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In the final hours of productronica 2017, Barry Matties met with Jake Kelly of Viking to discuss the company’s value-added services, their growth in the India and America markets, and the UCE manufactured line they displayed at productronica.
Barry Matties: Jake, how did the show go for you? What do you think?
Jake Kelly: I've got to say, it was really pleasing, with very busy days. The first day was relatively quiet, as it normally is, and here on the last day, it is quiet. The floor is fairly empty, but the two middle days, very, very busy. A lot of good inquiries. It wasn’t huge volumes of people, but it's absolutely quality leads, good conversations, good talks that are going to lead to some good sales.
Matties: Overall, I hear the European market is just booming right now, or is at least on a strong trajectory. Would you agree?
Kelly: Yes, it's absolutely going the right way. We're getting inquiries from all over. We're an international company. Our headquarters is in the U.K., with offices in Austria, China, and India, so we're not reliant on one market or one country. But we're getting orders and inquiries from all over Europe. It's fantastic news.
Matties: For our readers that might not be familiar with Viking worldwide, why don't you tell us what you do and the services that you provide?
Kelly: We’ve been in the PCB industry for 35+ years now, something on that order. We're a family-based business with our headquarters in the U.K. We started life as an electrical test service company, but we're much more of a machine sales and support company now. We're value-added, and we supply a range of equipment from front-end engineering through to final packing and dispatch. We're in a unique position, with the product portfolio and the expertise that we have as a company, to offer a complete turnkey solution, which is what we're working on now.
Matties: When you say value-added services, what do you mean?
Kelly: It's more than just being an equipment supplier. You can buy an etcher or a developer from a range of people, but it's the people we have working for us. They understand the process. They've come from printed circuit board manufacturing at a high level, so we understand the process well. It's all part of a process. It's not just one item. We want to enhance the customer's reliability and their manufacturing capabilities, and it may not necessarily be the product that they're looking at. It may be something else. For example, if they're looking for a better stripper. They think the stripping is the problem, but it may not be. It may be a previous problem that they've got in plating. If the plating is done correctly, they may not need, for example, a better stripper. It's looking at the requirements and the whole process from a process point of view.
Matties: When you look at the different regions—you mentioned China and India—tell us a little bit about what's going on in the Far East.
Kelly: We buy a lot of equipment from the Far East—Japan, China, Taiwan—that we bring into Europe and India. We're seeing huge growth in India at the moment with the subsidies and the grants that the government in India is giving to the industry. There's a lot of growth in India at the moment, and we're enjoying some good sales there.
Matties: What's the market like in India? Are you seeing a rise in PCB activity?
Kelly: There is a rise. There are more companies wanting to come to India to manufacture the PCBs now as the OEMs are moving into the country. Not just more manufacturing, but higher technology. That's what we're seeing. We're seeing sales of machines for technology growth rather than necessarily increased manufacturing capability.
Matties: The infrastructure there is slow to improve, but is that changing?
Kelly: It's improving very much. If you look at the mobile telecommunications networks, to be honest with you, in a lot of parts of India it's considerably better than in the U.K. So, no, I don't see a problem there.
Matties: I was talking to some other factories there, and they say, "The roads to the factory are really nice, but once you get a few kilometers out, you're driving through deep puddles."
Kelly: You're driving through puddles, you're driving through potholes, you're driving along the side of the road, and you're driving to avoid the cows that are using the freeways as well. But it's just part of what happens there. It's not a big issue. You've got to get used to it. That's how it is there.
Matties: When fabricators are coming in to look at equipment, what sort of demands or concerns do they have these days?
Kelly: Support. Particularly in India, it's a support issue. I think in the past, there were a few agent companies that were set up there and sold equipment, but they were not geared up to do the support. Viking, like I said, is all value-added. We like to do things a different way. We support the setup for the support first, and then based on that we sell the equipment. Unless you're going to do it that way, you're just going to fail, and you're not going to give the customer what they're wanting.
Matties: You mentioned America. What's going on there for you?
Kelly: We're starting to make some noise in America now. It's a good market with some good global players there. The equipment that we sell is good. It's high technology and it's a good price, so it's what people want. It's just finding the right customers and at the right time. We're making moves in America now.
Matties: When someone is looking for a piece of equipment, what sort of advice would you give them?
Kelly: Talk to people. Particularly in the chemical processing. It's the communication between the chemical supplier and the wet processing manufacturer. Those two pieces have got to join and mesh well together. See what other people are doing. Listen to the market. See what other people are buying, equipment-wise. Talk to the right people. Don't just buy on relationships.
Matties: That's interesting, because a lot of times that's exactly what people talk about. You go to where you have a relationship because you feel like you're going to get a better deal, better value, better service.
Kelly: But it's not always the case. People like to buy from people that they've got a good relationship with, but it's not necessarily the best product. Of course, people want to buy through relationships because if you've got a good history with somebody, you feel you've got a good trust and you're going to get good support, but it's not necessarily the best piece of equipment for you. Also, people like to buy locally made equipment, for example, but is it the best for you? Just because you're a German manufacturer, you want to buy German equipment. Is it the best for you? Sometimes, yes. Possibly not. You may want to go out, go global, see what else is manufactured around the world. You might get a much better product for a much better price.
Matties: Now, the line you're selling here, UCE, that's a Chinese-manufactured line?
Matties: The quality of the line looks world-class. What sort of resistance do you meet selling this equipment, say, in America?
Kelly: We can get a bit of resistance. If you're looking at the machine now, the physical appearance of the machine is different from a European-made machine or an American-made machine. That's the first thing that you see, and people say, "It looks a little bit different." It's different for a reason. On this machine, the pumps, the motors, the filters are all very obvious. They're obvious for a reason. They're where you want them to be, so when you're doing some maintenance or some repair work on the machine it's easy for that maintenance guy to get into the machine and do the work. So the physical appearance of the machine is different.
Matties: And from a transport point of view?
Kelly: UCE, that makes this line here, have a range of transport systems. They can transport thick panels up to 10 millimeters down to thin core, 25-micron material. They've got a huge experience. They employ something like 200 people in research and development, so they're continually looking to develop their machines for high technology. It's not just about volume. UCE employ something like 2,000 people, and they're making over a kilometer of equipment every month, so they're absolutely the biggest company in the world making this equipment. But that's not their key focus. It's not about sales and numbers. It's about the technical capability of their equipment.
Matties: What sort of warranties or guarantees come with their equipment? What can people expect?
Kelly: We give a two-year warranty as a standard on the whole piece of equipment, but further than that, because the frames of the UCE machines are so strong and so robust, we actually give a five-year guarantee on the frame of the machines.
Matties: That's great. What about handling equipment? I see some loaders and unloaders. How's the demand for the automation aspect?
Kelly: That's growing up. Everybody wants automation in Europe now, because of the cost of labor. Getting some good automation eliminates that. But it's more than the labor cost, it's the potential damage that you can cause with handling. Anything that you can do to reduce the overall cost, reduce overall scrap, is what our customers are looking at getting now. We've got a good range of handling equipment that suits most of our customers.
Matties: What other sorts of equipment are you selling?
Kelly: We have the automation equipment that we just mentioned. We have cut sheet laminators, and AOI inspection equipment as well, and plating equipment. We do a lot of automated plating equipment for PCBs and for general metal finishing as well.
Matties: Is this plating?
Kelly: Yes, absolutely.
Matties: Any final thoughts you want to share with the industry?
Kelly: I think we've covered most of it today, Barry. It's been a very good show. Growth in the European market is excellent, and it's a good business to be in today.
Matties: Jake, thank you so much.
Kelly: Thank you.