PCB and EMS Industry in Bulgaria

Electronics Technical ArticlesSouth-East European INDUSTRIAL Мarket - issue 4/2019 • 07.11.2019


The electronic industry in Bulgaria is a key sector that began to develop intensively in the 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s, the electronics industry became a structure-defining sector of the Bulgarian economy. Today, the country remains a preferred electronics manufacturing hub in the Southeast-European region. The electronic sector includes a broad system of multinational and local companies, whose activities are supported by the highly qualified and affordable human force in Bulgaria in the field of electronics and electrical engineering.


Some of the leading product groups that are being manufactured in the country are: high end energy saving sensors for various applications in different industries including automotive, food and beverage production, agriculture equipment; top quality amplifiers and high frequency power products for the radio communication sector; 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 by global companies such as BMW, GM, Mercedes. Important product groups manufactured in Bulgaria are the printed circuit boards (PCBs) and microelectronic components for industrial applications. The local electronics sector has experienced steady growth in the last decades. According to statistics, production volume increased almost 4 times from 2000 to 2010. In 2010 the revenues from the industry were over 1,5 billion euro, which is the highest level since 1990. The industry in the beginning of the current decade employs about 45 000 qualified workers spread in more than 2300 companies.


PCB and EMS industry in the SEE region

A key feature of the South-Eastern European PCB industry is that the region has longstanding traditions of offering quality HR resources in the electronics field. This is the reason for an interesting trend that has been going on for the last couple of decades – many Western European companies establish manufacturing units or create branches in Eastern Europe and especially in the SEE region. Most SEE companies cover all the quality requirements and technology standards valid for the European electronics sector. According to a specialized research, conducted by the South-East European Market magazine, “due to specialization and highly educated staff SEE companies can offer the global market state-of-the art technology of boards produced. All the production is compatible with global industrial standards in all the aspects, from design, materials used, lamination, manufacturing, etc.”

The larger part of the PCB manufacturing companies in South-East Europe is small to medium companies. They have proven to be flexible enough to cover all kinds of customers’ requirements, including special orders and services.

Most of the PCB production in the South-East European countries is export oriented. The contract electronic assembly industry continues developing. A large part of the PCB manufacturers in the region export more than 90% of their production.

Another key feature of Eastern Europe as an electronics manufacturing hub is that almost all of factories provide manual labour services. “In this aspect this market has significant advantage because of still lower labour costs. This concerns either owned production or outsourcing production”, the SEEIM research also says.

A strong advantage of the PCB production companies in the SEE region is that they have well developed electronic design and CAD departments. That drastically improves their production efficiency and optimizes operational costs, putting the industry in the region in a favourable position in comparison to Eastern Europe.

According to the in4ma EMS European market analysis report, recently conducted on behalf of a German electrical association, the EMS Industry in Europe is still in a growth stage of its life cycle. “Looking back over the last ten years, we have seen tremendous changes in the amount of companies, looking at every separate legal entity. Sweden and Italy have seen 22% of the EMS companies disappear, in Great Britain it was 25% in France 32% and in Belgium even 40%. At the same time Hungary and Slovakia got 16% more companies, Czech Republic 27%, Bulgaria 40% and Romania even 42%”, the survey further explains.

Most of the companies, established in Eastern Europe in the recent years, are offsprings of Western European companies or international EMS/ODM manufacturers who are striving to expand their positions in the European market.

“More than 80% of all EMS companies are located in Western Europe and only 20% in the East. These 20% are getting close to having 50% of the production value of EMS in Europe. Growth rates in the East are double as high as in the West. The total production volume of all European EMS companies so far is calculated to be 35,26 billion euro”, the research also informs.


Electronic manufacturing in Bulgaria

The Bulgarian electronic industry can be defined by its longstanding history, tradition, and experienced and highly qualified workforce. During the 1970s and 1980s, the country was among the leading Eastern European electronic manufacturers. 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.

According to the Bulgarian Ministry of Economy, considering the manufacture of computers, electronic and optical products (sector C26), in 2016, the manufacture of computer, electronic and optical equipment accounted for 3% of the value added created by the manufacturing industry. Тhe economic activity “Manufacture of computers, electronic and optical products” consists of the production of: electronic components and printed circuits, computer equipment, radio, television and telecommunications equipment, consumer electronics, measuring instruments, clocks, electromedical apparatus, optical instruments and photographic equipment technology, magnetic and optical media, etc.

In 2017, the production of computers, electronic and optical products increased by 21% compared to the previous year, the highest recorded increase since 2005. Since 2004, there has been a trend of increasing production. In 2017, the turnover index of enterprises operating in C26 increased by 28,7% compared to the previous year, following the change of the production index over the years. Exports of computers, electronic and optical products have been on a steady upward trend since 2008. The highest growth rates of C26 exports were reported in 2011 and 2015, or 16% yoy.

The total increase in exports of computers, electronic and optical products in the period 2008-2017 is 113%, and in 2017 C26 exports accounted for 3,7% of the country’s total exports. The number of C26 employees increased from 2013, when a 2% increase in the number of employees was recorded.

The staffing of the sector is the result of the functioning of 20 universities and education institutions, 121 vocational high schools and 7 private colleges. The average productivity growth in C26 for the period 2005-2016 is 8,8%, the highest growth compared to the previous year was observed in 2010 or 38,5%. For the whole period the increase was 127%.


PCB and EMS industry in Bulgaria

The Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) is a dynamically developing sub sector of the Bulgarian electronic production industry. One of the reasons for the fast growth of the EMS market on a global scale is the adoption of such services in large industry branches such as medical, industrial, aerospace and defence, where many original manufacturers decide to outsource the production of certain components or products in order to take advantage of the profitable potential in terms of future opportunities which the EMS providers offer, recent research in the field shows.

Nowadays Eastern Europe is becoming one of the trendiest emerging outsourcing destinations, which lines up with traditionally strong EMS hubs such as the Asian-Pacific and the Latin American regions. The region has the potential to grow into one of the hottest locations from an electronics manufacturing services perspective. In the recent years top-tier global EMS companies are building and launching factories in Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and other countries in the region. With that they aim to achieve several critical goals – to be able to more efficiently serve the mature European and emerging African and Middle Eastern consumer markets while reducing long-distance transportation costs associated with Asian shipments, published surveys conclude.

A report by the market researching agency TFI estimates that electronics production in the region in 2011 was about 85 billion US dollars, including output from OEMs, EMS providers, ODMs, and electronic components and materials suppliers. According to the research Electronics and PCB Production in Eastern and Central Europe in 2014 16 countries in the region (Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia) and former Soviet Union countries (Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine) - together accounted for a total of 55 billion euro of the electronics production in 2013.

In Bulgaria there is a dynamically developing components and equipment production for the electronics manufacturing industry. Companies in the sector are traditionally active in the manufacture of PCBs, electromechanics, passives, connectors and mechanical components. The market also includes manufacturers of hybrid ICs, microelectronic components, sensors and development tools, design centres, etc. The production portfolio of Bulgarian electronic manufacturing companies also includes automatic placement machines, stencil printers and other SMT equipment.

“Advanced manufacturing technologies, experienced work force and low competitive scenario are positioning Bulgaria as a key electronics manufacturing hub in Southeast Europe. The country is increasingly being preferred by many electronics assemblers and is set to emerge as one of the key recipients of foreign direct investments in electronics industry. Most of the companies in the branch are small or medium-sized enterprises, generally export oriented”, the research conducted by the SEEIM magazine states.
The production of those companies is aimed at the industrial, automotive, medical, telecommunications, military, lighting, security, defence, renewable and conventional energy equipment and consumer electronics markets. Most of the locally established domestic or foreign manufacturers have quality management systems applied.

Among the most important characteristics of the Bulgarian electronic companies is that many OEM manufacturers, which develop and manufacture their own products, offer EMS services to other Bulgarian and foreign clients. According to another survey in the field, 62% of the participated firms are equipped with automatic machines or assembly lines, 54% have semi-automatic assembly equipment, and 80% perform manual assembly as well. In terms of soldering technologies, most widely used is the reflow process, followed by wave soldering and selective soldering. Manual soldering is carried out at 80% of surveyed local companies. “The most widely used testing procedure is functional test, followed by optical inspection, in-circuit testing and automatic optical inspection”, the report also says.