“Speculate to accumulate”: one of those nice ‘throw away’ clichés often heard bouncing around the exhibition centre, mainly by sales guys justifying ROI on their high value products.
However, those attending Productronica 2015 in Munich had the opportunity to see what that means in real terms – not in a ‘buy now, save later’ sense but for modern manufacturing in its entirety!
As a consultant who’s predominantly been active in the semiconductor production market, it’s clear that growth opportunities for capital equipment vendors are confined to a finite number of processes required to manufacture an IC (photolithography, metrology, deposition, diffusion, implant etc). They’re constantly refining tools to streamline these existing processes until they’re as efficient as possible, and no-one’s overhauling these methods with new production techniques – because why reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to? So I think it’s fair to say this is where the semiconductor manufacturing ‘application ceiling’ lies, which might explain why it’s such a reactive market that ‘sits and waits’ until big designs are won and production can ramp up again.
What I found really refreshing at this ‘wider manufacturing’ show is the proactivity companies are showing to push through ‘ceilings’ and get their technology in to every conceivable industry that could benefit. The logic being ‘if one market is slowing, push elsewhere’.
One 2d/3d surface inspection vendor said “we don’t specialise in a market, we specialise in looking at surfaces – and what industry doesn’t need to inspect the quality of their materials? If customers need a machine, our job is to learn about the application and to use our expertise to make the machine fit”. As such, they’re launching a brand new business unit focusing on wafer inspection, which will mirror products they’re successfully placing in to PV customers. Why not? The transferability of the technology is there, they just need the right people to understand the applications and get a foot in the door at target customers. It’s also a nice addition (and stark contrast) to their offering in metals, plastics, materials science and board level electronics.
One dicing/grinding tool OEM showed me his client list for the UK which spanned defence, research, power, automotive, medical – not bad for a company who also say that Semicon is their biggest annual exhibition. He attributes their growth to the ‘diversity potential’ within his products, again stating that all you need is an application specialist to fully qualify if new markets are legitimate business to target. A sentiment shared by several other companies I spoke with in laser, electroplating, soldering and metrology, amongst others.
Let’s be honest, the ethos “we’ll provide what the customer needs” isn’t exactly ground breaking and may be construed as yet another ‘throw away’ cliché, but actually each of the companies I’ve referenced have asked me to source Sales Managers or Application Engineers with expertise in a market they perceive as a ‘new area’. This shows that companies really will ‘speculate to accumulate’, by making moves to ensure their risk is spread as thinly as possible across as many markets as possible.
A sensible move, as I’m sure most VW suppliers will testify – because you never know what’s around the next corner!
For more information on sales, applications, field service roles or if you’d like a general discussion please contact Jeff Budd on +44 (0)1189 881 151 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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