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Leamington would probably have remained a small village in Warwickshire, deep in the heart of England, had it not been for the discovery of the healing properties of its spring waters in the late 18th century. Under its new label, Royal Leamington Spa, it grew rapidly and still exhibits some grand examples of Georgian and early Victorian architecture. Now a busy industrial and commercial town set close to the motorway network, it is an ideal location for distribution businesses, one of which is Global-Ventec Laminates UK Ltd.
PCB007 visited GVL's smartly-presented warehousing and panel-cutting facility and asked Managing Director, Mark Goodwin, about the company.
PCB007: What's the logic in setting up a laminate distribution business in the UK--is there a market left to service?
MG: There most certainly is! There's no argument that the high-volume commercial stuff is long-gone from the UK and Europe, and domestic laminate manufacture has largely gone with it. But there's still a remarkably solid PCB manufacturing industry, albeit very demanding in terms of service, technology and product quality.
PCB007: Don't the European and American laminators recognize the potential of this marketplace? And can they not rely upon the loyalty of their traditional customers?
MG: Mergers and acquisitions among Western World laminators have left the industry with fewer choices, and those laminators have tended to focus their energies developing their Far Eastern markets, leaving themselves short of resources to service their traditional home market. If anything, we're coming in the opposite direction--they've opened the door for an entrepreneurial Chinese laminator to develop a world presence.
PCB007: Tell us what you mean by that.
MG: If I explain the structure and background of GVL, it should become clear. We are a joint venture between Global Laminates, a distributor with thirty years supply-chain management experience who pioneered the import and distribution of Asian products into North America, and Ventec Electronics, a leading producer of multilayer laminates and prepregs. The joint venture company offers world-class products to the UK and Europe, delivered through a flexible and secure distribution channel at competitive prices.
PCB007: Sounds like a bit of a sales pitch! Specifically what services do you offer?
MG: A customized supply chain, with three key options: 1) direct shipment, to support medium and large volume steady state demand by direct shipments from Asia--we manage all the importation administration so the customer gets a hassle-free low cost solution; 2) fabrication and distribution--to support small, medium and quick turn demand, cut panels supplied from inventories held in key European locations; and 3) consigned inventories--cut to size, packaged materials consigned at our customers' factories, topped up and invoiced monthly. We believe that our approach gives customers the opportunity to achieve an optimum mix of service and cost.
PCB 007: What's your product range, and what's special about it?
MG: We offer a full range of FR-4 laminates and prepregs, dicy or phenolic cured, medium or high Tg. Our "standard" material for the European market is VT-481, 150Tg phenolic cured, and we've been manufacturing polyimide for the last two years in response to customer demand from the US. What's special about it? Let me say first of all we recognise that, as a supplier of Chinese laminate, we have had a credibility gap to bridge. We are certainly not one of the cheap-and-cheerful brigade and we don't see the Chinese as competition; our competitors are the leading Japanese and European laminators. Ventec really have got ISO 9001 and ISO 14001, and even ISO 18001 occupational health and safety accreditation, as well as ISO/TS 16949 automotive approval. And Ventec carry full product liability insurance, which certainly is not the norm for Chinese laminators. We are cost and price competitive with the traditional big names, and producing materials at least equal to, and in certain cases better than, big-name products, particularly when you consider properties like dimensional stability.
PCB007: Without giving away any secrets, tell us how you achieve predictability and uniformity of properties.
MG: No secret. You would need to see Ventec's manufacturing plants to really appreciate it. The equipment is all new--manufacture didn't start until 2000, and there are now three plants, two in Suzhou and one in Jiangyin--twelve treaters, five class-1000 clean rooms, six auto-layup lines, and sixteen thermal-oil vacuum presses. Production capacity is 900,000 sheets of laminate and 25 million square feet of prepreg per month. But it's principally about consistency: consistency in raw materials sourcing and a one-line, one-product philosophy. Ventec's resin comes from Dow, glass cloth from Taiwan Glass, Grace Fabric and Nittobo, and copper from Mitsui and Furukawa. The treaters are dedicated to specific material types, rather than forever changing between products and rarely achieving true steady-state conditions. And the underlying characteristic of Ventec's business culture is the principle of vertical cooperation.
PCB007: Would you explain what you mean by "vertical cooperation?"
MG: Effectively, close collaboration and a spirit of partnership, not only downstream in the supply chain--with Ventec's distributors and their customers, but upstream as well--with their equipment and material suppliers. It's a principle that benefits participants at all stages of the value system, by allowing them to work closer together and have a better appreciation of each other's contribution.
PCB007: So, looking at the downstream end of the supply chain, tell us more about your justification for targeting UK and Europe for your distribution service, and how this fits the global strategy.
MG: We certainly have no dreams of dominating the European market--we will be satisfied with a modest share, although we have already taken more than 15% of the UK market since we began selling here less than a year ago, and the European business is growing at an encouraging rate. Our customers like our quality and service, together with our principle of partnership, and whether we supply from Suzhou, Leamington or through Eltech Group--which is Eltech France & IMARO GmbH in Germany, who are our distribution partners in Europe--customers can be assured that they have direct access to the primary manufacturer through GVL. An important strategic consideration is that a lot of new PCB designs are prototyped in Europe for subsequent manufacture in China, and as we progressively gain approval and qualification from multinational OEMs then they can specify our material and be confident of consistency in the source and characteristics of the laminate at all stages of the production cycle.
PCB007: Now you've explained it, your business model makes a lot of sense. We wish you a prosperous future. Thank you.