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When I found out about FineLine Global I could not wait to have a talk with them. I have talked with a lot of companies over the past few years and some of them were brokers, but none of them had the global reach or diversity of this company. With locations all over the world and technology offerings covering all technologies, I wanted to see for myself what this “broker on steroids” was all about—how they got started and how they grew. So recently I was delighted to have have a conversation recently with Eli Ikan, Fineline Global’s General Manager.
Dan: Eli, thanks for giving me the opportunity to learn more about your company.
Eli: My pleasure, Dan, we also love to tell people about our company.
Dan: Okay, let’s do just that. First, tell me a little bit about the history of the company.
Eli: FineLine GmBH was founded in Germany in 1991 and Aviv PCB & Technologies was founded in Israel in 2002. In 2007, Aviv PCB acquired FineLine in Germany and the joint company has grown since by establishing subsidiaries and acquiring similar companies. This was all put together by Mr. Benny Kremer who today is the president of FineLine Global Ltd.
The plan was to grow and provide a one-stop shop for PCB sourcing from China. As China became the global center for PCB manufacturing, FineLine provided a value-added service in managing the supply chain in China for its customers. FineLine enabled its customers to source all their PCB demands from one source, with local service.
Our motto has been "4As: Any Technology, Any Quantity, Any Time, Anywhere.” FineLine was one of the first suppliers to break the paradigm that manufacturing in China is only for large mass production and supplied quick turn and small quantities from China.
Dan: Can you tell me about your supplier relationships and how that works?
Eli: Our policy is to create true partnerships with our suppliers. We see the long-term relationships and stability as a key to assure the service to our customers. We work together with our suppliers to overcome any challenges encountered. This means working together on continuous improvement plans, supporting them in expanding capacity and technological capabilities, negotiating the commercial terms when market conditions change, and sometimes extending financial support. FineLine has a stable supply base. We do not switch suppliers often. We add suppliers when we need to support the increasing demand or add new technological capabilities.
Fineline's team in China is responsible for managing our relationship with the suppliers. This includes:
- Quality audits to approve the supplier initially and periodic audits
- Managing the commercial terms
- Follow-up on the suppliers' capacity utilization and updating FineLine
- Daily follow-up on the WIP status, assessing any concerns for delays and expediting deliveries
- Managing delivery and quality problems
Dan: How you work with customers?
Eli: Fineline offers a variety of value-added services. For each customer, we try to understand from the customer what he perceives as added value. This enables us to tailor the service solution for the customer. Primarily we try to understand the profile of the customer's PCB demand, technology, batch sizes, quantities, lead times etc. Then we assess the customer's internal strengths and where he needs more support, engineering, DFM, coordination etc. Based on this, we can match the right suppliers and the work process with the customer.
FineLine provides local service to its customers. While we may rely on our global resources to execute the service, the communication with the customer on all levels is done locally, with local customer service and engineering personnel. We believe that this makes it easier for the customer to communicate its needs and concerns. Each customer is assigned a contact in our office, but we encourage our customers to contact our engineers and technology experts directly as needed and we encourage flexibility. While this may pose some challenges in managing an organization of over 300 people, we believe that flexibility and ease of doing business is an added value by itself.
Dan: One of the things that interests me about your company is that you are a truly global company. Please talk about that and the advantages of being global.
Eli: Look Dan, we live in a global economy. Many of our customers have subsidiaries or branches in different countries and almost all of them at least sell and/or buy and outsource production abroad. Our global presence allows us to give a flexible service to meet the customers’ needs. We can support the designers with advice and prototypes in one country and support mass production when production is outsourced to another country. We can assist our customers' sourcing teams and quality teams to manage coordination and quality issues that are far away. We can help our customers to transfer operations globally. With a central IT system (software and database) and FineLine teams in various countries, we provide a global service with a local flavor.
Dan: Where are your locations?
Eli: We have subsidiaries in Germany, Netherlands, France, Spain, UK, Sweden, Israel, Italy, USA, Switzerland and, of course, China. Then we have representatives in Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, India, Brazil, Slovenia, Finland and may others.
Dan: Let’s switch over to your vendor base now, Eli. What kind of vendors do you deal with?
Eli: We work with different vendors that were selected based on the following guidelines:
- Full coverage of the demand we have in terms of technology, capacity, and lead time.
Usually each vendor is focused on a part of the market in both technological capability and in terms of manufacturing batch sizes.
- Quality. All vendors must meet FineLine's (and our customers') quality requirements.
- Management. We are looking for a management attitude that will match our business philosophy of long term partnership, desire to work together on continuous improvement and development, openness, and trust.
- Competitive pricing.
- Capacity. Vendor has ample capacity to become a meaningful vendor and FineLine’s portion of its turnover will not exceed 30%.
Dan: How do you find and qualify your vendors?
Eli: We have an excellent team in China led by Managing Director Danny Chen. Danny and his team are constantly surveying the PCB manufacturing scene in China, constantly keeping in touch with leading managers in the industry. FineLine is also 75% owned by China Fastprint, a leading PCB manufacturer in China, traded on the Shenzhen stock exchange. So, we trust that we are well-informed on the industry, future trends, and interesting players. FineLine has an excellent reputation in the PCB industry in China, based on our record of accomplishment in growth and our business practices. This allows us to choose the vendors we want to work with.
The qualification process involves an initial audit that covers an extensive quality and technology assessment. This audit is performed by our quality team in China and our CTO, Anan Zreik. Anan has extensive experience in PCB manufacturing. We are applying his expertise to assess the supplier's capabilities and to assist our suppliers in enhancing their capabilities. Capacity review and commercial negotiations follow the quality and technology assessment. Based on these assessments, we qualify the supplier to the niche which we see fit, in terms of technology, business sectors (i.e., medical, automotive, etc.) batch size and lead time.