Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The year 2004 started with a vigorous programme for Intellect's Components and Manufacturing Sector (C&M).
The Fabricator Group had their first 2004 quarterly meeting on 14 January at Russell Square House. There was a fascinating Technical Workshop on 21 January staged by CERN Laboratories concerning a ground-breaking new technique for manufacturing micro-via based printed circuit boards; this innovation substituted the expensive laser-drilling based method with a chemical etching technique to be used in high temperature material applications. C&M attended the National Advisory Council meeting at the Institute of Physics where national strategies for electronics materials and devices are formulated. Discussions were held in February and March with the DTI about the restructuring of the Electronics Design Realisation Ltd (EDRL) Design initiative. Distant-learning courses for post-graduate level are being supplied successfully from Bolton Institute; plans need to be developed further for marketing the undergraduate courses. EDRL was placed into liquidation on 3 March because there was no need for the company to continue now the course material had been made available. The EDR Centre at Tweed Horizons was consequently closed also.
Moving on we saw the Semi-Conductor Businesses Association merge with Intellect on 1 March 2004. This is the kernel of a new focus named the Electronic Design Group, which will represent the electronics design function across the country and is a major initiative for the UK.
The Environmental Working Party is much involved with three projects covering one leading to a piece of kit to aim at "Towards Zero Discharge" in the PCB process, a second to provide a business tool to enable SMEs to tackle the EU legislation applying to Environmental matters (this is running at present in the West Midlands Region and there are plans to widen this into the remaining Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) elsewhere) and a third addressing the minimisation of industrial waste. Intellect's C&M sector is also sponsoring a 3-year study funded by EPSRC and conducted by Loughborough University for developing strategies for the PCB and EMS sectors in the teeth of the demanding pressure from the relentless and increasing trend towards out-sourcing.
The Institute of Circuit Technology (ICT) has taken a major decision to reorganise itself with a new focus. There will be more news about this distributed later.
There was a riveting series of presentations at the Business Briefing around the title of "Innovation" on 17 March 2004 at our Red Lion Street Offices. A complete write-up is featured on our web-site, in our "Short Circuit" monthly publication, the C Mail distribution and also in the Circuit World monthly Magazine.
Contact the Web site: www.intellectuk.org to view the extensive calendar of activities available to Intellect members and also the wider industry.
This leads on to the next topic. In my youth I was privileged to work with many but two especially remarkable companies. One was Hewlett-Packard and the other was W.L.Gore. You may have noticed the reference in the Sunday Times recently about a league table of the best 100 companies in the UK to work for. W.L.Gore came out top. The reason was because they encourage singular skills. The company is devoid of hierarchy and fosters individualism. Hewlett- Packard was the same. The brave two at HP created a new culture for corporate America, doing away with the traditional hierarchical corporate structure, which can stifle individual enterprise. This is what we need to nurture here right now; our Business Briefing stressed this point. CEOs and Managers in the relevant parts of their companies should be prepared to discard the traditional dictats and adopt a distinctively creative atmosphere. The UK is blessed with creative people and it is this element, which will keep us ahead. I do not believe that the present climate always furthers this aim. Mr Hewlett and Mr Packard worked on the genuine principle that the most important asset of any company was the brain-power of the employees. W.L.Gore has, like HP in the early days, a flat structure with no dictatorial set-up. Creative people can have their say without fear. This is not to say that such a free- flowing format should apply to all functions of a company but at many stages it is essential. With a fertile mind such an environment is imperative.
China is our present conundrum. This huge engine room with unprecedented growth-rate expectations is set to take over the global manufacturing responsibility. This is fact. There is no going back. We cannot compete on wage rates or in many other ways. They have weaknesses of course. Speedy prototype supply to the UK is difficult for China and abiding by the latest EU Environmental Legislation is even more difficult for them. However even the UK's design forte is not inviolable. There are numerous examples of UK and USA companies setting up design houses in China – to be near that huge market.
Korea is cosying up to China because at present the middle kingdom represents the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity for South Korea's economy. The Nanjing economic zone demonstrates the scale of Korea's ambitions in China. The LG Group (No 2 conglomerate in Korea) some months back opened a plant to churn out 3.6 million liquid-crystal display screens annually, i.e. one screen every 20 s. Another LG factory across the road spits out plasma screens; LG has invested $2.5 billion in China. Jobs are migrating fast to China. Population of China is 1.3 billion and that of Korea is 48 million. Average urban monthly wage in China is $125 and in Korea is $1948. The development of Korea's service industries could help jobs replaced by the Chinese but the tax structure in Korea still favours manufacturing. The situation has all the ingredients of a severe crisis. Who will rule Korea's economy in the future?
There are some parallels here with our own situation but fortunately we have a strong design function, an excellent bed of PCB manufacturers and EMS companies, a history of fostering entrepreneurs, a need for niche-manufacturing supply and a virile service sector. Probably one of the largest concerns is the continuity of the supply chain and the support it has readily and efficiently provided for a long time now. With the large reduction of manufacturing demand here many supply companies have already reduced their resource commitment to the UK. This critical factor is the subject of continuous discussion in our various group meetings and one, which is being addressed vigorously by the electronics Innovative Growth Team (eIGT), which was initiated by the DTI.
Frank CoultardComponents and Manufacturing Sector, Intellect