The Koh Young Story: Twenty Years of Innovation – Part Four – A Steady Course
In parts one to three of this series, taken from an in-depth interview with Dr. Koh on the occasion Koh Young’s 20th anniversary, we’ve explored the history of Koh Young, but that hasn’t happened in a vacuum, so how have the disruptions and challenges faced by the world and the manufacturing industry affected Koh Young?
The last twenty years have seen multiple disruptions, the global financial crisis, trade wars, the coronavirus, component shortages, and the list goes on. What has helped Koh Young remain so strong throughout that period?
Dr. Koh: I believe that risk is an opportunity too. Whenever a disruption happened, I took the opportunity for a more aggressive investment in R&D and our human capital.
In 2008, with the worldwide financial crisis, the factories were stopped. There was no work, even if we desperately wanted it. But I took this as an opportunity to shift our path – to increase our investment in R&D and support whatever the research we wanted to do. This was a chance to entirely focus on research, based solely on our interests and grow our competitiveness in the market. Same with the disruptions of the China-US Trade War and COVID-19, we seized the opportunity and developed new solutions during the downtimes. We continue to put 20% of our revenue into R&D investment even now.
With a halt in production, we were left with lots of time on our hands, so we utilized this time to fully digest our customers’ feedback. The need for AI and Industry 4.0 was brought into focus, based on what customers had said in the past. This helped us to determine our next step. Our efforts to always listen to the market and to never hesitate to invest in R&D has helped us find our way through the dark times that the world has faced over the years.
Talk me through the product development from that first system to the current product portfolio and the thinking behind that technology roadmap?
Dr. Koh: After our first 3D measurement-based SPI system, we were able to quickly create our next product, 3D AOI. At the time, the need for Industry 4.0 and factory automation was also raised.
We got the hint from the atmosphere right away, and in 2016 we opened our AI R&D Center in San Diego, California, to dive into AI research. In the same year, AI became a huge topic of discussion – especially with Google’s Deep Mind Challenge Match between AlphaGo and Korea’s best professional Go player of 9-dan rank. AlphaGo’s victory against a human shocked the entire industry, and indeed the world. But we were ready. In the Industry 4.0 movement, the next steps were as we expected – complete industrial automation with AI-based technology.
Our KPO (Koh Young Process Optimization) solutions for the printing and mounting process are one of the many results of our investment in the AI. Our real-time KPO solutions for AI-based process optimization are helping customers get closer to achieving the ultimate smart factory of the future.
Industry 4.0 garnered even more attention during COVID-19. AI technology, 5G, and autonomous driving were always the center of discussion, but because of such a fast and large paradigm shift, inspection systems had to quickly adapt to a more complicated and miniaturized semiconductor packaging technology. As challenging as the process was, we overcame the difficulties and developed a semiconductor back-end process inspection system.
What is more, we now have electric cars that require more PCBs with conformal coatings. So, naturally, the conformal coating thickness measurement was needed. We received numerous requests from customers for a CCI (conformal coating inspection) system, but we wanted to differentiate our product from others. This led to the development of a 3D measurement-based Dispensing Process Inspection. Our DPI can inspect not only what CCIs inspect, but also various transparent materials. It’s not even been a year since the product’s first launch and the customers are already loving it!
Koh Young is all about customers, technology, and innovation. We don’t stay in one place – we keep moving forward. Expanding our business and inventing new products is the result of our will to take the road not taken. We will keep this core principle no matter what directions we take in the future.
On a personal level, what are you most proud of as the leader of Koh Young?
Dr. Koh: It’s without doubt seeing my colleagues dreams come to life alongside my own. Starting from just a thought, a product was created that changed the world for the better. I am also exceptionally proud of the innovative DNA that we built. This will continue to be synonymous with the name Koh Young.
As a key partner to many of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers, what do you see as the key challenges of the twenty-twenties?
Dr. Koh: In the past, SMT (surface mount technology) had only to worry about SMT. However, recent trends suggest otherwise. The convergence of SMT and Semiconductor packaging technology is real and it is happening now. For example, SMT PCBs (printed circuit boards) with semiconductor dies on them had not been seen in our field before. Now, we see a lot of dies on mobile PCBs and this trend will force SMT players to prepare new solutions to meet the newest demands of the market.
This is a transitional period from traditional technology to new technology, including new technology in the semiconductor back-end process. During times with such fast changes, we will keep the core principles to our heart – invest in R&D and listen to customers.
What are the key attributes you feel best to describe Koh Young?
Dr. Koh: Two keywords – challenge and innovate. Inventing a product is a road not often taken, and we will gladly hop on the path. The unyielding commitment and fighting spirit required to take such paths are in our DNA.