Lenthor Engineering, a Silicon Valley-based manufacturer of flexible printed circuits boards and assemblies, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
Flexible circuits were a young industry when Lenthor's Mark Lencioni dared to venture into it 25 years ago. Printed Circuits '86, a directory that eventually became Fabfile Online, counted only 30 flex fabricators in North America back then, primarily clustered around Nashua, New Hampshire; Minneapolis, and Southern California. Like so many emerging electronics technologies, defense electronics provided the market and the money. It's been quite a ride since then.
A few quick highlights of Lenthor's survivor skills:
In 2000 there were 75 dedicated flex and rigid-flex operations in North America. As decade's end approaches, that number has declined to 50. Lenthor grew over 20% during that period and represents an American foothold in the military and hi-rel markets, as well as for the flex markets of the future--in medical electronics, industrial, test, MEMS, solar and others yet to come.
We asked President Mark Lencioni and Sales and Marketing Manager David Moody to share their experiences looking back and their thoughts on the future of the company.
I-Connect007: Congratulations on 25 years. That's quite an achievement in this business. Mark, how did Lenthor Engineering come into being?
Mark Lencioni: Lenthor Engineering started in 1985, literally in my garage, in Sunnyvale, California. My garage was a silkscreen area. My kitchen was QA. My bedroom was the sales office. We outsourced etching and plating and some other services our first year of business. But within six months, we had a building and began putting in the wet process facilities. It was our first 3,000 square feet, and we were one of the only Class 7 plating facilities in the Silicon Valley. Here we are, 47,000 square feet later.
007: So, in 1985, what prompted you to dive into flexible circuits? This was a relatively early point in their development.
ML: I was initially intrigued just by the pure difference from building hard boards in a previous life, to being able to look at something that was a completely different geometry with the ability to bend around things, and just that open mindedness about the future needs of printed circuit boards being able to get into small places. I'd already seen the transition in the mobile market place with things getting lighter and smaller, and I saw the applications potential, and thought this is the future, right here.
But when I saw the ability to eliminate points of failure within an interconnect subsystem by using a rigid-flex technology, getting rid of connectors, having fewer points of failure, having one subassembly that you were now building, a light went on for me. That's got to be the most important thing - from the standpoint of fault tolerance systems, and things that can't break, that have to work all the time.
That was the unique thing about rigid-flex, and was a really the fun part of the flex circuit business. And rigid-flex has been where we have put our emphasis, and what we have perfected over time. We've been able to build that very consistently - making the rigid sections work like rigid boards, and the flex sections act like a complete interconnect inside the rigid subset, and then be able to fold them on top of each other, and fit them into small places. With this technology, we were able to incorporate all of the things that you would normally do in high-tech rigid technology, from surface-mount devices all the way through buried and blind vias. And especially in 1985 when we started Lenthor, it was a niche market. There were not a lot of players. I saw it as an emerging technology that was definitely coming.