We understand that PBT Works is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2022. Congratulations on this milestone! How far has the company come in 30 years? Why was it originally founded – what need did it fill in the industry three decades ago?
Thank you, it is a milestone indeed! The beginnings of the company were quite complex. In 1988, still before the changes of the communist era in Czechoslovakia, I left a large electronic company TESLA. You hear right, we had a TESLA-named company in Czechoslovakia far before Elon Musk used that name. I left to become a sales agent for a Swiss company PBT, which was transferring technologies for electronics from west to east.
I intended to sell machines mainly for PCBA manufacturing and component assembly. Especially PCB assembly because almost no equipment was used at that time – the only tools available were pliers and transformer soldering irons. Later, in 1992, we succeeded in starting a joint–venture company, Czech–Swiss PBT Rožnov p.R. s.r.o. At that time, we were five people altogether. Everybody was excited about new possibilities. Establishing such a company was not easy, and it took constant hard work. It was not an exception to visit a potential customer before 6 a.m. or even midnight! After the revolution, everyone wanted to grow business. However, selling machines was not my main target. As a graduated mechanical engineer, I wanted to build machines. So, the first equipment pieces, an ultrasonic cleaning “line” and a small manual printer, were born and introduced to customers in May 1992. I personally consider this date the real beginning of the current PBT Works s.r.o. Over the next few years, we built between four to ten machines per year. Today, we do thatalmost weekly. Over the past 30 years, we managed to build a proper manufacturing company with 90 employees. In 2015, PBT Works s.r.o. split from PBT Rožnov s.r.o., but the people, knowledge, and activities remained the same, producing sophisticated cleaning equipment and stencil printers.
PBT Works is a family business, correct? Both you and your son work in the business? How has it been working so closely with your son over the years?
My son studied at university as a computing analyst and wanted to work in the automotive or aircraft industry, being an aircraft enthusiast. After some years of working in that profession, he joined the company in 2005. I believe it was just at the right time! His first feedback after a short periodwas “How can you run the company in such a big mess?” I must admit we were not that organized. At the beginning, the business – and our team – was small. We usually met over a coffee and that was it. That has significantly changed! Ascleaning complexity grew, a more sophisticated system was needed. And he was able to implement it. Now, I am more engaged in the development and the research of the process and machines, and he is the one controlling the company. Of course, sometimes there is friction between us, but werespect and advise each other. And I believe this is what moves us ahead.
How has PBT Works grown and changed since being founded in 1992?
I must say that we have grown every year since the beginning, despite some critical moments like in 1997 when we were almost completely flooded or in 2011 when our building and equipment were highly damaged by fire due to an unreliable power backup device. But, always, due to the enormous engagement of all of our team, we were able to get back up and running in a short time.
Today, we have a modern and complete production. From design, metal parts production, welding, and complete mechanical and electrical assembly to final check and shipment. Everything is in one center. Such an approach enables us to be flexible and significantly positively influences quality.
In your opinion, what have been the most significant changes in cleaning over the past 30 years for the electronics industry?
If you have a chance, look at any PCBA from the 1990s. The technology is completely different from what is used in present instruments. Leaded assembly enabled easy access to an entire surface. Poles of the circuitry were far apart. And using electronics in harsh environmental conditions was not common as it is now. Today, distances under components are shrinking to single microns. Many details on the PCBA are comparable in size with the details on the silicon chip in the 80-ties. If you must clean such modern assemblies, old processes and machines are not efficient anymore.
Therefore, we constantly work on innovations.
From what we understand, PBT Works also manufactures SMT solder paste printers. How – and when – did that side of the company come about?
At the very beginning, there was an inquiry from the Swiss company ESSEMTEC to build some very small printers to fit their manual pick–and–place stations. Later, we recognized a demand for more sophisticated offline printers. We also tried to build in-line printing machines, but we could not start in big series and get production at a low enough cost due to lack of capital. Therefore, we stayed in that category of stencil printers. We have a constant interest in those printers from prototyping, laboratories, and universities.
How have your customers changed and evolved over the past 30 years?
In the beginning, we had a low level of customer knowledge,but over time that level grew. We worked hard to understand what they needed. The size of productions that require cleaning is also increasing: Together with growing environmental limitations, it brings different requirements on machine control and the total cost of the process. Unfortunately, even now, many customers look at the cleaning process as something that does not bring any value, and they tend to spend as little as possible on technology. Then, they face high process costs and compromised cleaning quality.
What sets you apart from your competition?
I believe it is the fact that we design our machines based on process measurement, customer feedback, and studies of cleaning results. Frequently, our machines look different from those of our competitors. It has its profound reason.
How has the global COVID pandemic affected PBT Works? Have you been able to continue growing despite it?
We believe the pandemic itself is mainly over, but its consequences are not. Both during the pandemic and now, we still have plenty to do. However, like many others, we suffer from material supply and continual price increases oneverything. We build machines, but it is difficult to say whether our profit from sales can also cover our development costs for the future. The biggest challenge is to keep it all balanced during this time.
Over the next few years, what technology challenges do you foresee, and how will PBT Works help solve them?
We see the development as a step-by-step convergence of PCB assembly with the assembly of active components. The heterogeneous integration, where we frequently participate in cleaning projects, requires even more stringent cleanliness parameters and full automation. Machine to factory communication is not the future, but it is currently a required feature. Unfortunately, this is a complex matter, not due to the technical points but mainly due to the very different attempts, data formatting, and architecture of almost every client. We participate in the CFX standard development through IPC because we believe that only unification can make the future easier.
What would you most like our readers to know about PBT Work?
We have been in this industry for more than 30 years now. There is a certain guarantee of quality of our products. PBT Works offers its customers the best cleaning solution according to their requirements. We have the knowledge and practice to help to set the cleaning of electronic assembly and tools properly. From a small company in Rožnov, we have become a global supplier, and we appreciate it.