Kelly Dack Discusses His Recent Move


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dan-kelly.jpgBeaulieu: Right. One of the great things about Prototron (full disclosure: we both work for Prototron) is the fact that we only do prototypes or small volumes, and we don't have really any interest in large volume, so we're trying to give as honest an answer as we can to our customers on how to design a board for the ultimate manufacturability. We don't customize it for our production shop. We don't have a production shop. We're giving good clear answers. We strive for good clear advice on how to design the board the best to get the best out of using the right laminates, the right materials, to not only get the customer what they want and need, but also at the best price possible when they go into the manufacturing world for the true end-product.

Dack: Dan, as the new guy here, let me ask you a few questions. With the push for the growth of Prototron to meet the customer needs, what would you say are the three main added-value aspects of Prototron for a designer or a new customer?

Beaulieu: That's pretty straightforward. One is what you bring to the table, which we've been working on, and now we've got an official, sanctioned person who can do that. We've been doing a lot with our other engineering expert, Mark Thompson, who a lot of people know. We're giving advice to our customers to make sure it's done right. That's number one. Then, of course, there's the more logical on-time delivery. We understand your needs. Prototron was built many years ago when there weren't a lot of quick-turn companies. There are now, some of them as a hobby, some of them as a fill-in, but this company is completely dedicated to delivering production-quality boards on time.

They do some proof of design where the customer says, "Build this and put some jumpers on it." They'll do some of that, mostly for big companies here, like the little company up the street called Microsoft where, when they're developing a product, they're doing 15 iterations. There aren’t a lot of companies that will want to open up the doors, but we do a lot of tours here, and they want to educate the designers. An educated designer means an educated customer, and an educated customer understands and appreciates what we do creating that marriage. I don't know if that was three, but those are the important things we bring to the party.

There’s a lot of integrity here. We try to give the right answer, not necessarily the Prototron answer. We've given some answers that were right and, in some ways financially hurt us, but they were the right answer for the customer. We will do that. When something can be done cheaper, we'll level with people on that. Our number one value is, if you were to take any organization's new product development, whether it's a start-up or a company like Microsoft developing new products, that's where we come in. We almost have an American spiritual goal here, where anything you read says, "The future of America is innovation." We take our place at that table. We want to represent the board community at the table of innovation and help that process as much as we possibly can.

Dack: Let me agree with everything you said, from a unique perspective standpoint of being a customer.

Beaulieu: That's right, you were a customer.

dan-kelly3.jpgDack: For nearly a decade. Let me tell you the power of what Mark Thompson brings to the table with regard to a simple tour through the board shop. I had an opportunity to pass through this area, made it a point to stop at Prototron and hook up with Mark, National Sales Manager Russ Adams, Lee Salazar in outside sales, and, of course, President Dave Ryder. We sat down and discussed designs for the company I was working for and, not to be missed, take the tour. To have Mark Thompson guide a designer through the tour was just inspiring. To see and be in touch with each process and the machinery involved, to be able to ask the operator questions, and to have a personality like Mark explain how each thing works was just invaluable—it made me a better designer. I went back a better designer.

Beaulieu: I think that's so important because, other than that, each of us is one hand clapping, and we've got to get them together for applause. The other thing, and I see it in you, is this company has a lot of passionate people. One of the things about a Mark Thompson tour is the passion he shows for the process. He loves the process. One of the things I'm excited about, as I get on my soapbox, is the generation of kids, the 23–24 year olds, which are the “makers generation” now. They're back interested in how are you making these boards? How are you making this car? Their older brothers were the computer generation, which is important, but we couldn't get their head out of that computer screen.

We're starting to meet kids here who want to know how you build things. I'm encouraged by that because we certainly need some youth in this industry. What I think you're going to find, Kelly, because I've seen it myself and it’s probably the only place in the United States, when you start doing your training here in Seattle, you're going to see younger people than you've seen in a long time, and that's exciting as hell to me.

Dack: What you say is very scary in a good way. I mean that as a euphemism. Again, I'm a new transplant here. There's quite a bit of traffic, and you have a little more time to get to work. I've noticed exactly what you're talking about. The people driving the cars are young, hip people. They're working for companies that are doing design, and it's very noticeable. The answer to the question, "Where is the next generation of designers coming from?" might just be right here in Seattle.

Beaulieu: I think it is. People are here. SpaceX is here. Alibaba's coming here, if they're not here already. Yahoo, Google, they're all here. It's a great place to be. It's a new Northwest gold rush, I call it. It really is.

Dack: It’s very exciting, and half the reason I'm here; the other half is the great people at Prototron.

Beaulieu: That's nice to hear. I'm working with a professor up at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and I sat right in this room and talked to his class on Skype about four weeks ago. Mark's going to talk to the class. My friend and I-Connect007 contributor Bob Tarzwell is going to talk to the class. They're going to come down here because it's a class on printed circuit boards. These are graduate students and they're very interested. They had a lot of great questions. We actually sold them our book, "The PCB 101 Handbook." They're using it. It's really the first time that graduate students, EE students, are talking about PCBs for longer than one afternoon or two. The class is really focused on that. We're going to encourage them to come here, and we're using the book to expand it to other graduate schools as well. We want you to be part of that as well.

Dack: Very good. Thanks, Dan.

Beaulieu: Thank you.

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