SMT & Inspection | June 03, 2010

Andre Papoular: ‘The economy presents a rather mixed picture’

We talked to AssemblĂ©on’s CEO Andre Papoular about the current situation of the global equipment industry and about the direction that AssemblĂ©on is going to take. Here are his answers.

‱ The future looks bright again for the Electronics Industry. What is your take on it?
If you look at the overall economy, then we are not quite out of the difficulties yet. It is a rather mixed picture that we see; a combination of reaching the bottom of the economic crisis and seeing the first signs of recovery. Many companies postponed new investments in favour of cash management and overall efficiency. So, the picture is not as bright as one might think and hope.

We also experience quite differing dynamics in Asia, the Americas and Europe. The improvements in Asia are mostly driven by China and the stimulus measures there. This will continue to be the driving force in this region. For the Americas, the economy there as not rebound yet and we expect to see some signs of recovery later this year. Europe has shown some signs of improvement at the beginning of the year, but nothing suggests that this development is sustainable; especially looking at the current financial and currency instability. Expectations are high for later this year, but we will remain cautious.

As I said before; we see a strong demand from Asia, some requests from the USA and out of Europe. However, the impression is that companies question whether an investment is urgent or can be postponed to a later date.

‱ With view of recent events in Europe; how will that affect AssemblĂ©on?
The crisis in Greece is going to influence the overall economy and with that it will also affect Assembléon. As a matter of fact, companies are affected by quite a number of different things: the uncertainties surrounding the Euro, the overall instability which this creates and the component shortages for example.

The latter certainly affected AssemblĂ©on and the manufacturing—and on-time delivery—of our machines. Additional to that, many companies again question whether an investment is urgent or if it can wait until the shortages are solved.

Then we had the closure of the European airspace that has disrupted the delivery of machines, products and components likewise. Basically the entire supply chain was affected. Many companies incurred extra costs, on-time delivery was almost always impossible—all effected by the disruption of air traffic in and out of Europe. But that should have returned to normal soon.

‱ How badly is AssemblĂ©on affected by the shortage of components?
We have to differentiate this a little bit (Assembléon, its supply chain and the component that we need to build our machines). Assembléon has actually need of two quite distinct groups of components: electronic components and mechanical parts (steel & plastic components etc.). All this is necessary to make our machines and both groups are somewhat differently affected.

We did experience tensions—if not to say shortages—for both groups. Our supply chain has been back in order since last week. The minor shortages that we saw up until the end of May were mainly affecting the manufacturing of feeders.

Overall, we do not expect any major disruption of our production stemming from the shortage of components.

‱ What type of equipment is the ‘hot-seller’ at the moment?
We have been able to win new orders for high capacity A-Series lines for consumer electronics applications. The most interesting thing here is the fact that we were able to do so in all aforementioned regions. We were actually able to increase our worldwide market share in this particular segment. We regard this as a very positive and promising sign. However, to be more specific, the majority of these deals—volume and value wise— comes from Asia.

We also did quite well in the back-end semiconductor module segment and were able to win deals with quite a number of world leading companies. Here we actually see a quite steady demand.

Speaking of Europe specifically, we were also able to increase our market share for Mixed Volume / High Mix Solutions in industrial and automotive mainly. The longlasting relationship with Yamaha supports this growth since together we are able to bring interesting propositions to the European market like the MCP screen printer and recently the combination of the MC-24 and the award winning MC-24X.

It is also noteworthy that we secured contracts with major Smartphone EMS-companies and worldwide manufacturing subcontractors. And we are actively negotiating with others at the moment.

‱ With the global economy picking up pace again. What are your plans on staff numbers and general developments?
We have been running on full capacity during the past few months. As a matter of fact, we had to add some temporary staff to our workforce due to the inflow of orders. However, although we do see some minor difficulties—due to the shortages in components we talked about earlier—in manufacturing, we are quite happy with the current situation.

The final assembly of our machines is done in Veldhoven. As our machines are based on a modular concept, we also have some manufacturing of modules in China. But the final assembly is done here in Veldhoven, where the test competence is, to safeguard the quality of our products.

However, we also plan to open another manufacturing location in Asia sometime in the near future. This will be a sister location to our Dutch manufacturing facility as we see a clear indication of market growth in Asia. I have to stress however, that it will not replace the manufacturing we have here in Holland.

There is also a positive development stemming from the crisis. We had the time, means and projects to implement some improvements here in Veldhoven. Due to these measures we were able to improve the productivity quite a bit. We have no plans to increase the capacity as such, but rather improve and optimise what we have. After that we will progressively start the project in Asia.

‱ Can you also say a little about the overall situation when it comes to order intake?
The order intake has been quite strong in the 1st quarter and we are quite confident that this will continue in the 2nd quarter of 2010. Here again, we might be hampered a little bit by the overall shortage of components. But this is—as I said before—affecting the entire market and companies might still postpone their investments to later this year. The order figures that we currently have for the first half year correspond to about 80% of the total sales from last year. So I believe promising is the right word.

Value wise; the PCB segment is still the strongest segment (about 70-75%) for Assembléon. But Semi (about 25%) is not going too bad either.

‱ Your opinion? Will it be a permanent recovery or is it just a minor upswing?
Europe still has to face some major uncertainties; the financial difficulties of some countries (Greece, Portugal or Spain). An interesting development is that environmental issues clearly loose momentum in Europe in the face of the current financial problems in these countries. Here the stabilising of social situations will be favoured and will become first priority. This clearly is also affecting the economy and the willingness of people to invest.

In America we will have to wait for the second half of the year to see some better signs of improvement. The ‘pipeline of projects’ is growing stronger and we are currently discussing investments and deals with a number of customers in the US. But here we are discussing possible deals for 3Q, maybe even 4Q.

Asia is mainly fuelled by China, which in turn has implemented measures to control its inflation. This has also caused people to think twice about starting new investment programs.

‱ The SMT-Show is coming up next week. What do you hope to achieve by exhibiting there?
We want to build further on our Smart Solutions campaign that we have started last year at productronica. The basic idea is to focus on full business solutions: a complete package of hardware, software, service and support. Translated into business benefits. Our customer should be able to focus on their objectives and not worry about manufacturing challenges. Addressing and solving them: that’s our job.

Next to that, we aim at sending a clear message to the industry that Assembléon is well on track regarding its market positioning and its capabilities to team up with the industry leaders in the sense of customers and suppliers.
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