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During the recent productronica show in Munich, I caught up with Harald Eppinger, managing director of Koh Young Europe. He discussed the demands of the European market, the company's long-standing success with its solutions, and the future of Koh Young Europe.
Andy Shaughnessy: I'm here at productronica in Munich with Harald Eppinger of Koh Young Europe. How are you doing, Harald?
Harald Eppinger: I'm doing fine. A little busy, as expected.
Shaughnessy: Busy is good. Harald, why don't you give us a brief background on the company? And tell us about how you're closing out this year, and maybe what you have planned for next year.
Eppinger: We are representing the European group within Koh Young Technology here at the show. Koh Young Technology has now been in business for 15 years, and if you look at our history, we have been quite successful. We have installed more than 10,000 SPI and AOI systems into the market. We can be proud of the fact that in such a short timeframe, we have had this much success with our products. Productronica is a good platform with a lot of international attendees. We have introduced new products. We have also established improvements and features, and the feedback has been quite positive. This show is very, very busy for us.
Shaughnessy: So, for Koh Young Europe, who are your main customers?
Eppinger: I would say, of course, Europe and Germany are the most demanding customers, especially demanding in technology. And they are also very helpful, because we are very market-driven, and we are customer-driven. So, when customers have promising ideas, development requests, or issue resolution, we get good, valuable feedback. The European market is hard to fight and to be accepted. But, I think it's very fruitful. It's a win-win for the customers to bring in new technology, especially in terms of the quality aspects, throughput, labor cost issues, and everything else that helps reduce costs and increase competitiveness with low labor cost markets.
Shaughnessy: Is it primarily automotive?
Eppinger: Yes, of course. Europe, and especially Germany, is known for good automotive customers. They're driving us, of course. The high demand on quality is really the key, and luckily most of the automotive players are global, which helps us a lot.
Shaughnessy: So, 2017 was a pretty good year for you?
Eppinger: I would say it was a great year. It's another momentous year, because every year is another record, another increase. Especially this year, we have seen a drastic increase of the AOI business. Because really, AOI was a breakthrough in technology a few years ago, but now it's really a breakthrough in acceptance. It has become the standard. And we can deliver.
Shaughnessy: We were talking earlier about plans for the future.
Eppinger: We have prepared some product updates. We are introducing the new aSPIre 3 model, which has more performance and better resolution, while keeping high speed. So, this fits here quite well here. We also introduced the Zenith 2 with side cameras. It's the next generation of the AOI, a milestone in full 3D solutions. Because we’ve added the side cameras in 3D, because we think 3D side cameras will provide additional value. The technology makes it much easier to control image processing and gray scale-based analysis.
On top of this, and this is very important, we have expanded our product range into the front-end and back-end. We have introduced pin and connector inspection, which has had very, very positive feedback, especially from automotive companies. Additionally, we are introducing a product designed initially for mobile phone manufacturers. It is the “Infy” mechanical optical inspection solutions. It's no longer a purely SMT process. It's before and after. It's dealing with the quality of the mounting process.
Shaughnessy: With AOI, you're in a crowded arena. You have a lot of competitors. How is it that you're able to set yourself apart from everybody?
Eppinger: Dr. Koh decided quite early that full board coverage and full 3D measurement must enable today's methodology of process visualization. In the past, it was just inspection, “Go” or “No Go” with a gatekeeper, and then we discussed the defects. Today, it's much more important to discuss the deviation of a process, and to be able to react in real time. All this process visibility is the success of Koh Young products. It's no longer just the machine’s performance. It's what you generate with the data—valuable, measurement-based data. The next level is to analyze this data and help assist operators, QC managers, and plant managers steer and drive their production and product quality.
Every touch-up, every rework is burning money. Less rework, especially in the high-labor-cost countries, leads to lower costs. If you get preventive maintenance, preventive action on the line, it will drastically reduce the cost, and improve the yield, quality, and competitiveness, while saving the margin on the product.
Shaughnessy: It sounds like part of what you’re doing is also educating your customers.
Eppinger: It's educating, and it's the visibility of the process by collecting all the data. Everybody is talking about Industry 4.0, and everybody is talking about the big data, and you must rely on your data. It's not that you get a big bunch of data. You have to rely on the data you grab from the board. We are collecting all of the information in the process. One of the goals of the company is to assist operators with analyzing massive amounts of data and process the valuable content inside. We are providing this in visualization tools. And, of course, the next level for Koh Young is in artificial intelligence tools to help programming. We just introduced auto programming based on artificial intelligence, which reduces programming time drastically. It also analyzes the obstacles in the process and links them together to find out the root cause of the issue.
This was the goal. And I think we could enter the next step, the next level, based on the data we decided to generate three years ago. So, the success is not having a good idea today. The fundamental thing was done three years ago—100% coverage, and every measurement is collected—enabling us to be part of Industry 4.0, not just for marketing.
Shaughnessy: So, will it take a few years to implement this and move to the next level?
Eppinger: You would be surprised. I don't think we need years. We are already in a very attractive level of utilizing this, as Industry 4.0 is the big picture. You cannot say we are at 30% or 50%. I think it's a moving target in the moment, but as you see how appreciated the tools are we introduced, that the people say, "Yes, now I believe that the big data is getting handy."
Everybody's afraid—line operators and even plant managers. They hate to analyze data. But, if we can make it fancy and easy to use, people will find it more useful. If you can manage the data in a similar way, then people accept the data volume and see the benefits.
Shaughnessy: Basically, instead of giving them just a bunch of data, you're giving them information, all wrapped up.
Eppinger: It’s a valuable extra, because analyzing tens of thousands of solder joints…nobody would like to do that.