All the time, the number of customers who are interested in more than just buying, for example, a touch panel display is growing. We have more and more module design work every year – says Slawomir Szweda, president of Unisystem and co-owner of Riverdi
Many years ago, the basis of some domestic businesses was to have goods in stock in the country and to fulfill orders instantly. In the context of recent problems with delivery times, have we not returned to this state for a while, and has history come full circle?
Goods available overnight from a local warehouse were and are a huge asset to the distribution company. We create storage buffers well in advance for customers who work with us, and we can thus serve their needs resulting, for example, from production spikes. As for current delivery times for displays, they are slowly returning to pre-pandemic status. We are able to deliver most products in 15-20 weeks, and popular models in 10-12 weeks, which is praised by our customers. We are glad to see a return to predictable delivery times, as the aforementioned instability was causing many problems.
Nevertheless, if a company today has application-critical products in stock that are in short supply in the market and difficult to replace with others, it can certainly dictate terms. However, nowadays in the display supply market, a mere commodity in stock is not enough. The supplier – in addition to offering good quality products – must provide competent technical support that includes knowledge that cannot be found on the Internet.
What do customers expect from a display supplier today?
You can find many products, applications and related documentation on the web. But we, as a specialized display company, are able to select what is important and interesting from this sea of information. We are then happy to share this condensed knowledge, including in the form of publications on our website.
It is also important to provide customers with access to demo kits, allowing them to conduct the necessary product testing. We can deliver such a starter kit, such as a display and evaluation board, in a few days, often directly from our warehouse. In this way, in a short period of time, customers can check whether our solution meets their expectations in practice.
Many distribution companies go into manufacturing at some stage of development. In the case of displays, it seems to me that this is a particularly difficult task because of the necessary infrastructure. What does it look like for you?
The threshold for entry into display production is high due to the necessary and costly investments. Large-scale Asian companies, with whom we cooperate under the terms of distributor agreements, have specialized in this area.
Our engineers deal with, among other things. Designing display modules with touch panel and so-called “touch panel”. cover glass, or outer glass, which can include, for example, a colored frame and the customer’s logo. In addition to display modules, our Solutions department also undertakes the creation of complete devices to a customer’s design, which may additionally include, for example, an SBC or SOM single-board computer, converters, sensors, power supply. We can place the module constructed in this way in an enclosure, which we will adapt to the environmental conditions in which the device will be used, ensuring, for example, that it is properly dust- and waterproof.
We operate within a group of companies – these are two companies: Unisystem and Riverdi, with different profiles.
Why did you establish a second company? What kind of profile does it have?
Riverdi is a manufacturer of LCD-TFT display modules. In addition to its entire line of standard products, it also supplies custom displays, touch panel modules, controllers, AD Board interface boards. Implementation of some assembly work, such as. combining displays with touch panels, requires providing appropriate conditions. We obtain them in our cleanroom, which meets ISO Class 6 standards according to ISO 14644-1, or Class 1,000 according to the Federal Standard 209 system.
One of Riverdi’s differentiating factors is open access to information. An engineer who designs a new device can download all the necessary documentation from the site, such as a data sheet, 3D file, EMI test result, etc.
Unisystem and Riverdi currently have a total of 20 people working in engineering positions. Total employment at both companies is approx. 100 employees.
How do you solve software tasks?
When we design an entire device that includes a display and an SBC computer in a chassis, we – for software development – support ourselves with resources from proven third-party companies. There are also situations when our activities are limited to the hardware area only – assistance in the preparation of a hardware solution, because the client is working on the software on its own.
What part of your business is taken up by solution projects?
All the while, the number of customers whose needs go beyond the mere purchase of a touch panel display is growing. We have more and more module design work every year.
The benefit of producing customized solutions, which customers recognize, is a high degree of flexibility, whereas with standard products you have to reckon with compromises.
Is the integration and customization of display modules an offer for a rich foreign customer?
The share of exports in our sales portfolio has been steadily increasing and is now approx. 20% of turnover. However, ordering customized solutions is not only the domain of the foreign customer – domestic companies also implement “tailor-made” projects and make excellent use of the opportunities these solutions offer.
Are these services subject to a minimum order size or do they involve paying for preparatory engineering work?
Customizing a product to meet customer requirements or fitting a module into a chassis, communicating it with an interface or adapting it to environmental conditions are all costs that some party must bear. Nevertheless, a lot depends here on the scale of the work, the size of the order and the terms of cooperation. Sometimes these costs are paid in full by the customer. Other times it manages to be divided into several parts – between us, the customer and the manufacturer. Complicated projects, such as those for medical devices, can take more than a year to complete, as they require a lot of research and testing, sometimes obtaining certification. Each time we assess how forward-looking a project is, we analyze its lifespan, production scale and relate this to the required workload. Then we work out a decision together with the client.
What minimum value or size must an order be in order to be able to be made as an individual?
MOQ – minimum order quantity – requirements are a daily occurrence in the electronics industry. They are also valid for display orders. Most often it is 1000 pieces per project. However, there is a relationship – the larger the display size, the greater the chance of negotiating MOQs.
You have many of the leading brands related to displays. How do you manage to ensure coexistence when there are equivalent products on offer?
There is no such thing as completely equivalent products – each display is different. Even if they have the same main parameters, they will differ in availability or price. A broad portfolio of suppliers is a must to ensure the most competitive terms for our customers. This is the secret ingredient of our success (laughs), which is to look for the best solution for the customer, not the manufacturer. However, building such a model is difficult because it requires a large scale of operations, providing access to all major suppliers and enabling us to generate orders on the best possible terms, which we can then offer to customers. It took us a total of 27 years. This is the reason why Unisystem is the largest supplier of displays and the only official distributor of manufacturers such as AUO and Innolux in this part of Europe. As an interesting aside, national and European distributors are often redirected by manufacturers to Unisystem as a regional hub, providing not only local stock and logistics, but also the necessary expertise.
What are your current financial results?
This year promises to be a record year for us, as we are likely to approach PLN 140 million in turnover. Next year, on the other hand, may be more difficult, as we are already noticing that we are getting slightly fewer orders compared to the same period in previous years. We suspect that this is influenced by the geopolitical situation and the energy crisis, as well as the fact that many of our customers have decided to make larger stocks of goods due to previous very long delivery times.
How much of the increase in turnover is accounted for by higher prices?
It is true that at the beginning of 2022, display manufacturers raised product prices. In addition, the exchange rates of the currencies in which we settle with our partners, mainly the dollar, have increased, and this has a direct impact on the fees paid by customers. Undoubtedly, these processes also translate into our higher turnover, but I estimate their share at a maximum of 10%.
What display module problems do your customers most often report to you?
Among the key problems may be any equipment malfunctions resulting from contact with the factors present at its site. These include EMI electromagnetic interference. In addition, the device’s exposure to other harmful factors, such as dust, moisture or large temperature changes, as well as the need to operate the touchscreen with gloves, for example, motivate customers to contact us and reach for customized solutions.
Beyond cleanroom You still have a mechanical and electronics lab. What are you using this potential for?
We have advanced machinery in our laboratories – mechanical and electronic, which allows us to offer our customers even more perfect solutions. We can, for example, design and then print on a 3D printer a fidget that is used to precisely connect displays to touch panels. We are also able to conduct a number of tests of touch solutions, including. In a water splash situation. This gives us the opportunity to calibrate the device – so that the user can use it without problems in demanding conditions such as rain. In addition, we have a climate chamber where, by reaching extreme conditions in terms of temperature and humidity, we test the maximum performance ranges of the customized solutions we develop.
In addition to displays, you still have single board computers on offer….
Single-board computers are essential for many devices, such as infokiosks. Hence, it is worthwhile to have them in the assortment to attract customers with a comprehensive offer. This makes us more attractive, as customers are now trying to reduce the number of suppliers. The one with the richer portfolio of necessary elements is preferred.
Despite the wide versatility of the displays, are there any dominant industries among your audience?
It is known that displays are a universal product, but we recognize that our main customers represent the industrial sector. In addition, we also provide solutions for other industries, serving such industries as. manufacturers of fiscal cash registers, medical equipment, building automation or alarm systems. We also carry out quite a few orders in the field of transportation, including passenger information systems.
Interviewed by Robert Magdziak
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