R&D: Top Focus for Korean Companies

R&D: Top Focus for Korean Companies
The Korean economy is one of the world's largest, and its security industry (DVRs, cameras, biometrics and home automation) is highly advanced. A focus on R&D and fast commercialization of new technology have helped Korean manufacturers stand out from competition.

To differentiate themselves from the rest, some Korean DVR manufacturers have chosen to develop application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) by themselves, even though there is already a fairly strong ASIC industry existing in Korea. "MPEG-4 is designed for moving images, but in surveillance you need still images that are compressed frame by frame," pointed out Kyu Hung Jang, Director of Overseas Sales Department at Picaso Info Communication. Picaso optimized standard MPEG-4 by developing its own ASICs for good compression, but with the ability to handle still images and frames.

"We created our own ASICs in 2005 to integrate real-time image compression, recording, play and multi-channel screen division on a single chip," said Stan Jo, Professional at Convergence Business Department at POSDATA. The company was one of the earliest to release a DVR with a transmission speed of 240 frames per second.

Other Korean DVR manufacturers are looking to special features. Comart System boasts high-definition stand-alone DVRs. "We organize logics inside chips so that image quality is four times better than other DVRs. During monitoring, our images are much clearer," said Philip Yu, Overseas Sales Manager at Comart System. The company also provides hardware IDs to secure customer software. "So far, not many manufacturers have this kind of technology." 

Yet others stress central management software (CMS) for users who need to manage multiple sites. "Our CMS products manage up to 100 DVRs from one station," pointed out Jang.

James Park, General Manager of Overseas Marketing & Sales Team at Unimo Technology also agreed on the importance of CMS. "The most important aspect of DVRs is networking know-how. By this, I mean knowing how to link up networks at high speeds without failure." The company's CMS supports up to 128 channels, with 64 channels per screen. "We have the ability to control more than 100 DVRs from outside the country; controllable functions include recording, monitoring, scheduling and grouping."

Meanwhile, Jake Lim, Overseas Sales Manager at ServnTec, observed that one of his company's main products is a PC-based, 16-channel DVR that supports full D1 resolution, live recording (hardware MPEG-4 based). "These models are sold to major casinos throughout Korea."

User interface is another important aspect. "We have been told that Qtum DVRs are very easy to operate and that there is no need to read the manual," said Eddy Kim, General Manager of Sales and Marketing at Qtum. "Our users understand the menu structure at one quick glance." Qtum does not believe that users need a lot of complicated functions, so the company focuses on core functions such as playback, archiving and networking.

Camera Makers: Stronger Functions, Higher Quality 

CNB Technology's nearly 50 R&D engineers account for one-third of total employees; the company holds dozens of patents for its designs. CNB has experienced high annual growth over the last eight years and boasts a complete surveillance product line, ranging from zoom, speed dome and IR cameras to dome, standard box, IP, megapixel and industrial models as well as DVRs.

"The most basic and core function of a zoom camera is auto-focus (AF) as it allows cameras to obtain and maintain correct focus on subjects rather than requiring that users manually adjust the focus," said Jack So, Marketing Manager at CNB Technology. "Our built-in AF focuses quickly and precisely in any conditions." The company also makes value-added products such as megapixel and industrial cameras. "Our core technology in zoom cameras should enable us to move easily into speed dome cameras," said Bong Suk Yoo, the company's CEO & President.

TBT has produced speed domes that measure only 16 decibels at distances of one meter. "That is quieter than a ticking clock," commented Sungje Jo, Sales Manager at TBT. Components are selected on the basis of their ability to absorb sound so stepping motor vibration does not reach the camera. All components, including the belt, stepping motor and slip ring have to ensure low noise levels. "Our stepping motor is able to move a quarter micro step per revolution; stepping motors used by other manufacturers need a full micro step," he stressed. "Our chief engineers came from a major Japanese watch company, so they have the know-how to make precision contacts and connections between components."

Accuracy and stability increase when noise in speed domes is reduced, because less noise translates into less friction. "In a casino application," said Jo, "the No. 1 preset programmed to seat No. 1 may shift over time to seat No. 3." A stepping motor moves TBT's dual CCD camera. "Most other manufacturers use two lenses, one for colored CCDs during the day, another for black-white CCDs at night," said Jo. "When shifting lenses, the angles may not align properly." It is better, he concluded to use only one lens, having the CCD move instead. This results in a more accurate angle, and the product actually costs less.

Specialty Products

Yuho Hightech is manufacturing and selling niche products such as SUV camera, IP camera module, DVR, LED products, wireless queuing system, and ticket number issuer. "Trends are set by large corporations," observed James Park, General Manager of the IT Solution Marketing Team at Yuho Hitec.

"We do not follow the trends because large corporations are making huge investments to develop those products and technologies already." In contrast, the company tries to ask 'what is for them?' and they try to aim for the small but niche markets.

Then, there is Nextchip, which manufactures chip parts used in surveillance products (CCD ISPs, video decoders, video controllers, video compression codecs). "Our CCD ISP (image signal processor) contains several algorithms to improve the quality of video images; it is designed for the best-quality screen by adjusting internal registers," noted Kyoung Soo Kim, CEO of Nextchip.

The ISP also supports over 520-TVL resolution and can be operated without an MCU; it also includes an enhanced BLC (back light compensation) and motion detection for 64 areas. By offering all the major parts, the company can offer better technical support. "It also makes us more competitive cost-wise," said Kim.

Its strategy also enables it to develop system-on-chip (SoC) products, whereby all DVR-related IPs and SoC IPs are integrated onto one single circuit or chip. "The market is moving toward SoC products. These offer more economic alternatives as the packaging is simpler," explained Kim. That said, manufacturing SoCs is very time-consuming. "We already have core chip-making technology because of our work on other products. That should make our move into SoC projects easier," he concluded. 

Revving up Biometrics

The finger-scan business is growing rapidly all over the world. A winner of the NPS Achievement Award bestowed by the U.S. Security Industry Association at ISC WEST 2007, Union Community specializes in proprietary finger-scan algorithm and sensor technology. It has developed a wide variety of finger-scan products from OEM sensor modules to finished products (access control, time and attendance, door locks, safe boxes, and home automation door control systems).

The company also makes dual sensors for finger-scan productsone being an optical, the other a line (semi-conductive) sensor. Using two sensors ensures that fake fingerprintsoptical sensors cannot detect paper or film; semi-conductive (line) type sensors cannot detect rubber or silicondo not fool the readers. "Combining the two results in a highly complementary product," said Euiseog Jeong, Vice President of Union Community. 

Union Community's manufacturing strengths help it scale the hurdles that other companies without its capabilities face. "The technological barriers lie at system engineering, network engineering and software or application engineering," said Jeong.

The company is researching and developing how to incorporate fingerprint technology into other applications such as PDAs and cellular phones. "We are trying to reduce the size of the boards using optical sensors for easier integration with other applications," emphasized Jeong.

KEICO Hightech is launching an inner skin reader (a fingerprint reader that is able to recognize the inner layer of the skin) at the end of this year. According to Jeff Yoon, Director of International Marketing & Sales Team at KEICO Hightech Inc., "With normal readers, dirty fingers result in malfunction and errors."

In addition to being able to take subsurface readings, KEICO Hightech's reader is also weatherproof and can store more than 2,000 fingerprint records. The normal capacity is from 1,000 to 2,000, said Yoon. Recognition speed will also be much faster. "Usually, it takes 1.5 seconds for a match to be made, but our machine does this in less than a second (0.3 second to 0.5 second). The reason why our reader is faster is that we put different modules into the same reader." 

Another important arena is home network products where Seoul Commtech reigns supreme. Video door phones, lobby phones and digital door locks are among its main home network products. Launching a one-to-one system with seven-inch LCD monitor in September 2007, Seoul Commtech's slim 40-millimeter product flaunts a stylish look. "It has a wide, ivory, hands-free monitor that is compatible with metal pinhole door cameras or ordinary cameras, imparting a subtle sophistication to the fashionable home network product," said Han-Jun Park, Senior Manager at the Home Network Export Group. The company won the "2007 iF Design Award" for its analog multi-door panel. The model is placed on the gate of an apartment building and allows residents see and speak with visitors. "We are planning to launch black-white monitors for our analog multi-door panel in Europe at one-third the price of our color monitors."

Turning on a Dime

Effective market research and the correct strategies to respond are vital. "We study Korean export data as well as speaking with customers in various markets to determine which functions and equipment they need. Then, we check with potential partners to identify the market size," explained Park at Seoul Commtech.

Unimo Technology emphasizes smooth communication, said Park at the company. "Even our technicians can speak fluent English. This is very important as they have to talk with overseas clients." Unimo Technology also develops different models with different features so its distributors are not selling the exact same products. "There is less of a fight if they are not selling the same thing," said Park. "We ask our distributors to list and rank their favorite features." The company then adds features requested by distributors, designing and customizing products that meet exact requirements.

The company also takes pride in having ready inventory. "Customers can get Unimo products right away, even the same day payment is made," added Park. "Because of the long-term relationships we have with our customers, we are able to make accurate forecasts of demand based on sales records. We know which months are slower and which months will see demand peak." 

Clear Market Segmentation

With exports accounting for up to 95 percent of total sales, POSDATA is focused on high-end DVR production. "We face difficulties getting customers to accept our products in the beginning because of the higher prices," said Jo at POSDATA. "After using our products, however, they love them."

CNB was one of the earliest small and medium-sized enterprises to launch a zoom camera. "We launched a zoom camera for a Chinese business specializing in advanced education," observed So at CNB. Its competitive prices are a key factor in CNB's success.

With production facilities in both Korea and China, CNB has lower in-house manufacturing costs. "China is even cheaper than Korea," he said, "so we are able to save a lot on manufacturing costs of ASIC chips for DSS (digital slow shutter), SoCs and zoom lenses."

While Picaso Info Communication has positioned itself as an OEM player, it realizes that everyone is competing on cost. That is why it is releasing a new, real-time product that is 30 percent cheaper than the old model. "This was done through technological improvement, not moving production to China," pointed out Jang at Picaso.

Yuho Hightech has chosen to skip mass production at reduced costs to focus on higher margin products. While it continues to serve as an OEM partner to a major camera brand, the company does only R&D, not manufacturing. " We write the software and design the hardware, specifications and components," said Park. "We do not manufacture ourselves, but send supervisors to monitor production. " A few key R&D staff members with strong engineering backgrounds go to the factory to monitor the processes to ensure that everything is OK.

The Korean Way

There is no denying that South Korean firms are making significant presence in the global security market. A lot of Korean manufacturers are also willing to go a step further: pouring more investment into R&D of new technologies and products, as well as developing new markets. Korea is one of the Asia's security technology powerhouse going forward.
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