By Sarah Brodsky | Apr 10, 2023
San Mateo, California
Printed circuit board prototyping, fabrication, and assembly solutions
Danovich had worked in the printed circuit board (PCB) industry in the U.S. since 1992, holding various positions from process engineer to director of sales. He noticed that customers typically needed to work with many vendors because no single company was able to offer all the required technologies.
"One reason is there's not enough resources to have all available technologies," Danovich explains. "The second reason is that even if you are able to build higher technologies on some challenging jobs, it will be very expensive because the yield won't be there. It will be sometimes 30 percent, sometimes 50 percent, sometimes 70 percent, but that's not what we want."
Danovich decided to create a company that would liaise between customers and trusted partners to offer a full range of PCB services, and San Francisco Circuits was born. At first, Danovich saw the company as a broker that simply connected customers with vendors. But he began to feel that the concept of a broker connoted a shady middleman that would “grab and run” once it had its money. That didn't align with his vision.
Danovich wanted San Francisco Circuits to offer more support to its customers than a typical broker and to adhere to higher standards of professionalism. "In 2011 we were already an ISO certified company, and for a small company like ours, it was very unusual at that time," Danovich says. "We were one of the first PCB companies that became NIST compliant."
Today, San Francisco Circuits offers PCB program management, prototyping, and production to customers in medical, academic, national security, aerospace, and military fields. For most customers, the company arranges both fabrication and assembly, although it allows customers to select services a la carte if they wish. "Some customers choose fabrication only. Some customers choose assembly only and provide us with bare boards," Danovich says.
The company has above $10 million in annual revenue, and revenue has grown from 10 percent to 15 percent a year for the last three years. Danovich expects growth to continue at that rate in 2023, although his goal for the future is a more modest 5 percent to 7 percent. "After a certain level of revenue, it's more difficult to get the same rate," he notes. He doesn't foresee that the CHIPS and Science Act will have a significant effect on the business because San Francisco Circuits mainly focuses on small-batch orders.
The company's workflow begins when a customer registers on the website or calls to place an order. Representatives talk to the customer and determine if the order is a good fit. If it is, the customer sends over the Gerber files, and the engineering team reviews them. If the engineers notice that improvements are possible or that anything's not in compliance, they'll contact the customer with suggestions.
Once the customer signs off, Danovich's employees determine which partners would best fulfill the order. "We have low-, medium-, and high-technology, and we have a few vendors in each technology," Danovich says. If one partner is busy and can't provide three-day turnaround, for example, San Francisco Circuits can always go with another partner with similar technological capabilities.
Danovich works mainly with manufacturing partners located in the U.S. because this allows the company to be nimble and provide quick-turn services, which can't be done when there's a 12-hour difference in time zones. He also feels it's important to work with domestic manufacturers for communication and quality control. "If it's miles and miles away and you have a language barrier and so on, there is no way you will be able to deliver the quality that our customers need," he says.
San Francisco Circuits gives the customer a quote within 24 hours. If the customer wants to proceed, the team prepares the component kits from its inventory. Danovich started work on an automated kitting system last year, and it's 90 percent complete.
The company delivers the component kits to its partners, which build the boards. Then, the partners ship the finished products, and San Francisco Circuits reviews the documentation and shares it with the customer.
Danovich credits the company’s success to his employees' dedication and loyalty, as well as their commitment to learning on the job. "We are constantly training our employees and training ourselves," he says. "That's what differentiates us."
Challenges: Sourcing components can be a challenge. Like others in the industry, San Francisco Circuits has to contend with supply chain tie-ups and scarcity of needed parts.
Another challenge is that offshoring appeals to many customers who compare the cost of manufacturing in China vs. manufacturing domestically. "We've never competed and we're not going to," Danovich says. "It's a totally different business."
Opportunities: San Francisco Circuits' opportunities have expanded over the years thanks to the strength of its reputation. "We have more solid and loyal customers"” Danovich says. "And we have more experience, and we have more knowledge."
He notes that new customers usually work with multiple PCB service providers, and sometimes San Francisco Circuits loses business as customers try out other options. "But the trend is after a few orders with other vendors, they still come to us, which means a lot to me."
Needs: "We're always planning ahead," Danovich says. "And I know that after a few new projects that we are trying to implement, we will need more people." Danovich is on the lookout for talent with PCB experience.