The Evolution of Camtek Manufacturing

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The story of a woman-owned contract manufacturer.

Dan Beaulieu: This is Dan Beaulieu. I'm talking with Christine Davis who's the President and Founder of Camtek Manufacturing in Bloomington, Illinois. Christine, thanks for being here today.

Christine Davis: Thank you.

Beaulieu: I want to know a little bit about you, about your company. I'm in here now, it looks like a great place. Tell me a little bit about the history or the company. How did you start, when did you start Camtek and why?

Davis: I incorporated in 1999 and ran my first production board in 2000. I marketed it before I even had a building or any equipment. I knew I wanted to certify it as a women-owned business enterprise, and so I started to go to diversity trade shows. I had a picture of a building and a sample of a board, and I would tell people that this (pointing to the picture) is where I’m going to set up shop to assemble printed circuit boards. A lot of people stopped by my booth to talk with me. I continued to do that for a few months to kind of see how much interest was out there. Then I was talking with an engineer and told him about the company I was starting. He immediately wanted to join me. He said, "I'll go with you. I'll help you." So that spring, we flew out to APEX to look for equipment.  

Beaulieu: So you were at ground zero, you had nothing?

Davis: Nothing, no money, no anything. My husband and I pooled together every penny we had and I was able to get some start-up funds, and went out to APEX and bought our first SMT line. I didn't even have a building to put it in yet. When I got back home, I had to hurry up and find a building because the equipment was going to arrive in about two months. So I quickly found a building, installed the equipment, and started building boards. Our first customer was a company out of Texas that had a military application. They were a tier one supplier to Lockheed Martin and they outsourced one of Lockheed’s boards to us, a small run of about ten boards. Lockheed didn't know that they had outsourced it, so we lost that project right off the bat. But we built the boards well, the quality was good, and Lockheed ultimately accepted our boards anyway. This was in the fall and I still remember how much my first sale was.

Beaulieu: How much was your first sale?

Davis: It was $5,000 for 10 boards. This was in September of 2000. Then we didn't have any other sales the rest of the year. My backup plan was to go sell margaritas on a beach somewhere but then Grainger walked in my door and told me about a local diversity meeting, so I went over and sort of crashed the meeting. There were about 60 people. When they took roll call, I stood up and told them who I was, where I was from, what I offered, and so forth. At break time, about six people swarmed me, wanting to know more about my company. Then the following week, they came over and toured my facility. They liked what we were doing. This was in October or November, and they said, "Well, we'll be back in January with opportunities," and they did. They were back in January and gave us our first orders, and that second year we shipped $500,000 in business.

Beaulieu: So from $5,000 to $500,000 is pretty good.

Davis: Then we started to get more and more business, and we grew every year, even during the year the bubble burst. That’s when I realized we had only one major account, so we had to diversify. We focused hard on getting additional customers and gained three new accounts the following year. We continued to grow from 20,000 square feet with one SMT line, to two lines and then by 2010, we moved into our current headquarters, operating in 94,000 square feet and running three SMT lines. Our building was originally an IRS distribution center used to print forms back when tax reporting was paper. It had been vacant for years. The first time I walked through it, I knew immediately that it would become home for Camtek. It had a perfect floor plan and plenty of room for growth. The total building is 225,000 square feet. It took me nine months to get the purchase price down.

Beaulieu: You negotiated that?

Davis: Yes, all by myself. Then it took nine additional months to renovate it, so I call it my baby.

Beaulieu: It is a palace. I'm here right now and I compliment you. It looks great.

Davis: We moved into our new facility November 15, 2010, occupying about half the building, 94,000 square feet, and within 30 days of our move in date, we received ISO 9001 certification. By January we were installing a third SMT line to support all the growth. Our customers saw that we had this beautiful facility and all this space so they flooded us with new opportunities. That was unexpected and that was great. We loved it! Things were hopping. We grew from 38 employees to 115 in two years. We focused on agriculture and industrial controls, and then we took a big leap into the military arena which has been a success for us. 

Beaulieu: Wonderful, and you've got a fourth line going in right now.

Davis: Yes, we are putting in a fourth line now. Our original line from 2000, the very first pick and place machine we ever bought, broke down just two months ago. It was 17 years old and a great machine. Literally, I think we only had to call a service tech maybe twice in its entire life. The manufacturer kept asking us to trade it in for a newer model, but I always said no. I wanted to keep it as long as it continued to run. It’s been a good machine, but then it finally gave up. So yes, we are putting in our fourth line right now.

Beaulieu: Let's talk a little bit about your customers. Well, let me put it to you, what differentiates you? Why is Camtek Manufacturing outstanding, in your words?

Davis: I think it's because we really focus on quality and responsiveness. We're known in the industry for quality and our ability to build very complex boards. In fact, one of the best compliments I ever got was from a competitor in the industry, who sent us their customer because we could place BGAs, and they couldn't. We are really good at complex assemblies, and now we realize that we are great at RF applications and 24-layer board assemblies too, which can be very difficult, extremely difficult if you don’t know what you are doing. A lot of companies won't touch RF, but we do and we do it well. I think that we are very responsive to our customers’ needs and they appreciate this. The longevity of our customer base proves we are doing something right. I think this sets us apart.

Beaulieu: Right, and then quality. What does quality mean to people at Camtek?

Davis: My employees are really proud of what they build. Quality is so important and they take pride in making quality products. They know that some of the boards we build saves lives, some keep us safe, and some help farmers feed the world, so our employees take their jobs seriously.    

Beaulieu: Well, I think you told me the other day that one of your customers said this was the most secure building they'd ever been in.

Davis: Yes, one of our military customers completed a three-day audit. They were extremely thorough and in the exit meeting, they said that this was the most secured facility they had seen in a long time. Our facility envelope and our data server room are extremely secure with a badge system throughout and we don’t use any cloud computing or storage. The government was extremely impressed with us. 

Beaulieu: Being in this building, you're certainly ITAR.

Davis: Yes, we are ITAR. We are also ISO 2015 certified to the latest standard which encompasses risk assessment.

Beaulieu: What other ones merit badges are you looking at?

Davis: We are working on AS9100 now.

Beaulieu: Let's talk a little bit about women owned. I don't see a lot of women-owned contract manufacturers, so good for you. What does that mean? What does that mean in the market to be WBE?

Davis: WBE. We are certified through the WBENC, the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. It’s recognized nationally and most companies who have diversity programs recognize this certification. The certification can open doors but we still need to perform. We still need to have the structure, the systems, the quality, the talent, the knowhow and most importantly, past experience. We have to have everything necessary to perform well. They hold us to all the same standards of performance like everyone else, quality, on-time delivery, and cost.

Beaulieu: Absolutely, I mean it's a door opener maybe a little bit, but you've got to be equal or better than other people.

Davis: In the military arena it's a nice check box to have, especially for set asides.

Beaulieu: Yeah, and that certainly helps for sure. Now, about the women-owned, are there any organizations that support that? Does IPC have a group of women in electronics or something?

Davis: Yes, they do. They have a small group of women in electronics. Unfortunately it usually meets when I'm in my other meetings, so I've only been able to participate in it once or twice.

Beaulieu: That's really too bad, seeing you're involved in IPC you ought to do something about that.

Davis: Well, I'll be out there this year.

Beaulieu: What about the contract manufacturing industry in general? How do you see things right now?

Davis: There’s a lot of opportunity in the industry. Everybody is energized and orders are much more active right now.

Beaulieu: Yeah, I've seen that too. Any last words here?

Davis: I love the industry and I love what we do. It’s a great time to be in business. I’m looking forward to this year.  

Beaulieu: I think this is it then. Appreciate your time.

Davis: Okay, thank you.



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