Greg Gehl is a man on a mission: to shatter the misconception that sending manufacturing services to China is cheaper than manufacturing in North America. He believes that manufacturing can be performed at comparable costs, with greater speed, efficiency and unrivalled attention to every aspect of the processes – from inception to completion – right here at home.
As president of Urtech Manufacturing Inc., Gehl has advocated a ‘made in North America’ approach to end-to-end electronics manufacturing services (EMS) to global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) long before founding the company in 2010.
Urtech specializes in services that cover entire product life cycles in the rapidly evolving field of high-tech electronics design and manufacturing. With decades of cumulative experience, the team at Urtech works closely with the client as new products are introduced, grow, mature and reach the end-of-life phase in manufacturing services.
Urtech’s team of highly-trained engineers, process engineers, test engineers, production level workers and others can advise customers about the automation process and how to reduce logistics and materials costs, all while remaining competitive in North America.
“People always think, ‘Oh, manufacturing. Only China and Mexico can do it,’ but that’s not right,” states Gehl. “If you manage your business properly, you can do it. People think automatically you have to move things to China if you want to bring the cost down – and we’re showing them that you don’t need to do that.”
Approaching five years in business, Urtech Manufacturing has approximately 100 staff and runs two shifts in its state-of-the-art 80,000 square foot, highly efficient facility that has its own substation supplied with over 3,000 amps of power. Being located in Burlington, Ontario, close to Toronto, Kitchener and the Buffalo border, is convenient for both staff and its many customers.
Active with clients in a range of industries, including telematics, IT, medical, automotive, power and broadcast, Urtech continues to grow and is investigating options to expand to the United States.
Prior to founding Urtech Manufacturing, Gehl held a number of director and senior management roles at leading global companies active in designing and manufacturing audio and video infrastructure equipment. While working on the surface-mount technology (SMT) method of producing electronic circuits with components placed directly onto printed circuit boards at IBM/Celestica – he moved into engineering, where he worked on design for manufacturability (DFM) and feedback for customers like Sun Microsystems high-and enterprise servers. From there, Gehl moved into production management and supply chain management before leaving to work for Burlington-based Evertz Microsystems.
“When I joined, Evertz was pretty small,” he says of the company at the time. “One building and sales under the $50 million mark. Within five years, we grew it to a $300 million company with three facilities locally and one overseas: in Reading, England.” From there, Gehl took his talents with ISO registration and the development of automated tests to Harris Broadcast, where he saw the pricing models used by overseas EMS companies.
With a desire to start his own company, he realized that it was indeed possible to be competitive in North America, and it was high time companies started doing just that.
He realized just how reliable certain brands of SMT lines were, Panasonic in particular, which he introduced to Evertz. “I’ve always been a fan of Panasonic,” says Gehl of the company, which he believes is top of the line in his industry. “These machines are workhorses.” The machines are industrial quality, can be operated 24/7, produce consistent quality, and last for years.
These factors – along with speed and the ability to work with the smallest of components – make the machines especially prized by Urtech. “In the high-tech industry, everything gets smaller – more complicated – and we’re doing 0.2mm pitched BGA and LGAs along with a component size called 01005. That is the smallest size of resistor capacitor you can get, and if you put them in your hand, it looks like somebody sprinkled pepper, that’s how small these components are.”
Having the machines that can deal with the tiniest of components is vital to the business. “If you get good equipment, you can do the highest technology stuff, and these machines are also fast as well, so we can do volume as well.”
In fact, the original Panasonic machines he had installed at Evertz are still running, ten years later. “These type of machines last a long time; they are durable; we do a regular preventative maintenance on them and they give consistent quality that we need.”
At Urtech, the company uses Panasonic CM602 high-speed multi-functional placement machines. A single platform solution, the machines are able to place up to 100,000cph through using optimal combinations of high-speed and multi-functional heads.
Despite starting the company in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis and downturns in the economy, Gehl says the timing was, in fact, very good. “2010 was a recession year, and people thought it was a bad time to do things, but it was actually a good time to get into it,” he says. “Some others had collapsed, so it was a good time for me to get into position, come onboard and start growing.”
Urtech’s highly-experienced engineers and production team strive to not only meet, but exceed, customer expectations regarding quality, service and product delivery. The company continually works towards lowering costs for clients. Finished products are delivered speedily while clients work with a manufacturer able to monitor every step of the production process right here in North America.
With in-depth knowledge and experience in (OEM), the team at Urtech knows the importance of exceptional workmanship in the industry and ensures quality from start to finish. The company complies with ISO 13485:2003 for the manufacture, assembly and testing of electronic printed circuit boards and assemblies for the Medical device industry as well as ISO 9001:2000 Quality Management Systems for procedures and records and prides itself on working with clients to resolve any issues with products using its, “expertise in logistics and repair capabilities (including BGA rework).”
Urtech has a strong belief that manufacturing in North America provides companies with a significant advantage over the competition and remains focused on working closely with customers to remain cost competitive in an ever-expanding global marketplace. The company’s services assist clients from prototype to end-of-life – making all the difference when it comes to getting a product to market.
Practicing lean manufacturing – essentially eliminating non-value-added activities and delivering high-quality products efficiently, on-time and on budget – helps Urtech to keep its overhead low. The company hires the right people with the necessary experience and a can-do attitude to foster a team-oriented work environment.
“We work with every customer, and we design a process flow specifically for their product, so we work to get out any inefficiencies in the process right up front,” says Gehl. “As for the labor portion, we have to make sure it’s something we’re very efficient at, or we won’t be competitive.” Process engineering analyzes and refines operations to help keep costs to a minimum for customers.
At the prototype stage, Urtech is keenly aware of the necessity of working with a manufacturing partner to get a jump on the competition. Highly-experienced staff are involved early in the design process to work with clients to provide fast turnaround of cost-competitive products, all while maintaining the strictest intellectual property protection possible.
The company has a vast array of equipment and technologies available to facilitate prototypes, including flexible SMT placement equipment, X-ray, automated test development (ATD), supply chain management, BGA rework and BOM risk analysis. DFx analysis reviews ensure new products can be efficiently manufactured while considering overall methods of assembly, total overall cost and effects on the environment.
During the production stage, the company collaborates with clients to investigate ways of reducing overall costs via effective sourcing of materials and components or through lean manufacturing models. In addition to assisting customers with refining supply chains and building products, the company will help reduce logistics costs and develop new automated test platforms capable of communicating in real time. Advanced SMT placement equipment, cable and harness assembly, packaging design, direct order fulfillment, and logistics planning are just a few of Urtech’s capabilities.
Realizing how essential it is to mitigate risk at the end-of-life stage, Urtech works closely with clients on solutions for slow moving inventory while working towards next generation of products. Since the company is based in North America, it can give customers a distinct advantage with services including testing of legacy products, logistic planning and end-of-life supply chain management.
With facilities totaling 80,000 square feet (manufacturing occupies 50,000, and the remaining 30,000 is used as warehousing space), Urtech is in a prime position for expansion. Over the course of the past four years, the private company has grown over 36,000 percent.
It recently received ISO 1345 certification, stating the company’s processes are in place to build medical devices. “It is a bit more involved with medical devices and being able to track your quality activities – if there is ever an issue, you can go back and figure out what’s going on, which of course you want,” states Gehl.
The company has close relationships with its suppliers to ensure products are there when needed. This is especially important when getting to market quickly. Keeping manufacturing and design houses close together, as is the case with Urtech, enables faster turnaround than dealing with companies overseas.
“Sometimes, someone leapfrogs somebody else trying to come up with the product at the same time. If you go to China, it can take months to get prototypes done, but if you do it locally, we can do stuff in 24 to 48 hours. That’s the difference.”
Customers can see products come down the line, and make changes needed to improve the product, which results in a win-win situation for everyone. “That’s how real innovation comes, and it’s good for the R&D folks, who are working on the product, to actually see how it is manufactured. When they can come and see how it is being made live, they can see what impacts their design has on the manufacturing process, and how we can improve things.”
“We can do things in North America at the same price as the supposedly low-cost geographies, just by running our business properly and running it lean. By doing that, we’re showing that the pricing model can work.”
The advantages of working with Urtech are many, from highly-experienced staff and extremely accurate machines to solid quality control processes and dealing with a North American-based business. “I believe in North America. We can be competitive, and I believe I can help other North American companies to be competitive, and that’s my goal,” states Gehl. “If I don’t think I can help them, then I am okay saying it’s not a right fit for us.”