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28 (123) 2017
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Poles in the UK

Not everything’s from China!

By Leszek Czabak, president, LC Elektronik
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The Old Continent hasn’t given up yet!

On today’s markets, which are experiencing a real outpouring of ready-made solutions imported from Asia, it becomes increasingly difficult to get high-quality products, tailored to the customer’s needs. There are still, however, European companies which manage to keep up with the dynamically changing world around them.

In our era of ‘Made in China’ products, it’s important to remember that in Europe there are still many thriving laboratories and production plants, offering solutions for a wide range of different industry sectors, from clothing, through furniture to the latest state-of-the-art technologies. One such company, representing technologically advanced industry, is LC Elektronik.

The company takes pride in its ability to create the solutions tailored for the specific needs of its clients.

 

In any industry, change always means massive costs. Making the prototype, rolling out the product, verifying the results and the corrections –  all these activities usually absorb huge resources, and their optimisation is not a simple task.

One of our customers had an idea for a new product. He knew there was the demand on the market, but he couldn’t predict the scale of acceptance for the new product. In addition, in the case of traditional production, the implementation costs would be difficult to recover should the product require significant amendments after the initial tests. Now, this was at the time before 3D printing, which today lets manufacturers make prototypes or test batches at a relatively low cost.
LC Elektronik has implemented a three-stage solution.

First, a prototype and a test batch in a typical catalogue plastic case were created. LC Elektronik adjusted the case with milling, and manufactured a membrane keyboard – the least expensive solution technologically considering the cost of launching the production and manufacturing. The customer received a fully functional device, which he was able to test as a prototype and to give it to a few operators for their assessment. Based on tests, necessary design changes were implemented. This allowed us to take the next step and make a trial batch, to be tested in real conditions.

In the second stage, a silicone keypad was made in the final shape, which involved a considerable investment in producing a mould. The mould could have been used at this stage as well as for the final product, contributing to a substantial reduction of the total costs. Then a standard aluminum case was selected, more expensive than the plastic one, but guaranteeing better resistance in real working conditions. The testing phase was carried out on a group of 50 products, operated by the target group of operators. The resulting comments on the shape of the case and the product functionality were used to design the final version of the product.

Finally, the injection mould was built, designed for durable plastic, and adjusted to the silicone keyboard built in stage two. After modifications to the software which improved the product’s functionality, continuous production was launched at 2,000 units per year.

Putting a variety of technologies at the disposal of the customer, LC Elektronik managed to optimise the time, costs and production of the project. The customer has not paid for six moulds, only for two. Custom-made production with the use of the moulds, even at 2,000 units per year, has proved less expensive than mass production based on ready-made catalogue elements. The final product  met all the ergonomics requirements and the needs of the end user.

However, things are altogether different in cases when it’s hard to predict whether or not the product will be accepted on the market.

No one enjoys the vision of unsold products filling up the warehouse. Unnecessary costs, however, can be avoided. How does one go about it?

The customer assumes, for example, that around 10,000 units per year over three years will be produced. But he is not quite convinced that the project will prove successful, and isn’t sure what the actual scale may be. Also, for reasons related to the market conditions, the customer requires the first batch of 1,000 pieces to be ready within 45 days after the order has been placed. Within this time frame, he would not be able to prepare the injection mould, let alone manufacturing the first batch.

In such situations, LC Elektronik proposed a standard case, mechanically modified by milling and membrane keypad, which is quickly deployable and cost-effective in production. The customer manufactured and sold 1,000 pieces of the product within the time set period. Still, however, he was not certain of the market reaction, and chose not to invest in an injection mould. Over the next 24 months, the Warsaw-based manufacturer worked from order to order, producing 2,000 units every 30 to 40 days, using a modified standard catalogue case and keyboard), and then suddenly, after two years – market demand ended. Due to our flexible response, neither LC Elektronik nor the customer was left with the warehouse full of components and finished products.

Another customer liked the standard plastic case, however, because of the company visual identification system, it had to be in a non-standard colour. The change required time, but the customer wanted to quickly have the pilot batch on the market.

The company received the cases in the standard colour, and with digital printing changed it to the desired colour. Also, some mechanical modifications were made and graphic front foils were prepared, to make the product look just like the final version. In the meantime, production in the desired plastic colour was launched, and the pilot batch delivered to the market at the right time paved the way for the final product.

The pursuit of excellence

Years of experience and access to a broad variety of technological solutions translates into our ability to complete logistically and economically difficult projects, and to ensure their technical implementation. So, what does LC Elektronik stand for?

For nearly 30 years, the company has been manufacturing membrane keyboards and front foils, which it has supplemented with the wide range of support in the field of industrial design. Having obtained the ISO 9001 certificate in 1995, LC Elektronik has further developed its offer of design services combined with the production and distribution of cases and connectors for electronic devices. Today the company provides comprehensive solutions, with a focus on HMI products, front and hidden electronics.

In addition, thanks to close cooperation with numerous producers worldwide, such as OKW, Takachi, Apra-Norm, Rolec, Erni and Pactec, for which LC Elektronik has been the exclusive distributor for Poland in excess of 25 years, the company has regular access to the latest technological developments worldwide. In the last two years, the company has also been implementing the principles of so-called Lean Manufacturing and the Kaizen philosophy, thoroughly modernising its working methods, in the manufacturing plant and the offices.

LC Elektronik is one of the many examples of European manufacturers, who by combining their knowledge of new technologies with cost optimisation, create products of much higher quality than those coming from developing countries. Will they, however, be able to create a viable alternative for China, in the world of constant flow of goods? The answer to this question will be influenced by many factors, which we are not able to foresee now. Still, the example of LC Elektronik and some other companies from the Old Continent seem to prove that perhaps the opinion about the significant competitive advantages of the Asian industry may be largely exaggerated.

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