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?

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About Mike

Mike Buetow is president of the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (pcea.net). He previously was editor-in-chief of Circuits Assembly magazine, the leading publication for electronics manufacturing, and PCD&F, the leading publication for printed circuit design and fabrication. He spent 21 years as vice president and editorial director of UP Media Group, for which he oversaw all editorial and production aspects. He has more than 30 years' experience in the electronics industry, including six years at IPC, an electronics trade association, at which he was a technical projects manager and communications director. He has also held editorial positions at SMT Magazine, community newspapers and in book publishing. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois. Follow Mike on Twitter: @mikebuetow