Growing needs of people guarantee the printed circuit boards will continue to be in production

Mr. František Vlk is not really a typical business “shark”. He speaks calmly and carefully select select his words, is grateful for your questions and there is a 10 year old mobile phone on the table in front of him that he uses. And even in spite of that – or perhaps that's why – he has managed to built a company in Boskovice that employs around 200 people and has obtained a top class reputation for the production of printed circuit boards all over Europe. “Last year was tough but we managed to survive way above our expectations but it is too early to celebrating because the crisis that is going to hit this business is still ahead of us. The overall consumption is still suppressed by the coronavirus and especially the more expensive items are less in demand. People are still waiting, anticipating what's going to happen next. The companies have started to arm for the post-Covid period which results in developing and then ordering more complicated and complex boards. It is more interesting types of goods for us with higher added value” as he adds at the beginning of our interview.

Last year was very turbulent for Mr. František Vlk himself and the Gatema company as such. At first it announced a surprising acquisition of the renowned German producer Kubatronik. But before the teams managed to meet and get well acquainted with each other and connect mutually a higher power stroke. The coronavirus pandemic has disabled free travel and online tools have slowed down the project a bit. As opposed to that, the production itself was in full throttle from the initial months of the year already because Chinese producers were facing major problems at that time.

“The situation in China played well for our cards. A lot of the European producers had to turn to PCB producers located in Europe. And there is a large number amongst them that is still cooperating with us even after the comeback to normal. Moreover the trend is now changing as much as the thinking of its managers and key members of staff is,” Mr. František Vlk comments.

What exactly do you mean by that?

The crisis has shuffled the cards a bit. It has shown that going global does not go without risk. And simultaneously has been proved that the price should not be the sole or the single most important parameter of a selection of a supplier. A large number of companies and people have started to look at this differently. The extraordinary efforts to save costs as much as possible is not a priority anymore. It is a good sign for European companies that there are other attributes that are gaining importance such as speed, reliability, the willingness to communicate, the possibility to participate in the products development or the know how. Especially when our business field is getting more and more complex and advanced and the boards are getting more sophisticated every year. This requires high-level teamwork and consulting. Geographical proximity place its indisputable part and a huge advantage in this. But I do not wish to make this sound as an attack on Chinese producers. They have made huge progress forward there and they are able to offer a lot of good things. But this goes well hand-in-hand with the theory that China is growing economically and as a result of this their prices grow too.

Didn't you feel sorry that you made such an expensive acquisition of German Kubatronik right at the beginning of such a difficult year?

No, we really needed a German partner badly and that company suits with its profile our portfolio of sophisticated boards extremely well. Furthermore, the industries for which Kubatronik supplies most of its boards – that is aviation, defense or healthcare are all very stable. These are often linked to the government money and are crisis proof. And the forecast and outcome for this year is fairly positive as well. It is just our mutual cooperation that has been slowed down a bit. No online tools can replace personal meetings.

Aren’t we getting closer to the time period when the ever perfect production companies will be constantly faster and more effectively producing, but will not have its clients for whom to produce for? In short, there will be no customer and his demand.

I am deeply convinced that this is not going to be the case for quite some time now. That the market (and now I mean the real market mechanisms, not some artificially caused demand as is  for example in case of software which does not work on an older computer) and growing needs of people or some sort of a guarantee that we will have our jobs in the future as well. Look at the market of mobile phones. In the 90s the phones were the size of a brick and you could only use them to make a phone call. Today the phones are all smart, smart phones and there are regular computers and they can do unbelievably much. These are functionalities that serve people not bother them and in my opinion this is the moving force of the development.

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Is this the same for your sector as well?

Twice as much. Because electronics is everywhere. It is growing at rapid speed. There will be a lot of work in the future as well and it will be more interesting more sophisticated work that we can definitely look forward to.

You cooperate with many companies that set trends in their business areas. Would you be able to forecast or guess if we are to come across a major technological breakthrough in the upcoming years?

The way in which everything around us is changing and picking up its speed yes basically the giant leap on its own. To name just a few fundamental solutions in the recent times it is the 3D print that is quite unlikely to replace classical production. Mom entirely I do not see anything so dramatic and fundamental but I would only there to say that in the horizon of 4 to 5 years we are about to experience something like that. Something that's going to set the rules of the new game, something that is going to rewrite the rules of the game we are playing now.

And what year is ahead of you and ahead of Gatema?

I believe that this upcoming year will be a lot quieter. There is no specific challenge such as an acquisition of any kind a head of us. Part of this next year will be necessary to spend on implementing more stability. There have been a lot of changes and not everything has been finished. We do not want to harm and tire our employees with constantly making them come up with something new.

I firmly believe and hope that we will be continuing with investments into production technologies. We would like to catch up also with what we have missed and not finished towards our Kubatronik as far as the know-how exchange and the mutual connection is concerned. We also plan to get active in Austria where we have Katema Tec company which will definitely need our attention. We aim to develop our current activities, the development must not be rapid or hasty at all costs. The development that would generate speculations, questioning or problems.

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František Vlk
company founder