Thomas Instrumentation’s services span electronics design and engineering, software development, and contract manufacturing.
By Mark Shortt
Thomas Instrumentation, Inc., designs and manufactures custom electronics that are used in products from consumer goods to industrial controllers and laboratory equipment. Some of the company’s customers require electronics for industries like biopharmaceuticals, transportation, agricultural, and the military. Others need them for applications in wildlife tracking, multimedia, and amusement parks.
“Over the years, Thomas Instrumentation has been involved in a variety of different projects across many industries,” the company said on its website. “These projects included everything from developing new controllers, to upgrading obsolete designs, finding replacement parts, and even reverse engineering boards when customers don’t have their documentation.”
According to CEO Cassandra Gluyas, Thomas Instrumentation’s main services are electronic design, software development, and contract manufacturing. The ISO 9001 certified company has painstakingly developed a comprehensive offering that suits customers who need a “one-stop-shop.”
Customers who contract with Thomas Instrumentation for electronic design receive a custom PCB schematic, layout, and Gerber files. Thomas Instrumentation’s electrical engineers combine custom analog, digital, and RF circuitry into the finished schematic. Its PCB layout designer creates the official PCB layout and the Gerber files. “We also can manufacture PCB prototypes of these designs for our customer through the contract manufacturing side of our business,” Gluyas said in an emailed response.
Thomas Instrumentation’s software engineering team can help customers by editing existing software, adding new features, or creating entire programs from scratch. The team includes two programmers with computer engineering degrees and a third programmer who has gained more than 30 years of experience in the field while working for the company. Using that combination of education and experience, the team creates custom software for a variety of platforms, including embedded controllers. Its firmware releases are used to program custom electronic controllers for purposes such as human interface, sensor feedback, and equipment control.
“We primarily develop embedded software solutions, but we can also write programs for Windows, Linux, Mac, iOS, and Android devices,” Gluyas said. “This includes app development for tablets and phones. All of our programs are also stored in a backed-up, version control system which keeps them safely managed for our customers.”
On the contract manufacturing side, Thomas can handle the purchasing of all components on a product; alternatively, customers can supply a parts kit for their run. In addition to parts procurement, the company’s manufacturing services span SMT (surface mount technology) production; thru-hole PCB and wire harness assembly; fabrication; prototyping; inspection; and testing. The company can handle orders from small prototype runs (quantities of three to 20) of a newly designed product, up to quantities of 10,000 or more.
“We have been assembling quality thru-hole PCBs and custom wire harnesses since 1971,” Gluyas said. “Our assemblers not only aim for function, but also aesthetics in their work. We will also install the manufactured PCBs and wire harnesses into the customer’s desired enclosure.”
Gluyas said the company’s manufacturing technicians take formal training classes given by the manufacturers of the equipment they’re using. Its manufacturing team is also trained by subject matter experts (SMEs)—senior and trusted employees who have demonstrated the capability to train junior personnel for assembly or technician roles.
“Thomas Instrumentation really focuses on manufacturing quality electronics,” she said. “Our commitment to quality and our advanced manufacturing equipment make us a superb choice for manufacturing any customer’s electronics.
“For the design engineer, we can help by designing the electronics portion of their project. If they [already] have the electronics designed, we can tailor the design for ease in manufacturing. For the manufacturing engineer, we can validate the electronics portion of the design and take over the process of manufacturing the electronics for the project.”
Thomas Instrumentation employs 13 people and has approximately 7,000 square feet of workspace at its facilities in Cape May Court House, New Jersey, on the Atlantic coast. The company’s founder, Thomas Gluyas, is an electrical engineer who established the firm in 1971 in Michigan before moving the company to New Jersey in 1975. Tom’s daughter, Cassandra, joined the firm in 2011 in a dual role as engineer and chief executive officer, after working at Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works facility in California, according to the company’s website. She has Bachelor of Science degrees in electrical engineering and computer engineering from Virginia Tech.
“Our biggest strengths are our customer service, our manufacturing equipment, and our technical experience,” Cassandra Gluyas said. “We always try to create good working relationships by being flexible in our schedule, quick to respond, and honest in our answers.”
The company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment is updated every year. One of its shining stars is a surface mount technology (SMT) line that offers a part verification feature and is capable of handling flex material and 01005 (4mm x 2mm) components. Within the last year, the firm also purchased two SMT storage towers from Mycronic that provide accurate climate control of SMT components when they’re not in use.
Also available are new automated optical inspection (AOI) and X-ray inspection equipment that enable technicians to quickly verify the quality of products. “With the X-ray machine, we can easily ensure that BGAs (ball grid arrays) and other hard-to-inspect parts are correctly installed onto the PCBs,” Gluyas said.
“Our technical experience has been evolving since we opened in 1971. Most of our employees have been with us for over 20 years, and we’ve seen and created a wide variety of controllers in that time. This allows us to provide better support than most to our customers,” Gluyas explained.
One of the company’s larger customers, a global supplier of plastics manufacturing equipment, found Thomas Instrumentation’s designs and manufactured electronics to be so reliable that it issues a five-year warranty on its equipment. It also made Thomas the sole designer and manufacturer of all of its electronics.
For another customer, Thomas manufactures the electronics for wildlife tracking devices that can be used to analyze the migratory patterns of birds. Although the trackers are exceedingly small, their failure rate is typically less than 1 percent, Gluyas said.
When Thomas Instrumentation received the initial order for the wildlife tracker PCBs, the company was able to help the customer with design for manufacturability. The previous manufacturers of the product had been delivering them with a 50 percent failure rate. Gluyas credited Thomas Instrumentation’s engineering expertise for reducing the failure rate of the product to below 1 percent. She also credited the firm’s multi-disciplinary team for carefully planning a process that spanned electronic design, software development, and manufacturing.
“Without the help of our electronic design team, we would have never figured out the issue. We also could never have manufactured the product in the first place if we did not have our inventive, knowledgeable, and careful technicians on staff to carefully plan everything,” Gluyas said. “It is always a team effort here, and it is extremely helpful to have access to electrical engineers, software developers, and manufacturing technicians in the same facility. The experience and feedback from each department is key to our success.”