Made in the Northwest

Made in the Northwest - Tate Technology

SPOKANE, Wash. - Made in the Northwest - Tate Technology

Assembling circuit boards wasn't the career path Tate Technology founder Lee Tate expected to take.

"I'm a chemical engineer, and I don't know anything about electronics, but I've been doing it for 40 years," Lee said.

A few years ago, Lee convinced his son, Scott, also an engineer, to join the family business.

"It took a little bit of arm twisting to get us back up home, but I'm really glad we did," said Scott.

Lee founded Tate Technology in 1992, when electronic companies starting moving manufacturing to China and Mexico.

"The small volume, quick turn jobs can't be sent to China," Lee said. "They just can't do it fast enough. So we found a niche for that kind of work in Spokane and we've done it ever since."

Tate specializes in through-hole technology, and they've thrived off of that high mix, low volume work. Where bigger companies might require minimum orders in the thousands, it doesn't matter at Tate.

"I'll put one part on one board," says Scott. "It doesn't matter. If we can help our customers be successful, we'll do it."

Their standard lead time of just three to five days also sets them apart.

Tate's circuit boards are first put into a high precision "pick and place" machine.

"It picks up the components from a reel of parts that we've purchased, and then it moves over to the location on the board that it has to place it, and then it places it down," said Scott.

And those components can be smaller than a grain of sand, which means their hand solderers need to have good dexterity and vision.

But when there's a high volume of through-hole joints to solder, they use a wave soldering machine.

Tate uses a real-time x-ray machine to inspect hundreds of microscopic joints found underneath some components.

"You can manipulate the product in real time and see if the part is in the right spot," said Scott.

Because electronics are getting smaller and smaller Tate employees need to be consistently more precise.

But Tate doesn't expect its niche or the way it serves its customers to change at all.