„We aim to become a world market leader for electronics manufacturing solutions. To this end, we are not only bringing new products to market, but also pursuing a world-wide strategy geared towards further strengthening the Weller brand name“, explains Philippe Buidin, Director Global Product Management & Marketing, during the productronica 2015 in Munich. Weller Tools GmbH has redoubled its efforts in pursuit of its new goal and raised the bar. At its stand at the productronica trade fair, the company is presenting a new product portfolio as well as sending out a clear message to its customers and visitors: OwningtheBench.
Mr. Buidin, as a member of the lead management team of Weller Tools, we are sure you can tell our readers more about this well-defined strategy. What does it involve?
The most important thing for our customers is to know what direction we‘re heading in. And our direction is clear: we aim to become a world market leader whilst more firmly establishing the Weller brand name. By this I mean establishing our products as the first choice when it comes to highly productive electronic benchtop and assembly solutions. Without doubt, we are already the market leader today in the field of manual soldering systems, however our goal is much more ambitious.
What does this mean in simple terms?
If you take a look around our stand, you will see what we mean by „OwningtheBench“. We are talking about solutions that go beyond classic soldering. Solutions such as screwdrivers, precision tweezers, cutters and extraction systems….simple tools that are integral to hand soldering. This bench ultimately enhances the Weller brand name and is an aspect of our strategy for becoming a global market leader. Before we began considering our strategy, we took a look at our product portfolio and decided to invest in new developments that fit in with, and complement, our existing solutions. The results speak for themselves, as we are unveiling no fewer than seven new products here in Munich. These include a cost-effective solution for solder fume extraction units in the workplace, an enhanced solder feed system for manual soldering, our new Technology Line platform for soldering and hot air applications, and an active soldering system with interchangeable, passive soldering tips. Two of these are prototype robots, which we plan to bring to market in the course of the year. All of the products which we are exhibiting here reflect our commitment to becoming a global market leader.
Are there any other aspects to your goal of becoming a world market leader?
We‘re market leaders in the USA and in Europe with our core business – which is where our roots lie and where we generate most of our business. However, if we take a global point of view and ask ourselves where future growth is going to come from, it is clear that we have to focus more on the high-growth countries. Five years ago, these were the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. This is still the case today, but these countries are in a process of transition and other countries are rapidly emerging; countries where in which the government seeks to attract business through capital investment and countries with an attractive wage structure. IOM thinking here of countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia or Mexico – all of which have rapidly growing economies. In order to achieve our goal, we need to focus just as much on growth here. As a future world market leader, we should aim to raise our profile in all countries; not just in Europe and in the USA, but also in Asia and Latin America. With this in mind, we have invested in developing the necessary infrastructure and resources so we are also represented in these new markets and regions. This is only way to ensure that we have access to all our customers and can provide them with the right support at the right place.
As a channel company, we work with international distributors and partners outwith our own sales organisation. They provide our customers with the traditional support, which we as a manufacturer could never hope to achieve. This is another aspect of our roadmap to becoming a world market leader.
The third aspect concerns strengthening the Weller brand name. Weller will shortly be able to look back on a successful 60-year history in soldering tools and precision manual soldering systems – our core business. We have no plans to discontinue this business. On the contrary, we aim to build our presence in this segment through continuous investment in research and development of new products and technologies. In addition to this, we have begun to look beyond the „soldering“ horizon and to complement our existing product portfolio with tools such as power screwdrivers, precision tweezers, cutters and solder wire.
New developments such as these take a great deal of time and know-how. How did you achieve all of this within such a short timeframe?
We have a very strong and innovative development department, in which we continue to invest and which operates with a high degree of flexibility. Our advantage is that we are a part of the Apex Tool Group and so are able to benefit from this. It‘s not a matter of reinventing the wheel, but rather of utilising, among other things, the extensive portfolio of the over 30 leading tool brands belonging to the Apex Tool Group and, for example, establishing strategic partnerships. Besides that, we have undertaken further corporate transactions within the company by way of partnerships or complementary purchases, thereby enhancing the value of the Apex Group much to the benefit of our customers.
And by when do you aim to achieve your goal?
Our plan envisages achieving this goal by the end of 2018; we‘ve set ourselves a highly ambitious target. It takes time to make the right decisions and to find the right employees and compatible international partnerships, as well as making the right investments in the right products. However, IOM convinced that our company is innovative enough to achieve this. That‘s because we‘re a strong brand with a broad portfolio of solutions for electronics manufacturing. Not only that, we have credibility and we are all pulling in the same direction.
Where do you see the next trends in electronics manufacturing?
We see that many electronics manufacturers have been establishing a presence in China for some time now. This is no secret, and everyone knows it. However, companies are slowly but steadily pulling out of China. In some cases, they are migrating from southern China to central China or to parts of China with a low-wage structure. However, companies are also pulling out of China entirely and migrating to rapidly growing regions such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam. Another trend is the ongoing miniaturisation of components, as a result of which electronics manufacturers are increasing their expectations of equipment manufacturers such as ourselves. Then there is the technology of embedded chips in PCBs, where chips are no longer soldered but rather are embedded between the layers. It‘s a question of providing the right tools for these applications.
Another trend which is very important to us is that of migration. And there is also Industry 4.0, drivers including high demands on the quality of the soldered joints. Automation is the key to retraceability, that is to say when, where, by whom and with what something was soldered.With this in view, we‘re exhibiting the two prototype robots which we will be bringing to market this year. We already know today what the customer needs tomorrow – and we can supply it.
One last question, Mr. Buidin: has the productronica been a success for the company? How has the feedback from customers been?
From Weller‘s point of view, I must say that the trade fair was extremely successful. We had an incredible number of visitors, both in terms of quantity and quality. We achieved 40 % more leads than during the previous productronica, a strong reflection of the vitality of our dealer and customers. We were also able to welcome 125 distributors to our distributors‘ meeting on 11th November. They reported that the launch of new products, our set priorities and our planned investments – to put it another way, our overall strategy – have been welcomed and are being supported as best possible. And believe you me, this will create growth opportunities in the coming years, both for Weller and for its distributors.
This interview was conducted by Doris Jette.