Looking back at 2014

Let’s throw some figures at you:

PCB services

Year

Customers

Orders

Sales

2014

+/- 9.000

+/- 77.500

+/- 16.600.000

2013

+/- 8.000

+/- 69.500

+/- 15.500.000

2012

+/- 6.900

+/- 63.000

+/- 15.000.000

All sales are to customers excluding transport costs and taxes.

Eurocircuits has shown a consistent growth in customers and orders over the last 2 decades. 2014 has been another successful year with a consolidated turnover including PCB services, eC-equipment and consumables of 17.5 million Euro. This growth allows us to continue to develop new products and services for our customers. We will continue to invest in new equipment and new processes to keep you at the cutting edge of PCB technology, and to provide more of the tools that will help you deliver your products to market on time and on budget.

2015 will see another leap forward in PCB services, in PCB software tools and in eC-equipment. These are described in our “Looking forward in 2015” . Here let’s summarize what was new in 2014.

First the services:

  1. RF pool updated and extended. We introduced Isola’s I-Tera material to provide a lower-cost solution for RF development.
    RF pool – insights and details
  2. New order time line. So you can track your orders more easily through manufacturing
    New timeline makes order tracking smarter
  3. Pre-production approval. For customers who want to check the final production data for their PCB just before it hits the shop-floor…
    Pre-production approval
  4. PCB PIXture. Give your PCBs a powerful visual impact and make them stand out from the crowd
    PCB PIXture launched
  5. More options added for STANDARD pool, BINDI pool and stencils
    New Eurocircuits products and services presented at this year”s Electronica 2014

New software tools

 to help designers cut costs and tailor their design data for particular orders:

  1. Buildup wizard and Layer editor updated and extended. Choose the most cost-effective multilayer builds in the Buildup Wizard and specify blind/buried vias when needed. Use the Layer Editor to confirm or fine-tune the build found by PCB Visualizer tools.
    Buildup wizard and layer editor updated
  2. Marking editor. Add order-specific text (QR codes, production dates etc.) to your PCB, or place order numbers, UL codes etc. in your preferred locations on the board.
    Marking editor
  3. Panel editor. Build a custom panel on screen to suit your assembly requirements, or view an eC-panel before production.
    Panel editor

New equipment

 including fixtureless testing of assembled PCBs as well as hand-soldering aids:

  1. eC-test-mate. Run functional tests on assembled prototype and small batch PCBs without the time/cost needed to build test fixtures.
    eC-test-mate
  2. eC-pre-heater. Reduce heating times and the risk of thermal stress to make hand-soldering/de-soldering of critical components faster and more reliable.

Workshops

We organized a series of workshops on prototype soldering and on working with the EAGLE CAD system. Many of our customers upgraded their EAGLE systems in the summer when CadSoft released a major new version. If you would like to join a workshop, contact your local sales team or email euro@eurocircuits.com.

Investments in ICT, plant and equipment.

We re-invested more than €1.5 million during 2014 in R&D and in new plant and equipment including:

  1. New servers and extra software licenses to boost the capacity and speed of our website, so that we can provide a better access experience to more customers at the same time.
  2. PCB Visualizer development. Each year we spend over 300k Euro in further development of our online tools because we believe in tools that make ordering faster and more efficient.
  3. eC-test-mate and eC-pre-heater development.
  4. Ledia direct-imaging. Direct imaging machines expose photo-imageable soldermasks and photo-sensitive etch and plating resists directly using a laser or as on the Ledia a tuneable LED light source. This cuts process times as no phototools are required and allows greater imaging precision and finer features. For the first applications, see our “Looking forward in 2015” BLOG.
  5. New plating and water treatment plant in our Aachen plant. We take environmental issues very seriously and work continuously to reduce energy and water consumption and maintain the highest quality of water output.

The Eurocircuits team wish you a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.

In this Update:

  • Equipment offer – only two working weeks left
  • Christmas closing date
  • PCB Visualizer upgrades
  • Eurocircuits/Elektor Christmas tree
  • 2015

Only two working weeks left on our special equipment offer

Place an order for any of our machines: eC-stencil-mate , eC-reflow-mate , eC-pre-heater or eC-test-mate before 1 January 2015, and you will receive a 50€ (excl. taxes) discount key valid for any of our PCB services. On top of that, if you order both eC-stencil-mate and eC-reflow-mate before 1 January 2015 you will receive a free eC-equipment-starter-kit .

Christmas closure dates

Our offices and factories will close on 19 December and re-open on 5 January.

The factories will run back-end operations only on 22 December, so final shipments will be on 22 December. 5 January will be a full production day

These dates are already incorporated into our Price calculator menus.

PCB Visualizer upgrades

We have made PCB Visualizermore comfortable and safer to use.

Faster loading

Our customers have told us that loading complex PCB images can be a bit slow, especially when they only want to check the board parameters or prices. With the latest update, the board data and prices appear onscreen right away while the board image is loading. Image loading is faster, too.

Safer closing

There is nothing more annoying – or dangerous – than making changes and forgetting to save them. Now if you have made a change, PCB Visualizer will always ask if you want to save it before closing.

Christmas trees

The Eurocircuits/ElektorLED Christmas tree is back again. Create your own Christmas tree experience with 62 programmable blue LEDs. Download our animations or program your own. Upload your sequence. The best will be shown on our website.

2015

Our next Eurocircuits Technical Update will be sent out in early January, listing our planned developments for 2015. We will include links to voting buttons, so that users can tell us their priorities.

Technical blogs

Some recent highlights:

  • PCB PIXture . Make your PCB stand out from the crowd with a visual image printed in the soldermask.
  • Optimum PCB Design Flow. How to get the best out of our DRC and Design for Manufacturability tools.

We have an on-going program of technical papers, but if there are particular topics on which you would like us to produce a blog or white paper, please email your usual sales contact or euro@eurocircuits.com.

Support in Spanish and Portuguese now available online and offline

We are delighted to inform you that we have recently appointed Claudio Cardoso Guardao as Customer Support Engineer Spain and Portugal, working out of our headquarters in Mechelen, Belgium.

We have a rapidly expanding number of customers in Spain and Portugal, and we were very fortunate to be able to add Claudio to our support team. He is a native speaker of Portuguese who is also fluent in Spanish, French and English. He joins us with three years’ experience of international customer support, based here in Belgium. He has already spent time in our factories in Germany and Hungary to learn how we make PCBs.

If you check our online blogs, you will see that Claudio has started to translate recent technical blogs into both Spanish and Portuguese, for example on the new PCB PIXture tool. This is part of our drive to provide all our customers with easy access to the technical and online tools they need to bring their designs to market on time and on budget.

You can contact Claudio via our online chat service, by email at claudio.guardao@eurocircuits.com or by phone on +32 15 28 16 38.

Eurocircuits N.V.
Antwerpsesteenweg 66, 2800 Mechelen, Belgium
Tel +32 15 28 16 30, email: euro@eurocircuits.com,
web: www.eurocircuits.com
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The History of Order Pooling?

Order pooling is now a well-established technique used to cut costs for prototypes and small batch PCBs.  But what is it and what is its history?

What is Order Pooling?

Order Pooling

Order pooling means combining several different customers’ orders on the same standard manufacturing panel.  “Order pooling” or “pooling” is probably the most common name but the process is also called “order combination”, “panel sharing”, “multi-panels” …

Pooling orders on standard panels cuts costs in 3 ways:

  1. 1 set of tooling and machine/process set-ups is shared between all the pooled orders
  2. Material utilisation is greatly improved
  3. Standardised panels make production much more efficient.

Together these can cut production costs by as much as 90%.

Order pooling is not the same as “panel filling” where a customer buys a whole panel of the same PCBs, and gets as many circuits as will fit on the panel.  This offers good material utilisation, but only if you need that many circuits; if you only need 1 or 2 small boards it can work out quite expensive.  In practice it reflects how conventional fabricators will actually produce the PCBs on standard panels.  At Eurocircuits we use it only for the occasional unusual combination of production parameters for which we don’t get enough orders to pool.

Of course, to make pooling work successfully the fabricator needs enough orders with the same technology to achieve a good “fill” on the standard panels.  Too few orders mean that material utilisation will be reduced, driving up costs.  Or not all board types can be pooled every day, extending deliveries.  Cutting corners by combining boards with different technologies on the same panel (for example, by combining 2- and 4-layer boards) risks serious reductions in quality.  At Eurocircuits we handle more than 70,000 orders a year  This allows us to offer the widest range of pooling options without impacting price, delivery or quality.

Production

Online Pricing and Ordering

Today, order pooling for prototype and small batch PCBs is usually combined with online price calculation and ordering.  This exploits an added advantage of order pooling: ease of costing.  As the fabricator knows the set-up and production costs of the standard panels for each technology, pricing depends broadly on the area of panel each circuit uses.  There is no need to count holes or drill changes or measure the length of the profile.  Or to charge separately for tooling, or to impose a minimum charge.  All this makes online pricing and ordering much faster and more convenient for the customers, who no longer have to wait hours or days for a sales office to “get back” to them.  It also cuts the price of their boards: online pricing and ordering needs fewer administration staff.

If you follow internet discussions of online pricing and ordering, for example in LinkedIn PCB groups, two objections are raised:

  1. It only works for simple technologies
  2. If you use a sales office they will usually (or at least they should) check your data.

Eurocircuits have developed solutions for both of these issues.

  1. We handle a large number of orders each day so we can pool a wide range of different options.  This has allowed us to develop sophisticated “smart” menus which allow customers to price and order complex boards swiftly and securely online.
  2. We offer onscreen visual checking tools to ensure that your boards meet the technology requirements of each class.  Where possible, the online tools propose minor changes that will fit your design into a lower-priced class.

MOVIE: What is Order Pooling

This film explains briefly the principle of order pooling, how Eurocircuits applies it and what it can do for you.

The History of Order Pooling.

The pooling concept no doubt dates back to the dawn of human history when the first cave-man popped into the next-door caves to say that he was trekking to the nearest outcrop and did anyone want any flint nodules to make their tools.  Pooling became the basis of wholesaling and all forms of grouped transport.  Today it is used every day by consumers, for example for buying plane tickets or hotel rooms through third-party websites, or in collective buying schemes.  The more people who make their purchases through the same online channel, the better price the channel will get and the less the purchasers will pay.

A number of companies in Europe tried order pooling in the 70s, but the process was difficult to implement in the days of hand-taped artworks, paper-tape driven drills and fixture-based testers.  Preparing tooling for a panel of different PCBs, even for a customer who insisted that he would always re-order the same boards in the same quantities, was expensive and inflexible.  If demand changed or boards were scrapped during fabrication or assembly and had to be replaced, either expensive new tooling had to be made or a lot of surplus PCBs produced.

The situation changed during the 1980s as CAD systems and laser-photoplotters cut the cost and ease of tooling.  Indeed, it was the laser photoplotting bureaus that first used the pooling concept.  Plotters were very expensive and by today’s standards quite slow.  At first, most PCB manufacturers could not afford to invest in the new technology and so used plotting bureaus. Olivier Cadic, former owner of Info-Elec in Paris, once one of the largest bureaus in Europe and founder of www.pcb007.com, explains how he used pooling to bring down the costs of the finished films.

In the mid ‘80s at Info-Elec we introduced pooling for laser photo plotting.  Customers could upload their Gerber files via modem onto a PC where they landed in a queue. Software developed by Info-Elec and the plotter manufacturer DISC then organized the queue in such a way that the film formats were efficiently filled with customer data.  This optimised the use of expensive film and machine time, resulting in lower plotting costs per dm² and better prices to our customers”.

PCB manufacturers were also quick to exploit the new opportunities.  Thus Ton Klaver of Bellmann in Holland actively promoted the idea of PCB pooling to his customers.

“In the late ‘70s (1979) we started to present a clearly defined technology for single- and double-sided boards to our customers.  We offered attractive prices based on the cost savings achieved by pooling orders on one production panel.  This convinced them to restrict their designs to the technological parameters we offered.  The customers could calculate the prices for themselves using a simple program that, in those pre-internet days, we distributed on floppy disks.”

These trends accelerated in the ‘90s.  PC-based CAD systems finally replaced hand-taped artworks; laser-photoplotters became faster and cheaper; CAM systems became more capable; production and test equipment could be driven digitally.  The cost of tooling was slashed, so it now became feasible to make a set of tooling for a pooled panel, and then throw it away.

At the same time during the ‘90s and the early years of the new millennium the dynamics of the European and American PCB industry were changing.  Volume manufacture began to move to low-cost areas in the Far East, especially China, putting pressure on prices.  Cyclical demand for PCBs aggravated price pressure.  As prices fell, profits fell too, exactly at the time that designs were getting more complex and investment was needed in new manufacturing and test technology.  The result was a dramatic decline in the number of board shops in the West.  Some became little more than brokers for Chinese suppliers.  For others survival meant specialization.  The Chinese plants were not interested in small batch PCBs and not fast enough for prototypes, while their quality was regarded as suspect for high-technology boards, especially for sensitive applications like avionics and defense.  Many board manufacturers moved into these high-technology niche markets.  Others specialised in prototypes and small batch PCBs supplied on a fast lead-time.  Order pooling was a natural technology to adopt to meet price pressure, and pooling companies appeared in USA and Europe.  Eurocircuits was set up as the online order-pooling arm of the Europrint PCB fabrication group in 2000.  By 2011 it generated over 90% of the group turnover, and we re-structured the whole organisation under the name by which most of our customers knew us, Eurocircuits.

The internet boom of the late 1990s (despite the “bust” in 2000) got more people used to the idea of buying online.  The second pillar of the modern order-pooling company was in place, and companies like Eurocircuits began to grow.  The growth of online buying led the development of a new delivery infrastructure to match.  The new pooling companies were able to expand their operations across wider geographical areas.  Thus today Eurocircuits delivers all across Europe as well as globally, including the Americas, the Middle East, Australia and New Zealand.

Conclusion

Today’s electronics designers, in whatever country they live, have a good choice of quality suppliers of standard and high-technology prototype and small batch PCBs.  They can source PCBs for their new designs quickly and efficiently from their desks, as well as getting committed service and technical support from their vendor, where possible from fluent speakers of their own languages (at Eurocircuits we offer online chat support in at least 6 languages).

Just as our ancient caveman used his knowledge of flint to find the best nodules for his neighbours, so we want to share our fabrication knowledge with the wider European design community and to learn from them what they need for their leading-edge designs.  We are committed to maintain and expand our low-cost order pooling services and to develop new support tools to help PCB designers bring their projects to market on time and on budget.  In this way we will make a positive contribution to the success of the electronics industry in the Western world.

References

Olivier Cadic, Info-Elec, founder of www.pcb007.com

Ton Klaver, Bellmann, www.bellmann.nl

UK Sales Manager – PCBs

Eurocircuits are looking for a UK-based Sales Manager to handle sales and technical support in the UK, with some additional input into other European countries. The position has become vacant due to retirement.

The primary responsibility of the role is to grow turnover in the UK to a level justifying our own UK sales company. You will achieve this by active prospecting, exploiting our extensive contact database and working with existing customers. As we specialise in prototype and small batch PCBs, electronics designers are our target market. Here providing good technical support is one of the keys to attracting and retaining new customers.

The job’s secondary responsibility is to be part of the team providing online technical support for customers in other European countries where we don’t have our own sales subsidiaries.

As UK Sales Manager you will work from home, supported by colleagues (all English-speaking) from our head office in Mechelen, Belgium, and by our comprehensive online sales administration system.

You should be able to demonstrate some years of successful technical sales to electronics design engineers. You should also have a sound working knowledge of PCB fabrication. The role demands a self-motivated self-starting manager, able to work effectively remote from the central office. Overseas travel will not normally be required other than for sales meetings or trade shows.

Salary is negotiable depending on experience.

Eurocircuits are one of Europe’s largest specialist manufacturers of prototype and small batch PCBs. Our head-quarters are in the historic town of Mechelen in Belgium. We have factories in Germany, Hungary and India, sales subsidiaries in Germany, France, Switzerland and USA and local sales in the UK and Italy. Over the last 13 years we have developed a lean online business model based on order-pooling. This allows us to deliver small batches of PCBs across a wide range of technologies, fast, reliably, at low cost to our customers, and profitably to ourselves – profits which have financed a substantial program of re-investment over the last 3 – 4 years. In the first 9 months of this year we have already shipped more than 53,000 PCBs orders to over 7000 different customers across Europe.

To apply, please send your CV and the names of two referees to Dirk Stans, Sales Director, at dirk.stans@eurocircuits.com. Referees will not be contacted without your permission. Or email Dirk for more information. Interviews will be held in the UK end of October and November.

Eurocircuits, environment and REACH regulation

Eurocircuits and environment

Eurocircuits believe that we have an important duty to ensure good environmental practices in all business operations and to provide the necessary organization, commitment and training to fulfill this obligation. We aim to continuously improve our environmental performance, pollution prevention and environmental protection.


All employees are responsible for implementing our policy and contributing to its success through their actions.

Our company is committed to comply with all environmental laws and regulations, and all other requirements to which the organization subscribes.

We are reducing our impact on the environment by cutting our energy use. We started an energy saving project in 2008. From then on we have continuously monitored our energy usage. From 2009 we have used a web service based ION Enterprise monitoring system. In the first 2 years of our energy saving project we were able to decrease our water and electricity usage by more than 25 %.

We produce our printed circuits boards on pooling panels to reduce material, water and energy usage.

REACH

REACH is the European Community Regulation on chemicals and their safe use (EC 1907/2006). It deals with the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. The law came into force on 1 June 2007, with a phased implementation over the next ten years.

The aim of REACH is to improve the protection of human health and the environment through the better and earlier identification of the intrinsic properties of chemical substances. The REACH Regulation places greater responsibility on industry to manage the risks from chemicals and to provide safety information on the substances. Manufacturers and importers are required to gather information on the properties of their chemical substance, which will allow their safe handling, and to register the information in a central database run by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) in Helsinki. REACH monitors and identifies potentially harmful chemical substances, not only as they are manufactured or imported but also as they occur in articles or products. Accordingly, REACH affects not only the producers of chemicals, but also all manufacturers of finished goods, distributors, retailers and importers working within the EU.

System of REACH

REACH establishes procedures for collecting and assessing information on the properties and hazards of substances.

Registration

Manufacturers and importers of substances have to submit a registration to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) for each substance manufactured or imported in quantities of 1 tonne or more per year per company. Registration is based on the “one substance, one registration” principle, so the companies need to work together with other companies who are registering the same substance, and have to submit their registration together.

In the absence of registration the substance cannot be manufactured or imported.

Evaluation

ECHA and the Member States evaluate the information submitted by companies to clarify if a given substance constitutes a risk to human health or the environment.

Authorisation

The main objectives of the authorization are to ensure adequate control of the risks related to certain substances and to help replacement of the Substances of Very High Concern with safer alternatives.

Restrictions

Restriction is a tool to protect human health and the environment from unacceptable risks of chemicals. Authorities can decide to restrict the use of a particular substance or make its use subject to a prior authorisation. Restrictions can ban hazardous substances if their risks are unmanageable.

Our Reach declaration

Our declaration is available here.

Eurocircuits and Conflict Minerals

What are Conflict Minerals?

Conflict?

Conflict Minerals are minerals originating from areas of armed conflict and human rights abuse, notably in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

These minerals are traded through middlemen from neighbouring countries, so countries where conflict materials can originate from include also Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Congo Republic, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia.



Minerals?

The most commonly mined minerals are cassiterite, wolframite,coltan, and gold, which are extracted from the Eastern Congo, We are concerned about cassiterite (basis for making tin) and gold, as these metals are used in our production process.



Suppliers?

We contacted our suppliers for these metals and got confirmation that the material we receive from them do not origin from conflict areas. Based on this information we can issue a conflict minerals declaration.



Supporting Documents

Eurocircuits Conflict Minerals declaration can be found here.

Felder conflict minerals declaration (supplier of tin for HAL) felder konflikt-metalle.pdf

Confirmation Ampere (tin for plating line) ampere.pdf

Eurocircuits India, new PCB production plant for the Asian-Pacific market

Eurocircuits is running production plants in Hungary an Germany. The capacity of both board-shops is sufficient for the European market and still leaves free capacity for the Eurocircuits business to grow.

Why did we step into a venture to build a brand new production facility in Gandhinagar, Gujarat, India?


  • We believe in producing close to the market. That is why all our boards supplied to the European market are produced in Europe.
  • A market experiment with PCB Power – a copy of the Eurocircuits business for India – shows that there is a local Indian market for prototypes and small volume. We hope this will also be the case for the rest of the Asian-Pacific market.
  • Having a PCB production close to the engineering unit, gives our engineers the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in a real production environment. To make their experience useful for Eurocircuits, the production environment should work in the same way as the European Eurocircuits factories.
  • Last but not least, we grabbed an opportunity. A newly built PCB production plant in an export oriented zone got stuck halfway the project. The necessary approvals to start the production were already there (an important factor if you want to start producing in India). The facility was big enough to host the engineering unit as well as our new production unit.

By the end of March the production of double sided boards will start. At this moment and during my visit end of February, trial orders were running in the production. These boards are shipped to Hungary for quality inspection.

Our Hungarian team supports and guides the local Indian management in setting up the factory and getting the quality at the right level.

Let us have a look inside our new production unit:

Inside, the factory looks very similar to our production plant in Hungary. But outside, India is a different world 🙂

Visit new PCB Planet office in Gandhinagar, India

At the end of February I went to visit the new location of PCB Planet.

PCB Planet is the PCB CAM engineering unit serving Eurocircuits . They also serve other board houses in Europe, Asia and the USA. This dedicated CAM unit was set up in 2000 by the Eurocircuits management in Gandhinagar, India.

In Eurocircuits we believe in CAM automation to speed up the data preparation process as well as to guarantee a consistent high quality output level. But the skills and processing power of our CAM engineers remain a decisive factor. The growing number of jobs we process on a daily basis ( more then 300 daily in February 2013) means more workstations and more engineers. The building that we so nicely decorated in 2008 became to small to house alll these engineers in a comfortable way.

Between November 2012 and January 2013 we moved our whole operation to a building in a new industrial site in Gandhinagar.

In this new location there is now enough office space available to accomodate more than 200 engineers, and there is still enough empty space for future expansion.


PCB Planet is now located on the same site where Eurocircuits is starting a PCB prototype production plant for the Asian-Pacific market. The training of new engineers includes an “on-site” training in PCB production technology.

The Teamleaders have their desks between the CAM operators, but there are plenty of meeting rooms available to have discussions.

All work and no play (makes Jack a dull boy).

Announcement on adafruit.com and dangerousprototypes.com

PCB Visualizer is announced on  www.adafruit.com  and www.dangerousprototypes.com as ” Free online data verification service”

Read the adafruit announcement here 

Read the dangerousprototypes announcement here