©Printline PCB | August 27, 2012
25 years of Printline – and more to come
Printline, the Danish PCB-manufacturer, is celebrating its 25 year anniversary. Evertiq spoke to CEO Mark Jespersen about the companies future and it's place in Scandinavia and the world.
Operating as a PCB-manufacturer in Scandinavia has indeed been a challenge. In both Sweden and Denmark, several manufacturers were forced to close down during and following the financial crisis that began in 2008. Printline is one of the companies that stood the test of time.
" We need to have more eggs in our basket, so to speak." CEO Mark JespersenToday, the company employs 25 people and operates a 4000 square metre factory. The headquarter is in the Danish city Odense. Mark Jespersen describes the company as a full service provider that uses sub-suppliers for minor things only. “After the crisis hit the Scandinavian industry we have worked hard to come back. Of course it was not only Printline who were affected, all of the industry in Sweden, Denmark and Norway was. It was tough years for all of us, especially with competition growing from China,” says Mark Jespersen. Printline 2.0 The tough years also proved to be a chance to reform part of the business. Today the company looks ahead, having survived the baptism of fire that swallowed other companies whole. Customers can be found in Denmark, of course, but also in other countries like Sweden, Norway and Germany. Business is broadening as well. Traditionally a provider of prototypes, the company now offers stencils, semi-flex PCB and flex-rigid (introduced at a larger scale just before the summer), and have even moved toward the volume market through sourcing projects.
“We need to meet our competitors and what they do. We need to have more eggs in our basket, so to speak. This is something that gives us a broader range, especially with having the advantage of having staff closer to our customers markets”. It was a few years ago that these changes first saw the light of day. As a first step, a consultant agency was hired to review the business. “Quality is essential to survive,” that was the verdict. From there, as a second step, the company started working with solutions. However, by focusing on the root problems a new paradigm was found. “Before, if a product was delayed, we just fixed it. We drove it out and dropped it off instead of looking at the roots of the problem. That is what we do now. Every complaint we get is on the table every week. We look at where it came from and what we can do better,” says Jespersen. A different kind of business Here is perhaps the biggest difference between the every day work of EMS-companies and the PCB-industry, explains Mark Jespersen.
"The market is tough, no doubt about it."“What is special in our business is the delivery times. They are always very fast. If we would fail, we do not have the time to start again. Therefore we have to work hard on our quality. We need to have flexible manpower and we need to be prepared at all times”. Today, Denmark accounts for 60 percent of the sales while 40 percent goes on export. The main difference between Denmark and Sweden, Mark Jespersen explains, is that in Denmark there are a vast number of small companies while in Sweden there are also a few midsized companies. What is going on in the Danish PCB-market right now? “If you had asked me this two years ago, I would have said there is too much capacity and the number of manufacturers will be reduced. That is also what happened. I still say there is perhaps too much capacity in Denmark. One of the reasons are that today the market and channels makes everything very open. If you are not close to the market and move in the same direction, you will not survive. You have to be really sure about your business”. Moving into the future As moving with the market is increasingly important, more changes have come about in the company. For instance, sourcing is one of the services that Printline offers today, and probably one that will be more important in the future. Another change is that the company has made a move into the world of semi flex and flex rigid PCB's. “Many customers find this interesting. One example is products in the development-phase where it is a cheap and easy solution to use semi flex and then, when the product is ready for full scale production, they can move to flex or flex rigid materials,” say Jesperson.
“But those advantages apply for both prototypes and volume. Bending a semiflex PCB during installation is easier and cheaper than adding cables and connectors everywhere, and also less space consuming which fits several products. You also need fewer connections which is of course an advantage in products used in hostile environments”. Traditionally, companies that wanted those more specialized products had to look in Germany. Now they can go through their home market. One of the companies that helped Printlines semi flex really take off is a Swedish group that saw the need for the product, and that are using semi flex solutions today. Another strong customer can be found in Norway. The flex projects, still in its infancy, will probably become a larger part of the business, but as Mark Jespersen points out, engineers must first learn how to use the full potential behind it. As a last question before we conclude, where does Printline stand right now? “After the crisis we lost a lot of money but last year was much better. The market is tough, no doubt about it. But it is a huge market that we are in, with a lot of potential. We are starting to grow again and after the crisis we can see that the customers are coming back.” © All pictures Printline