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SMT & Inspection | April 29, 2008

Assembléon to continue expansion<br>in Eastern Europe

Evertiq has interviewed Mr. Jan Michiels, CEO Assembléon. He explains how the business is developing in Eastern Europe and in new market segments.
How did business development look for Assembléon in 2007 and how do you see the development in 2008?
We had a good 2007. The roll out of our AX-201 odd-form IC and fine pitch placer gave our A-Series more flexibility by adding an end-of-line (and stand-alone) machine. We’ve started several successful sales programs, like special offers for existing customers to upgrade their existing lines. We’ve been helping customers who run older Topaz and FCM machines on medium and high volume lines, for example, to trade in for a new A-Series model. We have done this as an extension of our ‘Installed Base Solutions’, which helps extend the economic life of already installed Assembléon equipment.

As for 2008, despite a difficult start for world markets the underlying market for Pick & Place machines is healthy and growing. Our customers are mainly global, most with manufacturing in Asia. They look for integrated manufacturing solutions, where total line-performance is more important than performance of any stand-alone machines. To meet these needs, we have been moving towards a more global and solution-oriented organization.

That is benefiting Europe, too. Customers everywhere want a ‘single platform’ production line approach that fits easily into their manufacturing supply chain. We are providing flexible and cost-effective solutions that can handle fast changes in product mix and variation in demand. And we are steering our products towards a single platform for the mainstream of the market that is easily integrated into the manufacturing supply chain.

Is there a particular region in Europe that you feel is the most important for Assembléon?
No, there is not one particular region. One of the benefits of Assembléon’s Pick & Place equipment is that it allows equipment manufacturers in even relatively high-wage countries to keep their production in Europe. In these countries, high rework costs mean that it can be cheaper to scrap boards than repair them, but that cuts straight into the bottom line. Our machines give First Pass Yields of better than 99.9%, so saving costs all round.

The SMT market is very diverse, with enormous geographical areas and countless cultures, which makes it a challenge to set up a good service and distribution network. Assembléon has long European experience, and we have for example been active in the Eastern European countries since the early nineties. We have done this by carefully selecting and developing local agents/service providers.

East Europe is of course growing quickly and we want to continue our expansion in, for example, the Russian market. Electronics production has been growing steadily there during the past decade and we have been market leader in the country for over 12 years, with excellent relationships. We were one of the pioneers investing in this market and were also the first exhibiting at ExpoElectronica in Russia, for example. We now also have our own representative there: Assemrus.

Is there a particular market you would like to enter or have a stronger presence in Europe?
We are always looking to expand our presence in (for example) the automotive and medical markets, where equipment reliability is of first importance. Communications equipment, too, where we can offer the ultra high packing densities that manufacturers need. Here, particularly, the ability of our A-Series machines to place 01005 components in full production means an increase in density to over 50 components/square centimeter.

How will the business development continue for Assembléon in Eastern Europe?
We have developed very strong sales and support in various countries in Eastern Europe, and our growth now depends on market expansions in countries like Romania and Ukraine. With so many different cultures within Europe, people value local support. In Romania, for example, we have separated out our support structure into two main areas (Brasov and Timişoara). Besides servicing our equipment, we provide consultant services in the factory location and advise on construction, local legislation, up to HRM services and ramp up support.

How do you see the competition in Europe. Has the market become more competitive?
Because of our Philips legacy, Assembléon has been in the SMT world since its very beginning when Philips was one of the early suppliers of Surface Mount Devices (SMD). We therefore come from a background of developing (and in many cases actually inventing) technical solutions.

Manufacturing flexibility – scaling batch sizes up or down and handling a variable product mix – is the goal of many customers. Our machines are uniquely modular, as a first step to meeting this goal. And we still have the fastest machines (121,000 components per hour at IPC 9850 for the AX-501), with lowest defects per million placement. That gives our customers unrivalled First Pass Yield, even at high speeds.

But the market has indeed matured, and we’re competing on a very different competitive playing field. We have therefore had to re-think how we do business. We have also developed a unique business approach, with our Installed Base Solutions adding a new dimension to customer support. It offers customers unique and flexible solutions that guarantee and improve performance on their line, so saving them costs.

Do you develop new technologies for your machines in-house or do you outsource?
Basically, we are developing our own new technologies. We develop detailed design and concepts for our machines, and work closely together with key suppliers as partners to develop and produce reliable components. These partners also take the responsibility for the after sales service of their units - under our responsibility.


What changed in regard to sales after the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive came into force?

Because of our machine design, we have always been in line with RoHS and so it did not affect us at all.
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