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A crusade against big companies

Aug 01,2019
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CHANG CHUNG-HOON
The author is the deputy industrial 2 team editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.

For about a month since Japan placed export restrictions on key materials needed to produce semiconductors in Korea, the industry has been desperately fighting for independence in material and equipment supply. Fortunately, the semiconductor industry is confident that reaching this goal is nearing. Samsung Electronics, SK Hynix and workers at countless small and mid-sized companies are concentrating on research and development.

Meanwhile, I find it absurd that Minister of SMEs and Startups Park Young-sun is attacking conglomerates with “ten-nine” hydrogen fluoride. The JoongAng Ilbo reported a week ago that a company in Geumsan, South Chungcheong, got a patent for increasing the purity of hydrogen fluoride to 99.99999999 percent eight years ago but gave up commercializing it. Minister Park cited the report and said the company had given up on the project because its sales channels were not secured and conglomerates did not buy it.

I think Park only saw half of what she could have seen. The other half that Minister Park missed is the situation that small and mid-sized companies are in. The company could not afford the expense of metal analysis equipment that cost over 1 billion won ($845,451) or the 3 to 4 billion won more to build the facility to produce prototypes. The government is operating several nanotechnology centers to support small companies. They are a kind of test bed. However, advanced technology like ten-nine hydrogen fluoride cannot be tested here.

The semiconductor process at the government-run nanotechnology center can test a 40 nanometer semiconductor on a 200 millimeter (7.87 inch) wafer. Meanwhile, Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix produce 10 nanometer semiconductors on 300 millimeter wafers. The test bed set up by the government for small and mid-sized companies is for technology that’s 10 to 15 years old. As a result, patents for the latest technology cannot materialize in the outdated facilities. That’s why many companies are testing in Belgium or the United States, where high-tech equipment is offered.

The ministry need to identify the challenges and seek solutions. Only then can Korean companies produce material and equipment that Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix are eager to use. Rather than picking a fight with conglomerates, Park’s actions must come before words in order to nurture small and mid-sized companies to achieve independence in materials.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 31, Page 28