Archive for category: Eurocircuits company update
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“Why are Eurocircuits offering a link to a third-party technical journal? I thought you made printed circuit boards?”
As specialist prototype and small batch PCB manufacturers, we see our role as more than just making PCBs. Our goal is “added-value service”. We recognise that time-to-market is critical for our user-community. That is why in 2011 we cut our base-line delivery for small batches (anything under 50 dm2 from 10 working days to 7.
But faster fabrication is only part of the story. Were there, we asked ourselves, other areas where we could help to speed time to market? We set up a direct link with EAGLE CAD so that designers could get prices and place orders in seconds without manual data entry and without leaving their CAD PC. We developed PCB Visualizer so that they could check their data the minute it was uploaded. We launched our bench-top stencil-printer and reflow oven which can cut in-house assembly times by 80% compared to manual assembly.
These steps can make a measurable quantitative difference, but what about a qualitative difference: could we help designers design boards that would get into production quicker and were easier, faster and cheaper to make? In January 2012 we stepped up the publication of technical blogs and white papers on our website. These deliver tips and advice on Design for Manufacturability and how to present clear, unambiguous and accurate production data. Within 8 months they had received more than 60,000 hits. We backed these with DRC templates for EAGLE and Altium so that designers could be confident that their designs would meet the requirements of the most cost-effective pooling service.
A third-party digital magazine offering in-depth treatment of design-critical topics is the next step to add yet more value for our customers. We looked for a journal with genuine technical content rather than continuous sales-oriented press releases. “Firmware” was our first choice. First published in 2005 by Inware Edizioni, “Firmware” has established itself as the leading technical publication for electronics designers across Italy. It is now being launched as an international publication and have arranged that our registered users can get the first 3 English language issues free of charge.
To access your free issues, log in to your account and click on the new “Firmware” tile on the left of the screen.
If you are not a registered user, click on the “Firmware” link here to get free access to 30 pages of each issue or to link to the Inware website and take out a subscription.
An assembly solution for the wider electronics engineering community
At Eurocircuits we are already well-known for our powerful offer manufacturing prototype and small batch PCBs for electronics engineers. We have already extended this back into the design process with our links to EAGLE and to Altium. But what about assembly?
We are often asked if we can assemble boards and several of our competitors offer this service. The following diagram illustrates powerfully why we should not.
Prototype and small batch assembly requires a heavy investment in equipment and expertise. So it has a high cost of service. On the other hand, customers are driven by price. The value of the service is perceived solely in price terms, cutting prices and lowering margins. The pure prototype assembler risks getting caught in the mouse-trap where low prices mean that he can no longer cover the cost of his service. Two ways of increasing margins have emerged over over the last few years. Some assembly companies have stayed with small batch assembly but moved into very high technology markets like defence, aviation, medical or high-end communications. Others have moved into high-volume assembly, only making prototypes as a loss leader to land large contracts.
At Eurocircuits we have evolved our business model to handle medium technology prototype and small batch PCBs quickly, reliably and cost-effectively. We are not in the very high technology market nor are we volume producers. So offering a “me too” prototype assembly service would not work. And in any case it doesn’t make business sense to compete with our customers.
We have a better solution.
When he needs prototype and small batch assembly, the customer’s service perception is highest when his needs are met immediately. For a designer this may be difficult to achieve using a sub-contract company. He has to spend time communicating his requirements and he has to wait for a slot in the sub-contractor’s scheduling. On the other hand, if he does his own assembly there is no delay. He knows what the design has to do; he knows the components; he can start as soon as he is ready. Of course he needs a supply of components, he needs suitable equipment and he needs to know how to use it. Our eC-solutions program means that we can offer our designer customers a full range of suitable equipment and back it up with training programs and consumable supplies, developed in-house and via our partner companies. For more information on the program, go to our website section about smd-reflow-soldering equipment
Eurocircuits marketing strategy
For our first 10 years we subscribed to the sales pitch “you name it, we make it”. This was an expensive strategy which required heavy investment in plant, processes and expertise. By 2000 – 2001 there was little or no added-value margin left to sustain the investment; the recession and the migration of PCB manufacturing to lower cost areas in the Far East had driven prices down to an unsustainable level. Many PCB manufacturers either went out of business or became brokers with most of their turnover deriving from imports from China. The survivors specialized, either by moving into high-technology marketplaces where high prices would compensate for their ongoing investments or by finding ways to lower their costs. We adopted the latter strategy, introducing a clear, pre-defined offer combined with order pooling and online ordering and administration.
Eurocircuits marketing philosophy
In 1960 Jerome McCarthy proposed the 4 ‘P’s marketing model This describes what a company has to offer in terms of Product, Price, Promotion and Place. At Eurocircuits we have always used Robert F. Lauterborn’s 1993 four ‘C’s model. This is based not on how the supplier sees the market but how the market, the customer, sees the supplier. The 4 ‘C’s are Customer value, Cost to the customer, Communication and Convenience.
Eurocircuits customer value
What is the value of our offer to the customer?
1. We specialize in PCB prototypes and small series on short deliveries. Here the customer has two paramount requirements:
– The service must be always available
– Deliveries must be always on time
To achieve this we measure our performance constantly and our factories are rewarded accordingly. Our customers trust us – the trust model.
2. We have a clear offering: standard technology rigid-, IMS-, RF- and SEMI-FLEX boards produced on pooling panels with the widest choice of technology options in the market. We give the customer certainty right across the range of his requirements – the safe harbour model.
3. We are one of the largest specialist suppliers of prototype and small batch PCBs in Europe. Our size, growth and ongoing investment policy are our customers’ guarantee of quality, of continuous service availability, and of ongoing development to meet their changing needs. Each customer can enter into a long-term relationship with us, confident in the future – the safe harbour model.
4. We are not brokers; all our boards are produced in our own factories under our own control. We produce to IPC A-600 class II classification. Our quality system is certified to ISO 9000. Our customers can rely on us to deliver a consistently high level of quality across all their orders – the trust model.
5. Although in 2017 we handled over 107,000 orders for almost 12,000 customers, each individual order is 100% verified in our front end engineering department. Each design is checked for manufacturability and for obvious mistakes in the layout. We report any anomalies to the customer and make suggestions how to resolve them. Our manufacturability analyses can help customers cut their board costs by up to 25%. Our customers are confident that the board we deliver matches their intended design – the trust model.
6. We use visualisation to convey as much information as possible. Right at the outset we generate a visual image of every design showing how it will look after production. The customer can spot anything that doesn’t look right before production starts – the trust model.
7. We already have full batch traceability which the customer can access quickly online. We are now extending traceability to individual PCBs and individual machines and processes. This gives us closer control over our production facilities and gives the customer another guarantee of our quality – the safe harbour model.
8. We have developed a series of machines to save our customers time and money assembling and testing their prototypes. These include the eC-stencil-mate solder-paste printer, the eC-reflow-mate chamber reflow oven, the eC-pre-heater for improved hand-soldering, and the eC-test-mate fixtureless testing system.
Eurocircuits cost to the customer
How does the customer perceive the cost of our services?
1. Order pooling (combining several orders on the same production panel) reduces the production cost per order. Our customers trust us to give them the best and fairest prices – the trust model.
2. Pooling means that we don’t have heavy set-up costs per order, so we don’t charge for tooling. So design iterations carry no cost penalty – the trust model.
3. Our public calculator makes our prices accessible to the whole marketplace, customers and competitors alike. This means that our pricing must be consistent, stable and competitive – and our customers know this – the trust model.
4. Transport costs for multiple orders are recalculated at shipment to keep them as low as possible – the trust model.
5. In the unfortunate event of a delay due to us, we reschedule the order and recalculate the price according to the new delivery term – the trust model.
6. Online pricing and ordering using streamlined menus requiring minimum data saves the customer time and money, cutting out traditional communication costs – the trust model.
Eurocircuits convenience to the customer
How do we bring our service to the customer?
1. Our customer interface is available 24/7 It is not just a website for getting prices but an open window into our complete e-business offering and a set of free online tools for DRC/DFM analyses prior to order. The customer has streamlined access into the whole business process, his user profiles, quotations, orders, invoices and payments, both current and historical. Production data is stored indefinitely – the safe harbour model.
3. The online interface offers the customer a window into our internal administration. This guarantees the customer transparency towards his orders with Eurocircuits – the trust model.
4. Interaction with Eurocircuits can be 100% online but personal support is also available. Eurocircuits has a professional sales force based in the head office in Mechelen Belgium and in sales offices throughout Europe. The trust model.
How can the customer find us and what we offer?
1. We have a clear and well-maintained website which is regularly updated to improve its clarity and ease of use. It contains a wealth of technical information on our services and how to get the best out of them. Other documents show how to design a PCB to keep costs down and ensure that the order goes rapidly and safely through our process. This is backed by a series of videos showing how we make a PCB – the safe harbour model.
2. We have our own YouTube, blogs and social media channels to keep our customers up to date on what we are doing. Transparency is the key to customer trust – the trust model.
– via our YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/eurocircuits
– via Twitter: https://twitter.com/eC_PCB
3. We have online multilingual CHAT support on the website, as well as local support and a large multilingual team in Belgium. Our customers know that they can get support whenever they need it – the safe harbour model
4. We inform all customers about important service upgrades and events we will attend by email. We put the same news on the web site. Of course every user is free to opt out of this service – the trust model.
5. For the last 10 years we have attended all major exhibitions in our field in Europe so that our customers can meet us face to face in their own countries.
Eurocircuits competitive edge
- Small orders on a quick turnaround:
- Always available
- Always on time
- We are very reliable in:
- Offering fair and stable prices
- Delivery performance
- Product quality
- We offer a high customer convenience:
- Always available online
- Transparent pricing and open to everyone
- Visual communication throughout the entire business process
- A complete online customer-supplier administration from quote to invoice
The Eurocircuits website – Then and Now – From website to online ERP system
We have come a long way, the simple website we launched to let customers calculate and order the PCBs online has grown into a complete ERP system now. But the initial philosophy to create one unique platform where all information is available to both customers as internal staff remains the same even now. This post is an attempt to give you a glimpse of evolution of the website.
The Beginning (2000-2002) – version 1
The home page in year 2002 when we first officially launched the service.
The price calculator in year 2002. This first version included flow management for orders already, but was limited to only simple pooling orders.
The change (2004) – version 2
The home page in year 2004, in this year we have done a major change in terms of technology we used, the entire system was recreated from ground up. The requirements to extend the offer of Eurocircuits could not be incorporated in the original version anymore
Revisions (2005-2008) – version 3
During the years 2005 to 2008, the customer site as well as the internal administrative interface was continuously changed and improved. New software tools became available that offered more convenience for customers to place and track their orders. More functionality was built in the background so that all administrative and commercial tasks were transferred from external systems to the online system.
The current system
What you see now is the website version we have been working on since beginning of year 2009 and eventually launched it on May 2010. It was built again from ground up with major user interface improvements for both customers as well as for our internal staff. Since 2011 there are two systems in place,
- Webbased interface for customers to request offers, place orders, retrieve documents and manage their profiles and communications.
- Webclient system (called ECC) for our internall staff in sales, frontend engineering, production, logistics and finance that manages the complete flow of quotations, orders, files and documents through the different entities in the Eurociruiits group.
And we continue to develop. All remarks and suggestions from customers and Eurocircuits staff are evaluated and new requirements are coming daily. Keeping up with the expectations of more than 6500 customers and 400 staff members remains a challenge for the software team every day.
Presentation of the sales results 2011
2011 was a good year. For the first time our PCB turnover exceeded 15M€. The total consolidated group turnover including equipment sales amounts to 16.9M€.
Overall sales increased 3.57% against 2010. Our online pooling services showed a healthy growth in sales value of 14.14 %.
The turnover evolution in PCB sales over the last 5 years is as follows :
- 2007 – 11.9 million €
- 2008- 11.8 million €
- 2009- 11.8 million €
- 2010- 14.8 million €
- 2011- 15.4 million €
The 2008-2009 financial crisis is clearly visible in the figures, but could not stop us from resuming our growth path again from 2010 on.
The number of different customers ordering from Eurocircuits in a given year is growing steadily, and was not affected by the economical downturn of 2008-2009
- 2007 : 3461 customers ordering
- 2008 : 3893 customers ordering
- 2009 : 4507 customers ordering
- 2010 : 5692 customers ordering
- 2011 : 6485 customers ordering or a growth of 13.93 % over 2010
All these customers are placing a growing number of orders:
- 2007 : 35.834 orders processed
- 2008 : 38.569 orders processed
- 2009 : 42.614 orders processed
- 2010 : 50.015 orders processed
- 2011 : 53.168 orders processed or a growth of 6.3 % over 2010
This continuing growth in number of orders could no longer be managed by our main production unit in Hungary, Eurocircuits Kft. So in 2009 we bought a second production unit in Aachen – Germany, Eurocircuits Aachen GmbH. Both units together guarantee an excellent delivery performance and give us the necessary extra capacity to continue our growth.
Eurocircuits Kft in Eger, Hungary processes 51 % of the orders and counts for 70% of our turnover
Eurocircuits Aachen GmbH processes 49 % of the orders and counts for 30% of our turnover
For many years we have seen an increasing demand for shorter delivery terms. For prototypes and small batches (=<50dm²) up to 4-layer boards, we shortened our standard delivery term to 7 working days. Our shortest delivery term is now 2 working days for 1-, 2- and 4-layer boards and 3 working days for higher layer counts (see our calculation tool). When there is a need for even shorter delivery terms we are willing to explore the possibilities. Help us to make the right choices by participating in the following poll:
Eurocircuits annual sales meeting took place in Mechelen 11 – 13 January.
20 years of evolution – one graph explains it all
The first 10 years
Started as Europrint, right from the beginning, we were active in the market of prototypes and small series. Our goal was to serve our customers with any wish they had: “You name it, we make it”. This requires a rather costly organization and does not leave room for optimization in the business process or in the production process.
The constant decay of PCB prices and the declining appreciation for service “old style” went hand in hand and were accelerated by the disappearance of the layout and board specialist at the customers’ organization. With the disappearance of specialization, the prices collapsed over the years. Leaving a high cost of service for a lower price to kill the margins and finally leading to a loss and the inevitable end.
The next 10 years
Being conscious of the devastating decay of the traditional market we searched for ways to bring down the cost of service. On production level the solution was order pooling. The goal here is to bring more value on a production panel and reduce the cost. Instead of making 1 production panel containing one job of 5 small boards leaving the panel half or more empty, we fill it with other jobs of equal technology. The value rises but the costs stay the same
To achieve this one needs many orders to combine. And these orders need to fit in a predefined standard technology in order to make pooling possible. Selling this to the market required two things: An online communication tool with calculation and order capabilities and a price so attractive that a customer forgets his special wishes.
It worked. In about 5 years most of our traditional market was converted – or lost – but the new emerging market was already bigger than the old one.
In recent years we invested a lot to extend our services aiming for the widest pooling offer in Europe. It is now imperative to stay ahead of competition and offer extra convenience and added value around our services without increasing the cost too much. That way we glue the market to us and can harvest on the result as costs will stay under control.
Most of these new emerging products and services will lie in the field of software tools and eC-assembly-tools that help the customer to practically materialize his design.
Eurocircuits”role in the project sets a new competitive standard
Making efficient pooling panels belongs to the core business of Eurocircuits. It is a necessity to ensure cost-effective production of prototypes or small batches.
Eurocircuits started as a trader of printed circuit boards in 1991. Soon after, in 1993 we got involved in production. It has been our aim from the start to use pooling techniques for a number of reasons :
- Save cost by increasing production efficiency
- Save the environment by reducing waste
The idea of making pooling panels was not new in 1993. On the Benelux market a dutch company was already successfully offering single sided boards in pooling since the eighties of the last century. For double sided boards however it was not that common yet.
When we introduced combination panels for double sided boards in our own production in Hungary there was a lot of resistance from the operators and from the production management. They saw the complexity of their job increase, and technological challenges had to be taken care of.
Now, almost 20 years later, most technology issues have been taken care of, except for one major area, the galvanic copper plating.
For this galvanic process, the design of the PCB plays a vital role in the outcome of the process. In pooling panels there is even an influence of the design of one board on the copper deposition on surrounding designs. That means that we have to be very careful how to build our panel layouts.
The restrictions in panel configuration create limitations that affect the efficiency in our production. As a producer you can look at this problem in two ways:
- Focus on efficiency and accept uneven copper distribution. Also accept that the quality of the PCB”s produced for one customer can be influenced by the design of another pcb on the same pooling panel.
- Focus on quality – stick to an even distribution and minimum copper plating thickness all over the panel. Accept that part of the panel surface gets lost because of extra copper areas and spacing introduced to balance out the galvanic layer. Also accept that not all jobs can be pooled with acceptable plating results.
Eurocircuits decided not to take any plating quality risks. We accepted the restrictions dictated by the plating process for a long time.The Elsyca Intellitool matrix copper plating is going to remove these restrictions.
Project partners :
Elsyca Intellitool plating – the concept
Elsyca Intellitool is a software controlled electroplating tooling concept developed by Elsyca. It reduces the pattern dependence of the deposited layer of copper on the boards. The main change from a standard plating cell is the introduction of a controllable grid ( matrix) of anode segments, at a small distance of the board to be plated.
The concept consists of 3 parts :
- 1.A simulation and optimisation tool which is a further development of Elsyca Smartplate, a software we use at Eurocircuits to simulate the plating process and to decide if a pooling panel is fit for production or not. The simulation tool optimizes the current on each anode segment in time to yield the desired plating thickness and uniformity on the board. The simulations counts with parameters like properties of the plating tank, design of the pcb, resisitivity of the substrate. The result of the optimization is sent to the control unit to feed the matrix.
- 2.The matrix feeder contains a microprocessor that reads the calculated pattern of the current, and controls a matrix of digital to anode converters (DACs). This imposes the correct current on each anode segment ( pin). An amplification of the current can be implemented.
- 3.The anode matrix, mounted on a printed circuit board. Each anode pin is connected to the matrix feeder.
Elsyca Intellitool is organising the anodes as a matrix with the same size as the panel to be plated, and every point in the matrix can plate with a different current. All individual currents can be controlled in time and intensity.This way the current density is not spread evenly over the panel, but is adjusted to the differences in copper distribution in the pcb design. This can be useful to balance differences in copper distribution within a single board, but gets even more interesting when there are different designs combined on one panel ( pooling-panel).
Elsyca Intellitool – in practice.
Eurocircuits is using the software from Elsyca to simulate plating (Smartplate) and judge the plating feasabilty of its pooling panels. Intellitool is going to take us a step further. We are not going to use the software just for making a judgment. The results of the simulations will be used to control the plating process by instructing each of the anodes in the matrix on the current to be used and the time to be plated.
The Elsyca Smartplate CAM output is sent directly from our UCAM Cam system to the plating line to control the process. Operator influence on the process will be eliminated.
Our plating process will be integrated in our production processes in a similar way as is now the case for CNC machines, test equipment, etc.
Elsyca Intellitool – labo test
To test the concept Elsyca made a labo plating setup.
Elsyca Intellitool – testing in a production environment
Eurocircuits and Elsyca are testing the Elsyca Intellitool concept in a purpose built galvanic cell in our production site Eurocircuits Aachen Gmbh in Baesweiler, Germany.
The galvanic cell is built to treat one standard size Eurocircuits pooling panel ( 530 x 460 mm ) The PCB pattern on the pooling panel will vary from one production run to another.
The cell contains two anode arrays ( one for the front side, one for the backside of the pcb panel)
The tank is filled with MacDermid specialised chemicals for electroplating printed circuit boards, and the Eurocircuits pooling panel is precisely positioned between the two anode arrays.
Testing the Elsyca Intellitool production cell – November 17-2011
On November 17 tests with production panels taken out of regular production batches in Eurocircuits Aachen were plated in both our conventional plating line and in the Intellitool testcell.
Trials were conducted to evaluate the Intellitool concept as follows :
1. Test to improve the copper distribution on the panel against the conventional line :
2. Test to speed up the plating process with similar copper distribution as in the conventional line