Zollner Hits the ‘Valley’

I’ve been anticipating for some time the influx of offshore EMS companies. There’s been the occasional deal, of course. Elcoteq jumped in, then out, then in again, then out again. IMI bought Saturn Engineering in 2005, and Asteel acquired FlashElectronics in 2008, but for the most part, the “outsiders” have stayed out.

It’s struck me as strange for many reasons, two big ones being the access to the lucrative US market (and the decision-makers at many of the world’s top OEMs), and the cost of acquisition, which with the depressed dollar means US firms could be bought relatively cheap.

Today, however, Thailand’s Cal-Comp, Singapore’s Venture Corp. and Japan’s SIIX are Top 10 EMS companies without US holdings.

But for Zollner Elektronik, No. 12 on the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Top 50, that’s no longer the case. Zollner has taken over and is remodeling a 52,000 sq. ft. site in Milpitas, a Silicon Valley town, where it will open its first wholly owned US factory. Zollner is Europe’s second-largest EMS company, although after this year it just might supplant Elcoteq for that honor.

Founded in 1965 by Manfred Zollner,  Zollner has become a leading supplier of industrial and automotive electronics. Today it has 13 plants in Europe and one each in China and Northern Africa. The company has more than 7,300 employees worldwide, and we estimate its annual sales at around $1.2 billion.

Zollner plans its new site to be a dedicated NPI center, which makes sense given the size of the US market today and the number of competitors (more than 250 alone in the Silicon Valley, according to the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY Directory of EMS Companies).

Is Zollner’s move the first of many? Other major EMS companies abroad — Beyonics (which is made up of many former Flextronics executives), UMC and Sumitronics in Japan, GBM, 3CEMS and Nam Tai in China — generally do quite a bit of business with North American companies already. And US-based Fabrinet has all its plants in Thailand or China. A successful model does not mandate a US presence.

Still, growth in electronics outsourcing will be harder to come by. Most analysts believe all the low-hanging fruit is gone. Soon, EMS gains will be made primarily by grabbing market share, not tapping new markets. When that day comes, will those without a US facility find themselves shut out?

EMS, On the Move

InForum analyst Eric Miscoll today asks, Is the migration of electronics manufacturing to Asia slowing?

An excellent question.

And Eric points out some compelling data for why manufacturers might be reconsidering their choice of geography, including substantial hikes over the past 30-plus months in the average, non-weighted cost of fully burdened labor in China: over 50% for board assemblies and over 100% for box-build. Eric also correctly points out that OEMs have taken a certain amount of builds back in-house. (Alcatel-Lucent and Nokia are two widely noted examples.)

But it’s his next comment – almost a throwaway line – that caught my attention: “[T]he pursuit of the next low-cost region continues, with countries like India, Vietnam, Ukraine, Tunisia, and Macedonia garnering the attention of the industry.”

That’s frightful. The Ukraine has a host of roadblocks, not the least of which its much-publicized battles with Russia and general political instability. Vietnam has been oversold; after nearly a decade of temptation, it has simply failed to take hold as an EMS hub. And while the CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY EMS Directory finds that two major EMS companies – Zollner, the world’s 12th largest EMS company (and largest privately held one), and LaCroix have factories in Tunisia – the nation’s population is just 10.3 million, not enough to accommodate a wave of production. Macedonia is even smaller: 2.1 million. Moreover, it is surrounded by mountains that make it difficult to move product to other locales.

Thailand, on the other hand, doesn’t garner much ink, but in my opinion stands as a far more attractive area, with a population of 63 million, relative political stability, the experience of major EMS companies (Cal-Comp and Fabrinet, among others), a cadre of local English speakers, and the attraction of Bangkok.

And, it says here, the food’s darn good too. For some reason, that’s always ignored.