ECWC 2014 Market Session: Connecting the World


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At major conventions, it is customary to expect Walt Custer to give an up-to-the-minute global business outlook for the electronics industry. At ECWC13, he took a slightly different approach and gave delegates an opportunity to learn how apply supply chain data to make meaningful forecasts for individual businesses, in a presentation elegantly entitled “Global Electronic Industry Supply Chain Dynamics: Forecasting Equipment and Component Demand caused by Business Cycles, Product and Technology Changes, and Geographical Shifts.”

He summarised the principal factors determining business cycles: Economic fluctuations, cataclysmic events, new product cycles, inventory build-ups and declines, double ordering in anticipation of shortages, poor management practices, geographic shifts and abrupt technology changes, then listed the global and regional data sources and leading indicators used to monitor and measure growth within the electronics food chain.

Useful data could be acquired from trade organisations, government statistics, published market research studies, company financial reports, and consolidated sector statistics. Purchasing managers’ indices were a valuable group of leading indicators.

With appropriate reference data gathered and in place, Custer demonstrated how it was possible to forecast an individual company’s sales by organising its monthly or quarterly sales figures on a spreadsheet and comparing them with related industry time series for the same period using 3/12 growth rates, then determining lead times against company data, forecasting company sales based on lead times and estimating the company’s gains or losses in market share by comparing company growth to a related industry sector. The methodology had been proved to work, and to give companies good warning of what to expect. He made it look easy!

Michael Weinhold posed the question, “What business are we in?” Whether the nominal response was the making of PCB’s, or electronic components, or electronic devices, or cars, the real answer was “We are in the business of making money!”

The electronics industry offered the potential to make money through innovative new electronic products focused on large volume production, using competence and existing know-how, investing money and resources in future technologies and target markets with growth opportunities. And Weinhold saw component embedding in PCBs as a significant future niche-market opportunity, with particular significance in Europe where the number of PCB fabricators had dwindled from 2,500 in the 1960s and 1970s to barely 250 now, and innovation and differentiation were vital survival strategies in a market otherwise held to ransom by buyers and purchasing agents.

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