Circuit board assembly operation has come a long way

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Kathy Anderson has always thought of herself as lucky. When the CEO and president of Starlight Manufacturing and Assembly, Inc. bought out her partner in 1997, she realized that she would have to take on several new jobs. The expert operations supervisor would have to handle day-to-day record-keeping, taxes, payroll and marketing, in addition to running the two to twelve-person assembly program. Fearlessly, however, Anderson grew into a new role as an entrepreneur, and has earned a reputation among her clients for high-quality outputs, on time and at competitive rates.

Starlight Manufacturing and Assembly, Inc. is a full-scale printed circuit board assembly operation in which electronic components are applied to customized boards. Anderson’s clients include medical laser companies, specialty lighting companies, high-tech manufacturers, and other specialized firms that outsource through-hole or surface-mount assignments.

Examples of Starlight’s production capabilities include: AC voltage detectors, audio annunciators, automotive control systems, computer interfaces, gaming controllers, lighting controllers, lighting testing systems, manufacturing test equipment, power supplies, robotic systems satellite receivers and sensor boards – just to name a few. “We are willing to do jobs of any size,” Anderson said. “As long as the client will pay us for our time, I’ll work with a one-man shop or a large corporation.”

The firm also handles a range of manufacturing jobs, ranging from bulk wave soldering to wiring, automated process tracking, consigned material controls, functional testing, kit assembly and more.

Through-hole assembly involves actually attaching small electronic components onto boards, attaching them through a wave-soldering process. “Boards are getting smaller all the time,” Anderson admits, “but there are still many businesses that continue to utilize traditional circuitry. Like I said, I am lucky. My customers appreciate what we do most, which is through-hole.”

Dan White, operations manager for Delasco, an Ohio-based manufacturer of dermatology products for Johnson & Johnson, sees more than luck behind Anderson’s success. He has purchased services from Starlight Manufacturing and Assembly for more than three years. White says that 60 percent of electronic assembly is being done on “surface mount” boards; a lot of power components can never be translated to surface mounting – they’re too large. And a lot of former through-hole assemblers, according to White, have closed.

White believes that as the electronics and high-tech markets recover, Starlight will be one of a smaller pool of surviving companies. “There just aren’t that many good small manufacturers out there,” he said. “The reason I stay with Starlight is simple: it’s the quality of their work. When we relocated our operation from Colorado Springs to Ohio, I figured out that it was worth the additional shipping charge to get such quality assembly work,” he said. “It’s easy to justify; we never have to do any re-work.”

White also believes Anderson’s business will recover from residual affects of the current economic slowdown. “I’m glad she’s stayed the course,” he adds. Anderson also believes that it is her company’s small size that makes it attractive to some larger vendors.

Luck also didn’t seem to be the reason Starlight picked up client, Design Speciality, Inc. Anderson’s careful supervision and quality control in combination with her willingness to work with companies big and small, has attracted DSI’s CEO, David Holmes. “When I went looking for someone to assemble components for our chaselight controllers, I talked to a lot of companies. Some just didn’t want my business because I was too small. Starlight Manufacturing was different. As our business started to grow rapidly in 1999 and 2000, they grew right along with us. And I never have to worry about rejects. Starlight tests every unit before it leaves their shop. They even pack and ship for us. That means our clients get a perfect product – and Design Specialty gets the credit for a job well-done. I am sold on Kathy Anderson and her team,” Holmes states.

An advocate for training, Anderson says she would like to help young people, who like herself, were not traditional college-bound students. Her employees are often young people, eager to learn a marketable skill. “I’d even be willing to work with high schools or a workforce training group to teach students how to become expert assemblers,” she says. “It’s so important to have a way to make a living and there aren’t many companies that will take the time to train kids just out of school. I really enjoy that.”

She remembers studying electronics in high school. Upon graduation, Anderson attended college but didn’t find a career focus right away. Instead she went to work for a high-tech manufacturer in California’s Santa Clara Valley – and learned her craft through employment with Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Litton over a seventeen-year period. When her family moved to Colorado Springs in 1997, Anderson went to work at the local Litton facility.

It was shortly thereafter that Jim Goodreid, the operations director for CMS, a local electronic manufacturer, interviewed Anderson about doing after-hours electronic assembly for the company from home. “I answered a newspaper ad. Most of those are for multi-level companies, but this one was for real,” she recalls. As the mother of two young boys, she was lucky, she says to be able to work out of her own garage and be at home for her children. Anderson eventually went to work full-time for Goodreid as an operations supervisor – happy to have the opportunity to work for a smaller, high-quality manufacturer.

When CMS closed, the two co-workers decided to open Starlight Manufacturing and Assembly, a manufacturing and cabling company. Goodreid handled the administration and marketing while Anderson continued to run all operations. The business eventually became two separate entities – electronic assembly, which Anderson handled and the cabling, operated by Goodreid. Ultimately, the colleagues agreed that Anderson would assume Starlight’s ownership and Goodreid opened his own company, Good Cable. The former partners are located side by side on Elkton Drive and still refer business to each other, occasionally backing each other up. “I really depended on Jim to help me learn how to do payroll, keep records and run the business,” she says. “We are still great friends.”

In her fifth year as a business owner, Kathy Anderson is comfortable with her position. “I never expected to have my own company,” she said, “but now that I’ve made it through some of the tough times, I’d like to continue to build so maybe I can pass the company on to my sons.” She’d also like to increase her visibility in the high-tech market – hoping to acquire contracts locally from Atmel, Intel and Hewlett-Packard. “Marketing is the hardest area for me because it means I have to get out and meet people,” she says, adding that she plans to do some networking – especially while the market is slow.

With the basics such as employee manuals, safety procedures, tax reporting, a website and trained personnel in place – and with her terrific attention to quality and detail, Kathy Anderson’s “luck” will no doubt translate into continued success.