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The Koh Young Story: Twenty Years of Innovation – Part Three – A Paradigm Shift

In part one and two of this series, taken from an in-depth interview with Dr. Koh on the occasion Koh Young’s 20th anniversary, we learned about the man, the team and the ecosystem that created the first 3D SPI system. Here we explore the technology and the market’s response and what led Koh Young to become market leader in such a short space of time.

When did you know that you had a solution that worked well and solved a problem in the SMT market?

Dr Koh ProfileDr. Koh: When the inspection system market paradigm shifted from 2D to 3D – that’s when I knew we solved a problem in the SMT market. 30 years prior to Koh Young, there were about around thirty inspection system companies, so we were very late to the market. We knew that we could not add more value to the world by creating another 2D inspection system that looked exactly like the existing products. This is why we focused on 3D inspection technology.

We were sure about our direction to focus on 3D, and we knew we had to challenge the market leader customers to make it work. Of course, it was a tough road. Targeting the market leaders meant that we were dealing with problems that the most intelligent group in the world had not yet solved. The customers always threw challenging problems at us and we also had a challenging evaluation process to meet.

Our effort to face these challenges paid off. Now, in the inspection market, 3D technology is a requirement. All 2D inspection companies are moving to 3D measurement-based inspection systems as well. This movement from 2D to 3D is when I knew Koh Young had made a difference.

How quickly did demand grow for the first product?

Dr. Koh: From being a newcomer in the inspection industry to the global leader in the SPI market took us just three years. This accomplishment is, without doubt, thanks to our team, our customers, and our partners.

SPI inspection market has always been overshadowed by the pick-and-place machine and solder paste machines. But the need for inspection was there. The need to inspect the PCBs after the printing process was raised by our customers, and by listening to their needs and combining them with the innovative ideas of our R&D team, we met the demands of a customer.

The demand in the market for the first SPI grew very fast – we constantly received requests from global semiconductor, mobile, electronics, and automotive companies, wanting to replace their 2D inspection systems with Koh Young’s 3D SPI systems. The exclusive 3D technology we have, and our customer-centered business principle, are two reason we’ve been number one by market share in the global SPI market for 16 consecutive years.

Talk a little about the challenges of growing a global business from an idea to a world leader in the inspection?

Dr. Koh: The biggest challenge is always meeting the growing expectations of the customers. As we grow bigger, so does our customer base and their expectations of our products.

We had an instance in the past when we brought a product to market that wasn’t fully ready. It was not long after our first 3D AOI was developed and the product was nowhere near perfect. One customer that visited our booth had their eyes fixed on the AOI, and requested the product right away, and we couldn’t say no. As expected, problems followed right after we sold the machines.

The entire team was flat-out working on this customer’s requests. To customize the machine per every customer request, we recreated the software, and our engineers were continuously at the production site to stabilize the product as fast as we could. In the end, we met the customer’s expectations, but this was a mistake that we learned an important lesson from.

After this experience, we take the launching and targeting of our products very seriously. Before the product goes public, we introduce it to a select few customers to get feedback and optimize the product. We keep in mind that even when we think the product is 100% ready, in reality it might only be 90% ready. That last 10% comes after collecting customer feedback. To meet customers’ growing expectations, this is the strategy we chose to take.

What were the major milestones for the business?

Dr. Koh: The highlights of my journey align with Koh Young’s accomplishments and growth. Out of many memorable moments, I’ll try to recall a few.

  • The first time I realized that our 3D SPI system made a paradigm shift in the inspection market. That was the first moment where I had this indescribable feeling of satisfaction, pride, and gratitude at the same time. That was back in 2003.
  • The second moment to share was when we invented 3D AOI in 2010. Our team solved problems that seemed impossible to solve at the time. As a result, our challenging spirit led to another movement in the market. The teamwork and dedication were what I took pride in.
  • The third moment was in 2016 and 2018. With our AI (artificial intelligence) technology, we created the world’s first Smart Factory Solutions with the goal to create an ultimate smart factory of the future. At the same time, in 2017, our work on the semiconductor advanced packaging inspection equipment, the Meister series, kept the excitement going.
  • The last moment to share is the present. Our recent launch of the world’s first in-line dispensing process inspection system, the Neptune series, which can inspect the thickness of conformal coating as well as any transparent materials. This product is very meaningful to me because it shows that even after 20 years of Koh Young, our innovative DNA continues in every path we take.
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