Europlacer Celebrates 50 Years in Business

Wednesday 8th July 2020 marked a significant milestone for us. 50 years to the day, the founding company, Blakell Systems Ltd, was registered and incorporated in Britain by Pat Kellard, who many seasoned industry professionals will remember.

In the half-century that has passed, the business has gone from strength to strength and we are known and respected worldwide for our ultra-flexible Europlacer surface mount component placement platforms and premium Speedprint screen printers. The Blakell Europlacer Group is now the world’s largest independent manufacturer of SMT equipment and assembly solutions.

Blakell Systems Ltd was originally a general engineering company. It manufactured a variety of products from traffic lights and forklift trucks to engine washing systems before entering the electronics market. Its first electronics product was a light-guided system for the semi-automated hand assembly of boards with through-hole components. The company moved into the automatic component placement industry with the acquisition of Ambotech in 1987. Ambotech designed and manufactured the ‘Robin’ range of fully automatic radial and coaxial placement machines for through-hole circuit board assembly.

The Move into SMT

That combination of guided manual placement solutions, semi-automated and fully automatic insertion technology provided the motivation to expand into the newly emerging Surface Mount Technology sector. So, to strengthen this ambition, Blakell Systems acquired French company Europlacer Industries SAS in 1991 and became the Blakell Europlacer Group.

Europlacer was also developing equipment for electronics assembly as far back as the 1970s. The company was initially known as Numergo and then Eurosoft Robotique. In the 1980s, we invented the intelligent feeder concept and were the first to develop a pick & place platform to embrace it. As many will know, we still use that intelligent feeder concept today. It has since been imitated by many competitors but never equalled.

Under our new Blakell ownership, the product team initially developed the EP928 pick & place platform. That used a ‘moving table and substrate’ mechanism. That motion system is now obsolete, as we quickly realised that moving table technology cannot meet the greater accuracy and performance demands driven by increasing SMT miniaturisation. However, some pick & place manufacturers do still use moving table motion today. In contrast, our engineers set about developing a robust X-Y moving gantry architecture combined with rotary turret head technology.

This was the foundation of our new-generation surface mount placement platforms, used in popular Europlacer machines like the EP400 and EP600. It proved to be a dynamic precision-engineered approach and has underpinned our pick & place product line ever since. In addition to the agility offered by the innovative gantry architecture, the EP600 also set the scene in another way for future Europlacer platforms. It offered the largest number of intelligent feeders in the market at that time, with a total count of 198 x 8mm reels – and included a large internal matrix tray. That made it a highly flexible machine that appealed directly to contract manufacturers. It meant that they could load component reels for multiple jobs on a single machine, which cut product changeover times and dramatically increased productivity in real terms. That was the start of our progressive philosophy of large on-machine inventories, a philosophy that continued with the iineo and now the atom platforms.

In 1998, we added to our assembly solutions portfolio. The Blakell Europlacer Group acquired Speedprint Technology – a specialist SMT screen printer manufacturer that is now pre-eminent in its market sector. Visit the Speedprint website.

Small to Large

Company Founder Pat Kellard, a true industry legend, started small but strong with a £10 business investment in Blakell Systems Ltd in 1970. We are still strong. But not so small. In the past year, the Group returned a revenue of £30 million. We have 700 customers in 40 countries and employ more than 180 staff located around the globe. Several of our current staff members have more than 40 years of service.

But some things remain unchanged. One characteristic that differentiates us from our competitors stems from Pat Kellard’s strong Christian beliefs. Pat founded the company on those beliefs, and he supported charitable causes from his business profits. That faith guides Europlacer to this day through our owner, Parable Trust. Acquiring the Blakell Europlacer Group in 2013, Parable Trust is a not-for-profit private organisation founded on Christian moral and ethical values. Under Parable Trust, we continue to dedicate a share of our profits to charitable causes by providing philanthropic funds to support poverty relief endeavours and Christian missions across the third world, and in Europe and the USA.

Pat Kellard

Just recently, we adopted the statement PAT: Performance, Adaptability, Trust into our logo. It’s not only a declaration that highlights our core business and ethical values, but it also serves as a timely homage to our founder, Pat Kellard. “What we are now is entirely formed from what we were then. Pat Kellard laid down very solid foundations,” says our chairman, Robert Conway.

Since that bold initial move into the surface mount sector under Pat Kellard, we have produced more than a dozen SMT pick & place machine models. Many of those are still in use around the world, thanks to our policy of backwards compatibility for engineering developments.

Today, the atom platform stands as our product range flagship. But it’s our highly flexible iineo platform that’s the most popular machine we’ve ever manufactured, with 550 installations worldwide.

If you placed all those iineo machines end-to-end in a single production line, it would be 1,595 metres (5,233 feet) long. That’s just short of a mile. Like today’s atom machines and its predecessors such as the EP600, the iineo is famous for its huge on-machine component inventory. Between them, all the iineo machines produced to date could accommodate no less than 147,700 x 8mm tape reels.

As we celebrate this historic business milestone, contact us to learn how 50 years of experience makes so much difference when we help to boost your manufacturing productivity.

Contact us