Reading time ( words)
Minsu (Tim) Lee is the secretariat of the ECWC 14 Worldwide Printed Circuit Conference, which recently concluded in Seoul, South Korea. Tim is also the program manager of the Korean Printed Circuit Association. We had a few minutes together after the conference ended to review the week’s events and the Korean PCB industry. Tim also focused on the ongoing situation with North Korea, which resulted in many Chinese paper contributors being denied visas for ECWC 14.
Happy Holden: Tim, please tell our readers a little bit about the KPCA.
Tim Lee: KPCA is an industry organization promoting the common interests of members and contributing to Korean electronics industry through the strengthening of relationship between members in Korea.
Holden: How much work was involved in creating the ECWC 14 this year?
Lee: Oh, it was huge. We started this project two and half years ago, right after the previous ECWC finished. Since this is first time that the ECWC was held in South Korea, we did not know what to do at first. Fortunately, we got a lot of advice from our predecessors, including TPCA, about the work. The real work started as we began soliciting papers at the beginning of last year. As the amount of work grew, we had to work harder. Therefore, I had to work more than 10 hours per day either at office or at home, six days a week, during April. And I'm glad it paid off at the end.
Holden: I counted 18 papers delivered by Korean companies, one of which won a best paper award. Nine papers were presented by the Japanese and one of them won a best paper award. There were 16 papers presented by Taiwan, and they won two best paper awards. There were 13 papers presented from China, of which one received a best paper award. Four papers came from Germany, one of which won a best paper. Sadly, there was only one paper from the UK, and only one presentation from the USA. The most papers came from Korea.
Lee: Yes, Korea and China combined account for more than half.
Holden: That’s to be expected for the size of the China market.
Lee: Yes. As for the initial number of oral papers from China, it was much bigger, but because of the situation of the THAAD (Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense) missile deployment in Korea, many Chinese authors could not make the trip.
Holden: Were those papers presented by others, even though the author wasn't here, or did you take those papers out of the program?
Lee: I took them out and put them into the poster program. In poster presentations, a poster is attached to the wall so authors don’t need to be there. More than half of the posters are actually papers. About half of them had already sent the presentation file to us. They were ready to go. However, when the THAAD deployment news came out, it was hard to get an exit visa.
Holden: Tim, what are some of the future plans and projects for the KPCA in the next couple of years?
Lee: Currently, our industry as a whole is not growing. It is kind of saturated and stagnated so we hope that we'll have a program to help our members be more competitive so that we can focus more on the initial government project on the advancement of our Korean PCB industry technology. We will focus more on that for several years.
Holden: Is there any government focus that's been particularly strong in Korea, but not so strong in China, Taiwan, or Japan?
Lee: I think the Korean semiconductor industry is very strong. Taiwan is strong in the semiconductor sector to some extent. The display industry in Korea is also very strong. Therefore, many government programs are related to IC and display interconnections.
Holden: I think the Korean automobile industry is very successful and growing exports, and there are lot of electronics and PC boards in Korea. Are all the PC boards here made in Korea?
Lee: No, more than half of them are made in China and Taiwan, because of cost. Even though the automobiles are built in Korea, the Korean automobile industry is huge and they are global players. They have global sourcing. It's not just because you're from Korea that we will buy from Korea. It's not that. It’s based on the evaluation mainly of cost and quality.
Holden: Well, how much does Samsung source its mobile phones in Korea, versus the rest of Asia Pacific?
Lee: We don't have specific numbers. We do know that more than 50-60% are from Korean companies and we know that Samsung alone spent more than $3 billion on PCBs. Samsung is more than $100 billion company, so obviously they buy a lot of PCBs. I’ve heard that they spend close to $3-4 billion buying PCBs.
Holden: I noticed that the invited speakers speaking on packaging and advanced flex were some of the most highly attended sessions here. Obviously, for the attendees, those topics were foremost in their mind.
Lee: Yes. I think flex is the one area right now where Korea is highly competitive in the world.
Holden: One of the interesting things about Korea is that because of their tight partnership with the U.S., companies like Daeduck actually make U.S. military boards, especially HDI, if it's very high volume. I was involved in a project for a NATO helmet radio. It was an all-HDI board. Because the military wanted to buy nearly 1 million of these HDI boards, nobody in North America was price-competitive. They put together a special dispensation to buy those HDI boards in Korea. In other words, no one else in Asia had a security role with the United States where they could deal with military technology, but Korea did have that unique position.
Lee: Yes, you're right. The Korean PCB industry is keen to the military sector of the United States because, as you said, we are the only source in Asia except Japan, as far as the U.S. military is concerned, that is a safe source. However, the market is limited compared with the cell phone market. Therefore, the interest on the military market is a recent one.
Holden: Potentially, that could be a growth market [laughs]. Well, Tim, thank you for your time. I hope the tensions get resolved.
Lee: Thank you. I’d also like to thank our many participants, especially the CPCA, for their contributions. They still account for about 30% of all presentations here despite the THAAD situation mentioned earlier. That's a lot of contributions.