A Conversation with Laurent Nicolet, Schmid Group
During the recent HKPCA and IPC Show, held in Shenzhen, China, I had a chance to talk with Laurent Nicolet, VP - PCB Business Unit of Schmid Group . The thing that really caught my eye was the crowd gathered around a piece of automation technology that they were displaying in their booth. Automation is in very big demand here in China. The following was transcribed from an audio interview I conducted in Schmid’s booth with Laurent regarding the technology and the changes he has seen in the China market.
007: So we’re looking at some flexible automation here?
LN: Yes, these are intralogistic, so it transports the parts from point A to point B. The system is fully intelligent; it can choose the way that you want even if the way is occupied or not. The big advantage of the system is it is fully flexible. If you need to extend or change the track it is very simple and not a lot of hardware is necessary for a change. The interesting things for the electronic industry is that you can have some assembly parts on the shuttle so that during the transport of the parts we can take currents from the rail and make a check of the parts.
007: This would certainly add value to what is normally a non-value added step, moving product from step to the next. So now, it’s not just transporting it’s adding value to the manufacturing process?
LN: Yes, that is when it is helpful and a benefit of the system.
007: Is this a system you guys designed?
LN: We acquired a company in Switzerland called Montratec a few years ago and now we have transferred the production partially in Germany and also in China.
007: The automation in China, there's a big demand for that, yes?
LN: It's a big demand now, especially in the car industry and the medical industry.
007: So what do you see here in the China market?
LN: I think for the next five years automation will be a big boom. Some companies are interested to buy some small machine such as this to assemble just one process and transfer it to the next one with this kind of logistic.
007: Now is this the only automation that you have to offer or do you have other products?
LN: No we call this intralogistic, just the logistic of the parts on a production, and we have a department in Germany where we make the full automation integration, where we can work on the parts directly and continue the process. We were originally using it more for photovoltaic before but now we have extended it to another type of industry.
007: There have been a lot of changes here in China both in business and also culturally with the middle class rising, what sort of changes have you seen?
LN: I would say the big difference in the last five years is the change of the mentality of the young people, I would say 25-35 years old. Before people wanted to work and earn the money, perhaps for the purpose of leaving the country. Now they will have fun: They will have a car, an apartment, they will go travelling, so now they have more demands than before.
007: So the demands on the employers have increased to bring in better workers' rights.
LN: Yes, the workers want to have more money to have more things.
007: And they can demand it now, because there are other jobs and they know that they can leave.
LN: We are used to seeing on the television every time a bad example of China where people are working 14 hours or something like that. Now the salaries are going up with a salary increase between 10-15% every year which will make China less attractive from a certain point of view. So the government should be balanced a little bit better.
007: Are you actually manufacturing product in China on your lines?
LN: The lines manufactured here in China are all PCB lines, with some PV lines.
007: How has that been manufacturing in China? Because some people have said supply lines aren't stable and have had issues with quality and consistency, do you run into those issues?
LN: No we've had no problem. We manufacture the same line in Germany and the same line in China because some people do not see the difference. The only difference was the packing: it was paper packing here and in Germany it was wood. That is the only difference. We have a good supply chain system in China with good suppliers, but what we have done is just to make the same parts and we do see a constant increase in the quality from our suppliers here.
007: Where do you see the largest growth for your business at? You said automation earlier but is there something specific?
LN: I think the big gross can be with two new products we have: the automation intralogistic and our product called CYKLOS. CYKLOS is an anodizing system that is very compact, you don't need any waste water treatment system, and everything is inside the machine. This can be very interesting for the people with small parts to anodize.
007: How is the European market for you guys?
LN: Very good this year. The German market is growing and we see a lot of changing of the old machine installations. The thing that we have to be careful is that we have two types of lines and one is a little bigger than the other, so when the people want to change to a new line we are coming with 1 meter more line and it can make some trouble. That is one of the concerns but Europe has been good for us this year.
007: And what about America?
LN: We are present in America for the use of substrates, and other than that it's been good but quiet.
007: Great, thanks for sharing your thoughts today.