Christophe Febvre always knew his company, Dynamic Group Circuit Design Inc., could be competitive in the global marketplace in an age of high-tech outsourcing.
He knew it for sure in July when the company redesigned a circuit board for a company in Singapore – exactly the opposite kind of outsourcing making headlines and leading to declarations that American companies can’t compete with cheaper labor overseas.
In this particular case, the Fort Collins-based company could do the work faster and cheaper.
“It was confirmation of what I always believed – that we could compete,´ said Febvre, CEO of DGCD, which does printed circuit board engineering, layout design and manufacturing. The company has completed projects for a variety of companies, including those in the computer, semi-conductor, medical and aerospace industries.
The work from Singapore was a small job compared to other DGCD projects. It was actually a redesign of a circuit board the company had made for a branch of Agilent Technologies in Roseville, Calif. A division of that branch moved to Singapore and requested the redesign.
“In the grand scheme of things for the company, it wasn’t a big thing,” Febvre said. “But in a symbolic way, it was significant. We should believe that in the free marketplace, we will be able to compete.”
Employing the laid-off
DGCD, with offices in south Fort Collins, employs 16, a third of whom were hired after being laid off from area companies. DGCD started in 1999 when four former Hewlett-Packard Co. circuit board layout designers decided to work for themselves. One of the founders, Denise Gugelman, is president of the privately owned company.
Febvre and chief financial officer Joe Bakel, who also used to work for Hewlett-Packard, cast a broader vision for the company when they came on board in 2000. They wanted to bring both engineering and design layout under the same roof.
Traditionally, one company does the engineering for circuit boards and another company does the layout design.
The fact that DGCD does both engineering and layout design is one of its biggest selling points to potential customers. The separation of engineering and layout design can result in communication problems, particularly in projects being outsourced overseas.
“When you’re creating prototypes, things go wrong,” Bakel said. “Here, we can handle all of that in-house. The engineers and layout designers can talk to each other. We’re not communicating over e-mail with language barriers.”
DGCD focuses on the development and production of prototypes, or circuit boards being produced for the first time. Most circuit boards require several redesigns before they can be mass-produced.
The manufacturing aspect of DGCD is small. On average, companies want only about 25 of the prototypes manufactured. DGCD subcontracts the manufacturing to Boulder-based Circuit Images, which creates the raw boards, and InstruTech Inc. in Longmont, which places the components on them.
It’s common for companies to send DGCD designs to Asia to be mass-produced, Febvre said.
Febvre said his company is most cost-effective for companies that need high-quality prototypes developed quickly. It’s also a good match for companies that are highly sensitive about each aspect of the circuit design.
“We’ve had people come in and sit next to us at the computer while we come up with the design,” Febvre said.
Most of DGCD’s work has been for companies based on Colorado’s Front Range. Customers have also included companies in California, Texas and Utah. The fact that DGCD has survived the downturn in the high-tech industry is a testament to competitiveness, Febvre said.
“It has not been easy to stay in business for the past few years,” he said. “The high-tech companies have had limited dollars to spend. For companies like us, there’s little room for error.”
The recent work from Singapore may lead to more business from overseas. Febvre considers that a sign of hope for Northern Colorado.
“There’s a lot of talk and concern in our community about layoffs, outsourcing, competition from the Far East. It’s been a furor in a sense,” he said. “But Americans have always brought ingenuity and teamwork to the marketplace. We will figure out a way to compete harder.”