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30 PCB007 MAGAZINE I NOVEMBER 2019 Feature Interview by Pete Starkey I-CONNECT007 Pete Starkey discusses industry drivers and challenges and the importance of investment and cooperation with Thomas Michels, CEO and managing partner of ILFA, a high-tech German PCB fabricator. Pete Starkey: Thomas, can you describe your current position and the main characteristics of your company? Thomas Michels: I run ILFA together with Chris- tian Behrendt. ILFA is based in Northern Ger- many, and we have 180 employees. We con- centrate on the aerospace and defense sectors as well as medical and sensors, and our prod- ucts are mainly high-reliability rigid-flex and hybrid boards. Starkey: Looking at the European PCB indus- try from your perspective, what's the most significant change you've seen in the past few years? Michels: 2017 and 2018 were good years for the PCB industry and the electronics industry as a whole; in the last quarter of 2018, it started to weaken, and this has continued until today. The main drivers for this weak business are the automotive industry, and as a logical re- sult, the industrial sector is also weaker due to the low business level. And people do not in- vest anymore. These are the two key areas that drive business in the wrong direction. On the other hand, for prototypes and small series, business is not too bad if you are in a complex area. For example, autonomous driv- ing, Industry 4.0, and 5G are part of our busi- ness in Europe. If you are running a factory in 4.0, you have a huge data transfer, and with the existing 4G systems, this is just not possi- ble. This drives us, so we have a lot of projects with different complexities. For ILFA, the average number of press cycles is 2.5, although we do up to 7. This is some- thing that is challenging the PCB manufactur- ers because you have to invest significantly to fulfill this expectation. ILFA and other key companies in Europe have been fully digital for many years; nobody's working from artworks anymore because it would be impossible with the sort of boards we produce. Starkey: You've already touched on it, but what sort of challenges are your customers currently facing? Thomas Michels on the Importance of Investment and Cooperation Thomas Michels

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