertise to design and then all they need is the manufacturing, so we support them as well,” Jash says. “Whatever challenges they face, we give them 100% attention to ensure they are on the correct path in building product, especially going through regulatory requirements, so we give them support in getting those approvals.”
Currently the company provides services for a well-balanced range of consumer and industry products including specialized equipment and design-build components for certain industries. ECI has a plan to break into the medical industry as their next big step. “Our plan is to go into building medical products, so currently we are working on getting the medical ISO certification to deliver products for medical-related customers,” explains Jash. “We have been fine tuning our quality processes, which is also supported by guidance from some of our strategic customers and we are very grateful for this confidence in us to succeed. Right now we are in a better position to go into the next level, which is the medical certification and that will be more stringent because you are dealing with governments and regulatory bodies…We are going through the processes to make sure we can achieve that certification with ease.” Though building medical equipment right now, certifications are needed in order to build full medical compliant devices “and we feel we have the quality and the ability to go after that market,” says Mike. “Every year our bar is raised in terms of quality achievement.”
The company’s long-term goal, according to Jash, is to be one of the top Canadian EMS suppliers. “Right now there are a handful of companies which are doing it and we are constantly pushing to become more competitive within the industry. We take pride in our ability to be competitive in North America and offer jobs to local employees. Canada needs manufacturing and we are fully aware of it and doing everything possible to make sure we stay ahead in terms of quality and cost.”
“Over the last number of years this is one of the key industries in Canada to maintain manufacturing, it certainly has proven it can be done in Canada and there’s a lot of credit to persevering that,” says Mike when asked about the manufacturing industry in Canada. “People have a stigma that Canada is too expensive for building products. It’s not true,” adds Jash. “We and other suppliers have been able to be competitive with innovation and efficiency to beat the competition from the far-east.”
Both Mike and Jash were quick to agree that the ECI team of over 100 employees has been integral to the company’s success. “We’ve been doing some serious staff training over the past two years [which is] a heavy investment… the benefit of a company’s success is in the staff, and if you have been trained and cross-trained with regards to the process control and being able to identify quality issues on the floor, they feel empowered to do that.. That’s one of the secrets to our success,” says Mike. “In this industry you can have a high turnover of staff which can be very expensive to maintain, however we found that if you don’t empower or train your staff, that’s what will happen… if you’re stretched in one area, you can move experienced staff to another area with the confidence that capability and customer quality are maintained, so we tend to have a very low turnover staff.” Jash adds that there is also a cross-generational integration in their staff, which provides for an excellent balance.
One variable that has also helped the company grow is their loyal customer base. “We have customers who support us. We would like to thank them. Their support is phenomenal.”
The company’s core principals lie with being innovative and investing in quality equipment and manpower. “It’s always difficult for us to get exposure. We don’t have a particular product we put out there. We build many products for many customers, and we’re hoping to get a little bit of exposure to say that manufacturing is not dead in Canada – it’s striving if you can manage it properly,” closes Mike. “We want them to be aware that we’re here and we’re capable of building their products…They don’t need to go overseas.”