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PCB007-Nov2019

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32 PCB007 MAGAZINE I NOVEMBER 2019 Michels: As I just mentioned, the automotive and industrial fabrication industries are suf- fering from a lack of business. Nobody knows whether it is riding toward one direction or an- other. The other challenge is that there are a lot of projects for autonomous driving and 5G that OEMs have some ideas about, but they don't know all of the answers, so PCB manufactur- ers have to work much more closely than they used to work with the OEM. We are already in the design stage and a part of the project. Starkey: Looking to the future, how do you think the European PCB industry is going to change in the next two to three years? Michels: Let me first make one point clear: I hope nobody will disappear because we are such a small industry now that if we get any smaller, it could be dangerous. Meanwhile, OEMs understand that they need to have local support for the industry, and they honor this more and more. Besides this, the industry has to work together to avoid risk. I'm not scared at all if we do our homework. We must invest a lot. The companies who are not willing to invest 8–10% of their annual turnover, for ex- ample, will disappear over the next 5–7 years; they will die slowly. At ILFA, we started cooperating very close- ly on technology with a company called MOS Electronic—a German company that is also pri- vately held where the shareholders are active in the management like ours are. This is a concept that others have to think about if they are not big manufacturers. We are complementary; they do certain things where we are not as strong, like heavy copper, and we do other things like rigid-flex where we are very strong. By working together, we give our existing customer base a better offering. From my point of view, we have to cooperate better in this small industry. Starkey: I know exactly what you mean. In the present environment, it's very wise to adopt that strategy. What is your area of greatest con- cern right now? Michels: My biggest concern is if we can find the right people with the right skills. The unem- ployment rate is very low in German-speaking countries, and we have a lot of big companies that offer very good salaries. This makes it very difficult for companies like ILFA and 100–180– 250 people. We can't just offer the kind of pack- ages that big companies do, which is a huge challenge for us. The second one is if we get all of the necessary investment finances. Because even though interest rates are close to zero, the banks have "short arms and deep pockets," and PCBs are not "sexy." The banks can be hesi- tant, which is another concern. But if we do our homework and work on cooperating with other companies to optimize our offering, if we invest sufficiently, the business is there. Starkey: That's encouraging. You need to work hard on the relationships and make the right investments to secure that business. Michels: Correct. For example, if we look at our own company, we have increased our business in 2019 by almost 10%, but we have lifted our technology level not one step but by at least two steps. Yes, we can do 4-layer and 6-layer boards, but that's not what we want to do; we have 40% rigid-flex and 40% hybrid contain- ing ceramic, PTFE, and other materials with three, four, and five lamination cycles, copper filling, via plugging, etc., all in-house. This is the kind of business you have to do—either very fast or very complex—if you would like to survive in Europe. We must invest a lot. The companies who are not willing to invest 8–10% of their annual turnover, for example, will disappear over the next 5–7 years; they will die slowly.

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