Printed circuit boards with flexibility (Business Forum, August 2021)

Work on the milling machine
Work on the milling machine.

Interview with Margret Gleiniger (CEO/CFO) and Swen Klöden (CTO) of KSG GmbH and Kornel Schmidt, Managing Director of KSG Austria GmbH

Made in Europe’ is anything but a matter of course when it comes to the manufacture of printed circuit boards. KSG GmbH manufactures a wide range of printed circuit boards for the international market at its plants in Gornsdorf in Saxony and Gars am Kamp in Austria. With a great deal of technological know-how and a high degree of flexibility, the company not only meets the high demands placed on its products, but also the extremely diverse requirements of its customers from different industries.

The roots of the Saxon company KSG go back to the textile industry. “The founders were stocking manufacturers. Until the fall of communism in 1990, KSG was a large state-owned company with 3,000 employees,” says CEO and CFO Margret Gleiniger. The graduate engineer has accompanied the entire path of the company from 1984 onwards – including the reprivatisation in 1994. “The heirs of the founders had applied for a retransfer. So the printed circuit board factory in Gornsdorf with 120 employees was transferred to them,” she reports.

Until 1997, the company was still in the red, but then things started to look up. In the peak years of 2017 and 2018, EUR 100 million was turned over. In 2017, KSG bought the Austrian manufacturer Häusermann in Gars am Kamp, which now operates as KSG Austria. “This gives KSG the opportunity for further growth. Our goal is to increase our annual turnover there from EUR 25 million to EUR 50 million,” says Kornel Schmidt, Managing Director of KSG Austria.

 

Order increase of over 200

From 2018 to 2020, the upturn experienced a dip, and the current times are also challenging for the PCB manufacturer, according to Margret Gleiniger: “The general conditions are characterized by the shortage of raw materials to the lack of deliveries of parts from Asia. At the same time, we have been experiencing extreme demand from customers in Europe since autumn 2020. Order increases of 200% and more lead to correspondingly long delivery times, and we have to pass on the price increases on the raw material markets to the customers.” 13,000 to 14,000 products are manufactured annually in Gornsdorf alone, with a different order mix every day. “This requires us to be very flexible,” adds the CEO.

 

Technology and know-how

KSG manufactures a wide range of printed circuit boards, from simple printed circuit boards to multilayers with a large number of layers and rigid-flex printed circuit boards. “Technologically, there are always new challenges. The miniaturization of components, for example, requires significantly finer structures on the printed circuit boards,” explains CTO Swen Klöden.

The manufacture of a multilayer involves between 35 and 300 operations in different production areas. The company has a correspondingly high depth of added value, he explains: “Many different technologies are integrated into the production process. These include wet-chemical and mechanical processes such as pressing, drilling and electroplating and various painting processes as well as set-up time-intensive processes such as screen printing and milling. At the end of the process chain is electrical testing and visual inspection.”

The approximately 1,000 customers at both locations thus benefit not only from high quality, speed and reliability, but also from a variety of technologies and combination options from a single source. “We can bring a customer’s entire product portfolio in-house. As a result, he has only one contact person,” emphasizes Margret Gleiniger.

 

Printed circuit boards for the world

Swen Klöden sees the success of the company not only in the product. Both externally and internally, the focus is on people, despite all the technology. “It makes all the difference. Advising our customers is an important issue for us. We are constantly thinking about what other services we can offer them and create individual solutions for them,” he emphasizes.

The majority of customers are located in the DACH region. KSG also delivers worldwide for large, internationally active players. “This is also how we got customers in Singapore, North America, China and Vietnam,” says Margret Gleiniger. The company has just strengthened its business in Great Britain and Northern Europe with an additional employee. Margret Gleiniger thinks that the last year, with all its communication challenges, has been well mastered. The sales staff were easy to reach and had intensive discussions on the phone. “Customers actually do regular customer audits with us. That wasn’t possible last year. So we did digital audits for customers at both sites,” she reports.

 

Win automotive customers

The management sees good prospects for the future in several respects. “In Gars, we have qualified for the automotive standard and thus have the opportunity to win more customers from the automotive industry. We also have the prerequisites here to offer customer solutions for thermal management,” says Kornel Schmidt.

For both locations, Margret Gleiniger sees room for improvement in the area of medical technology. The company is already well positioned in industrial electronics. Miniaturization will continue to occupy the company. “To this end, we have launched a number of projects with universities and colleges. A lot will happen here in terms of development,” says Margret Gleiniger.

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