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I recently spoke with Frank Baron of Manz AG about their transition from Asia into the European and North America marketplace, and how their recent acquisition of KLEO Halbleitertechnik and their LDI technology has helped turn Manz into a real one-stop solution.
Barry Matties: Frank, tell me a little bit about what Manz does.
Frank Baron: Manz is a German high-tech equipment manufacturer and driver of innovation for key technologies of our time, like global communication needs, sustainable power generation and energy storage and e-mobility. The company’s origin is in the automation business. It was founded in 1987 by Dieter Manz and started in the PV (photovoltaic) business, with handling and automation equipment. Later on we have accumulated several new core technologies step-by-step, for example, in 2008 Manz acquired Intech Machines Co. LTD in Taiwan. This is how we came in contact with the wet chemical processes for displays and PCBs. Meanwhile, we are one of the leading wet processing equipment manufacturers in Asia. In 2014 we have started to sell this type of machines in Europe as well. It is our goal now to expand into the U.S. market as well.
Matties: And how's that going?
Baron: It's going very well. We are satisfied with the first year—we have sold our first two machines last year, a desmear and metallization line for the Blackhole process, now called “Eclipse”, together with Mac Dermid. It’s a common project with them at Ruwel International GmbH in Geldern, Germany.
Matties: Are the lines installed?
Baron: Yes. The lines have been installed. We started the qualification phase already with very good first results, so we're very satisfied with that. The second line is a pre-treatment line before dry film lamination , which has been sold to Würth Elektronik in Niedernhall, Germany. A well-known name in Germany as well and one of the leading PCB manufacturers in Europe. We are in promising discussions with further customers now.
Matties: Is that where you expected to be, a couple of sales, or did you expect more?
Baron: We could have done more. But we wanted to focus on the major things first: set up an organization, look for new staff, translate the right specifications and layouts in different languages. It was new for our Chinese engineers to communicate with English-speaking colleagues and German-speaking customers in Europe. Of course, this took some time, but now we have prepared and completed most of these activities and we can now continue to standardize and improve from this stage. For this year we want to enter the U.S. market with our new experiences and start selling the first machines here as well.
Matties: How will you enter the U.S. market? Are you looking for distributors or are you going to have a direct sales force?
Baron: We started to do our market research last year by ourselves and integrated LDI into our range of products for the PCB business. Manz has already had a subsidiary in the U.S. for many years. Last but not least, we hope to continue our positive relationship from the Ruwel project with MacDermid in the U.S. as well, and also think about cooperating with local PCB reps.
Matties: Now, the wet processing equipment arena is very crowded. I know in China there's a lot of competition. In Europe there's a handful. In America there are still a few key players there. How do you come into a marketplace that is so dominated by a few for so many years and really bring something new to the table?
Baron: Our idea is that we do not want to be just a supplier for a single tool or process but rather act as a one-stop solution provider because of our big range of core competences. We’ve started from our business in automation and handling. But in the last decade we have accumulated a lot of experience in other technologies as well, such as metrology, printing, and laser technology. With the acquisition of KLEO we have expanded our know-how further with the LDI process. So we would like to combine everything that can be used for PCB production and provide a one-stop solution. Not only a single solution, but everything out of one hand.
Matties: With all due respect, don't a lot of other companies say the same thing?
Baron: You might be right but Manz definitely has a better base for that. Some of our competitors do act as distributors purchasing from a third or second source. But Manz can manufacture and produce most of the technologies out of one hand by itself. We have the potential to be a real one-stop solution provider.
Matties: What sort of demands will a fabricator put on you to buy your equipment, other than pricing?
Baron: Pricing, of course, is always a big demand on the one side. But it is not the only one. Quality, service and responsibility for the overall process (machines and software)is requested as well to keep the manufacturing costs low in the long term. Customers don’t like to sit between the chairs, if some problems occur. It is also the network of equipment what we are targeting to safe costs.
Matties: How many machines do you expect to sell in America for the first year? What would make it successful?
Baron: I think for 2016 it would be great if we could start with few lines here as the first step. Starting slowly and accelerating the business is better than crashing into the market and failing. Now we can already count on the new experiences that we have made on the European market. The demands in North America and the requirements from North American customers are more or less similar to those of European customers. They want to have local suppliers for major components like pumps, filters, electrical parts, and this is what we want to offer to the North American market. But there might be additional demands we first need to learn and understand for a sustainable growth.
Matties: Now, on your LDI machine, your direct imaging, you'll be bringing that to America as well?
Baron: Yes, we'll offer our complete range of products for PCBs.
Matties: That's also a crowded space. There's a lot of technology and choices. There's a lot of competition in that space. How do you fit in?
Baron: It's the same strategy as I have mentioned before. Also LDI is not just one single machine. LDI is split into many steps like pre-clean, lamination, handling, developing, etc. And if customers want to combine both high throughput, up to 180 panels per hour, which is possible with our system, and high precision, it can only be reached if the interfaces between are working perfectly as well. The software has to fit perfectly and the machines have to communicate with each other in the correct way. Also, for LDI, it will become more and more beneficial to have one supplier in charge with full responsibility for all single equipment.
Matties: Now, this was an acquisition of a company by which you will enter into this market. How many units do they already have in the field?
Baron: In Europe we already have 10 installations running at both big and middle-sized PCB manufacturers. This is the base we took over from KLEO and continue to expand. And the number of potential customers is increasing rapidly, not only in regard to solder mask application.
Matties: Where do you fit into the price point compared to all the others?
Baron: We offer good quality at a reasonable price including automation. The service friendliness of our SpeedLight 2D LDI machine is well-known and regarded as a big advantage compared to our competitors’ systems. There are advanced types of PCBs which can only be manufactured on our systems due to the good registration quality, which is a unique benefit.
Matties: In automation, are you doing handling equipment in between processes? Transports, that sort of thing?
Baron: Yes, for LDI we have already presented this during the PCB shows in 2015. This is the way we will continue.
Matties: Thank you for taking time to speak with me today.
Baron: My pleasure, thank you.