Graphic PLC

Circuit World

ISSN: 0305-6120

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




(2004), "Graphic PLC", Circuit World, Vol. 30 No. 4.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Graphic PLC

Graphic PLC

A family business

Keywords: Graphic, Printed-circuit boards

One way to get to Graphic PLC is to take the road from Tiverton down to Crediton. This country road will take you round narrow bends, over small bridges that span streams and rivers, passing banks of hedgerow set into the red Devon soil, and venerable thatched pubs and cottages. At one point you crest one of many hills to see in the distance the vastness of Dartmoor – and you begin to wonder if you are in the right place.

But you are, and Graphic is. How they got there is one story and how they have become one of the major players in the UK PCB industry is yet another one. And in this day and age how they survived might be another.

Go back to 1954, and a young man called Rex Rozario (Plate 3) graduates from Brunel University with a degree in electronic engineering. He already has a degree in chemistry from university in Sri Lanka, and he is looking for a job. Home is in Richmond, Surrey, with his parents, and during his student vacations Rex had worked with a company called Daley Condensers. So he knew a bit about condensers, and heard about a job going at a company in North Ealing called Telegraph Condensers, so he joined them as a laboratory technician.

Plate 3 Dave Pike and Rex Rozario

In 1955 the company decided that they were going to go into something called printed circuits. They were all the rage. They called young Rex into the office and said look, you have got the right sort of background, and we would like you to be part of the team. So a team of six people were given a shed across the road and told to get on with it. Rex recalls that with his knowledge of chemistry, one colleague's knowledge of screen- printing, and another colleague's knowledge of litho plate making, they had a promising hard core. But the key was that a man called Paul Eisler was engaged as the consultant.

Paul Eisler was an engineer from Austria who, in 1942, had invented a printed circuit board, which had been used, amongst other things, to deadly effect in proximity fuses in anti-aircraft shells. By 1955 Paul Eisler was living in England and was working with a company called Pye, who made radios and televisions. But he found that Pye were not really interested in his patents for PCB manufacture, so he sold them to a company in the States called Photo Circuits, latterly known as PCK. That is another story that is now part of PCB manufacturing folklore. But back in 1955, Paul Eisler was keen to get circuit board manufacture up and running at Telegraph. Work progressed at a fierce pace, and by 1957 they were in to through- hole plating, and by 1958 they were producing flush-bonded circuits (now called multilayers), an area in which the still young Rex Rozario was the acknowledged expert.

By that same year they were employing 40 people, had 1,000 ft2 of factory space, but desperately needed more, so they moved into a 5,000 ft2 factory belonging to BICC at Tolworth, not far from Kingston-on-Thames in Surrey. One day, in 1959, they had a visitor, by name Geoffrey Coston. He was starting up a company down in Wokingham called Tectonics, and he wanted to make circuit boards and he wanted a man who knew how to make them. So he offered young Rex a job, with a rather good share option, at this new company down in Wokingham, and he painted a pretty rosy picture of how life might be. Coincidentally, a company called Tecnograph, based in Fleet, also making circuit boards, were looking for a partner with whom to merge, which would have meant moving lock, stock and plating lines down to Hampshire.

So Rex joined Tectonics, and introduced them to all the technology that he had been working on at Telegraph. Pretty soon Tectonics were bigger than T&T and employing 260 people in a rapidly expanding factory. But, like so many people in those formative years, Rex was working crazy hours 7 days a week, and realised that with a young family something had to be done about it. Home at the time was Camberley, in Surrey, but the holidays were almost invariably spent down in Devon, at fun places like Coombe Martin and Woolacombe Bay.

One day, driving back after 2 weeks of uninterrupted sunshine, Mrs Rozario suggested that it might be nice to make a fresh start, and set up his own company down in Devon. Nothing much wrong with Camberley, but Devon had much more appeal. So Rex sold his share holding in Tectonics, and set up his own company in Axminster. Just him initially, then with a team of six people.

From there to Crediton was a path strewn with happenstance, taking in a handbag manufacturer who, at the age of 87 decided on a new wife and a new lease of life and left Rex making circuit boards and handbags down in Exmouth in a shared factory. This had an engineering branch, which Rex also managed, as the boss of that enterprise spent much of his working days in Malta developing real estate. In the end, Rex decided that he was really only interested in circuit boards, so he pulled out of Exmouth, leaving behind premises that later in their life would come under the ownership of a group called Eurotech.

The town of Crediton had a new industrial estate, he was told. It also had a good supply of soft water, and the rates were attractive, so Crediton it was, and the company moved there in 1973. Customers back in the "70"s were from the radio and television industry, companies such as Roberts radios, Hacker Brothers, Dynatron, were typical names. Shortly after the move to Crediton, Reginald Shemilt joined as Technical Director, and under his management Graphic was one of the first PCB companies to get BS9000 (9761-9766).

Production soon included mutlilayer production, they had the pressing technology, and PTH was an established process. Flex-rigid manufacture followed in 1982 and then in1986 the BSI introduced BSS9766 standards for rigid-flex circuits. Rex recalls that at the time he found out that the top 10 PCB manufacturers in the UK were getting a DTI grant to help them achieve this, and by the time he applied half the qualifying period had elapsed, so Graphic had to get it in 6 months. They did, and it took the other companies a further two and a half years to catch up! So Graphic was "the cream of the industry" said Rex. They still are.

In the real (Plate 3) meaning of the word, this is a family business, said Managing Director Dave Pike. There is no hierarchy, and Graphic have a committed workforce of some 150 people, who are all local to the Crediton area and many have in excess of 10-20 years service. They have staff who understand the technology, who have diverse skills and whose abilities and dedication are rewarded with internal promotions. Communication with all members of the staff is essential, says Dave, and that is why they hold monthly open meetings with everyone to tell them how the company is performing, and what matters need to be addressed. During the recent recession it was the board of directors who took a large cut in salary to help reduce costs, such that not a single person was made redundant, and that speaks volumes for the style of management at Graphic. It is inspired from the top, and mirrored all the way down. Thus it is apposite for them to have the Investors In People logo on their letterheadings.

Dave added that Graphic puts some of its success back into the local community by sponsoring the local rugby, cricket and football clubs along with other individuals and organisations on an ad hoc basis. Graphic also sponsor their employee, Ian Bond, England International Bowls player ranked world number 5.

Working closely with suppliers is also vital, he adds. You cannot always find solutions to problems on your own, and suppliers have helped Graphic build the technology into their products, and have ensured product reliability. Boards from Graphic can be made with lines and spaces of below 50 μm, and they are one of only a few companies in the UK using laser drilling and laser direct imaging to meet design demands.

So what of the company in 2004? Graphic has a turnover of £8 million, is currently running at 70 percent of their capacity, and exports much of their production into the USA and the rest of Europe and Scandinavia, to such customers as Nokia and Ericssons. They also have the rare distinction of supplying circuit boards to Formula 1 car constructors including Ferrari, Benetton and Williams. The company has been awarded major contracts for projects with key blue chip companies and are currently involved with General Dynamics on the Bowman contract to manufacture personal GPS systems for the British Army; with Raytheon Systems to produce ASTOR – an incoming radar systems and with Saab Avionics on the Kestrel programme – a hand held missile system.

The Lords Meadow factory occupies 60,000 ft2. Not content to follow the path of the bilious brick that blights many a UK industrial estate, Graphic PLC have a modern factory that reflects the professional attention to what is going on inside as much as to what is going on outside. It is fully climate-controlled and many familiar equipment names prevail throughout the plant – PAL for plating, Lenz for drilling and routing, Coates for LIPSM, a new GSI Lumonics CO2 and YAG laser drilling machine meets HDI specs, and AOI is Orbotech country, with further Orbotech equipment in the LDI section; two new ATG 16- probe flying probe testers compliment the BSL and Mania range of traditional test equipment, and a new Bürkle 6-daylight vacuum controlled multilayer press is due for installation during February. The standards of cleanliness, the predomination of Class 5,000 and 1,000 rooms are admirable – HDI dictates dust-free (Plates 4 and 5).

Plate 4 Graphic QA Lab

Plate 5 Plating lines at Graphic

Investment for them is not a matter of mechanical necessity; it is a matter of monthly strategy that remains undiminished even during the recession. Seventy percent of production is in 18+layer multilayers, 5 percent in Cu-Invar-Cu, and 25 percent in flex-rigid; it is in the latter field that their expertise has won them such acclaim from BAE Systems who last year awarded them the Bronze Award for Supplier Excellence. Looking to the future, Graphic is investigating technology and process to improve production manufacturing of sub 50 μm lines and spaces. Graphic is also working with many new materials, and now embedded resistance and capacitance materials are being introduced. The research and development into new technologies, processes and materials accord with the Graphic Technology Roadmap, which is regularly reviewed in line with industry trends and predictions. Graphic operates a Research and Development facility in conjunction with The University of Exeter at the Exeter University Innovation Centre, a classic example of industry working with tertiary education, and recently both Oxford and Cambridge Universities combined their resources with Government funding to investigate the "Customer Supplier Complexity Study", of two major OEMs in the UK. For electronics they chose BAE, and BAE recommended Graphic as their-preferred supplier for this exercise. The results of the project are to be published shortly.

Graphic does not have a PR department; they have an RR department.

Rex Rozario is probably one of the best-known ambassadors not only for his own company but also for the UK industry as a whole. For some people that would be the limit of their horizons, but not for him. He is also a Governor of East Devon College, serves on the Council of Exeter University, is Chairman of the Heart of Devon Enterprise Agency, is on the Board of the Heart Of Devon Economic Forum, the Board of South-West Manufacturing Advisory Service and the Committee of CBI South-West, as well as being recently appointed to the Board of EIPC.

One wonders if there has ever been time for a family, but the answer is emphatically yes, in fact two families. Rex has four children, two from his first marriage, a son who is junior Professor at Smiths College, Northampton, USA, and a daughter who after graduation, now lives in Crediton, working for Devon County Council Social Services. From his second marriage a son and daughter, aged 16 and 14, attending Exeter School and St Margaret's School, also in Exeter. Rex and his wife live in the village of Shute, who doubtless have never had such a benevolent Lord of the Manor, and the family enjoy trips out to the Channel Islands on his 40 in. motor crusier "Sealine" which is berthed at the Mayflower marina in Plymouth.

Rex was awarded an OBE for his contributions to the Electronics Industry in 2001 and has been a finalist for the Entrepreneur of the Year 2001 and 2002. The list of distinguished people who have attended Graphic in one form or another is evidence of the regard in which Rex roazario is held in the community, and in business circles far and wide. It was with great pride that they were able to invite HRH The Princess Royal to open the Graphic Interconnect Innovation Centre on 5 November 2002, In Apri1 2003, Graphic was listed in the Sunday Times Profit Track 100 at number 76, acknowledging Graphic as one of the UK's fastest growing technology companies.

Rex Rozario might be shy about a mention of this but on the basis that you only get back what you put in, then for what has been put into the formation and continuation of this fine company it is an accolade of which they should be enormously proud. Two words were used by Dave Pike during the visit, which encapsulate the core ethos here; they were: love, and passion. It showed.

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