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Linda Shaw Celebrates 30 Years

Having started work at STC in June of 1988, Production Supervisor Linda Shaw celebrates 30 years at STC this week.
“When I started at STC, I had five kids in grade school. Now I have four grandkids who have graduated from high school,” Shaw said.

Linda started work at STC in transformer production, which is where she has spent her entire career in positions of increased responsibility. Prior to coming to STC, she spent about three years working at a shoe factory. While the type of production work at STC was much different, Linda says there were many other elements that carried over.

“Making shoes is quite a bit different than making transformers, but there were many things I was able to bring with me to STC,” Shaw said. “Being on time, being dependable, quality as an expectation, respecting your fellow workers, and respecting your customers, those are all very important no matter where you work.”

Linda Shaw at Transformer Production, mid-1990s

Linda was mentored early on by the Plant Manager Bob Simpson. During this time, she learned nearly every single aspect to building the many different custom transformers produced at STC. After about six years, Linda became a Team Leader, responsible for training her production group on the various transformer lines being built by the team.

“Linda was kind of like the lead for a long time anyway,” says Vice President of Operations Angie Calkin. “She had the personality and aptitude to understand the process—and she had a good work ethic.”

Linda was named Production Supervisor two or three years later, a job she’s held ever since. However, despite her experience and leadership roles, Linda didn’t necessarily feel ready for the additional responsibilities.

“I didn’t really feel qualified. I took the responsibility and learned as I went,” Shaw said. “I wasn’t outgoing so I had to learn how to open up and how to give orders. I learned to delegate too, so the work could be shared by the whole team.”

Linda Shaw at STC Manufacturing Facility

Has production work changed in the past 30 years?

“Things are much different,” says Shaw. “Technology has made things easier and faster, things like automatic winders, solder machines, and testing equipment.”

Linda’s not the type of person you’d guess has been at STC for 30 years though. She’s quick to smile and laugh, a little feisty, and still very much focused on getting the job done quickly and with quality.

Regarding her time at the shoe factory before coming to STC, Linda reflected on the values that have served her and her coworkers well.
“I was basically taught the same things there that I try to teach here. If you were buying the product, what would you expect—quality. It’s the golden rule really.”

STC President Brad Cross finds it easy to express his appreciation.

“Linda’s the kind of staff member every manager wants on their team. Her skills and leadership are second to none.”
Thanks for your hard work and friendship Linda, and best wishes for the next 30 years!

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3D Printing Benefits STC Customers

For a number of years, STC engineers have utilized 3D printing in a variety of ways to cut down on both production costs and lead times. In some cases, 3D printing can save thousands of dollars in tooling costs during the design phase. In other cases, the 3D-printed assembly components can be used in the final design and no further tooling charges are necessary.

Design engineer Les Vaughn says one of the best times to benefit from 3D printing is during initial product development.

“As an example, take an encapsulation cup for a transformer,” says Vaughn. “These cups are used as a mold for the epoxy that actually encapsulates the wires. If the cup size we need for a custom design isn’t available as a stock item, it’s faster and less expensive to 3D print the cup than having them fabricated and shipped to us.”

An assembled encapsulation transformer (left) next to a 3D-printed encapsulation cup (right)

3D printing is also utilized for coil winding forms. The form provides a rigid surface around which wire is wound. In many cases, the form is made out of square tubes of Mylar or craft paper. However, specialty designs may require a custom form, and 3D printing offers a quick and cost-effective method for building that form.

An electronic coil wound around a craft-paper form

STC engineers also utilize 3D printing for electronics design and assembly. One particular STC product consists of circuit boards mounted to a face plate with interface controls. While looking for alternate brackets for mounting the PC boards to the face plate, CAD Technician Leslie Hopkins was able to quickly design and 3D print a face plate and PC boards with relocated mounting holes. This enabled her to easily test a number of different bracket styles.

A 3D-printed faceplate (bottom) and circuit board (top left) to test bracket fitting

Hopkins feels 3D-printing offers the best opportunity to test the final assembly and fit.

“It gave me a chance to test some different types of brackets to make sure they were secure, and to then make sure the assembled model fit in the cabinet rack where the final product is installed,” Hopkins said.

There are still other applications where 3D printing has been beneficial, such as in making fixtures to assist in electronics and magnetics assembly. However, the main benefits of each of the various 3D-printing applications remain the same.

“It comes down to speed, cutting down on lead times, more design iterations so we can design toward the highest possible quality,” says STC President Brad Cross. “And, of course, when you cut down on time, you also reduce cost.”

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Electronics Assembly with Transformer for New Product Development

New Product Development with STC

In the 30-plus years STC has been in business, many of our customers have come into contact with us during the development phase for a new product.

In some cases, customers are able to submit detailed specifications, including information such as volt-ampere requirements, available dimensions (footprint or envelope), ambient operating temperature, and many other product requirements.

However, it’s perhaps more common for customers to be unable to submit detailed specifications, which presents an opportunity to consider the many available design options for a given project. For cases like this, we often discuss the following specifications (in addition to other requirements):

  • Maximum Heat Rise
  • Insulation Class
  • Maximum Excitation Current or “Surge Current”
  • Duty Cycle
  • Dielectric Strength
  • Leakage Inductance
  • Interwinding Capacitance
Electronics Assembly with Transformer for New Product Development

…one particular safety certification may be more suitable—and beneficial—than another, and customers must also consider the varying cost and potential benefits for the lab testing that goes along with these certifications.

Then there are other considerations, like safety certifications (such as UL, CE, ETL, and so forth). These certifications are assigned after lab testing to confirm the component meets specific safety requirements. After successful testing, the corresponding certification mark is typically applied and displayed on the component.

However, one particular safety certification may be more suitable—and beneficial—than another, and customers must also consider the varying cost and potential benefits for the lab testing that goes along with these certifications.

There are a number of factors to evaluate when considering available safety certifications, and STC design engineers know which questions to ask to determine the appropriate certification for each new product.

STC’s wide range of capabilities enable us to design both at the component level—as well as the circuitry around that component. Our magnetics capabilities enable us to integrate the right power-supply transformer, and our EMS capabilities enable us to work that power supply into the final electronics assembly. Need a unique enclosure for a box-build assembly? We also have 3D-modeling and printing capabilities, which are useful during the prototype phase to help a customer arrive at a precise case or cabinet design.

Product development is our specialty—and we look forward to working with you on your upcoming product. Contact us to see how we can help you.

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Made in the USA by STC Sun Transformer

Trends in US Contract Manufacturing

For the past number of years, the topic of “re-shoring” has been addressed in various manufacturing-industry publications, as well as in the general media. Re-shoring is the term used to describe companies moving segments of production or services back to the United States after having previously moved that work to off-shore locations.

However, in practice, moves to US manufacturing have primarily been the result of specific scenarios, according to STC President Brad Cross.

“There are specific situations where we have a distinct competitive edge, for example with government projects that require a certain percentage of the assemblies to be manufactured in the US,” says Cross. “But in addition to those types of projects, we also have an edge when companies must deal with defective parts that have entered their supply chain”

Four Transformers Made in the USA by Sun Transformer

In these cases, component defects aren’t discovered until they’ve reached US plants. And by that time, the defective parts are already installed in assembled products, and additional defective parts are likely sitting in multiple shipping containers in various stages of the supply chain.

“When these kinds of problems arise, we often beat the overall costs that result from these types of overseas manufacturing problems,” Cross says. “While STC regularly outperforms other manufacturers in quality and lead time, these common types of situations give us yet another advantage.”

Another issue that drives re-shoring is source traceability, which has become a much bigger area of interest since the Dodd-Frank bill was signed in 2010. To address the humanitarian crisis in Central Africa, Section 1502 of this law requires that companies disclose whether any minerals used in their manufacturing (such as tin, tungsten, and gold) originate from the Democratic Republic of the Congo or any adjoining countries.

Angie Calkin, who serves at the STC Quality Manager, says this requirement gives US companies like STC an edge where source traceability is a concern.

“In order to be compliant with this law, we must carefully select and monitor US vendors who have already verified their own sources, and that’s an advantage for a company like ours since we have longstanding relationships with so many of our vendors.” Calkin says. “For overseas manufacturers, source traceability is rarely a requirement so when US companies try to require it of their suppliers, it becomes another layer of complexity that is almost impossible to get through.”

According to Cross, being familiar with your product sources reduces reliability issues that can result from another large area of concern, which is component counterfeiting.

“Component counterfeiting is something that has gone on for many years and seems to have increased during the last 20 years, and the key problem with counterfeiting is reliability,” Cross says.

Counterfeit components look identical to the name-brand models they copy, with fake date codes, product markings, and even stamped copies of the brand logo.

Statistics provided by the US Customs and Border Protection agency indicate that China/Hong Kong is by far the largest source of counterfeit goods that arrive in the United States, followed by India, Singapore, and a number of other countries. (https://www.cbp.gov/trade/priority-issues/ipr/statistics)

“It’s costly to test for these inferior components because the testing is time consuming and the tests are often destructive,” Cross added.

“For example, the use of inferior insulation or construction techniques in magnetics drastically reduce a transformer lifespan. Years ago, one of our customers found a Chinese source that was able to provide similar high-voltage transformers at about half our cost, so they began buying the import transformers. The resulting assembled products passed factory testing but ended up consistently failing in customer use far short of their warranties. We resumed supplying their transformers not long after that.”

Cross also claims the counterfeiting problem is even more prevalent in the electronics-component market, though the resulting issues are very similar.

“Semiconductors that would otherwise be expected to last for 20 years also pass testing after installation on the assembled product, but then often fail within a few months, leading to considerable warranty costs for the brand manufacturer.”

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Honeywell Supplier Development Project Manager Warren Witmer

Quality Partnerships

As a manufacturer of high-reliability magnetics and electronics assemblies, STC often works in partnership with clients to ensure that our products meet the unique quality requirements for each specific project.

These requirements are in addition to STC’s existing quality and production certifications, and they are created to supplement quality procedures and help maintain error-free use in the field. They also include periodic assessments and audits performed by client project managers during onsite visits.

One recent onsite visit was from Warren Witmer, who works as Supplier Development Project Manager for Honeywell International. Witmer, who is also a Six Sigma Black Belt as well as a Quality Control Engineer, visits STC throughout the year to conduct inspections, process reviews, and carry out other quality-assurance related tasks.

Honeywell Supplier Development Project Manager Warren Witmer
Warren Witmer - Honeywell Supplier Development Project Manager

During his visits, Witmer works closely with STC Quality Manager Angie Calkin, who is responsible for implementing and overseeing the various quality programs at STC. According to Calkin, Witmer’s onsite visits add value to STC’s quality programs.

“We generally see Warren several times a year. His visits include supplier-development education, supplier assessments, and occasionally he performs field quality engineer duties such as first-article inspection and self release audits,” Calkin says. “I always enjoy Warren’s visits. They are generally productive and informative.”

When Witmer goes back to Honeywell, Calkin says, the cooperative work continues.

“Warren plays an essential role in our relationship with Honeywell. He is our go-to guy when an issue arises and we don’t know who in the organization to reach out to. If Warren can’t resolve the issue himself, he points us to appropriate person.”

These types of partnerships are not uncommon when it comes to the complex projects, and STC staff members are accustomed to making them work—for both STC as well as for our partners.

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lead-wire-nick

STC Celebrates 30 Years

STC is celebrating their 30th anniversary as a manufacturer of high-reliability electronics and transformers. As an ISO 9001 certified business, STC provides product design, development, manufacturing, assembly, testing, and sustainment services.

When asked to comment on why Sun Transformer has been able to grow and succeed for so many years, Production Supervisor Linda Shaw was politely interrupted by Tammie, a member of the Production team.

Tammie was concerned that a very slight nick in the lead-wire insulation for an assembled hardware component should be replaced. Linda looked closely at the lead wire, agreed with Tammie that it should be replaced, and said “Yes, [customer name] would not like this. I’ll replace the wire and take it to the Testing Department when I’m done.”

To an outsider, the nick was barely visible. To both Tammie and Linda, it was enough to keep the transformer from passing mechanical inspection.

“As a part of this company, we have learned to care about our customer’s needs and make sure we complete our orders on a timely basis and with the utmost quality. We also have established good communication with both our customers and employees.”

Later that day, after replacing the lead-wire and considering the initial question, Linda was able to offer some insightful comments.

“As a part of this company, we have learned to care about our customer’s needs and make sure we complete our orders on a timely basis and with the utmost quality. We also have established good communication with both our customers and employees.”

When asked about STC president Brad Cross, Linda continues.

“He has been a very good leader because he works hard to operate a successful company. He listens and works with staff and employees alike to make sure everyone knows they are an important part of the company.”

Perhaps Tammie and Linda’s action earlier that day are the most telling reason for why STC remains an industry leader when it comes to high-reliability electronic manufacturing services.

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ISO 9001-2015 Quality System Revision

STC on Track for ISO Revision

STC has been certified to the ISO 9001 quality program continually since 1999, and STC achieved re-certification in November of this year.

The ISO 9001 standards are revised every five years or so, requiring periodic recertification to the latest ISO revision. The standard was revised again this year, updating the previous 2008 standard.

The latest revision is ISO 9001:2015, which requires greater emphasis toward anticipating the risks present in the organization’s environment.

This risk-based thinking is not new to the ISO 9001 quality management system, which has always focused on anticipating and preventing mistakes. However, the revised standard has made the approach explicit by specifically addressing Organizational Context, Leadership, Planning, Support, and Performance Evaluation.

“It’s left very much up to the organization, taking into consideration, of course, their customer requirements and the regulatory framework in which they may operate, to define their own needs for documentation in order to manage the processes.”

While discussing the 2015 revision, Nigel Croft, Chair of the ISO subcommittee that developed and revised the standard, emphasized the flexible nature of the new standard.

According to Croft, “It’s left very much up to the organization, taking into consideration, of course, their customer requirements and the regulatory framework in which they may operate, to define their own needs for documentation in order to manage the processes.”

“It provides the confidence, that’s the key word, confidence, that customers around the world—right through the supply chain, business-to-business, business-to-consumer, right down to us as individuals—can have confidence in the products and services that they’re receiving from their certified suppliers.”

Because STC was recently re-certified to the 2008 revision, the Quality team is in the process of implementing a plan for meeting new requirements as early as next year.

Angie Calkin, Vice President of Operations at STC, is pleased with the company’s ability to meet the revised standard.

“Because we’ve considered and planned for the various risks that exist for us, the 2015 revision is not very different from the way we’ve done things,” Calkin said. “The biggest change for us will be in the documentation of some of these things.”

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Product Assembly Testing

Electronic Enthusiasm at STC

Many of the inquiries we received here at STC are from engineers or buyers from businesses with new products in development. These callers are often looking for design assistance and/or contract manufacturers able to provide electronic assemblies for their new products.

During these conversations, we often ask a lot of questions about their new product. Sometimes the business reps are forthcoming about the new products, often times not so much. We try to be understanding for both cases. We also try to make it clear why we are so inquisitive.

It all comes down to this: We are not only genuinely enthusiastic about what we do, but we also have the knowledge and experience to offer the best design and performance solutions.

Because a large percentage of our work is on custom designs with detailed electrical requirements, it’s not uncommon for us to perform full testing of our sub-assemblies in complete product assemblies.

This testing, which is performed at our in-house testing lab, often includes evaluation of our sub-assemblies in several varying voltage and frequency-input combinations, ambient temperatures and different equipment operating modes. This testing ensures our sub-assemblies function optimally within the customer’s system. Important parameters that are evaluated include heat rise, efficiency, and current draw for a sub-assembly over a wide range of input conditions.

While time is of the essence, and 100-percent performance is the standard, our eagerness for getting your design and production right has remained from the start. Let us know how we can help you.

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STC Product Highlights

If you’ve spent any time looking through our website, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the various types of electronic components and transformers that are designed and manufactured by STC. In this article, we’ll look at three specific product types, as well as information about the equipment in which these components are found.

Electronic Controls

In the field of printed circuit assemblies, electronic controls is another of the many specialty areas for STC.

Many of these types of PCB assemblies are used in coded secure-entry systems, which are capable of tracking who enters and leaves equipped premises. STC has valuable experience providing both solenoid and motor controls for these types of systems. As with all of our electronic assemblies, we provide everything from the design and build of power-supply components, PC boards, and cable harnesses.

Control Transformers

As the name implies, control transformers are used to apply power for the control circuitry for a wide range of equipment, everything from medical equipment (including medical imaging, patient lift systems, and others), to industrial shop equipment (including compressors, hoist, and others) to vacuum-sealing devices and many others.

STC has experience working with customers to design and build transformer models that are made to work with their specific systems. There is no need to select an off-the-shelf unit that requires adapting your system to the transformer.

Low-Profile Transformers

The low-profile transformers from STC go by the series name “LPC” and are ideal for assemblies requiring a printed circuit board (PCB) where vertical space is at a premium.

STC is an ideal partner in providing complete electronics assemblies, including low-profile transformers, PCB assembly, and wiring harnesses.

Much of our experience has also involved requirements such as two-party design, source traceability, ISO quality procedures, product testing, and close work with our customers to verify that their own quality requirements are met.

Please contact us to see how STC can help with your next project.

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The Benefit of Experience

In the 28 years since STC was formed, we have supplied custom components to high-reliabilitiy commercial, military, and aerospace programs. To get to the point where a company can effectively supply components for these types of projects, there are a number of key steps that must be taken first.

One of the first steps is to implement and certify an ISO quality program, which STC has done continuously since 1999. In addition to the ISO quality system, there are other certifications that benefit both the supplier and purchasing customer (for example, IPC-A-610 and J-STD-001 certification, which address the soldering and acceptability of electronic components).

According to STC VP of Operations Angie Calkin, much of the work beyond ISO certification is dictated by the projects themselves.

“You have to be willing to work with whatever requirements that are specified by the customer,” says Calkin. “Whether it be following first-article requirements or being proactive in reporting delivery dates, if you’re not willing to follow the requirements, you’re not going to make it as a supplier for these projects.”

As Calkin describes it, experience in working on these types of projects is invaluable.

“A lot of it is also building a reputation over the years. During the past five years, we’ve rarely been late on a delivery. At the same time, customers often ask us to push a date sooner, and we work with them as much as possible to do that.”

Calkin is able to describe, in detail, the requirements often specified by these types of projects, as well as the online supplier sites used to report accounting, manufacturing, engineering, and quality data. This focus on detail is shared by the entire STC staff.

As an example, an STC customer recently wrote:

“When I deal with STC, I always feel that your company values our business relationship, and that you dedicate the time and energy to get things right. I always feel confident that when you communicate concerns, they are intelligent questions—asking about genuine issues that may affect acceptance… Your attention to detail simply displays to me that you care about doing things right, and by the book, and that you really care about delighting your customers. This is so refreshing. Thanks for all you do, and for your exceptional attention to detail.”

On behalf of the entire STC staff, thank you. We’re doing our best.

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