Electronic manufacturing in Bulgaria

Electronics IndustrySouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 4/2017

The Bulgarian electronic industry can be defined by its longstanding history, tradition, and experienced and highly qualified workforce. During the 1970s and 1980s, Bulgaria was one of the leading Eastern European electronic manufacturers, and in the 1980s it supplied more than 40% of the mainframe and personal computers in the region. At that time more than 130 000 people were employed in the sector as it comprised more than 25% of total Bulgarian manufacturing

In terms of physical infrastructure, Bulgaria has many advantages for the countries that invest in it. It is crossed by five major Trans European corridors, providing easy access to regional and European markets. Two of the largest ports at the Black Sea, Varna and Burgas, are located in Bulgaria, both connected to the trans-European corridor VIII, which links the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. Bulgaria offers well developed electricity and gas infrastructure and at the same time power and utility prices are among the lowest in Europe.

Nowadays, the country remains a preferred electronics manufacturing hub in Southeast Europe. The electronic sector has been developed on the basis of a system of multinational and local firms, supported by quality and affordable HR resources.

The companies established and operating there supply various European markets, including automotive, security, defense, medical, telecommunications, military, lighting, renewable and conventional energy equipment and consumer electronics.

Some of the most popular product groups that are manufactured include high end energy saving sensors for various applications in different industries ranging from automotive through food and beverage production to agriculture equipment, top quality amplifiers and high frequency power products used in the radio communication sector, the latest generation HVAC and climate control equipment used in modern high speed electric trains, semiconductors and semiconductor products used in medical, machine building and automotive manufacturing globally by companies such as BMW, GM, Mercedes, Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) and microelectronic components for industrial applications used all over the world, and more.

Bulgaria provides an overall compelling proposition for electrical engineering, electronics manufacturing and R&D. An industry report conducted by Bulgaria’s foreign investment agency, Invest in Bulgaria, outlines several factors that prove this - the country’s availability of experienced engineers, qualified assembly workforce at affordable cost, established traditions in the electrical engineering and electronics sector, infrastructure well-suited for the needs of electronics manufacturing, easy access to EU, Russian/CIS and Middle East markets.

Another strong point is the vibrant mix of international and local companies from the electronics sector with successful operations in Bulgaria. There are several established cluster zones in the country, of which Botevgrad is the so-called electronic manufacturing center of Bulgaria. It has strong historic traditions in the industry and is located only 60km from the capital and another big cluster zone - Sofia. Sofia is the executive, legislative and judiciary power, as well as financial hub of the country.

Another big cluster is the Plovdiv one - which is the second largest city and major administrative, industrial, transport and tourist destination.
The Bulgarian electronics sector has experienced steady growth, as production volume increased almost 4 times from 2000 to 2010. In 2010 the revenues were over EUR 1,5 billion, which is the highest level since 1990. The industry employs about 45 000 people in 2300 companies.

The majority (more than 75%) of electronic production in Bulgaria is export oriented to key markets such as the EU countries, Russia and CIS, and USA. By category, wires and cables account for 25% of the total sector exports, followed by industrial batteries with 11% of the exported production and electrical apparatuses with 8% of the export. The rest of the market is distributed to transformers (7%), integrated circuit (7%), telephone devices (6%), panels and el. tables (6%), PCBs (3%), electric heaters (2%), radio and TV equipment (2%), and others (23%), according to official statistical data.

The export mix has been changing in the recent years towards products with higher added value requiring more engineering skills. The market players operating in the Bulgarian electronic industry include many of the large international companies in the sector, as well as Bulgarian firms that have managed to establish themselves as regional and global leaders.

Their production is aimed at industrial, automotive, medical, telecommunications, military, lighting, security, defense, renewable and conventional energy equipment and consumer electronics markets. Additionally, the majority of manufacturers have implemented quality management systems in their facilities.

According to market reports, many Bulgarian OEM companies developing and manufacturing their own products also offer EMS services to other Bulgarian and foreign customers. According to the conducted surveys, the majority of the companies have automatic machines or assembly lines, over half of them have semi-automatic assembly equipment, and most of them perform manual assembly, too.

The most common soldering technologies used include reflow process, wave soldering and selective soldering, and approximately four fifths of the companies carry out manual soldering as well. The finished products are tested by different methods and technologies, like functional testing, optical and automatic optical inspection, in-circuit testing, etc. A small percentage of the companies operating in the industry use X-ray inspection.

Bulgaria is also marked by rapidly developing components and equipment production for the electronics manufacturing industry. Most broad is the manufacture of PCBs, electromechanics, passives, connectors and mechanical components, but also hybrid ICs, microelectronic components, sensors and development tools, design centres, etc.

The current issue of South-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket magazine presents some of the leading companies on the electronic manufacturing market in Bulgaria.