Leading the Way in its Field

Leader Tech
Written by Ryan Cartner

Leader Tech is a U.S. manufacturer of EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) shielding products for various applications including enclosures for electronic devices, circuit boards, and interconnect cabling. Electromagnetic interference is what’s happening if you hear your car radio buzz when your cellphone rings, and it’s the reason you’re supposed to turn your cellphone off on an airplane. Electronic devices can interfere with each other, but by encasing them in EMI shielding material, you can reduce that interference to some degree.
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Founded in 1984, Leader Tech has grown into a world leader in its industry. In 1994, it filed its first patent for a Circuit Board Shielding technology. This was a defining moment for the company, as the product quickly became recognized in the marketplace as the best performing, and most flexible, shielding technology available. The CBS line two-piece design (fence and cover) accommodates virtually any through-hole or surface mount application. For more than a decade, the company grew organically on this foundation.

After a decade of refining its expertise in the field, the company had begun to establish itself as a technological innovator. As this product found its way into a wide array of electronic devices, it helped Leader Tech build a reputation for quality engineering. Capitalizing on this growth, the company quickly followed up with a new innovation called Slot-Lok. This technology, still an important part of the business today, is another circuit board shield designed to help product developers reduce design-to-delivery time by applying standardized manufacturing methods to produce what would traditionally be a custom manufactured product. The proprietary Slot-Lok manufacturing process has helped many companies reduce their design-to-delivery time by a factor of four without incurring tooling charges.

In 2007, Leader Tech acquired a company called Ferrishield, bringing into its product catalog an entire line of new shielding technology including patented Ferrite Suppressors that shield EMI from entering electronic devices through cabling; RF absorber pads that absorb microwaves and convert them into heat energy; and RFID (Radio-frequency identification) shielding for reducing interference in very short range RFID wireless communications. These products helped expand the company’s market reach into new sectors where these specialized shielding technologies were required.

In 2011, Leader Tech expanded again through the addition of a state-of-the-art elastomer manufacturing plant built to fabricate conductive elastomer products. These polymer-based materials are designed to conduct electricity, usually by mixing conductive filler particles into the raw material and then thermosetting into standard or customer specific designs. At the time, this was the only facility approved for manufacturing all twelve conductive elastomers for use in projects for the American Military and approved by the Defense Logistics Agency.

Leader Tech also offers a full Beryllium Copper Fingerstock Gasketing (BECU) line and a Fabric Shielding Gasket (FSG) line. With all of these product offerings for EMI shielding Leader Tech is poised to be a true “shielding partner of choice” for its customers.

For two years in a row, Leader Tech has been voted Top Workplace by the Tampa Bay Times. This is a result of a constant effort within the company to make Leader Tech a destination for employees and a source of great personal satisfaction and accomplishment rather than just a job. Leader Tech understands that a business is only as good as its people and so it recognizes the value in investing in them. The company is working with local state and community colleges on building internships to find new talent right out of school and provide a valuable entry-point for those students to secure positions within the company, and it is developing an apprenticeship program for skilled tradespeople to train the next generation of EMI shielding professionals. The result of this people-centric approach to doing business is a well-trained, stable workforce who feel personally invested in the success of the company.

Leader Tech recently brought to market a full line of thermal gap filling products. Many delicate electronic components are sensitive to high heat and can be damaged even by the heat energy running through them as they operate. In order to mitigate this, a heat sink is used. A heat sink is a very simple heat transfer device, often just a block of aluminum fins used to absorb and radiate some of that heat energy away from the delicate component. This process requires the heat sink to have a physical connection to the component so that heat can transfer between them, but in many cases the surfaces are uneven or have a texture that doesn’t lend itself to making a secure connection. Leader Tech’s thermal gap filling pads sit between the component and the heat sink, allowing the heat energy to transfer perfectly between them.

The PCB Tech Clip is another recent innovation from the company, designed as a cost-saving solution for printed circuit board manufacturers. The tech clip is a mechanism that allows an EMI shield to be attached to a board without any hand soldering. The parts are delivered in tape and reel packaging and are compatible with high speed automated placement equipment which eliminates the need for through holes that would generally be used to secure the shielding.

As many of the company’s competitors move their manufacturing operations into China and Mexico, Leader Tech remains confident that the value proposition it offers is worth more to their customers. “We feel that we are making really good inroads on competing in value and credibility,” says Gary Mandile, Director of Quality and Manufacturing Technology at Leader Tech. The company’s expertise and reputation for quality work has established a level of credibility that stands out in an industry where many are trying to compete on cost alone.

Certainly, constant improvement is key to the company’s success. Consistently analyzing procedures and operating practices with an eye toward making them more efficient and making the company more productive in general is a collective responsibility at Leader Tech. There is a monthly initiative where improvement suggestions are collected from team members. This ensures that when process changes are made, they reflect the actual needs of the workforce. In this way, things are constantly evolving and workflow is always improving. “Our employees know that they hold the key to Leader Tech’s success,” says Mandile, “and we all work toward the common goal of satisfying our customers in everything we do.”

Leader Tech has focused a great deal of capital investment into equipment and training that facilitates fast prototyping and short lead times. The company has structured itself to operate very quickly. In some cases, prototypes have been shipped out to a customer on the same day they were requested. Leader Tech has made high quality quick turn prototyping a cornerstone aspect of its business model, and has done so in part by investing in high-precision laser cutting equipment.

In the last two years, the company has purchased four laser machining centers that allow the team to fabricate sheet metal into shielding products with unparalleled precision. Having changed to laser cutting from punching, the improved precision has resulted in the ability to use material more efficiently and has reduced material costs. This equipment has enabled Leader Tech to fabricate shielding products very quickly and with extreme precision to meet the requirements of aerospace and defense clients with very demanding tolerance specifications.

Integrating leading edge technology and constantly improving procedures, Leader Tech refuses to rest on its laurels. “We’re moving so fast now,” says Mandile. “One of the biggest things we try to stress is accepting change.” One very significant way in which things are changing in terms of procedure is through the implementation of Lean Six Sigma improvement projects. Lean Six Sigma is a methodology that enables a manufacturing company to identify and eliminate waste in its many forms from the company’s operating procedures. This includes not only material waste, but also wasted time and wasted effort. Through Six Sigma initiatives, a concerted effort is made by all team members to increase the efficiency and production of the entire operation by eliminating as much waste as possible. By committing to a lean manufacturing journey, Leader Tech will increase its productivity and further improve the value of the service it offers to customers.

Leader Tech is deeply committed to the industry it operates within, and is very proud of the work it has done and the reputation it has built. Over 33 years, it has refined a level of expertise in the EMI shielding industry that has not gone unseen. The company has developed shielding products for very influential top tier companies. Having earned the trust of these giants through a reputation for quality work, Leader Tech’s EMI shields have been implemented in some of the most advanced equipment on the planet.

A customer-driven focus and a desire to always improve has brought the company immense success. It has seen record sales for the last two years and shows no sign of slowing down. “As you can see,” says Mandile, “we are relentlessly improving our capabilities and products to become our customer’s partner of choice when they require EMI shielding solutions.”

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