Global Machine and Management and First EIE Strike Important Relationship
What follows is a frank discussion I had with Carl Spitko, senior technical advisor at Global Machine and Maintenance, and Jean Paul Birraux, marketing and sales manager at First EIE about the working relationship the two companies have forged, the value it brings to their global customers, and the challenges North American fabricators are faced with these days.
Barry Matties: Gentlemen, thank you for joining me. We were just discussing the new relationship between your two companies. Jean Paul, First EIE has been a well-established business with a deep product line for some time. Are you currently global?
JP Birraux: Yes, we do sell global—photoplotters, inkjet printers and now direct imagers, with 900 + installations.
Matties: And Carl, GMM has been a distributor for a couple years?
Spitko: That is correct. Primarily we have been in the automatic dry film laminator area—rebuilding them, servicing them, spare parts, etc., all over the world, including China. We have a brand new machine in Nanchang. It's in full production—3,000 panels a day, every day, for the last year. It's doing quite well. They want to buy 16 more machines, so hopefully we'll be their chosen machinists. It's us against CSUN.
Matties: Carl, you have a deep experience in that area, don't you?
Spitko: Very much so. I started with Hercules and I dealt with their dry film laminator business, which is where I started my relationship with Hakuto; and then in 1988 I started my own business. That was quite good for many, many years, all through the '90s. We were selling 30 laminators almost every year for years.
Then, in the early 2000s, there was a lot of turmoil. I think that’s a very good word for it. We're in a rebuilding mode and things are going quite well. We have seen more interest in our products and what we do now than we have in the last ten years. I can honestly say that. I don't know exactly what's going on, and I'm sure you guys might have a better feel for that, but my general feeling is there is a little bit more money right now in the industry than there has been for about ten years.
Matties: I agree. And there's been some pent-up demand for equipment as well, which is nice to see.
Spitko: The nuts and bolts are falling off their machines and people are ready to spend a little bit of money.
Matties: And Jean Paul, for First EIE, direct imagers and your DI system, is this new for you?
Birraux: Yes and no; we have been in the imaging business for decades, so it’s a natural move. We launched this machine about a year ago at productronica in Munich, and then we sold four in Japan and Europe, and now we are ready to sell the first one with GMM in the States.
Matties: Can you tell me about the technology?
Birraux: The technology is based on the state of the art DMD and the software is based on 30 years of experience in imaging and photoplotters. This is very important. The software platform and the electronics are the same as with the photoplotters. There is also the question of having the right light source to image a resist and solder mask, as we can do both with same machine without any changes. We are using a Texas Instruments DMD, which is a micromirror system, together with the mercury arc lamps light source. It’s low power, but with very special reflectors that makes the energy level very high. The key point is that the equipment will be affordable for the markets. You asked me previously, what makes EIE different? It is a simple, reliable, and affordable DI.
Matties: Now, when you say “affordable,” that's a point of view. What is affordable?
Birraux: It is below $400,000 U.S.
Matties: What market will this serve?
Birraux: It will serve prototype shops—medium-sized companies. We are not trying to compete with big guys who are selling million dollar equipment. That is not our target. Nobody is going to buy million dollar equipment for a 20-person company.
Matties: What is the throughput on this?
Birraux: We're able to image 20 panels per hour on both resists and solder masks. We already have a customer processing solder masks with our DI in Europe.
Matties: For GMM, there is new competition coming into the market. I’ve seen a Schmoll machine here that I think is targeting the same segments that this equipment is targeting. How are you going to face the challenges in that?
Spitko: I believe that the two most important things are of course the name, First EIE Photoplotters, because it is an extremely well-established name in the industry; also of importance is the reliability of the machines, as well as the mechanics, software and platform. If people have experienced, or know of someone who has experienced that level of reliability, they understand. They're going to see that. That's what people want to see.
Secondly, I believe that we have an extremely strong reference point as far as our service on machinery in the United States. People know who we are and they know what we can do, and what we have done.
Matties: Your longevity and reputation combined gives you an advantage. Have you placed any machines yet in the U.S.?
Birraux: Not yet, but very soon. We just started a relationship at this show, and we just signed a contract today. It's brand new and, from a couple of contacts we’ve had today and yesterday, I'm sure we will start very soon.
Spitko: We literally have just started this relationship, as he's saying, and we believe that within just a few months we will place a machine. We really do. There are already four or five companies that have expressed very strong interest.
Matties: So the DI is part of the offering. Are you carrying the whole product line?
Spitko: Yes, the entire product line.
Matties: What else is in the stable?
Spitko: Well, there is of course the photoplotter and the inkjet printer, for legend, and of course the DI; but the DI ties in very strongly with the laminators. We're in the same exact area, so in terms of package deals, there can be some very affordable ways in which we can leverage a package into a customer, who perhaps either does not have an automatic dry film laminator, or who has one that is just in really bad shape. We can deliver a total package for a laminator and a DI. It would be a one-year warranty or possibly even longer than that.
Matties: Thank you for that overview of the equipment and the value that you're going to bring. From a technical point of view, what challenges do you think the fabricators in America are faced with and what do you think they really need to focus on?
Spitko: Well, of course, going to DI, you're removing the phototool and all that goes with that. It really all comes down to dollars—how you can save money and be the most efficient. If we're coming into a shop, and they're having troubles with any of their imaging area processing, we have the deep knowledge that can go all the way through from phototools to the end of the etcher.
Matties: What kind of challenges do you think that fabricators are faced with? What is it going to look like five years from now?
Spitko: Just going to China and then coming back here, it's still a cutthroat business. I think it all comes down to being more efficient and having that very close relationship with the customer. I do think people are fed up with a distant relationship, and so there seems to be this tiny bit of business coming back to the U.S. I do see that.
Matties: I see that as well. Automation is a key area. Is that something that you focus on at all?
Birraux: That is a question of throughput, but again, our DI is dedicated to medium-sized volume PCBs, so automation is really not a real need. However, the machine is designed to be easily automated, with any kind of automation suppliers, so it is possible.
Spitko: Certainly, in the dry film area, we have a lot of experience with that. We used to have a completely automatic line. But it does seem right now that even though automation is so important, I go into many shops and they still are not fully automated. Yet, over in China, you see a lot of automation. It's more from a handling standpoint, I think.
Matties: And labor, because their big advantage was the 30% reduction in labor, but that advantage is all but gone.
Spitko: It's almost gone.
Matties: So they had to do something to justify their existence.
Spitko: The shop I was at in China, people were making about three bucks an hour. And that's really not that far away from $10 or $15, especially when they're not as knowledgeable about what's going on. I was over at Hughes Circuits, where we have a laminator. They have a lot of young people, and the way they build boards requires the people to be fully knowledgeable about how this process works. You will not find that in China. You just won't.
Matties: Well, congratulations gentlemen. It sounds like a great opportunity and a good choice.
Birraux: I think so. Thank you very much.
Spitko: Thank you, Barry.