SiliconExpert Podcast Episode 15 with Kevin Devine & Liam Holt of Devine Electronics - Transcription
Host: Eric Singer
Producer/Director: George Karalias
Once you get copper in your blood, I've found you get three type of people. You get people that do it just for a job. You get people who do it, who absolutely abhor it, who want to get out. And then you have the poor schmucks like us who actually enjoy it.
Welcome to the Intelligent Engine, a podcast that lives in the heart of the electronics industry brought to you by SiliconExpert.
[00:00:27] SiliconExpert is all about data driven decisions. With a human driven experience. We mitigate risk and manage compliance from design, through sustainment, the knowledge experience, and thought leadership of the team partners and those we interact with every day expose unique aspects of the electronics industry and the product life cycles that live within it. These are the stories that fuel the Intelligent Engine.
[00:00:54] The electronics industry can be vicious, especially in contract manufacturing. Resiliency is a necessary trait to have during ups and downs shifts in the market, twists and turns and running companies. And more often than we care to see health scares. Kevin Devine and Liam Holt are partners, but more importantly, friends that have each other's back, both have had their share of success, but not without the challenges that come from running an electronics industry business.
[00:01:26] This is their story. They've managed to not only build a great company, but also to discover a way to help those in need, who are fighting cancer. Today's spotlight is on Devine Electronics. Joining us today are Liam Holt and Kevin Devine, both Liam and Kevin have over 30 years of experience in the electronics industry with expertise in materials, manufacturing, process development, and global supply chain solutions.
[00:01:53] Kevin and Liam, thanks for joining us. Let me start by asking how you two ended up working together. How'd you meet?
So Liam and I have known each other for years through the industry. A few years back, I had gone out as a manufacturer's rep. And, uh, was really trying to put together a good global supply chain strategy for OEMs in the Northeast.
[00:02:17] Liam, on the other hand was heading up a manufacturing facility. Liam was in a process of trying to reduce some overhead and downsize his business. And I was trying to fill some holes in our global supply chain. So we got together and decided to combine efforts, which allowed us to have some manufacturing capability to fill some gaps for prototyping, quick turn. It also allowed us to add some engineering staff, uh, some materials expertise, and just increase the overall, uh, product offering and ability to supply a global supply chain solution to our OEM customers.
That's a remarkably broad range of expertise that, that you all have to be a manufacturer, as well as, as representing other manufacturers, as well as having that engineering background and capabilities.
[00:03:12] What sort of, of clients are you all working with these days?
So we're working with customers that are anything from startups. The new England area has quite a few startups that are engaging in new technologies all the way through to billion dollar companies that have, uh, large global supply chain needs.
[00:03:31] We've got customers that we do inventory of hundreds of parts that run at tens of thousands a year. Down to people who are looking for one or two offs to, uh, do a proof of concept to go get funding.
And how does it break down in terms of us clients versus clients who are overseas?
So our clients are a hundred percent in the Northeast.
[00:03:54] Uh, we do, as a result, have some products, we do some adapter boards that will be produced overseas. So we have some customers that are in Asia that will buy our products, actually Asia, Europe, and north America, in terms of some of our custom IP parts.
[00:04:12] tell me a little bit about how you made the decision to actually get into the manufacturing side.
[00:04:19] Was there a specific industry need that you saw that you felt like you could solve?
There was an awful lot of material obsolescence going on, especially with through whole ICS and whatnot. You have your through whole board and then your IC, you have to buy a surface mount one now. So right there is an instantly pretty good fit to take a new surface mount part and relay that out to a, uh, through hole footprint.
[00:04:45] There are a few other shops that can sit there and they'll do adapt boards. However, it's the technology that they're using. It's where they're having soldered pins onto a board, whereas we're using more of a, um, press it pin and then a soldered dip. So you have a better mechanical. and also you, you also have a much lower footprint of that roll along with that for a while.
[00:05:03] But then as time goes by as anyone, any good geek out there knows a chip that you spec in today may not be here tomorrow. And not only may not be here, you still get an equivalent, but the footprints are different. So that's where we're even doing a surface Mount to surface Mount adapter boards would say you have like a, uh, you have an IC.
[00:05:26] It comes in three different size footprints. We can design and make a board that can accommodate all three footprints for the top side, but you don't have to change the design on the raw board for the bottom side. And so we've been really seeing a lot of that. It does fall into a little bit of the crisis management mode is like, oh crap, what am I gonna do? That's what I really saw the value of the adapter board, cuz yeah, a, it could be a high volume thing, but also you might just need two or three to do some bread boarding it's it's so like the first through hole to surface Mount and then it was surface Mount to surface Mount, you know, fine pitch along with the, um, alternate footprints.
[00:06:02] It's like I say, you get one adapter. They can handle two or three different types of footprints on there, but then it's from, um, this is what Kevin's seeing and it's that we're working on now is it's basically a, uh, fine pitch tech, a fine pitch technology part, like a 0.4 millimeter, 20 pin BGA. There's a one customer that actually Kevin's been working with.
[00:06:27] It's where to put that technology onto the board. You're looking at micro VES. You're looking at a lot of added costs, especially if you have like a two, three ounce copper board, you know, what may take a $40 board if you change it to the micro veers and due to the design or layout of the board that might turn into a, you know, an extra $30 upcharge to that board, but we're able to do it with basically it's an, it's an interposed board, which is another type of adapter that goes from BGA to BGA or BGA to whatever footprint you want.
[00:07:01] So, what you're doing is you're not adding that technology to the raw board. You're keeping it off to a separate board. You keep the cost of your regular raw board, the same. And now, instead of it being a $30 upcharge, you can buy one of these interposed boards for like $10 and now you've got a solution.
[00:07:21] Exactly. And if technology changes down the road, we are able to move and swing with that, especially when you have board. It's that, um, they'd have to go through all sorts of approvals. It's whether it's telecom, medical. Aerospace. If you change the design of the board, you go through a whole approval process.
[00:07:39] If you change the one line on the BOM, nobody really cares.
We talk so much on this show about solutions to supply chain issues, and most of those solutions are process things. Ways to think about this differently. Alternative means of sourcing parts, dos and don'ts of design, things like that. But it's interesting that you all have found a, created a solution to supply chain issues.
[00:08:08] That is an actual product or a set of products. I'd love to, to switch gears a little bit and talk about another area that I know you all do a lot of work on the consulting side, which is cable and harness assemblies. And talk a little bit about process for designing cable and harness assemblies.
I better tip my hat to Kevin on, on this, on, on really getting us into the, uh, cable world, especially with the proof of concept, quick turn and things of that nature.
[00:08:39] Uh, one of the things I always was around circuit boards and, um, it's a whole different thought process when you're looking at cable cable harness assembly, as, as far as to manufacture it, what type of materials you're using? I see from what I've seen over the past year is a customer will spec in connector a, I said, yep, this is a great connector, but those like, everything else are it's when you go, when the engineers are going through and designing their cable.
[00:09:09] One of the things it's that I, and I maybe incorrect on this, but I don't see a lot of forethought going down the road. It's like, yes, this might be the connector for you. But now. Do you have to have a special Crimp do you have to have a special Crimp tool? Do you have to stand on your left foot on Tuesdays to not only put this thing together and, and it's, and it seems it's the, that is what I see as the, uh, brutal side, because every different type of connector that you spec in.
[00:09:37] And you have multiple pins that you can spec in. You need a specific tool for that one pin. So that really drives up tooling costs, NREs on that side of the fence..
So do you consult with clients about how to look at their processes or their specifically their design process, more holistically, and to think about what those other effects are gonna be cascading down through that process when you're helping them spec out what components they may want to use.
I think Kevin can speak more clear about that. I I'll be honest with you. Yes. I, uh, I am a really good geek. I've kind of known as the oh crap guy. Yeah. Oh crap. Yeah. Call up that guy, Liam, and have him figure something out. Customer side it's more Kevin.
One of the things that we do that's very unique is we can do, as you said, approach engineering from a holistic standpoint, both in terms of initial development cost. But also taking into account what the long term vision for the product is. So one of the issues you see a lot today is people design based on a material set that's available in north America.
[00:10:46] And if the product line is high volume and eventually would be manufactured in Asia for cost, you have to take into account the global supply chain, not only of manufacturing, but of the raw materials that are available. We do try to approach early stage development with long term production in mind.
That's that is really remarkable to me that you're looking that far up the chain at actual raw material sourcing
global sourcing right now is one of the major issues in electronics, not only at a component level, but at a raw material level. Laminates and prepregs being used in printed circuit boards.
[00:11:29] What's available in Asia is much different than what's in the us. So if someone designs in, for example, a specific material type, it may not be available in Asia and force your hand in terms of what you have for options for global supply chain. In addition, you may do a subset of materials. You may pick. Uh, uh, certain TG material or a construction for how to build the board that doesn't translate into Asian manufacturing processes. So it's important to, to take a long term approach of what you're trying to get accomplished in the product. We've worked with companies who are transitioning from proto and development to full production and realize they had to re-engineer the product cuz they had engineered in solutions that just weren't available.
If you were to look into your crystal ball and let's look out into the future, let's say six months or so, do you see particular shortages coming that maybe we haven't been talking about or aware of as, as much as we should be.
We're in the middle of a, of an IC shortage, IC growth rates are manufacturing can't keep up with the IC growth rates as it stands, that couples with materials. So prepregs and laminates, particularly heavy ounce coppers are in limited supply. People who are manufacturing copper foils would prefer now to put their efforts into products, batteries. So getting a three ounce, four ounce, five ounce copper clad laminate is difficult.
[00:12:58] We work by maintaining material contracts and material supplies to have material in place, uh, to support production. We do inventory programs to keep finished goods in production to counter those things, but that's an ongoing issue and it's gonna continue to get worse over the next few years.
Yeah. That's interesting that you're looking at not only material.
[00:13:20] Potential shortages of materials in terms of how that's gonna impact things downstream, but also in the shifting, let's say the, the whims of manufacturers as they chase higher dollar products, as you mentioned, EV components, things like that, that seems like that's gonna have a, a huge effect as well as we see less profitable items, perhaps disappear from inventories.
[00:13:47] Manufacturers shift to things that will make them more profit.
That is very true. A great example is that is one that I just started working on this week. Um, customers sent over, Hey, I need this and this recorded and I it's bottom line. It's a 64 pin ribbon cable. Okay. Okay. So your basic ribbon cable, nothing fancy and the little connectors, you know, that you just is just cinch on either side, you could buy 'em up a Digikey preassemble.
[00:14:17] Hm, piece of cake. They no longer manufacture it. Now it's a custom cable. Wow. I, and this, and this is from Samtech. They're huge. Yeah. But just banging out a million of those cables, isn't worth it to 'em. I would imagine cuz any, any type of product of that line it's what I've seen is you can't get it or they just said, Nope, it's obsolete.
[00:14:39] So now what you could buy in Digikey for like, they'd get 10,000 stock. You buy it for five bucks. Now you need two of 'em. It's no longer a $5 cable, you know, cuz I'm only building two
that economy of scale is gone.
Yeah. It's so the, um, sticker shock factor is there, but UN unfortunately the only other solution to that is design it out or.
[00:15:02] Which a would be expensive or come up with an alternate solution to make that interface back and forth, which could be cost prohibitive.
Yeah, no doubt. It certainly provides yet another argument in favor of the. Adapter boards that, that you all make, not necessarily in this particular example, but in terms of just thinking ahead for working around things that may become unavailable, a modular, uh, adapter based system seems to be a, a wise way of designing.
[00:15:33] Especially as we're developing products and, and testing new ones
for me personally, I probably get smack in the head for this. I kind of enjoy it a little bit because it's go figure this out. So I get, take a part off a Ford a part off a Chevy and grab a 26 Studebaker. And here you go. I love it. It, it is pretty much on how some of these things are actually having to be done.
[00:15:56] It's as far as just being creative and what's really nice is the, uh, cross disciplines between Kevin and I. It, it ranges from what a customer needs to what I always say. I'll build you a space shuttle. Just gimme a little bit of time and I don't know what it's gonna cost and you know, Kevin runs around and smacks me and says quit selling space shuttles,
unless we can be profitable.
seems like a long turnaround time on, on that one. You sound like the consummate engineer. When you describe the joy of solving a problem. Seems unsolvable. Are you an engineer by training Liam?
Yes, I actually, I, I started off in electronics in 1982 in Fort Sill Oklahoma learning how to fix radios.
[00:16:46] And those were all tubes back then. And I've been doing it ever since. I grew up in the, uh, raise surface for a company called Parex, doing flex and rigid flex. And around 2000, I was there for like 60 years. Went over to the dark side, into contract manufacturing, worked with a couple of those. And then in 2015, I said, Hey, why am I making money for these idiots?
[00:17:09] And then I just found out. I'm just another idiot. , uh, I definitely enjoy, you know, here's a problem. Figure it out. Whereas once you've been in the industry for a long time, like I say, Kevin's background. With within, uh, engineering and also within the markets that are out there. It, it definitely is a really good mix.
[00:17:28] So any technical thing I usually have at my fingers, I know somebody Kevin has his fingers or he knows somebody.
Kevin, do you have an engineering background also?
I'm a chemist by education. I started in the printed circuit board industry in 1991. Uh, I've held positions any from engineering to sales, to operations.
[00:17:50] So I come at it with an engineering background, but also with more of a business mindset of, of how to look at my customers and make them profitable, not just how to get an immediate problem fixed, but get a immediate problem that fits well into a long term.
Yeah. And that long term solution, the holistic way that, that you're looking at things, it sounds to me like, like one of your key differentiators, how did you make that jump from chemistry to circuitry is just a, uh, classic case of right place at the right time.
You know, or wrong place at the right time. Yeah. I went to work for a small printed circuit board shop in Vermont. I had graduated from St. Michael's college up in Burlington and wanted to stay in Vermont, took my first job as a process chemist in printed circuit board shop. And. As they say the rest is history.
[00:18:38] Once, once you get copper in your veins, it's hard to get it out.
should see a doctor about that. You know, we we've been talking about all these global issues and you all mentioned that you. Focus more or less exclusively on clients who are in the Northeast part of the United States. I, I would imagine that gives you the ability to give really personal hands on attention to those folks and dive deep into what their issues are that you can help them with.
[00:19:13] I wonder. . Is there anything unique that you've found about companies in that region of the us as compared to clients that you've had either with other companies or through Devine in other parts of the world?
So the northeast is a very innovative part of the electronics industry between biomed and you know, the university structure in the Northeast with Harvard MIT.
[00:19:38] There's a lot of innovation going on. When I started back in 91, there was a lot of innovation all the way down to the material suppliers, since the global shifts to manufacturing, a lot of the supplier manufacturing and engineering has shifted to other parts of the world. So one of the things that's really unique is knowing what global capabilities are.
[00:19:59] It's hard for a Northeast based company. To have a good working understanding of production capability, let's say in Asia or Europe. Uh, and that's, that's what we bring to the table is we've got a good understanding of material sets. We've got a good understanding of, of manufacturing processes that are available globally.
[00:20:19] And that's, that's where we like to play is helping innovative companies understand what's available in the global marketplace.
I love it. New England's window to the world. Do you all do any work or have any interactions with any of the schools you mentioned, particularly MIT and in terms of, are you, do you partner with, with student programs or anything like that?
We do. We work with both students. We work with folks over at MIT, Lincoln labs. We are getting more and more involved in early stage product development. Yeah. The stuff. Hey, we've got an idea. We just, we don't know how to do it. And in many cases, people understand the software side of it, but don't necessarily understand the hardware piece.
[00:20:58] We're working on a couple products. We've got one, it's an electronic wearable that, that is basically built into a bra. We've done some pretty unique startup technologies where we help block them through the whole hardware concept, both in, in, in terms of what's available and then how to build it.
And, and what's real important along that.
[00:21:20] As it appears from what I've seen, it's that the cable harness is always the last thing to be thought
[00:21:26] Of seems so simple. It's just wires,
right? Exactly. but then they get there and they're like, oh, I get this board with this connector that I designed into the board and this board with this connector, I designed into the board.
[00:21:38] And how do you plug them in? So it's usually done at last minute. And you wouldn't be just like you said, the majority people look at it's just some wires and pins. What's the big deal. uh, but depends on which wires and pins you pick from, for some reason, I don't know why, but you can look at something with like four different colored wires, all let's say 24 gauge.
[00:22:00] The four different colors. And for some reason, the orange one costs twice as much as the brown one it's like guys it. And I actually worked at a wire manufacturing company for a while up in New Hampshire, actually making the wire. And I'll tell you going from orange to blue, it's not a big deal.
It shouldn't be right.
[00:22:21] We're literally talking about a color of the insulation here, right? No other, no capacitance issues. No, there's nothing technically different here.
It's nothing but little vinyl pellets that you dump it from a hopper and this and cost on the raw material side. There is no difference, but why it is that I don't know another thing with customers when they spec out a wire.
[00:22:41] Let's say that this kind of a thick one, let's say, say, okay, I want 18 gauge wire. It has to meet UL 1 0 7. Okay. There's five given choices that you can buy. And the range can go from anywhere from $50 for a hundred foot roll to $180 for a hundred foot roll. And all the electrical properties are the same it's.
[00:23:01] And so that's when you get back to a customer and say, look, you call you, call out vendor x. But here's you get a much better deal. There's no problem with that. And majority of times when the engineer who's getting hit with the cable at the last minute saying you gonna make this work, how they're specing out, which wire, and which manufacturers to use just might be, this is the one that's available to me.
[00:23:26] Great. It's the first one that popped up when you do a Google search
mm-hmm . So really we're talking about a visibility issue there of folks just not knowing where to turn, to, to find multiple sources for a similar product.
Correct. And that's also, it kept us specking in, like I said before, the pins Crimps and the different connector housings mm-hmm
[00:23:47] All across the board. I'd like to ask you guys about the nonprofit that you are working on.
That's,, uh, it's called Smiles for Sonny and it kind of happened by accident four or five years ago. I got pretty ill, but, um, you know, bounced back and it was with cancer. Yet here I am still kicking around. And one day when I was in the hospital, I met this person who actually wanted to have a, get a few pictures of this bakery in New Jersey.
[00:24:15] Uh, that a celebrity owns, I went down there to take some pictures and it ended up being more than that. One of the owners FaceTimed with this person I met and they were thrilled. And before I knew it, three months had gone by hadn't gotten home yet. I've been to every state in the country. And we did about a hundred and little over 130 bucket lists for, um, people who couldn't make it.
[00:24:38] Oh, wow. Uh, yeah. So, you know, we actually, we went to a wedding, we went to little kids birthday parties for grandparents who were bedridden and myself and that's by dog Sonny. We've slept on top of mountains on volcanoes and blizzards and deserts. And we did all in a little, in a 2004 mini Cooper and a tent.
[00:24:56] And at that point in time, Kevin had made sure that I was able to keep rolling on the road, do doing my thing. Then I had gotten home after three months and I figured that was about it. And then we started working together more on the business side and we started talking that it'd be a nice thing do for nonprofit cuz personally I really do enjoy doing it.
[00:25:17] So we've kicked that off and there's a Facebook page Smiles for Sonny. And by the time this comes out, the website will be up and that'll be SmilesforSonny.org.
Will you back up one step for us and just tell us how you got the, these bucket list items and just a little more background.
Our primary goal is to raise money, to help people with medical costs.
[00:25:39] Living expenses while they're fighting cancer. During Liam's travels, Liam met a young man who was fighting cancer and didn't have the financial wherewithal to be able to buy his medication and the story of Liam giving him his medication and saying, I'll figure out how to get more was enough to say, Hey, there's a lot of people who.
[00:25:57] Cancer being bad enough, but what it does to your, your life in terms of having to absorb costs and try to keep living that's when we said, Hey, we wanna raise money to help support people. And then tying it back to the Sonny side of this. One of, one of the biggest concerns that Liam saw was. People who are fighting cancer, didn't have the physical ability to take care of their pets.
[00:26:18] So we raise funds to help bring in dog walkers or people to support pets. And if things go the wrong direction, we will, we offer rehoming to find a forever home for pets that need to find a new home. That's. Those are the primary functions of the nonprofit, and that's why we are out trying to raise money.
And friend of Sonny animal would never see a single day in a pet shelter. Uh, I'll take 'em by myself and find a good forever home.
We have found a network of people who are willing to take pets if needed temporary or long term. And in many cases,
Beautiful. That's really an incredible range of support services that you're giving to people who really need help.
The other thing that we're trying to do is become the, make a wish for big people in following with Liam's effort to go finish bucket lists. Yeah. We're also trying to raise money to help people go finish the bucket list themselves.
Great. What's next for the organization
right now? We're planning on doing a little mini trip this summer, just to revisit some people that I've met along the way, there's on the Smiles for Sonny Facebook page. The first video down there is everybody my dog met and it's thousands of people and it's a cool bit video. And the reason why it's named after Sonny is he's my dog out when it first got ill, I got him.
[00:27:38] For some company and little did I know he actually ended up being my service dog. Right on, uh, he can actually, when you blood changes whatnot, he can give you a good half an hour, 45 minute heads up that I'm not going to be doing very well if I don't chill out. Wow. Uh, so yeah, there act, I didn't even know he was doing it all along.
[00:27:57] I never owned dog before him, so I, yeah, the dog does weird stuff, but after I spoke to a trainer, when I was at the hospital, a, a gentleman who was a trainer started talking me. So we did a little study. To where I would either take a placebo or something that would make me sick. I didn't know what it was. Mm. And then they would see how the dog reacted around me over a couple days.
[00:28:19] Wow. And that's how we figured out what his signal was to me and whether I was getting really sick or not. And that's how it started. So it has a big niche. Go and visit people. Hey, and here's something for the geeks in the audience. My dog's trained in Klingon. I kid you not. Oh, that's always a great conversation starter.
[00:28:42] It's when you know. You're in a restaurant or you're going to a store or something and you give a, everyone looks at you and it's great conversation. What language is that?
Everything, what a great language to, to issue commands in you talk about a firm, hand of a trainer. You don't mess with a Klingon.
What's great is I did some reading up on it at, at first I was training him in Klingon just to be, kind to be a little bit of a smartass.
[00:29:06] Then as they work more and more about dogs, they respond much better to very guttural. That's why a lot of police dogs are trained in German. Yeah. A lot of hot consonants. And what's another nice thing about it is the dog doesn't understand English as much. So if you're walking somewhere and somebody goes, well, look a puppy, a little kid or something like that.
[00:29:22] It's not distraction
that's a nice perk as a service dog to eliminate one more layer of distractions. It is
cuz I'm, I'm basically distracting enough for him.
So when I was going through my journeys with Sonny, I was in Texas and it blew me away. Traveling across the country. Texas is three times the land mass of all of new England, which you really don't realize it until you driving across it.
[00:29:46] Yeah. And I says, you know, I says, you know, I'm trying to hit every state as well. So I would go up to, so I went to school in Fort Sill and I was able to get a hold of. One of the commanders there. And some young lads who had joined, who were going to 31, Victor, 10 that's fixing radios. I got to go up and talk to them with a Sonny and said, Hey, this is just the beginning of the electronics industry is I was here in that early eighties.
[00:30:16] And this is what I do for a living. So that was like pretty cool to let the younger generation know it's yes, you may be getting into electronics now, but you never know where you're gonna end up with it. Once you get copper in your blood I found you get three type of people. You get people that do it just for a job.
[00:30:33] You get people who do it, who absolutely abor it, who wanna get out. And then you have the poor schmucks like us who actually enjoy it.
excellent. Kevin and Liam. Thank you so much for an amazing discussion today and for all of your work through the nonprofit.
Thank you for having us. This has been great. I enjoyed the conversation,
Eric. Thank you very, very much. This has been like really, really cool. I hope folks enjoy. Hey, thank you so much.
[00:31:01] Have yourself a great one
To learn more about what Kevin and Liam are up to visit devineelectronics.com
that's D E V I N E electronics.com and be sure to visit the site for their amazing nonprofit smilesforsonny.org
. That's smiles F O R S O N N Y. Dot org. Those links will be in our show notes as well until next time, keep the data flowing.