Fort Collins, Colorado
Printed circuit boards
Fort Collins, Colorado
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Products: Printed circuit boards
They may be unheralded, but the role they play in our day-to-day lives is almost as pivotal as plumbing. Without printed circuit boards (PCBs), all but the simplest electronic devices would need gobs of wiring and short circuits would be far too common.
Dynamic Group Circuit Design (DGCD) co-founder Febvre figures that an iPhone would be about the size of an old tube TV -- if they were even technologically possible. Have fun carrying that around.
"This is part of the revolution that allows you to carry functionality that should be the size of a TV in your back pocket," says Febvre.
Febvre, a hardware design engineer at HP who enjoyed his job but longed to start his own business, founded DGCD at a time when IT and electronic engineering firms were modifying their business strategies.
"The [opportunities] in the late '90s and early 2000s presented themselves because at that time there was kind of a movement towards outsourced work," states Febvre. "And the local HP -- well HP in general was kind of starting down that path of splintering into the many companies it is today."
Febvre acted on this opportunity in 2000 to start a company specializing in electrical engineering design and PCB layout design. He and co-founders Joe Bakel and Jim Reker secured a number of lucrative contracts with HP in the early 2000s. Still, they still wanted to branch out.
That opportunity came as a surprise when an LCD display firm in Longmont asked DGCD if they could get the physical product in-hand rather than a blueprint. The company decided to fulfill that need and has expanded its services beyond PCB layout design to include production process development, functional prototyping, feasibility studies, procurement and other activities.
"We quickly were able to branch out into contracts that have kind of gone far and wide and kept us going for these 18 years," states Febvre. "So today we've taken that and we work all up and down the Front Range with the large companies. Everything from one man shows, occasionally startups, entrepreneurs, all the way up to the Microsofts and Googles of the world. And that's all based on a networking and word of mouth."
While DGCD continues to design circuit boards for computers, they've played a role in the development of hundreds of products. In addition to household electronics you're likely familiar with, these include safety monitoring equipment for power lines, electronic kiosks, LCD display technology, and radio frequency surgical scalpels.
Here's a fun one: an automatic deer-collaring cage for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "That device literally was to help [Parks and Wildlife] attract young first year deer at the right size." Febvre recalls. "I think they had to be above 47 pounds and below 110, so we weighed them on a scale.
"They had to not be wearing a collar. So we had to detect if they already had a collar . . . and not allow them to come in. And if everything went right we would draw them with the food to put their heads through an expanded collar. And then when we detected the presence of the head, we would release that collar around their neck."
Febvre estimates that, at any given time, it's normal to DGCD to have 250 jobs in the company log from 25 to 50 different clients, including big names like Hach, Raytheon, Woodward, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and National Instruments.
Challenges: The rate of technological change means there's a significant learning curve for each product. "We always have dreamt of having kind of a library of technologies that we can keep putting into products," explains Febvre.
Yet because of the rate of change, each new project is like re-learning how to ride a bike. Febvre imagines his vision of a library of turnkey solutions will remain a dream.
The second challenge is common enough in our economy: strong, sometimes fierce, competition for highly-skilled employees.
Opportunities: Notwithstanding that learning curve on each new project, DGCD has the advantage of being nimble and offering comparatively short product development timelines. Febvre regards it as a key advantage of being small.
DGCD employees "know how to build your board and put it in your hands very, very quickly," states Febvre, "much faster than if you look for a large company and you go through their bureaucracy or their pitch to sell you overseas or whatnot."
Needs: If the labor market remains tight, Febvre anticipates that replacing key people over time as they consider retirement will be daunting. "Ten years ago, as the economy was churning, we could pick up employees at the drop of a hat," Febvre says. "There were people begging us to work and today that's no longer the case."