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Germany -- Volker Feyerabend
in Switzerland’s PCB Industry Can Neutralize the Downturn?
By Volker Feyerabend
is Switzerland’s role in the European PCB industry? How
are the Swiss PCB and equipment manufacturing companies performing,
and which strategies do they employ? Finally, why am I discussing
Switzerland when the name of this column is “Inside Germany”?
To answer the last question first, you’ll have to keep reading
since I deal with a Swiss company making inroads into Germany,
as well as in Asia.
Switzerland is a small market with a business-friendly
environment. There are forty hour work weeks for most employees,
high educational standards, low tax rates and even reasonable
trade unions. Currently Switzerland accounts for 4.7% of
the European PCB market. While that may seem small, the
country’s seventeen PCB companies generated 160 million
euro in sales, and employed about 1200 people last year.
The five largest PCB companies represent about 61% of the
Switzerland’s Top 10 PCB manufacturers in 2002:
1. PPC Electronic AG, Cham
2. Dyconex AG, Zuerich
3. Cicorel SA, Boudry
4. Varioprint AG, Heiden
5. Optiprint AG, Rehetobel
6. GS Präzisions AG, Kuessnacht
7. Photochemie AG, Unteraegeri
8. Micro PCB AG, Thundorf
9. Zbinden AG, Welschenrohr
10. Ascom AG, Bern
Key markets for the Swiss include industrial design, and
telecommunications, as well as niche markets such as optoelectronic
products, watches and hearing aids. However, some Swiss
PCB manufacturers have difficulties because they mainly
focused on high-volume products in the past, and there might
be changes in the 2004 “Top 10” list, as well as a continued
decrease in the overall market volume. But there are definitely
bright spots. I want to share with you an example of a well-positioned
equipment manufacturer in Europe’s electronics supply
chain: Posalux SA, Biel-Bienne.
1. Posalux’s factory in Biel-Bienne.
is a well known manufacturer in the PCB industry, and located
in the bilingual area of Biel (German, French). Sixty years
ago it was founded as a mechanical workshop for the watch
industry. A strategic change occurred in 1961 with the production
of the first drilling machine for the PCB industry. This change
turned out to be so successful that the product portfolio
was adjusted to serve this particular industry. Today Posalux
offers drilling and routing machines (see Photo 2: the Ultra
Speed 6000) for the PCB industry, and Fuel and Diesel injection
Nozzle EDM machines (Microfor) for the Automotive industry.
The company employs 180 people and has annual sales of around
45 million CHF (1 CHF = $0.72 = 0.65 Euro). Asia accounts
for more than two-thirds of the companies PCB commodity sales.
my last visit, Jean- Claude Gamboni (Commercial Director),
Herbert Klay (Technical Director) and I talked about their
strategy, vision, projects and latest developments. Faced
with the challenging market situation, Posalux started working
on two major initiatives.
First, they are pursuing what they call the “Process
and Product Design for Supply Chain.” The initial goals
were cost and lead time reduction. During the last couple
of years the lead-time for most of their products were cut
by 50% (they offer five weeks for most of their products).
This was achieved by a new product design and new internal
processes. Production philosophy now aims at producing pre-assemblies
first and completing the product on customer demand, i.e.,
much later in the production process.
They also integrated new hardware with a production partner
(Etel, Switzerland), providing a new and innovative control
system. Positive effects of the new advanced design and
partnership make for a shorter and more flexible supply
chain as well as improved drilling and routing accuracy.
In addition, to better control their inventory processes
and maintain better transparency, the company added a new
position in procurement to work on inventory management.
The second notable change includes adjusting the company’s
structure to address market situations, emerging customer
needs and future markets. Like many other companies in Europe’s
electronics industry, Posalux was forced to make lay offs
in 2002 to account for the softening worldwide market. They
also worked hard on job rotation among their workers, cross-training
employees and adding flexibility. Next, they added outsourcing
partnerships to focus on core competencies. Finally, Posalux
worked with strong distribution/service partners (i.e.,
its Bürkle partnership in North America) to share costs.
Because responsiveness and close customer relations are
a priority at Posalux, the company added resources to their
sales and service organization. At the end of 2002 they
opened a German office (Posalux GmbH in Frankfurt), and
I am sure we will soon hear about their added resources
in Asia. (Currently they have nine people in Taiwan/Hong
Kong established in 1991.)
2. The Ultra Speed 6000.
asked Herbert Klay the Technical Director, about what the
future holds for Posalux. “Working closely with our customers
in R&D projects is one of our strengths,” he said. “This
combined with the fact that Posalux spends approximately 15%
in R&D will ensure that we will maintain and further develop
our technology leadership in the future. Our vision is to
offer the best products to our customers. This means we will
focus our efforts on new ways of drilling, generating higher
speeds and productivity, and providing the highest quality,
lowest maintenance and production costs for our customers.”
Feyerabend is President of APROS International Consulting (www.APROS-consulting.com).
He has a degree in Engineering and Economics. He has worked for
Hewlett Packard, Agilent Technologies, Groz-Beckert in various international
senior management positions. He also headed a European Outsourcing
Organization with the focus on EMS/ PCB companies. Contact him at