This article appeared in the May 2021 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
Grand Rapids-based Firstronic thinks big — really big. So big, in fact, that the company ultimately hopes to change the entire ecosystem for electronics manufacturing services (EMS).
VP of Quality and Program Management, Sandy Kolp, started at Firstronic over a decade ago when they were a small operation. Since that time, the company has grown into a global provider of electronics manufacturing services that generates roughly $165 million in annual revenue.
First, what is electronics manufacturing services (EMS)? Simply put, Firstronic and other companies like it are contract manufacturers that provide electronics assemblies to a variety of customers. Some EMS manufacturers serve large OEM customers, such as Apple and Dell, while other “mom and pop” shops will accommodate smaller customers for prototypes and one-off builds.
Firstronic is focused on process and innovation — something that is highly fundamental to their DNA, according to Kolp. This focus, and the company’s core values, is what they are relying on in order to have a broad impact on the industry.
“I don’t think we are satisfied being ordinary,” says Kolp. “[We] always want to pursue more to become better. To do that, you need people and companies to push the boundaries of what can be done. It’s all about change. If nothing changes, nothing new is created, nothing is improved.”
There are a substantial number of mid-sized businesses that rely on the contract EMS providers. Trying to find the right vendor for the demand and the quantity can be challenging for those companies that fall somewhere in the middle, says Kolp.
“We recognized that this is a niche market which would provide an excellent opportunity for growth,” says Kolp.
Seizing on this niche market strategy, Firstronic has been able to support mid-sized customers in automotive, medical, LED and industrial sectors. These are the customers that need more volume than a mom-and-pop shop can provide but would not attract the attention of the larger EMS companies around the world.
In order to impact the EMS marketplace, Firstronic realized they would need to borrow some practices from other industries and upgrade their own systems. Thus, they have invested heavily in Industry 4.0 technologies and implemented Synchronous Flow Lean processes which improves flexibility in production and scheduling.
“Our investments in Industry 4.0 technology enable our production equipment to identify quality issues and make process adjustments to correct those issues without human intervention,” Kolp explains.
This added agility from the supply chain all the way to production was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when their strategic internal processes helped steady the ship through the toughest periods of the pandemic.
What’s Next for Firstronic?
Firstronic is simply staying the course and fulfilling its vision as an industry disruptor. The company has recently invested in new equipment and technology to sustain its growth and continues to evolve its services to its growing market niche of mid-sized customers. But, when it comes down to it, Kolp credits the company’s success to its people and values.
“You need people who share the same passion, share the same vision, who have the same DNA,” says Kolp. “These are people who are ‘change agents’ and are always looking for ways and methods to improve.”
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