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Mirtec's Intellisys prevents defects in Industry 4.0.

Interview - February 26, 2024

After introducing 3D AOI technology in 2009, MIRTEC is now pushing the boundaries that traditionally confine inspection equipment to serving as the conclusive step in the production chain. MIRTEC's Intellisys functions as a proactive platform that gathers data across the entire production line and employs artificial intelligence to identify early defects, offering real-time analyses of production efficiency and reducing production costs. This innovative technology from MIRTEC has gained widespread adoption among SMEs in the mobile IT, semiconductor, and automotive industries.

MIRTEC'S CEO, CHANWHA PAK
CHANWHA PAK | MIRTEC'S CEO

After dominating labor-intensive industries up to the 1990’s, the Korean industry advanced into consumer products and quality-sensitive fields, beating its competitors by combining functionality with cost-effectiveness. As the South Korean industry continues to grow into a key global player in critical fields, such as semiconductor and advanced machinery, critics claim that the country might find itself ‘sandwiched’ between new and established manufacturing powers or that it will be incapable of creating a supply-chain less reliant on foreign technology. How resilient has the South Korean supply chain become? How competitive is it against its major competitors?

I agree that the 1990s marked a pivotal period for the Korean industry. In the 1970s, there was significant interest in engineering, with many aspiring to attend engineering schools. From the early 1980s, Korean engineers began studying abroad in Europe, Japan, and the U.S., returning after a decade to fuel the shift from labor-intensive industries to relatively high-technology fields. During this period, we entered high-technology fields despite not having advanced technologies initially. In the mid-1990s, digital technology gained prominence and became a cornerstone for catching up with advanced countries, setting the stage for digital-based growth in the 2000s.

As for the resilience of the Korean supply chain, I believe we have demonstrated resilience. Korean conglomerates aggressively invested in new fields and played pioneering roles. Industries such as semiconductors, automobiles, smartphones, LCD TVs, steelmaking, and shipbuilding started with minimal technology but flourished in the 2000s. While facing challenges in some sectors, we dominate in others. From 2010 onward, mixed market shares have emerged across different industries, with some being dominant and others sluggish. Korean companies, including SMEs, are venturing into new fields like secondary batteries. R&D efforts have positioned Korean businesses to perform well in emerging industries, leveraging existing technology and dominance.

Regarding competitiveness compared to other countries, it's a complex question. Korean companies recognize the need for high-end advanced technology and high-quality products. By focusing on these aspects, I believe we maintain competitiveness. In the past, our strategy was centered on "time to market," swiftly delivering results to clients. However, from the 2000s, SMEs realized this was insufficient and began investing more in technology, developing their own capabilities.

For example, in our inspection field, Mirtec pioneered digital 3D AOI technology in 2009, integrating it with existing 2D technology. This innovation contributed to the durability of smartphones. Continuing to lead the market with cutting-edge technologies will enable Korean companies to sustain competitiveness.

 

As a result of geopolitical instability and logistic disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, South Korea has made the localization of its supply chain a national priority. This strategy benefited the SME sector, which recorded impressive growth over the last few years. Despite this positive evolution, observers have criticized the global competitiveness of Korean SMEs, arguing that while their success in the domestic market is irrefutable, they over-rely on their relationship with large corporations, such as Samsung, LG and Hyundai, and have been slow at diversifying their client base. Do you agree with this argument? How can SMEs diversify their client base and reduce their dependence on Korean MNCs?

It's a nuanced situation. Korea's geographical uniqueness presents both advantages and challenges. Exporting products globally is relatively easy, with swift delivery options available. However, the lack of neighboring countries, as seen in Europe, means that face-to-face meetings with overseas clients require time-consuming travel by ship or plane. The 50:50 response is because many SMEs have built their capabilities through interactions with MNCs, enabling them to venture into the global market. While some SMEs remain heavily reliant on large corporations, many are now actively expanding into the global arena.

When I established a subsidiary in the U.S. in 2004, it was considered groundbreaking. However, today, having a subsidiary in the U.S. is no longer unique, showcasing the significant progress and increased presence of SMEs in the global market.

In terms of reducing dependence on Korean MNCs and diversifying clientele, based on my experience, entering the global market requires a balanced approach of analytical acumen and bold decision-making. Analyzing accurate market data is essential, and when a viable market is identified, committing to aggressive investments becomes crucial.

Venturing into the global market poses numerous challenges, from adapting to different environments to setting up meetings with potential partners. However, overcoming these difficulties is an inherent part of the business journey. If a company recognizes a market opportunity and believes in the quality of its product, service, or technology, it should pursue it with confidence. Such efforts are likely to yield positive outcomes. Diversifying clients not only reduces reliance on specific corporations but also expands the business portfolio, ensuring long-term sustainability.

 

The demand in electronic and PCB circuits has seen a notable expansion in various sectors, notably in factory automation and smart factories. The automotive industry has also experienced explosive growth as vehicles become electrified and more autonomous. Looking ahead, what applications or industries do you foresee driving growth for your company in the PCB inspection or related field?

To provide a technological overview, our primary focus lies in optical inspection, encompassing technologies such as optical inspection itself, software, digital advancements, and various electronic technologies. The applications for these technologies are incredibly diverse. As you mentioned, contemplating future growth engines, we anticipate significant contributions from the PCB and IT sectors. The demand in the automotive field remains robust, with our strong performance supplying products to both domestic and international companies. While I cannot disclose specific client names, we have an exclusive contract with Bosch, where we exclusively provide our 3D AOI. Additionally, we are achieving notable success in the semiconductor field. Therefore, I believe our company will continue to excel in these three key areas—mobile IT, semiconductor, and automotive—while simultaneously advancing our technological capabilities.



Established in 2000, MIRTEC stands out as a leading supplier of high-performance inspection devices for the SMT, semiconductor, and LED manufacturing sectors. Leveraging cutting-edge technology, including "SPI" for general SMT, your AOI integrates 3D, 2D, and lateral inspection, marking you as a pioneer in this type of inspection system and revolutionizing the industry. Could you outline the milestones in the development of your company and shed light on how you achieve such remarkable progress? Additionally, what key technologies do you anticipate will shape the future of the IT, automotive, and semiconductor sectors?

Addressing the latter part first, while all technologies are crucial, I believe that AI stands out as the most essential in our field. The trend in manufacturing and production lines leans towards automation with fewer human resources while ensuring superior quality. AI plays a vital role in achieving this milestone, complementing other technological developments. Integrating AI into our inspection equipment enhances our ability to detect failures and defects, a significant benefit. However, my aspiration for our inspection equipment extends beyond mere detection; I aim for proactive root cause analysis to prevent defects from arising, akin to preventive medicine.

In essence, the application scope of inspection equipment is diversifying, with AI assuming a pivotal role. I envision a scenario where all devices and equipment in the production line seamlessly share information for comprehensive root cause analysis. Utilizing AI for this purpose can result in the operation of a highly efficient and productive manufacturing line at a low cost. Although AI holds paramount importance, there exists a hurdle in its development – processing speed, which directly impacts productivity and is a challenge that demands resolution.

My academic background lies in robotics, particularly in image processing and machine vision. Reflecting on my studies, the progress in computer technology has been exponential, with considerably faster processing speeds today. Looking forward, even greater speed will be imperative. Thus, a well-integrated combination of these technologies holds the key to realizing highly productive and advanced automated production lines. Simultaneously, market demands will likely push for seamless integration of these technologies with AI.

 

Intellisys serves as a robust software solution, harnessing big data analysis, and integrating machine learning to drive the fundamental aspects of smart factory operations. Could you elaborate on the synergies between your software and equipment solution, particularly Mirtec's AOI? Additionally, when do you anticipate witnessing the application of these technologies in practical settings, such as IT, automobile, or semiconductor factories?

Before addressing that question, allow me to provide insight into Mirtec's foundation. "Mir" stands for machine and internet revolution, encapsulating our concept and mission since the inception of our business. In the IT era, we believe that equipment should transcend its role as a mere machine. It should be seamlessly connected to IT, enhancing productivity and furnishing valuable information for ERP, thereby benefiting the entire business.

Since our early days, we have emphasized the significance of aggregating data by networking our equipment. We also supply Intellisys to a prominent Korean conglomerate, facilitating remote monitoring and control, data gathering, and intuitive image analysis. Developed in the early 2000s, we extended the provision of this system not only to Korean companies but also internationally. The primary objective of Intellisys is to initially collect data from the production line, followed by statistical analysis and diagnosis. Subsequently, we employ AI for more detailed analysis and diagnosis of potential issues. Through this approach, we aim to proactively address production line challenges and simultaneously enhance productivity.

 

SMT technology gained immense popularity for its capacity to automate previously manual processes, emphasizing efficiency and continuous production. With Mirtec integrating AI technologies and synopsis, how close are you to achieving the ultimate goal of continuous production with constant feedback between the assembly line and the inspection system?

The interaction between preceding and succeeding equipment holds pivotal importance, not only in SMT but across various production lines. Establishing a correlation between information collected during distinct processes is crucial. The process of consolidating all data in one central repository constitutes 80% of the effort.

Mirtec has already implemented handshaking between devices in the production line, fostering data-sharing among them. Consolidating all data in a unified platform represents the crux, the most critical aspect of the process. The subsequent challenge involves discerning correlations among the gathered data, a task requiring the application of various techniques and algorithms, with AI playing a paramount role. This approach allows us to proactively detect defects, minimizing production costs. Early detection, especially at the initial stages of the process, incurs a mere $1 cost. In contrast, identifying defects at the end of the process elevates costs to $10. Beyond that, delivering a defective product to the customer results in a substantial cost of $1,000.

The core objective of Intellisys aligns with the principles of Industry 4.0—to create a smart factory capable of early defect detection, reducing production costs, and providing real-time production efficiency analysis for executives. While many large corporations possess such capabilities, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) lack these resources. Intellisys aims to extend these benefits to SMEs.

 

Your newly released ART system is equipped with five 15-megapixel cameras and four Digital Multi-Pattern Blue Moiré Projectors, providing unparalleled accuracy. Additionally, you earlier mentioned the Genesys CC, which evolved to revolutionize inspections and optimize inspection time. Could you explain the advantages of these products and how you plan to utilize these machines for global expansion?

Achieving zero defects is a challenging goal for any inspection machine. Our target is to reach 0%, of course. You highlighted the ART system, Genesys Conformal Coating system, and TAL 3D SCAN. Each of these three systems offers unique advantages to our customers. There are diverse approaches to enhancing productivity and product quality. One approach involves closely monitoring the production line, proactively addressing defects, and reducing the defect rate to 0%. For instance, if a nozzle in a chip mounter shows signs of aging, replacing it proactively can prevent defects in the final product. Another approach is to leverage superior technology to boost productivity and enhance product quality. The ART, Genesys CC, and TAL 3D SCAN technologies represent our commitment to delivering superior solutions.

Firstly, ART, or antireflective technology, is crucial, especially in SMT production lines serving automotive and defense industries, where safety directly impacts human lives. Quality is paramount in these contexts. SMT production lines use both SMT manufacturing technology and THT (through-hole technology) production technology. Defective parts can lead to a faulty PCB board, or there might be issues with the connections.

 

Based on ART and Intellisys, where do you think your customers will be in the future? Which regions are your primary targets?

Actually, my target is worldwide because dealing with the shiny metal surface is not only challenging but also a widespread concern. Soldering involves metal surfaces, and what we do with 3D optical inspection is set light to the metal surface and gather 3D information when the light reflects back. The challenge faced by many companies is obtaining information on the highlighted spots. Imagine shining light directly on a mirror; you can't see what's in the mirror because it's too bright. Companies strive to minimize light reflection to reduce highlight spots because the information from these reflections is imprecise. However, removing highlight spots entirely is nearly impossible; we can only minimize them. The technology we developed uses high-resolution, high-sensitivity cameras to make the highlight spots appear in different spaces. By gathering precise information from these cameras, we can analyze the combined 3D data and significantly reduce the impact of highlight spots. While it's not possible to eliminate them 100%, we can achieve a substantial reduction. For example, we can obtain information on the highlighted metal surface in the solder joint of a PCB from one camera, combining the data to assess if the joint is done well. This is crucial not only for SMT but also for THT, which has a much larger metal surface with more highlights. Our 3D inspection technology provides more precise information on connecting surfaces, enhancing safety.

The concept might seem simple, and you might think everyone can come up with this idea. However, implementing and developing the technology is challenging. We patented this technology, which started with a seemingly simple idea but required the integration of various technologies. We also developed our own high-sensitivity cameras; without them, developing this technology would have been impossible. Our aim with this technology is to reduce misanalysis or misjudgment in solder joints, a challenging task. For solder joint defects, ART can provide much more accurate and precise data.

Let me also provide an explanation of TAL 3D SCAN. While ART focuses on increasing technology quality, TAL SCAN focuses on enhancing inspection speed. For tall parts in a car, the inspection speed is typically slow. From the customer's perspective, this results in lower productivity in the same production line. To address this issue, we installed the TAL 3D Scanner for a space as large as the conveyor belt. TAL 3D Scanner stands for tall component analysis laser 3D scan. This enhances the scanning of tall components. TAL 3D Scanner scans only the tall parts, while a regular scanner covers all other parts simultaneously, reducing inspection lead time and increasing productivity by 30%.


For more details, explore their website at www.mirtec.com

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