Business Weekly Interviews PartnerTech MD Gary Howse

Gary Howse is managing
director of PartnerTech’s UK
operation which includes a
state-of-the-art rapid
prototyping printed circuit
board and full system assembly
service in Coldham’s Lane,
Cambridge.

Gary has worked in the
electronics industry for over 30
years, mainly with OEMs but for
the last decade in the contract
electronics manufacturing
sector. He began his career as
an electronic engineer and has
worked in most disciplines
within manufacturing and has
experienced many economic
highs and lows.

You recently announced a
fairly significant investment in
your Cambridge operation. What
was the rationale for this, given
the current economic climate?

We have recently added a new
surface mount line and automated
optical inspection equipment at our
Cambridge facility. Over the past 12
months we have been seeing increased
demand for fast turnaround
prototype and pre-production
requirements.

For over a decade, we have been
providing design consultancies and
product companies with a local,
flexible, fast turnaround PCB prototyping
and small to medium volume
system assembly service. The new
equipment will ensure that we have
the capacity to maintain and
improve the fast turnaround times
and flexibility that our customers
demand.

How do you expect the
economic downturn to impact on
your business?

We will undoubtedly see some
impact across the business over the
next 12 months or so and like all
companies we will continue to keep a
very tight reign on our own cost base
without compromising the high
quality service that our customers
expect.

Unsurprisingly, it is during tough
economic cycles that businesses
often first look to partner with
contract manufacturers as a way of
improving their cost competitiveness
and to speed product time to
market. We believe that we are well
placed – we are financially stable and
have a complete product lifecycle
offering – to benefit from the
growing trend towards outsourcing.
At present, we are growing our share
of a relatively flat market.

As a Cambridge manufacturer
you are something of a rare
breed. In what ways has your
location informed your strategy?

Clearly, there are significant
benefits of being based in a major
high technology cluster with a large
number of electronics and technology
firms within close proximity of
our facility. Because of this, we have
kept the focus in Cambridge on very
fast turnaround PCB prototyping and
low/medium volume system build.

Being local means we are able to
pay close attention to our customers’
needs, and, for the most part, the
teams can meet face-to-face to
discuss design changes, which is
very useful during the early stages of
a project.

Importantly, we can then provide
customers with a gateway to our
larger UK production site in King’s
Lynn, Norfolk, or for those that want
an offshore option, transfer
production to one of our low-cost
volume manufacturing facilities in
either Poland or China.

How has your market and your
business changed over the past
10 years?

Ten years ago, we were in the
midst of the dotcom boom (soon to
be bust) and there was accelerated
spending in preparation for the year
2000 switchover. Demand for contract manufacturing
was on the increase as
‘virtual’ companies clambered to get
products to market and take
advantage of the boom times.
Outsourcing to a contract
manufacturer was still broadly
tactical and the range of outsourcing
services was fairly limited.

Fast-forward ten years and
outsourcing has become a strategic
activity, with product owners relying
on their contract manufacturing
partners to serve as complete
technology and service partners.

In what areas/segments are
you seeing the biggest growth?

We are certainly seeing an upsurge
in demand across our key
markets for our fast turnaround PCB
prototyping service – hence the
investment in the additional
equipment at our Cambridge site,
which is one of the largest and best
equipped new product introduction
facilities in the region.

Generally we are seeing some
growth in medical, aerospace and
defence business. However, we are
not over-reliant on any one specific
market sector but rather focus our
efforts on a number of different
segments including point of sale,
medical, instrumentation, industrial,
defence, aerospace, maritime, IT and
cleantech.

Having recently gained ISO
13485:2003 medical certification, we
would expect to see some additional
traction in the medical market in the
next 12 months.

What are your biggest
challenges going forward?

Customers are increasingly
looking for an outsourcing partner
to assume total responsibility for the
complete product lifecycle, and
therefore they look for a partner
with a broad range of services,
including product design / development,
prototyping, NPI, test
solutions, printed circuit board
assembly, full system build, logistics,
distribution and after-sales.

Our challenge is to ensure that
we continue to invest in improving
our service offering and change to
meet new requirements and
technologies during this difficult
economic period.

What would you highlight as
your biggest achievements as a
company so far?

We have grown steadily from a
small / medium-sized UK-based
contract manufacturer to being part of
a successful and profitable €230 million
global electronics manufacturing
services company, ranked as one of
the world’s top 50 suppliers.

We have also developed excellent
engineering teams in the UK
whose job it is to support early
design or early prototype and apply
our in-house ‘value analysis / value
engineering’ methodology to take
out cost and improve manufacturability,
testability and reliability.

What are your plans for the
company over the medium to
long term?

We want to be the dominant
contract manufacturer in our chosen
target markets. We want to continue to be
recognised as a high quality and
responsive engineering-orientated
supplier that can provide total
product lifecycle management
services on a global basis.

The overriding priority for
PartnerTech is to achieve operational
excellence, and, through this,
enhance our customers’ profitability
and competitiveness.

Do you have any major
developments in the pipeline?
Are you able to drop any hints?

In 2008, we focused on
improving profitability and becoming
more customer focused.
This year, the priority is to
standardise the tools, equipment
and systems across different sites.
We will continue to focus on
building strategic partnerships with
larger electronics OEMs across our
target markets.

The company also has plans to
bolster its logistics and after-sales
services while seeking additional
production opportunities in Asia and
Eastern Europe.

What piece of government
legislation would you change and
why?

As someone who began their
career as an electronic engineering
apprentice at one of the
government’s royal aircraft
establishments, I have always seen
the value in making things and
maintaining our industrial and
manufacturing heritage.

Unfortunately, successive governments have focused on
developing our service industries to
the detriment of our industrial manufacturing
base even though this
sector is a major contributor to jobs,
exports and our GDP. So, rather than changing a
specific piece of legislation, I would
like to see the government invest
considerably more money into
manufacturing – as last week’s Work
Foundation report proposed.

And, whilst I am hugely
encouraged to see Sir Alan Sugar
fronting the Government’s new
apprenticeships TV campaign, I
would urge the Government to
further incentivise companies –
particularly SMEs – to take on
apprentices but to reduce the
administrative burden and red tape
that has been the bugbear for so
many eager employers in the past.
Let us focus on getting our young
people back to work through
training skills that will benefit them
for life and support all of our
futures.

More About This Company

LTCC Substrates

LTCC (Low-Temperature Co-fired Ceramic) is a multilayer capable substrate technology offering excellent RF and microwave...