Beta LAYOUT enjoyed a strong showing at the recent National Electronics Western Cape exhibition, garnering interest from the engineering community not only in its well-known prototype printed circuit board (PCB) service but also in its continuously evolving offering of complementary products and services.
Ian Fennell, plant manager at Beta LAYOUT’s Cape Town facility, took time out to discuss what he sees as the factors that have supported the company’s success, as well as explain the latest developments.
Beta LAYOUT is Europe’s largest supplier of prototype PCBs and was founded in 1989. In 1994 it revolutionised prototype PCB manufacturing with the idea of merging individual production orders into a cost-saving pool; and so the PCB-POOL concept was born.
Since then, electronic engineers, development departments of renowned companies, and hobbyists the world over have taken advantage of this protected core brand. The Beta Group has over 200 employees with manufacturing plants in Germany and South Africa (ISO 9001 and UL certified) and sales offices throughout Europe and the US. Today it has a customer base in excess of 30 000 and generates annual revenues of over 20 million Euros.
According to Fennell, “The secret to the company’s success is a simple concept actually: we listen to our customers. Everything we do revolves around their needs and requirements.”
He explains that determining precisely what customers want and need is as simple as asking them: “Take our core product, PCB-POOL: we ask our customers to evaluate every order they receive. But why would they bother unless there is a problem, you may ask? We bribe them,” he jokes. “Perhaps bribe is the wrong word, more like we encourage feedback through our customer order evaluation forms.”
These evaluation forms ask customers for feedback regarding the quality and reliability of Beta LAYOUT’s PCBs and supplies, as well as their assessment of the price-performance ratio. To encourage this feedback it offers a 10% discount after five evaluations. These ratings and reviews are evaluated not only by management, but are read by all employees as they are transferred live to the company’s monitor system at all its worldwide locations and manufacturing facilities.
When asked to highlight what he thinks makes PCB-POOL special, Fennell rattles off a list of features: “What makes it the best PCB prototyping service that I am aware of are things such as PCB online price calculation 24/7, no waiting for quotations, free EDA software in Target T3001, IDF-to-3D in order to create STL files for a 3D model of an assembled PCB, live order tracking with Watch“ur“PCB, a free stencil with prototype orders, online assembly (new for South Africa), MAGIC-PCB where we will embed an RFID chip into a PCB at the drilling stage (now available for free when selected with over delivery), ‘On-time or Free’ for fast turnaround orders (four days or less), customer order evaluations, EAGLE button to order PCBs directly from the software... and we accept over 15 layout package formats. Are you sorry you asked? And I could go on.”
Remarkably, until January of this year, when the company was forced to apply a small increase in South Africa to cover both inflation and exchange rate fluctuations, PCB-POOL pricing has remained the same since its creation in 1994. This goes a long way to explaining the growth in Beta LAYOUT’s customer base to over 30 000, with more than 60% of those being currently active.
Products and services
Dataweek has highlighted much of Beta LAYOUT’s offerings in past articles. The following are features that readers may not know about.
Beta LAYOUT offers TARGET3001 EDA software as a free PCB-POOL Edition. The licence fee it pays to the software vendor is amortised with the PCB orders. Nevertheless, customers will receive the appropriate Gerber data with each PCB delivery. An upgrade to an independent TARGET3001 version is also possible at any time.
According to Fennell, there are hardly any satisfactory solutions in the market to create 3D data for a populated PCB from EDA software, since the original data format, IDF (Intermediate Data Format), does not include any 3D information; only the board outline, the location, and description of each component are defined.
Consequently, each component has to be constructed and placed in a 3D-capable program. Without highly specialised 3D design skills, this is a near-impossible task.
As a solution, IDF data generated from any PCB layout software is imported into the IDF-Viewer developed by Beta LAYOUT and Simplified Solutions. An extensive component database enables the board to be populated with virtual 3D components.
The company also supports EAGLE EDA software by sending layout data directly to the online IDF Viewer. Components from the original EAGLE library are automatically assigned to the appropriate 3D elements.
When using IDF-to-3D in combination with the free FITS-or-NOT service, customers will receive a printed 3D model for collision check before any expense or loss of time is incurred. Upon entering an invoice number as a coupon code with a successive PCB-POOL PCB order, a 3D model will be produced immediately and shipped to the customer for free.
A more general 3D printing service is also offered through the www.beta-prototypes.com online store.
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