How a Hillsboro circuit board manufacturer is navigating a Covid-19 economy

How a Hillsboro circuit board manufacturer is navigating a Covid-19 economy

When Shantanu Gupta took the helm in November as CEO of Cascade Systems Technology, he set some ambitious but straightforward goals for 2020: service customers in the Internet of things and cloud markets, and strengthen Cascade’s position as a circuit board supplier for cutting-edge technologies and services.

But a few months into his tenure, Covid-19 turned the world upside down. Besides the public health threat, the onset of the pandemic in the United States threw global supply chains into chaos, and presented Cascade Systems Technology with the biggest challenge in the Hillsboro company’s 31-year history.

Suddenly, the company and its competitors were all focused on survival.

But Gupta, a 28-year veteran of Intel, knows how to adapt.

Based on his global work at Intel he understood many of the risks — and opportunities — as the coronavirus’ spread forced China, the largest supplier of electronic components, into lockdown.

“In this pandemic, cloud-based computing technologies have become more critical in our lives with remote connectivity, online shopping, video conferencing and increased use of social media to connect and express ourselves” Gupta said.

Founded in 1989, Cascade Systems Technology specializes in printed circuit board assembly, or PCBA, and also provides other electronic manufacturing services.  Circuit boards are the brains of just about every type of electronic device, from computers to thermostats to medical devices.

As the coronavirus reached the United States and Oregon imposed its stay-at-home order, Cascade’s 35 employees adapted. They donned masks, shifted to remote meetings and spaced out across their Hillsboro facility. They were deemed an essential business, as were some of its large, well-known clients.

“We continued to operate, however in a reduced revenue environment,” Gupta said. “Some of our customers had to shut down, not permanently, but it paused some of our business. And we’re seeing more supply chain constraints now, with prices going up, lead times getting even longer. We’re still working through plenty of challenges.”

The pandemic also has American companies looking to procure their circuit boards closer to home. One customer recently shifted a major order from overseas and brought it to Cascade to be built here in Hillsboro.

“Before this pandemic, a lot of these PCBAs were being manufactured in China. Now there’s a big push by these companies to be more domestic,” Gupta said. “When the world shuts down and you can’t have people travel to China anymore, how are you going to ensure that the orders are fulfilled well and on time? Being local also allows for much better collaboration between us and our customers.”

Making supply chains less dependent on China could be a major windfall for Cascade, and for Oregon’s tech landscape as a whole. With manufacturers forecasting demand for billions of new electronic devices in the coming years, connected through the cloud and powered by printed circuit boards, Cascade and other Oregon manufacturers could power a new wave of technological innovation in the state.

“This pandemic has sharpened the focus on utilizing technology to help navigate the post Covid-19 world, including use of sensors and cloud-based solutions. The opportunity for companies like ours is tremendous,” Gupta said.

This is part of a regular guest column written by the Technology Association of Oregon in the Portland Business Journal.

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