Reading time ( words)
Nolan Johnson speaks with Roger Harts about some of the current complications around manufacturing electronics in China and how ICAPE Group works as a vital supplier partner to OEMs and companies hoping to manufacture in Asia.
Nolan Johnson: Let’s do an introduction, Roger.
Roger Harts: I am director of ICAPE USA and have been for the last five years. ICAPE USA is a member of ICAPE GROUP which is a global printed circuit board company, also manufacturing custom-made technical parts. My elevator pitch is that we do business in 70 countries across the world through 19 different sales offices to roughly over 2,500 customers. We deliver 22 million circuit boards a month, and another five million custom-made technical parts. It’s a great organization and I’m happy to be part of it.
Johnson: How big is ICAPE Group, revenue-wise?
Harts: We finished at about $160 million last year. And 2021 is very promising; the first half was a record period for the company. We’re substantial, and we’re a big player.
Johnson: We wanted to focus on ICAPE Group’s work in China. Let’s start with an overview; what’s happening in China for ICAPE Group?
Harts: Even though our corporate headquarters is in Paris, France, our largest office is in Chang'an, just outside of Shenzhen, where we have over 250 people working in different departments such as engineering, purchasing, laboratory testing, quality, logistics, etc. Because of the pandemic it’s very difficult to travel to China, to audit factories and maintain working relationships, but because of the size of our office in China, we can provide those types of services to customers. Prior to the pandemic, we flew in a lot of people to tour facilities and offices, and we worked with them to audit factories as well. Our China office has become a true advantage. In fact, it is the largest office for any company with a similar business model.
This means we can be in the factory, boots on the ground, speak the language, and understand the culture; they can audit and provide information about our factories. In the past, customers would always fly to China and audit factories themselves. Obviously, that’s not an option at this point, and I don’t really know when it will be again, frankly. We’ve had to learn this new normal, and we now have the ability to put our employees at our production partners’ factories and provide virtual audits. They have real-time communication with the factories to review documents, see the assembly lines, drilling and routing machines, the plating processes, all while we guide them through the factory with our own employees.
China is still very proprietary. They don’t necessarily care for strangers walking through their factories—especially with cameras to document processes—so we were very fortunate to have long-term, contractually-obligated relationships with our production partners in China. This allowed us to streamline that process and get our new and existing customers up to speed. It’s something that we’ve always done, because to be a vendor or a production partner for ICAPE Group, you must allow our employees to work in your factories.
That’s not always an easy thing to accomplish, but it’s a mandatory requirement from a factory perspective. We want to make sure that our employees are monitoring our customers’ part numbers as they’re being manufactured, not just the inspection of the quality, but also to validate that the correct raw materials are being used and the lead times abided by. They monitor the corporate culture of the partner as well, to reduce turnover to maintain the correct capacity. Communicating that to our customers helps mitigate that risk of doing business in China or a disruption in the supply chain. This is so important, especially now.
Johnson: What are the types of disruptions you’re seeing?
Harts: There’s a shortage of raw materials, a shortage of copper foil, and lead times are unfortunately dramatically increasing. This is all a result of the pandemic in the last year.
To read this entire interview, which appeared in the June 2021 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.