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"Entrepreneurship comes from enterprise, not surprise"
"Entrepreneurship comes from enterprise, not surprise"

CEO Ralf Schwartz: Peters Group continues to expand
In the past Corona year 2020,  Peters Group on the Lower Rhine looked back on 50 years of company history. The anniversary of the family-owned company will be celebrated this year if the current situation permits. In its third generation already, the small and fine chemical company based in Kempen is pursuing a global strategy. "For decades, we have had ideas, visions and solutions for printed circuit boards that find their way into applications in electronics," emphasises CEO Ralf Schwartz. And in future? We take a look.

All over the world, the automotive, aerospace and LED lighting industries and medical technologies rely on the conformal coatings, casting compounds, solder resists and auxiliary products for printed circuit boards. The products are manufactured at highest level and in accordance with the current state of technical challenges. With a total 40,000 square metres and a production and storage area of 7,200 square metres of space, the Kempen premises provide perfect conditions based on two independent production halls. Peters’ products for printed circuit boards are supplied through 8 subsidiaries and 45 agencies to more than 4000 customers worldwide. To date, Kempen is the only production site of the Peters Group. This will surely change. "It used to be easier for supplies when, back in the 1990s, there were as many as 450 companies in Germany producing printed circuit boards," emphasises CEO Ralf Schwartz. Only 50 are left today, while the rest is now produced in Asia. The products go from Kempen directly to Asia to be used in final production and the PCB assembly. "We of the Peters Group are technology consultants, focussing on quality and sustainable growth," says Schwartz.

Pioneer for production of printed circuit boards in Europe

The company's history began in the mid-1950s when pioneer Werner Peters, together with Fritz Stahl (Ruwel, now Unimicron) and Hermann Seul (Isola), heralded the start of PCB production in Europe. The founder therefore knew exactly what the finished printed circuit board, including assembly, needed and, with the takeover of the Krefeld ink factory on the Lower Rhine in 1970, concentrated on special inks for electronics. The development of a large number of product innovations such as the first non-bleeding solder resist and the invention of peelable solder masks were milestones in electronics production - not only in Europe but also in the then emerging Asian tiger economies of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Lackwerke Peters GmbH & Co. KG belongs to the Peters Group Holding GmbH since  2011 with the subsidiaries Peters Italia SRL, Peters Schweiz GmbH, Peters Asia Pacific (Hong Kong) in Singapore, Taiwan and Peters China in Shanghai and forms today with Peters Research GmbH the Peters Group. The future - Where is it going?

Where to go after this drastic Corona year, which truly brought growth to the electronics industry, nevertheless poses challenges for the company. CEO Ralf Schwartz's credo: " Entrepreneurship comes from enterprise, not surprise." The biggest challenge remaining is globalisation and the implied concentration of PCB production in Asia. Asia also dominates the market for processing into assembled PCBs (EMS sector) with 80 %. "The future will be there," entrepreneur Schwartz is certain.

World market leader for ELPEGUARD® conformal coatings

After all, the Peters Group is one of the five world market leaders with its ELPEGUARD® conformal coatings, while doing successful business in Asia with an upward trend. The ELPEPCB® circuit printing inks are also demanded internationally. China generally wants to become independent of imports - and this also affects Peters Group with their special products for PCB production. "This means that we should also have a production site in China," says Schwartz. Up to now, our international locations function as sales and service agencies. They will remain as such, rather they will become more.

Production in China

The Chinese are open to a Peters production site. Peters has strong partners at its side who also rely on German quality and even demand it in view of the increasing "conquest" of the Chinese market. If German car companies such as VW, Audi, BMW or Mercedes have started to first present their cars in China before they are available to the German consumer, the supplying industry should at best be on site right away.

Very good development of Elpemer® solder masks in Europe

Last but not least, the ELPEPCB® Elpemer® business in Europe is developing very well: two of the top five PCB manufacturers could be acquired. Unimicron, a company based in Geldern, Germany (Taiwanese successor to the PCB pioneer Ruwel) is also well known to the Asians. "Thanks to our complete product range, we largely cover the niche market in Europe," says Schwartz. The Elpemer® solder resists have a dominant market position in Europe, while the market share in Asia is only 1 %. "This is set to change," predicts Schwartz.

Europe and Asia: Markets must move towards each other

Finally yet importantly, it remains to convince the Asians of the total cost approach of the German company Peters. This means taking a holistic view of costs, which does not only take into account the acquisition costs, but also ongoing direct and indirect costs over the entire life cycle. This has been very successful with Unimicron and KSG, and Asia could follow. The sales strategies are fundamentally different: The Asians prefer to produce a lot at low prices, while the Germans do this rather less, producing with the highest quality standard and thus higher prices. This is where we will have to meet, one day. A Herculean task? Solvable for the entrepreneur. He believes it is a question of time, because a major part of the German companies producing in China and Asia or having produced there, continue to rely on high-tech components and products from the German market. They are more sustainable, having successfully passed various highly demanding development cycles and qualifications, and standing for a lifelong or long-lasting guarantee. In terms of the environment and climate protection discussions, this is, according to Ralf Schwartz, a factor that should not be underestimated. "Made in Germany" still stands for the best quality. Incidentally, the Italians in particular also rely on this: Peters Italia has been relying since 2011, for example, on German products in sophisticated LED lighting systems for hotel facilities, in the country of fashion, design and aesthetics.

Peters Research: Products always at the cutting edge of technology

"We will continue to serve these high demands as the Peters Group of Companies and adapt to the customers’ ever-growing challenges." This is precisely what Peters Research GmbH is working on with head of research an development Detlev Schucht and Johannes Tekath as well as the R&D team. The high-tech products are further developed and adapted to the increasing requirements by means of modern technology and research. The challenges lie in particular in an increasing packing density of electronic components. "A car has more and more electronics in less space and is thus exposed to enormous heat generation. An e-car, for example, is always under power - it is driving or charging," Ralf Schwartz cites an example. This research and development department, Peters Research, will be the subject of the next article. As part of a research project in cooperation with the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences, Dr Christian Schmitz is working at Peters for three years. He is on his way to become a professor. What he does at Peters and how the company benefits from his work will be dealt with in the next article in an interview with Dr. Christian Schmitz.

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