Singapore-based electronics contract manufacturing giant Flextronics International Ltd. expects during 2006 to increase by about 50 percent the number of injection molding machines it uses to make cellular telephones, according to a senior company official. Flextronics would not disclose how many presses are involved, but it's believed to be a significant number.
``We continue to buy machines [because] growth is rapid for this segment,'' said Chris Morton, vice president of Flextronics' Mobile market segment, one of seven internal entities formed Jan. 1. Previously, Morton was responsible for plastics processing technology and customer development across the entire span of Flextronics businesses.
Flextronics said it established the dedicated segments to provide more focused market offerings to customers. In addition to the cell phone market segment, other segment concentrations involve the computing, industrial, infrastructure, consumer digital, automotive and medical markets.
The FlexMobile segment has existing cell phone molding and manufacturing sites in Doumen, China, and Shah Alam, Malaysia, and is constructing a facility on a previously announced Flextronics campus in Chennai, India. Each site is getting new tooling capability and being vertically integrated.
In addition, the segment is constructing a second plant in Doumen for completion by year's end.
``We are scaling up capacity to match mechanical needs with cell phone needs,'' Morton said in a June 13 telephone interview from his office in New Braunfels, Texas.
Both Doumen and Shah Alam have two-coat spindle paint lines and, before the end of 2006, each will get a three-coat paint line.
``With new paint packages [for cell phones], there is more need for three-coat processes,'' he said.
``As we grow capabilities, all sites will have certified clean rooms,'' along with multiple decorative, electronic shielding and overmolding capabilities, Morton said.
The FlexMobile segment is giving a major boost to mold-making efficiency.
``We are working on a Flex Speed Tooling system, an innovative approach to building injection molds in days instead of weeks,'' he said. ``We are developing fully integrated technology'' extending back to the design phase and incorporating the latest tools available.
The FlexMobile segment has been developing the system since February and plans to introduce the tooling system in the Malaysian tool shop this year.
``The market is demanding it,'' Morton said. ``The requirements are staggering.''
Short time-to-market cycles for cell phones are critical and highly competitive and often involve ``an enormous amount of changes that you need to do in real time,'' he said.
The need for a tooling system continues a trend. ``Three or four years ago, you could build prototype and production molds in six to seven weeks,'' Morton said. ``Today, it takes half that time.''
Flextronics' largest cell phone customers for fiscal 2005 included Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB, Kyocera Wireless Corp. and Motorola Inc. Joint venture Sony Ericsson accounted for more than 10 percent of Flextronics' sales of nearly $15.3 billion for the year ended March 31.
Flextronics said it completed large-scale manufacturing, logistics and procurement integrations during the fiscal year for Sony Ericsson and Kyocera along with Xerox Corp. for office equipment and components, and Nortel Networks Ltd. for optical, wireless and enterprise telecommunications infrastructure.
Globally, Flextronics said in June 2005 that at that time, across all of its product segments, it operated more than 1,100 injection molding machines in 17 plants at 11 sites in China, Hungary, Mexico, Poland and Brazil. The firm declined to provide updated information.
Flextronics reported that its profit for the year ended last March dropped 58 percent to $141.2 million from $339.9 million, on 2.8 percent lower sales.