The Supplier View: An Interview with Hamed El Abd
I sat down with WKK’s Hamed el Abd at CPCA, where we discussed the show, the growing trend toward automation, as well as a few other topics, namely world politics and economics and how they relate to the PCB industry.
Pete Starkey: Hamed, it's great to see you again.
Hamed El Abd: Thank you Pete, good to see you. Welcome to our booth.
Starkey: Thank you for sparing us some of your precious time. Hamed, we're here in China, in a very noisy exhibition. What are your views as a major supplier of equipment into this marketplace? What's the state of the market, and how do you see it developing and changing? Where's it going for the future?
El Abd: I think that at a typical show in China there are a lot of people, because people always show up to see what's happening and what's going on. People are looking for any new technology, and to find out the directions of marketplaces and if there are new things out here. The market is actually in flux right now, because obviously the economy is very weak. We read many things about the Chinese economy, and how things have slowed down significantly. When we talk about a slowdown, they went from double digits to single digits, down to 6% growth. In America or the UK, we'd love to have 6% growth.
Starkey: We'd be happy to be growing that slowly!
El Abd: Here in Asia, it's definitely affecting them, and there are hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of factories that have been affected. Some have slowed down, some have shut down, and some have mothballed their factories for the time being. Most of that is driven by the fact that the world economy is stagnating right now.
When you look at Europe, things are extremely slow. In the United States, even though some people claim that the U.S. economy is on the upswing, we don't actually see that. Manufacturing is very, very slow. If you talk to people, for example, Wal-Mart, they're not buying as much as they used to from China. That has an effect. I think that this situation will continue through the rest of this year.
El Abd: Because this is an election year; if you look at the last few U.S. Presidential elections, things tend to flatten out, in order to see what's coming, and which candidate is going to win with what kind of promises, and what kind of goodies or taxations are going to be implemented. As a manufacturer, I may not want to spend money until I know what deals are going to be out there for me to take advantage of. What should I do?
Starkey: Politically in the U.S., I think there's a lot of confusion or uncertainty in the short term. As you say, people don't want to commit themselves until they've got a better idea of what the future may hold for them.
El Abd: This is probably the most significant election of late, and it’s significant in many ways. Most likely it will be Hillary running against Donald Trump—that's what it looks like as of this morning, with Trump having won Florida. There's still a long way to go before we know, but either one of them is going to come in and shake things up. They have to, or the U.S. economy will go back into a recessionary mode. We need to do something that improves the economy of the U.S., which will thereby help the economy of China and hopefully have some effect on Europe.
Starkey: Certainly, in Europe and in Germany, there's lots of political uncertainty as well at the moment. And there's lots of political uncertainty within the European Union, and the UK for example. On the one hand, it's a time for waiting and seeing, but on the other hand, with technology moving forward, it's a time where the electronics industry, specifically the PCB manufacturing industry, ought to be looking to the future, and looking to see what it needs to invest in, such that it's actually got a future.
El Abd: I think there's a tremendous amount of investments going on in the PCB future. I'm here at the CPCA show, but really I should have been at the APEX show. It was a timing issue—you can't be in two places at once. I do have people there giving me feedback about the APEX show. There are significant number of changes with regard to our industry, and I think that in the next 5–10 years, you're going to see a lot of changes to the way we manufacture electronics. Things are changing. You're going to have more wearable products, and that requires a change in how things are made.
Starkey: Do you see an increasing amount of automation and an increasing amount of computer integration?
El Abd: Automation is a given. I've been talking about automation for the last 10 years. Without automation, this industry cannot more forward. Things are going to be too expensive. You must move forward with automation, and when I say automation, I mean taking a PCB plant from 1,500 people maybe to less than 20, and having everything else lights-out, automated machines. This is coming; it has already sprung up in America, and you will see it here. The problem that I see is we're not even looking, whether it's government, industry, or anyone else, at what are we going to do with all of these people that we lay off.
Starkey: That could be a major concern.
El Abd: That's a major concern that needs to be addressed.
Starkey: From your point of view as a supplier of technology, and looking at the Chinese market, what sort of technology is the industry investing in?
El Abd: There's a lot of new things coming, including 3D printing of printed circuit boards.
Starkey: Do you see that as a reality?
El Abd: I can't tell you that, because I don't know, but I believe that these are technologies that we have to take seriously. We can't ignore them.
Starkey: I think it's already established that very simple circuits can be produced off a 3D printer.
El Abd: Today, it's very simple circuits. Tomorrow, we don't know. We would have thought a lot of things would have changed. LED technology is changing, and how it impacts laser technology is changing. All these things are coming, and it's a question of what are we going to do, and how are we going to use this technology today?
Starkey: Hamed, I've interrupted a busy morning for you. I really appreciate you sharing your views with us.
El Abd: No, thank you very much. I appreciate it any time, so please come by.
Starkey: Thanks very much indeed. I'll let you get back to business.
El Abd: Thanks a lot, sir.