Luc Smets and Dirk Stans (above), managing partners of Eurocircuits in Mechelen, Belgium, set up the company in May 1991 with a focus on prototypes and small series PCB runs with standard technology. These could be supplied with or without assembly to European hardware developers quickly, cheaply and reliably.
In the late 1990s, they saw the rise of the Internet and in 2000 launched eurocircuits.com as a portal for ordering printed circuit boards. Allowing customers to place orders directly online cut administrative costs and the focus on standardisation of technology, it was possible to combine PCBs from different orders on a production panel and produce them together through order pooling.
This led to the current service where developers can have their PCBs manufactured and assembled in a single order. Depending on the availability of components, Eurocircuits can dispatch assembled PCBs for prototypes and small series production runs to customers within 6 working days.
Eurocircuits employs 450 people today and manufactures PCBs and assembles them in two factories in Hungary and Germany. The company has over 12.000 active customers and handles over 110.000 orders a year where 88 percent of orders have a lead time of 5 or fewer working days.
Despite the success, Stans points to the decline of board making in Europe. When the company started in 1991 the European PCB market accounted for more than 40 percent of the global PCB production market, but now accounts for only 2.5 percent. Now, China produces over half of all PCBs. “This dependence, like that which exists for other electronic components, is dangerous and could cost Europe dearly, as we have seen in the past couple of years,” warns Stans.
The online capability is key, he says.
Next: PCB production in Europe
A Visualizer tool allows ‘Virtual Manufacturing’ to virtually produce the design even before the customer places their order. Eurocircuits checks all data for PCB Manufacturing as well as the BOM and CPL for PCB Assembly for manufacturability (DFM) and completeness.
“This allows us to proactively support hardware designers in delivering their projects on time and within budget,” said Stans. “Our goal is to help our customers prepare their designs so that production is right the first time, whether it’s a prototype or a small production run.”
The Visualizer immediately provides an overview of the availability of components or possible alternatives, as well as an exact price calculation, even before the order is placed. After delivery of the prototype or small series, the validated production data is available to the customer, enabling a smooth transition to volume production.
Supporting young technical talent is a also key part of building the business, says Stans. Currently, Eurocircuits supports more than 50 student projects throughout Europe.
“It is natural for us to support the designers of tomorrow and their teachers within the European electronics industry,” he said
The priority for the €7m investment this year is environmental and sustainability project according to ISO 26000, with €2m for renewable energy production and in infrastructure to reduce water and energy consumption, zero waste production, reduction of air pollution and climate-neutral transport. “We believe that these measures will give us a competitive advantage over our non-European competitors. Above all, we believe that sustainability will secure the future of our Europe,” said Stans and Smets.
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