“Koh Young was the first player in the SPI market, and now has 53 per cent market share”

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Peter Shin, managing director, Koh Young SE Asia Pte Ltd

Constant miniaturisation in electronics manufacturing has led to ever-increasing PCB density and complexity. As the manufacturing process becomes progressively more complicated, the probability of defects in finished PCB assemblies gets higher. Peter Shin, managing director of Koh Young SE Asia Pte Ltd, in an interaction with Baishakhi Dutta of the EFY Group shares how his organisation is making 3D inspection systems a viable option for electronics manufacturing.

EB: Why choose NMTronics as your Indian partner?
We aim to tie up with companies that have a similar interest in technology, like us. When I first met Soni Saran Singh from NMTronics, I realised he is a technology enthusiast who is very curious regarding every possible aspect of electronics. His love, passion and curiosity for electronics caught my attention and that is when we decided to get into business with NMTronics.

EB: Tell us about Koh Young and the product line that you are offering.
Koh Young was started in 2002 with only 12 people. We were making only SPI (solder paste inspection) machines at that time. We later expanded our offering to cover another market, i.e., for solder paste and component inspection. Now, we are dealing with semiconductor inspection machines, machining inspection machines, pin inspection and other backend inspection systems. Currently, we have expanded to the medical segment too, and are making robots for brain surgery as well as electronic machines for conducting biopsies. These are still works in progress.

EB: What per cent of your global revenue does the Indian market contribute?
India is an emerging market witnessing a high growth rate, especially in the last five years. As on date, India contributes 10 per cent of our global revenues but this market is growing at the rate of 40 per cent per annum.

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EB: How are you experiencing the transition from 2D to 3D inspection technology?
2D technology is based on grayscale value comparison technology. However, the 3D technology is completely different and is a difficult technology. When we were asked to enter into the AOI (automated optical inspection) market, we rejected the idea because there already were around 20 companies in the field.
However, one of our customers did suggest that we should jump into the AOI field, since he considered us to be the best in 3D SPI. So finally, in 2009, we could deliver the world’s first 3D AOI machine to the market.

EB: What is the greatest challenge that you face in the SMT equipment ecosystem?
The SMT market is booming but today’s operators don’t have enough knowledge about inspection machines and their processes. Some of them cannot differentiate between the good and the bad. So the inspection machine needs to play a very clear role in the manufacturing process, and only then can the need for decision making at the user’s end be minimised. That is when the customer will get better quality.

EB: What is the USP of your product lines?
We try to deliver the real measurement values. That is our approach. 3D means not only the X and Y axes but also the Z dimension. Good machining can be performed in any circumstance and place. Some machines perform well in advanced countries because the operators have a sense of ownership over the machinery and the quality delivered, while process experts study their processes in great depth. However, in a developing country the operators do not have enough knowledge about their work and processes.

EB: How are you upgrading the technology of your products to fit the latest industry needs?
3D measurement requires sensor technology. At Koh Young, we have outstanding measurement technology, apart from having a tracking and semiconductor system. However, it would be best if we looked at the market trends. Industry 4.0, or the automation of factory production lines, is all about the need of the factory to monitor incoming data, the product schedule, imbalances between the incoming material and the output, and so on. Everything needs to be synchronised so that the customer can quantify all aspects of the process.

EB: How much importance are you giving to R&D?
Koh Young spends over 36 per cent of its revenue on R&D. We already have made plans for another ten years. We have global R&D setups worldwide—two in the US, two in Korea and one in SE Asia. Koh Young has an artificial intelligence centre in San Diego, California..

EB: Any plans to come up with an AI centre in India?
We have many Indians at our R&D centres in the US; however, there are no plans to open an R&D centre in India, in the pipeline.

EB: Do you have any support tools or platforms to help your customers use your products easily?
Koh Young has a solution called KSMART. Currently, we are preparing the second version of this solution. In the first version, we aimed at collecting all the data and then displaying it on the inspection system. In the second version, not only is the data on display, but we are also trying to guide that process. As an example, when users see the defect or the result, with just a few clicks they can easily drill down to the root cause. After they have checked the overall status, KSMART will specify what they need to look at and fix it. So this is the first level. At the second level, we plan to deliver some more solutions and will try to control the other production machines with our AI data.
We also have the KPOL (Koh Young Process Optimisation Tool) which communicates with the printer. This is also based on AI software and may be better than a human being because we program it with over 20 years of printing process experience. If human beings do not have the mindset to learn more, it is difficult to train them.

EB: Are you collaborating with academia in order to hire fresh graduates and skill them?
We don’t select directly from academia, but we do a customer service campaign. This means that we visit the Koh Young users and then work together, as they might have some doubts after using our machine. After reviewing their usage, we may make recommendations on how to change the process. We don’t provide academic training, but we train the Koh Young users.

EB: Do you think the policy of the Indian government to import second hand SMT equipment is somehow affecting your business?
Koh Young does not have any second hand machines in the market. The market price of SMT equipment is now going down and the customer doesn’t bother about whether it is first hand or second hand. We, as manufacturers, will consider providing economical solutions to the market.
The second hand machines available are mostly 2D and not 3D. I cannot say much about the 3D machines, but our competitors do try to sell them at a lower price. So now we are fighting on the pricing front. In India, the volumes are not as high as in China, but the price is almost the same.
I would say that such a policy is not affecting our business directly.

EB: How do you see the overall SMT market developing in India? Do you expect demand for your product to increase in the coming days?
For local Indian manufacturers, spending money on OEM machines and using them is not easy. However, we do see the immense potential. So that’s why we try to deliver our best solutions to the Indian market. We try to help in case there is any lack of training and to provide a better software solution. We can never ignore the fact that the Indian SMT market is booming. In fact, last year, we have supplied more than 200 machines to the Indian market.

EB: Do you have any plans to promote your latest 3D surgical robots in India?
Yes, of course. We do have plans to promote our latest launch in the Indian market as the healthcare sector is developing tremendously here. Currently, we don’t have any partners in India to promote our surgical robots, but we are looking for them. We aim to bring on board partners we can trust, open up the project to, and together derive more profits in the growing Indian market.

EB: How do you provide services and support to your customers across geographies?
Koh Young is one of only few inspection machine companies that sets up offices overseas, because we firmly believe that supporting inspection or production machines is not easy. We strongly believe that those operating the inspection machine need more training and technical support than for other production machines. In each country we do have service partners. So they provide essential machine operation training.

EB: What is your road map for the coming few years?
That is a pretty tricky question. As I have already mentioned, on the hardware side, our 3D sensor technology is very stable. So now we are trying to focus on the AI software parts such as auto-programming and auto-fine tuning, and on further enhancing our KSMART solution. Apart from this, in the coming two to three years, one of our primary focus areas is going to be enhanced M2M development—as part of the smart factory solution.

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