Celebrating 25 Years
On 4th May 1989 Trackwise Designs Ltd was founded by Paul Grainger and Brian
Spence as a printed circuit board design bureau.
Moving soon after into manufacture, in 1995 Trackwise Designs Ltd was asked to make a nine foot (2.8metre) long printed circuit, one of the early GSM900 base station antennas. Philip Johnston acquired the business in 2000, rebranding as Trackwise to drop the historic ‘ Designs’ and focusing the company solely on the growing field of antennas and wider RF applications.
A drive for exports led the company being awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise – International Trade in 2005; the award ceremony being held the day after the Olympics 2012 decision and on the day of the 7/7 London bombings.
25 years has seen huge changes in all areas of the global economy and manufacturing has of course seen the full force of those changes. Trackwise is sad but proud to have outlasted many of its larger and better funded UK and European customers who have ‘been and gone’ over this period.
Recognising that build to print is at heart a customer service business, rather than a manufacturing business, and a relentless drive for innovation across all areas of operation are core values of Trackwise and central to remaining relevant and in business while the world continues to evolve.
In order to reflect on the past 25 years and importantly to assess ‘The Journey Forward’ for the next 25 years to 2038, all of the Trackwise team took a day out including a visit to GKN Aerospace, a new customer, and a karting challenge won by Ben Reid, one of our longest serving employees.
More than 100 people have worked for Trackwise over the past 25 years – and the current team have more than 200 years of combined service and experience. It is by the efforts of all its staff that Trackwise’ customers receive the service that they require and, for the benefit of all, that Trackwise continues to strive to improve and remain relevant for the next 25 years.
For now though, from all of the Team at Trackwise, a big thank you to all of our customers and suppliers, past and present, without whom of course, reaching this milestone would not have been possible.
Trackwise Strengthens Team
In keeping pace with growing demand and to ensure it continues to provide its customers with the highest levels of service, during the course of the year Trackwise has welcomed a number of new faces to its Team.
Manufacturing and Technical:
Tim Hunter brings with him 30 years of experience within the PCB industry. Working for some of the largest PCB fabricators in the UK, his previous roles have covered the breadth of the manufacturing process – from design and layout engineering to product and process management. In his new role at Trackwise Tim will be working on a series of projects designed to maximise manufacturing capabilities and efficiencies including capacity planning.
Manufacturing – Apprenticeship Programme:
Luke Pritchard and Stephen Lumbard joined as apprentices and have both embarked upon a four year Advanced Apprenticeship in Engineering NVQ Level 3 programme, run through Gloucestershire Engineering Training (GET).
In the past three years the Company, in support of its commitment to attract and develop talent from within, has successfully put four other Team members through similar programmes. In the next 6 months Trackwise plans to recruit two further apprentices.
To meet the ever increasing administrative workload, Julie Russell joined the Company in May as Office Administrator. Amongst a wide range of general administrative duties, Julie’s role includes assisting with customer and supplier queries.
4G Drives Record Order Intake
Trackwise has enjoyed a record order intake in the first 6 months of 2014, achieving a triple digit % increase over the same period last year.
As the growth rate of mobile data traffic continues unabated, the subsequent release of delayed capital expenditure projects supporting the roll out of global 4G infrastructure programmes has impacted significantly on this year’s performance. Year to date over 75% of Trackwise antenna PCB output has been exported to some of the world’s leading base station providers.
According to figures published in the Cisco VNI Forecast, global mobile traffic grew by 81% in 2013. This is forecasted to increase nearly 11-fold between 2013 and 2018 with 4G accounting for 51% of total traffic by the end of the period.
And for the trivia lovers, it is estimated that by the end of 2014, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on earth!!
Raising Standards - SC21 Bronze Award
Eighteen months after embarking upon the ADS 21st Century Supply Chains Initiative (SC21), Trackwise is delighted to have been awarded the SC21 Bronze Award.
The initiative is a government supported change programme designed to accelerate the competiveness of the Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space industry by raising the performance of its supply chain. At Trackwise it is an integral part of the ongoing drive to deliver best value for its customers – across all sectors. To that end, during the remainder of 2014 Trackwise will be working hard to achieve SC21 Silver status and AS9100 accreditation.
Trackwise ‘Capability Map'
The ‘Capability Map’ aims to analyse Trackwise’ diverse and possibly unique set of PCB manufacturing capabilities.
As described in the article on the front cover about Trackwise 25 years - in 1995 Trackwise was asked to make a nine foot (2.8metre) long PTFE printed circuit, one of the early GSM 900MHz base station antennas. This large format PTFE capability was Trackwise original ‘USP’ – but as the frequency of mobile telephony has gone up – to 1.8/2.1/3.5GHz and higher – the size of the antenna has come down. As a result, Trackwise core business has largely morphed into the broader field of special substrates (PTFE etc) – still dominated by antenna and other RF applications.
At the other end of the scale, filters operating at much higher RF frequencies (to many 10s of GHz) require very tight tolerance imaging and etching – to less than 10microns.
Trackwise has retained its large format capability (NPTH to 2.8m, PTH to 2.4m) and this still finds niche application in both RF and industrial products. In a recent customer survey, a question concerning Trackwise performance vs our competitors was answered ‘Not applicable – we cannot find anyone else capable’.
It was Trackwise’ large format capability that led Rolls-Royce to talk to Trackwise about long flex and from those initial discussions, Trackwise developed and patented Improved Harness Technology (UK Patent Number 2498994). IHT is a unique offering – length unlimited multilayer flex PCBs.
Trackwise is not interested in offering ‘me too’ commodity flex PCBs but at the intersection of Flex and Fine Line capability, opportunities exist to provide interconnect solutions into industrial products that are supporting the continuing technology trend of miniaturisation and increased resolution. Again these are high precision products – flex with track and gap down to 15microns.
In summary – Trackwise remain committed to innovating at the boundaries of PCB capability – from very large to very small. If you have an application that pushes against what others consider to be impossible, please do not hesitate to contact Trackwise.
Unlimited Length Multilayer Flex, Patent Granted
Two years after initial application Trackwise is delighted to have been granted UK patent 2498994 covering a manufacturing process innovation which enables the manufacture of flexible multilayer printed circuit boards of unlimited length.
To date, the maximum size that a flexible multilayer PCB has been available is of the order 610mm/24 inches, exceptionally 914mm/36inches and this development is therefore a huge step change in manufacturing capability.
Trackwise is marketing the application of this innovation as ‘Improved Harness Technology’. In high-value, mass-critical applications, boards of such length can be used as an alternative to traditional wiring harnesses, offering significant benefits particularly in terms of reliability, repeatability, installation times and moreover in the reduction of space and weight – up to 75% saving.
A further advantage of Flex PCBs is their planar nature which makes them entirely suitable for embedding within composites. The multilayer capability also means that EMC shielding can be incorporated within the PCB itself.
In removing the obstacle of size, the recognised benefits of Flex PCBs currently enjoyed at unit level can now be realised at subsystem and system level representing a significant opportunity to improve performance.
High Temperature Flex PCBs
As a result of work carried out under a European Clean Sky research project, LHTFPCB – Large High Temperature Flexible Printed Circuit Boards – Trackwise (UK) and Rogers (Belgium) are pleased to be able to offer large format (up to many metres in length) flex PCBs, demonstrated to be capable of operating at temperatures up to 260C for long durations, even in high vibration environments.
The flex PCBs have been manufactured using Rogers’ PEEK based circuit materials – also highly chemically inert and with high radiation resistance.
Additional work is being carried out on extending the temperature range and/or longer life at 260C by means of additional oxidation barriers.
Test equipment has been developed capable of proving high temperature flex PCB performance at temperatures up to 400C.
Clean Sky is the most ambitious aeronautical research programme ever launched in Europe. Its mission is to develop breakthrough technologies to significantly increase the environmental performances of airplanes and air transport, resulting in less noisy and more fuel efficient aircraft, hence bringing a key contribution in achieving the Single European Sky environmental objectives.
NATEP Success For Trackwise and IHT
Trackwise is delighted that (subject to final approval) it has been successful in its application to NATEP – National Aerospace Technology Programme.
The Aerospace Growth Partnership (AGP – a collaboration between Government and Industry) recognises that the larger companies, acting alone, will not be able to make the product technology advances required to sustain the UK’s market in global aerospace markets.
The AGP developed NATEP to help SME suppliers to develop their own innovative technologies to enhance their capabilities and increase their ability to win new business with higher tier companies anywhere in the world.
Trackwise’ project (supported by Cirflex Technology and Boston Design Consultants) aims to accelerate the adoption of length-unlimited multilayer flexible printed circuit boards as a weight saving replacement for conventional wiring harnesses, with associated carbon reduction benefits for aerospace platforms and payloads.
This will be achieved by carrying out representative tests against aerospace standards. The project will also carry out a flight certification feasibility study, to identify the necessary evidence to support this technology through the certification process.
Trackwise application was made through WEAF – West of England Aerospace Forum.