A Conversation with Andy Michniewicz
Gul Technologies (Gultech) is not your traditional offshore supplier. It is a true industry leader when it comes to technology. A few months ago, I sat down to talk with Mayne-McKenney’s Andy Michniewicz. His company represents Gultech here in North America and they were just starting a project to expand Gultech’s market reach on this side of the globe. I found that interview interesting enough that I wanted to follow up and see how things were going now that a few months have passed.
More than a few things that surprised me about this interview. The first was the far reach of Gultech’s manufacturing capabilities; with a number of facilities in China and sales offices all over the world, it is a true global company. The second surprise was discovering that they are such a high-tech company. Their capabilities cover just about every type of technology available in our industry today. To those of you who think that Asian companies can only build the low-tech, low-mix, high-volume product, this interview is going to be a real eye-opener.
Check it out.
Dan Beaulieu: Andy, when you and I spoke a few months ago, you were talking about expanding Gultech’s reach into other North American markets. Can you tell me how that is going so far?
Andy Michniewicz: The revised marketing strategy started in October and has generated a lot of interest from the reps we contacted. The reps have been forwarded the documentation provided by Gultech on their facilities, capabilities, and product lines, and it appears to be a very good fit with the many reps that I have spoken to. The first quotes have been submitted to Gul and we believe the sky’s the limit as we move forward and clients realize what Gul has to offer.
DB: How are you being received?
AM: Gul is being received as an extremely good alternative supplier, based on the capabilities, resources, technical expertise, and local support that we are able to supply. Gul has come to the rescue for customers who needed quick delivery or were having quality issues with their existing supplier.
DB: In doing my research for this interview, I was frankly surprised at how big Gultech is. Can you describe the company to our readers?
AM: Gul has recently added a third facility to its campuses. There are facilities in Suzhou (800,000 square feet of boards per month, with 1,500 employees), Wuxi (850,000 square feet per month, with 1,800 employees), and the new facility in Wuxi adjoining the other (1.2 million square feet per month) which started production in the fourth quarter of 2014. All the facilities are located in China. Gultech Suzhou is the standard technology facility, which does standard 2-12 layer boards: automotive/industrial, high-reliability, HDD/SSD, semi-flex bendable FR-4, IMS thermal management. Gultech Wuxi does 2 to more than 14 layers, HDI, automotive/industrial, high-reliability, flex-rigid with flex core polyimide, regal flex with flex core FR-4, LED, chip-on-board (COB), and IMS (thermal management). Gultech Jiangsu is slated to do high-layer boards, thin/fine-line boards, HDI and anylayer HDI, flex-rigid with flex core polyimide, regal flex with flex core FR-4, LED, and COB.
DB: Now talk to me about your capabilities. From what I saw in my research, it looks like you guys can do just about anything.
AM: There are few things in the PCB market that we do not offer. Gul offers all of the laminate materials that the marketplace requires, as well as the solder mask (varying colors), legend ink (varying colors), carbon ink, and all of the current surface finishes that have been requested by the clients.
DB: Please discuss your markets worldwide, and talk as much as you can about how much business you are doing in each market.
AM: Gul is diversified and tries to segment their market share as evenly as possible. As an example, 28% is automotive, 37% is computer and peripherals, 14% is consumer electronics, 5% communication, 9% is networking, and 7% is instrumentation and medical. Our forecasted sales are $293 million in 2014 and increasing in 2015 with the opening of the new plant in Wuxi, in Jiangsu province.
DB: Now, let’s turn to North America. I know that you have a very strong foothold in automotive. Can you talk about that? How long have you been selling to automotive companies?
AM: Without naming our clients, as I mentioned earlier, 28% of our business is automotive, which we have been successfully serving since 1991. All required certifications have been met by the facilities: ISO 9002/QS9000, ISO14001, ISO/TS16949, ISO 9001, ISO14001, TS16949, QCO8000, and OHSAS18001. The plants also obtained the environmental assessment grade of green, which is rare in the China PCB environment.
DB: Andy, one reason we’re talking today is that you are in the middle of a project to expand to other non-automotive North American markets. Talk about your plans for doing that.
AM: Gul has contracted an American marketing consulting firm for their expertise in marketing, customer contacts, and ability to locate reps to sell the Gul name and product. We believe that once Gul is used by a client, their satisfaction with the product quality, service, and delivery will keep them coming back.
DB: Let me play devil’s advocate for a second. Why do you think you can address these markets better than local suppliers? What are your advantages?
AM: The service, technology support, delivery, and flexibility are beyond reproach and Gul does all they can to make the procuring process as easy as possible. The discipline that is required in the automotive industry is evident throughout all of their operations and plants.
DB: Why should American companies buy from Gultech?
AM: The capacity, flexibility, technology, service I mentioned should be more than enough reasons to buy from Gul Tech. Their ability to communicate is impeccable and their local technical support is a big plus, as you have someone at your disposal 24/7.
DB: That makes sense. I have to agree with you that the domestic suppliers just do not have the bandwidth to address all of the needs of the domestic customers. How are you approaching this project? What steps are you taking to be successful in pursuing your goals?
AM: We are in the process of building a team here in the US as well as in China, and we will grow the team as the demand requires. We have local technical support that has, as a team, over 80 years of experience in the PCB industry.
DB: You mentioned service earlier, so let’s focus on that for a minute. How do you service your customers now and how will you service your new customers in the future?
AM: The organization is such that we have local reps near to the accounts and, if needed, our technical staff will be on a plane or in a car within hours of a need arising. The staff is set up with 24/7 coverage, so the client is never without a resource to call upon.
DB: Let’s get back to the company. What is Gultech’s vision for the future? Where do they want to be in three years, or in five years? I’m talking North America and globally as well.
AM: With the new plant on board and becoming fully operational, they plan on doubling in revenues in the next 2-3 years while maintaining their high standard for quality.
DB: From what I know and what you have said, I consider Gultech as one of companies that exemplify the future of the PCB industry. What are your thoughts about that?
AM: Without a doubt, they have restructured their plants to be totally in-line processing-wise, and eliminated WIP. And the cleanliness is remarkable, considering it is a PCB house. They have gone to the extent of slip-sheeting 100% of the product throughout the process while color-coding the slip sheets by area to avoid any cross-contamination.
DB: Andy, how do you see the PCB market today? Where do you think we are going?
AM: The marketplace is strong and growing. Virtually every product made today has some form of electronics in it, and that is usually mounted on a PCB, so the market will only grow.
DB: As Thomas Friedman, said the world is getting flatter, which means that boundaries are coming down in terms of the ability for worldwide trade. Let me put you on the spot. Are there any plans for a Gultech North America facility in the future near of far?
AM: I do not believe so, as the cost of making PCBs in the US is not competitive, as evidenced by the amount of PCB houses that have closed over the past 10 years.
DB: Well, now it’s your turn. Do you have any last comments before we wrap this up?
AM: Just that I’ve been in the PCB industry for close to 40 years, and there are few things that I have not seen. I joined Gul 20 years ago and it has been a very rewarding journey watching them develop into a grade A PCB shop. It did not happen overnight, and it took a lot of hard work, but the rewards are gratifying.
DB: Thanks for your time, Andy.
AM: Thank you, Dan.
I found this an amazing story, one that goes beyond just one company, exemplifying the globalization in our industry, and in all industries and businesses throughout the world. In my conversation with Andy, I also found out that Gultech has a strong history in Formula One racing, having supplied Regal Flex for the engine control for Michael Schumacher’s car when he won his initial World Championship titles. Gultech also did some of the work on some of the first Compaq notebook computers using Regal Flex technology in volume, connecting the screen to the motherboard.
The Gultech story is one that certainly bears close watching, which is something that I plan to do. I’ll be checking in with Andy in a few months for the next episode as this PCB drama unfolds. Stay tuned.