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At the EIPC summer conference, I-Connect007 Publisher Barry Matties caught up with Ventec Europe & Americas COO Mark Goodwin, who provided an update on Ventec’s new products, the current state of the company, and how Ventec is shaking things up in the materials marketplace.
Barry Matties: Mark, please give our readers an overview of Ventec.
Mark Goodwin: Well, we're a laminator and until recently, a privately-owned Taiwanese company with a global footprint and supply chain. We went public on the Taiwanese Emerging Market Stock exchange in January this year with most of the original shareholders, and now we have opportunities for new investors. We make everything from FR-4 to polyimide and thermal management materials, and our business and expertise is all about higher-end niche products. That's our direction of travel.
Thermal management is a great business for us now and it really is a growing business with high-end lighting for automotive, automotive powertrain, and DC power conversion—that's another big market for thermal management materials. With polyimides, we are a significant supplier to the mil/aero market and growing all the time. That is a very conservative market and it’s taken us a while to get established, but people now realize that although we might still be seen as the new kids on the block, we've also got superior quality and processability alongside better pricing and availability.
Matties: And what year did the company start?
Goodwin: Ventec was established in 2000, and the business outside of Asia started in November 2006 in the UK. Since importing our first container of material to the UK in May 2007, we’ve experienced tremendous growth and worldwide success; we now have international offices in the UK, Germany, and three sites across the USA.
Matties: So it sounds like you are really looking at the leading-edge materials right now, is that correct?
Goodwin: We can do everything, so of course we supply our customers with rigid FR-4 if they want rigid FR-4, but that is not the focus. Particularly outside of Asia, people really want a one-stop shop, so you still need to offer the full range of materials. But what we’re really focused on is supplying the more interesting materials like polyimides, ultra-thin materials, our tec-thermal IMS materials, thermal management prepregs, and our tec-speed signal integrity materials..
Matties: With the growing demand for high-speed materials, there’s a lot of competition out there. Aren’t you working on some new products in that world?
Goodwin: Yes, there are two ways to compete. You can either go right on the front edge and bring out the next generation, and the next, and the next—and we are doing some of that. We are looking at ultra-low Dk solutions as one of the directions. Don't ask me too much detail, I'm not a techie, I am a commercial guy. But we are also looking at drop-in replacements for existing products in the market, where, shall we say, the supplier base is limited, therefore the service levels that OEMs and PCB fabricators have had to endure could do with some shaking up; we like to shake those things up.
There’s a Dk3.48 material, and you can work out who has the market in that. We’ve recently launched tec-speed 20.0 which, in effect, is the direct drop-in product for the market leader’s product. Since the launch, we have received a lot of interest in that as it delivers on performance, price and availability as well as a technical service level that customers really like.
Matties: What do you mean by drop-in?
Goodwin: Well, it's been engineered to have the same electrical properties as that product—not improved electrical properties, but the same. You can be confident that it will perform in the existing part numbers and products you have in the market. But instead of enduring long lead times and very, very high pricing, we are coming to market and offering a product with the same level of performance, a more interesting price point, and available through all of our service centers globally on faster lead times. I am not saying I can supply every product in 24 hours, but I am telling you that it won't take you 12 to 16 weeks to get the product from us.
Matties: For somebody who would consider this, what does the qualification timeline look like?
Goodwin: We work directly with OEMs as well as PCB fabricators, of course. Interestingly, a number of the PCB fabricators are saying to us, “We are so fed up with the supply chain for existing products that we'll take you to our OEMs to get you the opportunity to show them the technical performance, and then we'll take advantage of that with you from the shorter lead times and we'll share the benefits of the price point with the OEM,” or something along those lines. We are getting support from the PCB shops, because it is no good for people to be saying, “Oh, this is our product; it costs 10x more and you can have it three months from now, take it or leave it. That's just the way it is.” That's a nice business model if you can sustain it, charge what you like, and deliver it when you like, but it also creates opportunities for people who want to come along and think differently, which is where we come in.
Matties: Aside from delivery time, what sort of demands or challenges are the fabricators or OEMs coming to you with?
Goodwin: Well, they want more thermal performance and usually that is because they want a thicker dielectric for power electronics, so they need higher levels of thermal conductivity; that is one area. Thinner and thinner dielectrics are always coming, and we are down to producing production volumes now of 25-micron dielectrics for multilayers. Signal integrity is a big area—always looking for something different and something new there—but I don't see our place in really being on the cutting edge of that, because there are so many people doing that with so many new materials. Consequently, getting approved is a long process while the volumes one can sell are small. For me, it’s more interesting to be second and come along with an alternative product that really drops in. Because, you know, the world is an increasingly challenging place, from both political and security perspectives. Do you want a supply chain with one manufacturer who has one, or possibly one-and-a-half factories? However good that product is, is this really a risk management strategy for a global electronics business? You have to question that and Ventec is positioning itself to provide a solution to that in the signal integrity marketplace.
Matties: And with the so-called trade wars and tariffs, how does that impact your thinking and your strategy? Or does it?
Goodwin: Trade wars so far haven't really affected us too badly, and even if the Trump tariffs on China production bite, we can use our Taiwanese manufacturing facility to support our U.S. customer base. I suppose one thing I'll have to mention is Brexit. It is a challenge for suppliers in and into the UK as there is so much uncertainty, but our UK sales channel is fully owned by Ventec International Group, so it has got a bit of financial grunt, and therefore we can build inventory to mitigate any supply-chain disruption. No one is interested in hearing “Well, you can't have your material because it's stuck in the port of Dover for the next three weeks.” So ahead of this, we'll beef up our inventories in discussion with our customers until it all settles down; we'll manage it. As a customer, you know that if you partner with Ventec, what you can be sure about is we take our job seriously. I'm not going to tell you there will never be a single problem, but our job is to manage your supply chain.
My job with the Ventec team is this: Give us your supply chain to manage, know that it is in safe hands. If there are difficulties, we keep you informed, we work at how we are going to manage it together. Your job as a circuit board company is to make circuit boards and as an OEM to design clever things and sell clever things to people that want to buy clever things. It's a simple focus. My job is the supply chain.
Matties: I think the last time we were talking, part of our conversation was around the price increase on copper. Has that stabilized?
Goodwin: It has stabilized for the moment. Is it coming back? I don't know; it depends on what happens with battery demand. But everything you read about it—and let’s not just talk about electric cars, let's talk about e-mobility—there's going to be pressure and there's going to be an increase in battery production. There's going to be pressure on copper foil again. I don't think it's going away forever, but it has stabilized. Copper foil prices haven't really dropped, but they're not increasing presently.
Matties: Is there anything we haven't talked about that we should share with the industry?
Goodwin: If anyone wants to talk to us about anything, an OEM, a PCB fab, they know how to find us. We are out there thanks to PCB007, thanks to LinkedIn, thanks to all those kinds of things, and we are easy to find. We have technical people, supply chain people, and we are happy to come and talk to people.
Matties: Do you find more and more OEMs wanting to talk with you? Is that a trend that you are seeing?
Goodwin: Yes. It is less interesting on the traditional products like FR-4, but polyimides, thermal management, tec-speed and tec-thermal products, for sure.
Matties: Well, that's what we always say, the stronger the communication is in the supply chain, the stronger the end product is.
Goodwin: Yes, we are not looking to bypass our circuit board customers. They're our direct customers, they're our bread and butter and very important to us. But think about tec-speed 20.0; it's there to replace a product that the circuit board shops have difficulty getting. Because there is a single supplier, you get charged accordingly. I am here to disrupt that a little bit. I am not going to take their market, but I will take enough of their market to make it interesting for us and to probably keep them a little bit more honest with their own price and delivery.
Matties: Everybody wins.
Goodwin: Yeah, that’s competition.
Matties: Alright. Good catching up with you. Thank you so much.
Goodwin: No problem. Cheers.
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