Perhaps in the fast moving world of Silicon Valley, German engineering and decades of experience are not the first things to come to mind, but they are proving to be essential in supporting some of the Valley’s biggest innovators through to volume manufacturing and fulfilment.
The ability to quickly and effectively knock out a prototype is one thing, but taking that design and building volume product that can be reliably fulfilled to consumers throughout the world is quite another.
As one of the world’s larger Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) companies, Zollner is making further investments in a facility in Milpitas, Silicon Valley that provides high mix, low volume Printed Circuit Board Assembly (PCBA) and complex systems manufacturing for its global customers as well as for some of the newest and brightest innovators in the Bay Area and beyond.
As well as bringing German engineering, with its fanaticism for accuracy, process, quality and traceability, Zollner brings more than 50 years of pedigree and experience in complex mechatronics as well as PCBA. Manfred Zollner started the business in Germany in 1965 and has been leading the business ever since, serving customers from factories around the world, building great products, a great reputation and even better customer relationships. Zollner has worked with many of their customers for decades becoming an integral part of their supply chain.
So, what makes this German EMS special?
Zollner has grown into a business of more than a billion dollars in sales by doing what it does exceptionally well. Essentially, the company is in the service sector, providing manufacturing services to brands large and small. In Silicon Valley people talk about agility in the supply chain and the need to move fast and react quickly to changes in demand. Zollner has been doing this since its opened its doors and remains privately held with all of the owners working in the business on a day-to-day basis. This has enabled the company to exhibit that agility and reaction speed time after time.
When Zollner foresees a need in the market or from an individual customer, it is proactive. The board meets, it makes decisions, investments are made and demands are satisfied without having to consider how the financial markets might react or focus unduly on a single quarter’s results.
And how Zollner invests has been important to the growth of the business too, as well as valuable to the customer. Zollner has more than a dozen facilities spread around the world, from its first flagship factory in Zandt, Germany to newer ones in China, Romania, Costa Rica and to the heart of Silicon Valley. While being led by its customers in its investments, the company has also been consistent and considered in the equipment choices it’s made. Many, if not all, of the world’s largest EMS companies have grown by acquisition and that means that plants have lots of mixed legacy equipment sets, making the transition from one facility or geography to another complex and risky to say the least. Zollner has no such problem, having installed the same basic equipment set in every factory throughout the world.
As a startup building its first product and trying to hit those first shipment deadlines, or a brand looking to get a new product into the market, this ability to transition seamlessly from one factory to another might seem to be of secondary importance. However, once that first batch has been built and you need to ramp production rapidly, globally and securely, you’ll be absolutely delighted you chose a manufacturing partner with an international footprint that shares equipment sets, software, systems, procedures and quality standards.
This ability to transition products globally has served Zollner’s customers well as they move through the different stages of the product’s lifecycle. Initially proximity to the design and development team is hugely valuable and with engineers and design teams in Silicon Valley as well as Germany and China, Zollner has worked closely with customers to make sure they share their design experience to make products that are not only fit for purpose but designed for manufacturing.
At some point, products will likely need to be manufactured in a lower cost environment and this is where a seamless transition to Costa Rica, China or Eastern Europe reaps dividends. Lastly, global manufacturing with products being manufactured in more than one location close to the end user market and with some degree of configure or build to order. This is where a global footprint of identical facilities, with identical equipment, software and systems becomes essential.
Changing vendors is hard, expensive and risky; changing manufacturing partners is very hard and very expensive and too risky for both startups and established brands. The risk of poor selection is huge, the delay caused by change can cost market share and re-tooling with a new manufacturer will be expensive.
Making the right decisions at the beginning of the product’s life might take a little longer, might seem a little bureaucratic, but it will reap huge dividends and quicker than you think. The first batch will be better, the final batch will be better and your supply chain will be better, more economic and more agile.
German engineering and a fanatical approach to systems and quality are just what Silicon Valley needs to provide the perfect mix of exciting innovation and successful fulfillment.