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Inside Germany -- Volker Feyerabend
Who in Switzerland’s PCB Industry Can Neutralize the Downturn?

By Volker Feyerabend

—Posted: 12/01/2003

What 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 industry turnover.

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.

Photo 1. Posalux’s factory in Biel-Bienne.

Posalux 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.
During 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.)

Photo 2. The Ultra Speed 6000.

I 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.”

Volker Feyerabend is President of APROS International Consulting ( 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

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