A Look at Saki’s Approach to 2D, 3D and X-ray Technology
While attending NEPCON 2015, I had the chance to sit down at with Nori Koike, COO of Saki Japan, to discuss the latest demands for 3D and their approach to inspection. With more than 20 years of experience, they have built a line-up of tools that covers the inspection spectrum. Koike also stresses the importance of using inspection data as a tool to improve and automate the process.
Barry Matties: Nori, start by telling me a little bit about your company.
Nori Koike: SAKI was founded in 1994, so it has 21 years of history producing and developing inspection machines. We started with the 2D AOI, and then in 2007 we started the development of 3D AOI and also the X-ray. Right now we have a full lineup of 2D AOI, 3D AOI and AXI. Using the 3D AOI technology, we now have the 3D SPI as well. So starting from the printer, and after the printer and the reflow, we have a full lineup of any kind of inspection one would need.
Matties: It's a pretty competitive marketplace, isn't it?
Koike: Yes, it is. When we were founded in 1994, 2D AOI was kind of a bottleneck in the SMT line. What we did then was develop a line-scan technology, which had the benefit of higher speed. This was quite a success in the market. We grew rapidly after that. Gradually, the 2D AOI market itself is getting competitive. Right now you can see a lot of manufacturers doing 2D AOI. Based on that, six or seven years ago we started to develop more added-value inspection to cope with all the demands that were coming from our customers.
Matties: What sort of added value would you do?
Koike: Our customers were the first ones, about 10 years ago, who started thinking about the next solution for 2D AOI. The biggest issue was that they wanted it to be simpler. They wanted to reduce the number of engineers and reduce their programming. To cope with that, we needed to use some kind of simpler inspection. At the same time, they knew that parts were getting smaller and smaller, and it was definitely getting to the extent that it could not be seen by 2D AOI. We began to think about the height. We were one of the first to start the development of 3D AOI. Now we have a height measurement along with a 2D AOI technology.
We combined these two technologies and made a better inspection as well as an easier inspection, which added value. The X-ray is kind of the same concept, but you can see through, which means that it's more accurate, especially in the BGAs. Right now everyone is suffering with the head-in-pillow problem. To solve this, we offer X-ray inspection.
Matties: When customers use X-ray for this particular problem, what information do they learn that can be used to go back and fix their process? How do they correct the problem?
Koike: This problem isn't found in the manufacturing process. It's always found after they release the product. The failure comes back to their production, and then they analyze it and find that it's a head-in-pillow. Head-in-pillow is able to get through the inspection process at the end because it's electrically connected. But once you start using the product it starts coming apart, which is the biggest problem. So you need to prevent that from getting out of the factory.
Right now, our biggest selling point of the AXI is that we can find any kind of head-in-pillow defect. The difference in our technology is that we capture so many slices of image that we can create a complete 3D image of all solder joints. Therefore, our customers can be assured that we will never release the defect from the factory.
Matties: So they go through your process and it's error-free—guaranteed.
Koike: It’s that simple.
Matties: With all the 3D units that you're doing, and 3D printing, and all the talk of 3D today, it seems like 3D is a really explosive market.
Koike: Yes, everyone is talking about 3D right now. We have a whole lineup of 2D AOI, 3D AOI, and X-ray, but the 3D AOI is the biggest emerging market that we have right now. In the old days, of course, 2D AOI was 100% of our sales. Right now, 3D AOI is about 30–40%, which is quite a bit of progress.
Matties: Where do you see the primary market for this?
Koike: The automotive customers especially are looking for this technology. From the start, of course, they look at both 2D and 3D, but at the end they go after the 3D AOI. When the automotive customers contact us, they always ask about 3D AOI.
Matties: So you're based in Japan with Toyota and the other car companies. How many have adopted your systems already?
Koike: From the 3D AOI technology point of view, many of these customers are still taking their time. Right now we have about five customers that have installed our 3D AOI, but no more than that.
Matties: Why are they so conservative?
Koike: It's because of efficiency. Most are still not certain about this brand of the technology. It’s still a new technology and people need to fully understand it before starting to use it.
Matties: What period of time do you think they need, or is it really when all their competitors take it that they’ll say, "Yes! That's what we want."
Koike: I think it will take another two or three years. As I said, the first installment is beginning, and they will know the result within another year or two. Then the rumor will start going around and they will really start to change their machines.
Matties: How is the Japanese market overall?
Koike: It's getting better because of the currency issue and the competitiveness that Japan didn't have in the past. Right now, they are starting to move production back to Japan in the very high-end product. That's a good sign for Japan. However, the downside is that our customer base is not only in Japan; only 20–30% of our customers are based in Japan. When we started 20 years ago, our customers were already globally based with Chinese, European, and American customers. Japan is, of course, one of our important markets, but that's not our only market now.
Matties: How do you service or sell your units in North America or in Europe?
Koike: We have a direct network, but we also cooperate with our distributors. Of course, our relationship with our distributors is very strong, but still, customers rely on direct support sometimes, so we prepare our support in every continent and we cover many parts.
Matties: I know some manufacturers require service contracts when they sell their equipment. Is that a requirement with your equipment as well?
Koike: Often, it is.
Matties: Do you give a warranty for a period of time without the service contract, or do they pay from year one?
Koike: Basically we offer one year for free, and we support direct on that term.
Matties: Where is your equipment manufactured and where is your R&D center? Is that all in Japan?
Koike: Basically, all of our R&D is in Japan, and we manufacture in Japan and Taiwan. But to support our products, we need software engineers to actually cope with all the demands that our customers request. So we also have engineers in China and in the Czech Republic, to give faster and more efficient support.
Matties: When your machines go into the factory environment, I assume they're all connected by Internet so they can download software and do trouble-shooting remotely. What sort of data do you glean from this?
Koike: Right now we are trying to further develop this process technology. Yes, our machine is an inspection machine, so we get all the data from what the customer is producing. Once we get the basic data overall, we are thinking we can link it to printers and link it to pick-and-place. But the ultimate thing is we need to analyze the SMT line itself and feed it back to the customer’s ERP system. So that's what we are aiming for and that is the fundamental development that we need.
Matties: How many people are in your organization?
Koike: One hundred forty.
Matties: How long have you been COO and how long have you been with the company?
Koike: For two years as COO and seven to eight years overall. I started with the company in corporate planning.
Matties: Now you are really in charge of strategy for the company, so when you look at that strategy, what inputs do you look at to say, "This is the path we need to go down?"
Koike: We are an inspection company, so we have all the data from the line—that's our biggest strength. The reason why we have all these lineups in 2D and 3D and AXI is because we want to create solution with the data our machines receive.
We need to use that data to make sure our customers are satisfied about improving their product quality. So that's the ultimate goal. Looking towards the future, everyone is starting to talk about the IoT, the industry of 4.0. I think that is definitely the trend that we need to go after because in the future everything will be automated. Every customer will want to have automation, but if the production quality is no good, that automation is useless. So they need to use our data to improve their quality and at the same time automate it. To do that, they need this kind of measurement technology. Abstractness will always remain in inspection.
Matties: But with every inspection, whether it's bare board or assembly, aren't manufacturers keenly aware of that?
Koike: I believe a lot of people are.
Matties: So then it becomes a choice of what company you really want to do business with. What I'm hearing from you is that you're bringing this bundle of technology, 2D, 3D, and X-ray, and that's the advantage for the customer.
Koike: That's right. Many pick-and-place manufacturers are starting to align everything, and they will, in the end, need inspection data. We are ready to provide the data to them. There is a lot of development needed before we can realize 4.0. To do that, we provide customers very accurate data that they can use to improve their line.
Matties: This is really interesting. I'm glad we had a chance to talk today. Is there anything else you want to share that people should know?
Koike: There is still development to be done, but I think the basic part of all the inspection is that we need to bring it to the measurement. That's our philosophy. That's the added value that we can create. Right now there is a lot of technology starting to be in the market, 3D, AXI, etc. We acknowledge that we do have some technology that is ahead of our competitors and at the same time behind our competitors. But the important part is to have consistent solutions and not to give up the best quality inspection or measurement that is available in the market. Even though it’s not the demand that is the trend right now, we aim for three to five years later when this is going to be the trend.
Matties: You are looking ahead.
Koike: Yes, we are looking ahead. Our customer base, especially in the 3D inline AXI, is not the biggest demand. But we focus on the very top customers so we have been providing to airline companies, satellite companies, automotive companies, etc. What we aim for is that we want to level up our technology so that in the future we can go along with the complete automation and the complete quality.
Matties: What sort of growth goals do you look at in 2–4 years? Do you have a number in mind?
Koike: Once we cope with the technology and the technology enters the market, we need to put it into the inline so that everything can be automatic. Once we realize that, I think 100%, even 200%, is very feasible.
Matties: That's fantastic. It's been great talking to you. I really appreciate you coming by.
Koike: Thank you.