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There are certain companies I like to keep up with, and Prototron Circuits is one of them. I have been talking with Prototron Tucson’s General Manager Kim O’Neil because the company always seems to have a lot going on down there in the desert.
This has been an exciting year for Prototron, which has achieved Mil-PRF-31032 and gone into the flex business. Most recently, Prototron received word that they had achieved their AS9100 Rev D, which made me want to check in with Kim and find out more.
Dan Beaulieu: It’s been a while since we talked; how are things going with Prototron Tucson?
Kim O'Neil: Business in Tucson is going well. The second quarter was our best in quite some time. It’s nice to see the shop busy.
Beaulieu: Tell me a little bit about Tucson and then the company in general.
O'Neil: Prototron Tucson has been in business since 1999 with 45 full time employees on staff. Over the last several years Tucson has had consistent revenue growth and we’re on track for the same this year. Tucson and Redmond [Washington] shops complement each other. Tucson’s markets are the military and aerospace, and a large part of Tucson’s market also consists of RF/microwave materials. On the other hand, Redmond concentrates more in the high reliability commercial market with a significant number of quick turns each month in their mix.
Beaulieu: So, I understand congratulations are in order—you just earned your AS9100. Tell me about that.
O'Neil: Yes, thanks. We decided to wait for Rev D to be approved and released. However, we did start preparing for the audits and certification some time ago. As well as MIL-PRF-31032, it’s been a part of our certification pathway for some time.
Beaulieu: Why is this qualification important to Prototron?
O'Neil: This certification is part of our Continuous Improvement Plan for our Quality Management System. There’s an obligation not only to engage in continuous improvement of the manufacturing process, but also of the QMS. One doesn’t succeed without the other.
Beaulieu: I hear that more customers are asking for this. Why do you think that is?
O'Neil: With this certification, Prototron is assuring our customer that we are committed to continuous improvement, that we are assuring our customers we are committed to the highest standards in the industry—not only in products that we manufacture, but how we conduct business and run the company.
Beaulieu: Which kind of customers want you to have this?
O'Neil: Well, the obvious ones are aerospace and defense, but I really believe any one of our customers benefit from this certification. Again, it goes back to the QMS. Commercial products are manufactured under the same QMS as any of our aerospace or defense customers.
Beaulieu: Was it difficult to get qualified? What was the process?
O'Neil: We believe since we went through the MIL-PRF-31032 qualification process first, that it better prepared us for the AS9100 audits. Along with several minor changes to the QMS that continued throughout the process, for us there were four major milestones:
- i. Internal Audit Training
- ii. Pre-assessment
- iii. Stage 1 Audit
- iv. Stage 2 Audit
Beaulieu: Was your whole team involved?
O'Neil: Absolutely, Dan. However, there were two major contributors to the success of this certification: Cesar Cruz, our quality assurance manager, and Victor Dominguez, our quality management administrator. Both gentlemen did just a great job in getting both 31032 & AS9100 in place. All 45 of our employees participated at every opportunity and embraced the complete process. Both auditors mentioned that as they made their way through the shop.
Beaulieu: I know that AS9100 is important to your customers, but does it help your company, and in what ways?
O'Neil: Prototron believes that this is not a quality program, but a way in which we run our business. If you buy into that, then the way this can benefit the company is limitless.
Beaulieu: I know you also achieved your 31032 certification this year; does one line up with the other? How are they the same or different?
O'Neil: I’d say 70–75% of the two specifications line up. Many of the sections of the specifications are the same with similar requirements. However, 31032 is still a performance specification where we must report to DLA performance results from the military products we build under 55110 & 31032.
Beaulieu: What do you see for the future? Are there any other specs or qualifications you are going to be getting?
O'Neil: We will continue to evaluate our certification pathway. Where we can make continued improvement to our QMS, if that certification helps we will probably go after it.
Beaulieu: How do you see the industry these days?
O'Neil: I’m encouraged.
Beaulieu: Kim, thanks for your time; it’s much appreciated.
O'Neil: Thank you, and it’s been a pleasure speaking with you again.