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© beatricee-dreamstime.com PCB | April 02, 2014

RUWEL is investing in its future

RUWEL - a history-charged name within the PCB industry – is getting back on its feet. More so, the company is looking towards the future. And a bright one it seems.
Many things have happened prior and after that day in 2009, when the company had to file for insolvency. Struggle to keep afloat; with BlueBay a new investor and finally – in Unimicron – a new owner.

Since then, the company has worked hard to secure a future and has kept away – rather successfully I might add – from the prying eyes of the media. As it so happens, Evertiq seems to be in their good books and we were able to have a chat with General Manager Mr. van Dierendonck.


Gerard van Dierendonck
2008/2009 – difficult years for the entire economy. Many companies – RUWEL is not the only one – struggled for survival. Given the fact that the German PCB manufacturer relied heavily on one customer (this customer started to transfer a large part of production to Asia), this proved to be impossible. In the beginning of 2009, RUWEL – a household name within the PCB industry – had to file for insolvency. What followed was a several month long struggle that affected many people.

“We were almost exclusively focused on the automotive industry. When we started to migrate to a healthier portfolio, we were a manufacturer that delivered 90% of its output to only one automotive tier1 supplier. Now we have 15% Automotive and 85% Industry. That is what saved RUWEL. We managed to secure a replacement customer that also worked in serial production”, states Gerard van Dierendonck.

But, as the manager points out, the migration is not complete yet. Automotive customers and those coming from the Renewable Energy sector comprise a large part of the customer portfolio. Next to that, efforts to penetrate the industry sector and its more stable environment became quite successful. RUWEL is now working with 20 customers from this sector, a rather significant increase compared to the smaller base in the past.

“We changed our portfolio from high volume/low mix to the exact opposite. But for us to be successful we needed to invest.”

Serious investigations regarding needed equipment to be ready for future technical market requirements, resulted in an investment list of almost EUR 10 million within 2 years. Now, the process of transforming the German facility is in full swing, about 30% of the new equipment is already installed. During the upcoming months the manufacturer will extend its technical and capacity capability in the innerlayer plant. "After the summer we will bring our complete soldermask department to a higher level. Within the space of 1 year, we expanded in innerlayer, outerlayer as well as in soldermask from conventional UV exposing to LDI exposing!"

"Next to that, we also invest heavily in equipment for higher flexibility to reduce setup times and handling smaller lot sizes (e.g. 3 new flying probe testers, inkjet printer, X-ray, routing, AOI’S, etc.) If all goes to plan, then the first step in this transformation will be finished by the middle of the year. ”

RUWEL – since 2011 running Unimicron's High Reliability Business Unit (HRBU) – also manages a production facility in Kunshan (China). “The prototypes, small- and mid-volume series are done here in Geldern. If the volumes ramp up, we transfer production and know-how to our Kunshan facility.”


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Facility in Geldern / Germany
The facility has now reached full capacity levels and Unimicron is investing in a new facility in China to meet the demand of our European customers. Intended for production for automotive customers, the new facility will be used for customers from the consumer electronics sector, while necessary certification procedures are underway. Unimicron is, among others, supplier for the PlayStation 4 mainboards.

After certifications and audit approvals have been obtained, the new facility will produce in connection with Geldern.

2013 seems to have been a busy year, when looking at the money spend. How did business go?

“Turnover for the Geldern facility amounted to EUR 40 million. A little less than in the years before, because of the decrease in demand of the solar industry. Luckily there are positive signs for the solar industry and we believe that business is picking up again. At the moment we don't know how the SMA - Danfoss deal will affect us. It could be positive. The signals that I have are pointing in a positive direction. But it is only a signal, I cannot say more for certain.”

RUWEL has been on the European PCB landscape for many, many years. A lot of changes took place; fewer players competing for fewer customers. Is there actually a chance that we will see a new RUWEL manufacturing facility in Europe? “Let's be honest about it. 20 years ago, we had around 1'500 PCB plants in Europe. What we can see now, in 2015 there may be only 100. I don't believe there is economic room for more capacity in Europe. That is why we invest, because only the best will survive in the future. Only those who are able to adapt to the changing landscape.”

The manager sees RUWEL within the Top5 manufacturers in Europe. “That is where we want to be. You have to run the right mix and have the right customers, ensure that you have the right equipment and most important of all, have the right people in the company. If we can stay in the Top5 here in Europe, than we have reached a very noble goal.”

A lot has been said about companies importing PCBs from China and jeopardizing the livelihood of PCB producers here in Europe. What is your take on that subject?

“To compete with traders/ suppliers, we first have to make a deal with Brussels. When I buy base material to produce here in Europe, I have to pay taxes. In contrast, if I import complete boards from China, then there are no taxes. Therefore traders have a huge advantage.”

“15 years ago there were more than 10 base material suppliers here in Europe. Now there are 2: Isola (Germany) and Panasonic (Austria). I am afraid to think about what will happen if one or both companies close their doors here in Europe and we have to buy base material from Asia. That would make our position even worse.”

“I don't think that we will be able to beat the Chinese companies in trading. However, I also believe that the price difference between European and China-produced PCBs will get less prominent as costs in China are on the rise.”

“At the end of the day, here in Europe there is only room for dedicated PCB manufacturers with a clear vision and an organization setup to realize this. They must have the latest technology in house to produce the boards accordingly. That is what RUWEL is working on. We want to keep on servicing European customers with the best boards possible."
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All images © Ruwel

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