Nearing Retirement, Juki's Bob Black Reflects on a Long Career


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Matties: What do you think the challenges are with placement machines?

Black: If you look at the top placement machines in the world, I would take five companies. I would take Panasonic, Fuji, Yamaha, Juki and SIPLACE or ASM now, who owns them in China. I think these five companies have probably 90% of the world's market, and the other 10 or 12 companies fight over the other 10%. It's striking that four are Japanese companies. Now, what do Europe, America and Japan do that's probably superior to what the Chinese have now? The answer all comes down to precision bearings. If you want to have an accurate robotic machine, you need precise and tight bearings. That's a skill that involves both precision machining and metals hardening, because if you don't harden the materials right the bearing wears too fast. We have bearings now in our machines that last millions and millions of cycles before they need to be replaced, as do our competitors.

So, what China is learning is this metal treatment technology, the bearing design technology and getting the long life out of a precision bearing. That takes some learning, but you can't just look at somebody else's product and knock it off because you don't see the heat treatment cycles and what's used to treat the metal to get it in that condition. That's pretty proprietary, and the companies that do it keep it closely held. But by trial and error, you will get there. That's the period we're in now. So, most of the placement machines you see from China now are low cost, limited life and they appeal to the entry-level part of the market. But they're improving, and we can see from companies like ASM that are making wire bonders and dye bonders, you can make precision machines in China. It will only be a matter of time. I've been fortunate enough to get to the point of retirement where I didn't have to face it.

Matties: When you look to the future, what do you see as the future from a technology point-of-view, and where do you think the equipment is going to be in 10 years?

Black: I think the trends that we've seen will continue. As you know, the 03051 is already introduced. We see in some of the new phones, which are coming out. Next year, we will see the 0201 metric, which is half the size of the 0105. It's a fly speck. I mean, 1,000 of them in your palm would look like a little pile of dust. So, you need to be very precise with two things: positioning and vision. The camera must have the resolution to see these parts, and to manufacture a nozzle that's small enough to precisely pick up this part is a real challenge, and I know that from Juki. One of our areas of expertise is nozzle manufacturing. In fact, we build the micro nozzles for several of our competitors in Japan. It might surprise people to know that. Now, why would we build nozzles for competitors? Well, sometimes competitors have patents on certain things. Sometimes, they come knocking on your door saying, "You're infringing my patent." A lot of times, how we license that patent is by cross-trading precision nozzles back to them, which is one of our patented areas of expertise. In that way, we cooperate, whether we like it or not.

Matties: You mentioned multiple partnerships. It sounds like strategic partnerships have been an important part of the formula for success for you?

Black: Absolutely. When I did it with the first company, I did not have the approval of Japan. I did it on my own, which could have had bad consequences, but I did it. It was successful, and I was able to convince my colleagues in Japan that this was a smart move, that you don't have to make everything yourself. You can let other talented people make things, and as long as they fit into your overall marketing scheme it can be a good thing. Now, I'm very proud to say Juki has this policy throughout the company. We have a lot of OEM partnerships. We work with a lot of other companies to offer a more complete product line to our customers, and it's a winning strategy. We wouldn't be the company we are today without our OEM partners and their efforts, and they wouldn't be as large and successful as they are today without our partnership and success. It's been a mutually beneficial thing.

Matties: As you look back, what are some of the highlights in your career that really stand out for you?

Black: Well, maybe it’s a funny answer but when I look and see the progress of the people that I've hired in the company as young people, entry-level, and I see what they've become today and the talents they have. This gives me more satisfaction than anything else. We have a wonderful team of people that I've worked with, and I've been very fortunate that at Juki we have not lost many people. I have many people that have been with me 25 or 30 years. It's gratifying to see them being able to take over and continue with the success we've had in the past. That's probably the most satisfying thing as I look at ending my own activities in the business.

The other thing, too, is we fight in the market like hell. It's a competitive industry and so forth, but I have mutual respect with colleagues in Fuji, Panasonic, SIPLACE, and in Yamaha, where we don't have to be impolite just because we are competitors. And on the occasion where we can work together, in SMEMA or in Japan in the Protec organization, it's cooperative to advance things in the industry. We do that. There's a certain amount of satisfaction in that, too. You know, having the mutual respect with people who also have been successful in a difficult industry. Anybody that's successful in the placement business, I have respect for.

Matties: Bob, congratulations on a very successful career. We wish you the best in retirement.

Black: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

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