An optimist with a passion for solution-driven technology and impeccable performance, Ken Bahl always strives to do it differently than the others. Renowned for his technological knowledge and dedication in the software industry, Bahl held a variety of engineering roles in the early years of his professional life. While working in these roles, he was required to operate printed circuit boards (PCBs) that were often inefficient and error-prone, which in due course led Bahl to ask himself: “Why can’t I do better?”
Sierra is the best brand in turn-key PCB prototypes that provide the world with the highest tech with the quickest turning times to bring inventors to market at the lightning pace
Bahl realized that the issue lies with the practice of customers designing the PCB and manufacturers manufacturing it while moving deeper into the task of understanding it better. There is always an error in this process; the customer sometimes designs outside of the manufacturer’s manufacturability reach. According to Bahl, the appropriate model is for manufacturers to specify a set of rules according to the ideal process parameters which will yield expected results, and for customers to obey those rules during design.
When Ken Bahl launched Sierra Circuits, he set the bar high intending to become the PCB establishment that would educate designers and engineers about manufacturing and assembly. How to get a quicker turn-time and to control the controlled impedance? How to master PCB design for manufacturing? Sierra Circuits’ priority is to answer these questions while working hand in hand with its customers to help them get it right the first time. Sierra Circuits is an ISO 9001:2008, ISO 13485:2003 and MilSpec MIL-PRF-55110 certified, Silicon Valley-based, high-technology printed circuit boards manufacturer and assembler.
“Both a manufacturer and a trainer, Sierra Circuits, is a well-oiled machine that will lead the PCB industry for many years to come. Back in the mid-1980s, while other manufacturers were simply fabricating circuit boards, Sierra Circuits was constantly reinventing itself while pushing the envelope to help revolutionize the PCB industry. As a family-run business, the idea of establishing quicker cycle times was born out of the existing industry inefficiencies,” explains Ken Bahl, CEO, and Founder, Sierra Circuits.
“Sierra is the best brand in turn-key PCB prototypes that provide the world with the highest tech with the quickest turning times to bring inventors to market at the lightning pace,” adds Bahl. Specializing in quick turn PCBs and medium production runs, Sierra’s primary focus is delivering the highest quality product in the shortest amount of time. What makes this possible is that Sierra is the actual manufacturer and assembler of PCBs. By owning the manufacturing and assembly facilities, Sierra controls every aspect of the production schedule.
Above all, Sierra Circuits’ creed is to provide customers with resources, expertise, and the highest quality circuit boards the industry has to offer. Sierra Circuits regularly hosts webinars, workshops, and seminars with industry experts such as Rick Hartley, Daniel Beeker, Kenneth Wyatt, and Jim Smith.
Sierra Circuits is a one-stop full turn-key shop, with multiple unique processes, producing highly complex PCBs under swift turn times. Sierra Circuits has been faithfully serving PCB designers and engineers since 1986 and has worked with over 20,000 customers since then. The organization specializes in PCB manufacturing and assembly and high-density interconnect technology. From PCB layout and design to assembly and manufacturing, Sierra Circuits handles all aspects of PCB production.
The company offers development and design services with complete product engineering support, including free bill of materials (BOM) software, as well as design for manufacturing (DFM) and design for assembly (DFA) controls. Additionally, Sierra deals directly with manufacturers of products to procure parts before assembling boards. The method is smooth and planned to prevent any delay between obtaining the PCB design file to shipping the plate.
The BOM used by companies also has issues with long-term components or knowledge that does not cross-check. Sierra has developed a BOM check, which is free for customers to use and find component availability. It responds to all of the queries from selecting the correct part number to appropriately priced parts, resolves long lead times, and other BOM issues.
Sierra Circuits can provide up to 4-build-up layers on expedited lead times, and makeup to 22 layers on a 185-inch thick board. The high technology boards have features like blind/buried vias, filled vias (hole in pads), controlled impedance, high aspect ratios, and micro-BGAs. The organization regularly makes specialty products like lead-free boards, burn-in boards, polyimide multi-layers, thermount multi-layers, metal core PCBs, carbon paste, and boards with blind/buried vias, filled vias, and micro vias. The latest offerings include microelectronics PCBs, down to 1 mil trace and space.
Sierra provides customers with unprecedented quality, reliability, and a single point of support. Sierra supplements its services with end-to-end customer service offering 24-hour support on all orders to ensure that boards are efficient, secure, and cost-effective. Sierra has the experience of assisting consumers with innovative designs and specifications by working on more than a hundred designs a day.
In today’s electronics field, one of the biggest challenges is that everything has faster speeds, more flexibility, and less space. To meet these paramount requirements, Sierra Circuits continuously updates its capabilities and equipment to offer PCB designers the best services, constantly improving the technology.
In terms of technological advancements, today, Sierra Circuits produces any technology designed by the customer in their high-tech boards. The number of layers up to 20 traces widths down to 2 mils on any mixed material, which gives the customer the complex confidence that they are looking for to satisfy their functional requirements.
All this is very unique to the organization because Sierra Circuits is probably one of the top 3 companies which can provide this service, and everyone including the competitors knows that, and when the competitors of Sierra gets a job that they cannot do, their answer is to go to Sierra Circuits. The second part of the services provided by Sierra to the customers is that the services are provided at the quickest turnaround time available in the industry, which is not offered by any of the other competitors. This gives Sierra the ability to service new concepts that research organizations like MIT and various other universities/research R&D companies in the country. And the future will be serviced by the new patented process of making the high tech PCBs, which improves the high-speed signal integrity by 20-to-30%.
Over the course of just a few years, Ken Bahl has received several new patents. Among these, the circuit board apparatus and method consist of a catalytic resin, which is formed by mixing a resin and either homogeneous or heterogeneous catalytic particles. The resin forms an A-stage prepreg cured into a B-stage prepreg, which then forms a C-stage prepreg. By removing the surface, the C-stage prepreg has trenches extending into the depth of the catalytic particles, optionally including drilled holes to form vias.
The breakthrough innovation patented by Ken Bahl changes the basic process of making a PCB or a wafer. This is an additive process where a channel is created in a catalytic substrate material with a laser, and the electroless plating fills the channel with copper and creates a wonderful uniform trace, which is the ultimate for minimizing the signal loss in high-speed electronics.
The traditionally 30+-step process of manufacturing a PCB or a wafer becomes a two-step process – create the channel, plate the substrate, and a PCB or a wafer will be ready for the processing. This is a disruptive innovation that would ultimately change the entire electronics industry.
These patents will also impact the semiconductor industry to increase the number of outputs from the BGAs and possibly eliminate the interposer-substrate between the BGA and the PCB. Indeed, the new technology PCBs will have tight enough pitch to connect the wafer-level packages to them directly. All that provides a lesser number of interconnects and improves signal integrity.
However, Ken Bahl’s most awaited patented technology is the one that has the potential to shrink electronics by half. Traditionally, PCB manufacturing is a subtracting process where copper is taken out. Sierra Circuits will soon use an additive process with a laser to lay down the copper. This will allow the lines to shrink down to 1 mil.
Sierra Circuits has helped many customers overcome challenges over the years, and the NASA case study is one example of what the organization has accomplished. Sierra worked with NASA Airborne Science on the development of web sensor instruments in coordination with satellites that would provide scientists with more data than ever before to better comprehend our environment as a whole.
Sierra Circuits fabricated several custom circuit boards for the Mark III Experimenter Interface Panel, which is physically and electrically compatible with the fleet of NASA aircraft, supporting the data protocols of legacy instruments, and providing ten high-speed Ethernet ports. NASA airborne instruments typically operate from 28-VDC or three-phase, 115-V, 400-Hz AC. The EIP itself does not switch, protect, or measure AC, but merely distributes the current from shipside to four outputs for instruments. That duty is consolidated on a single custom board, instead of a conventional terminal-block implementation, which would have consumed too much space. The total AC power available is 17.25 kVA, with a wide safety margin for transients.
When Ken Bahl founded Sierra Circuits in 1986, there were 2,500 printed circuit board shops in the United States. Today, there are just a bit more than two hundred left, and Sierra remains in the Top 5. Staying at the top of the game demands the ability to spot industry needs. In the young and dynamic Silicon Valley, Sierra Circuits does not follow the trends, and it creates them.
With 35+ years of experience, Sierra Circuits wants to revolutionize the PCB Manufacturing and Assembling process. The organization is going to enable the electronics industry to manufacture high-tech boards, and break the technology barriers for higher signal speeds and signal integrity challenges.
Sierra is going to offer this technology throughout the world, wherever they need this extend of improvements in their designs. The company, having established itself as a prominent player in the United States, is now preparing to expand its manufacturing in other countries, thereby increasing its visibility. Sierra Circuits’ true spirit is imagination, and the PCB industry’s ever-changing demands continue to drive that essence!