13 April 2006
Rising Sun(HKTDC Electronics, Vol 01,2006)
Sun East Technology (Holdings) Ltd
|Sun East claims its NT-8A-V3 intelligence lead-free reflow soldering system costs one-third less than competitors and offers the world's best cost/performance ratio|
This should be a vintage year for at least one Hong Kong-based manufacturer of industrial technology. Indeed, Sun East Technology (Holdings) Ltd expects to be very busy in the next few years as it reaps the rewards for pioneering environmentally responsible manufacturing on the Chinese mainland.
The company's optimism has been fuelled by the European Union directive that requires all electronics products imported for sale to be lead-free from July 1 this year.
As a result of the "restriction on the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment" (RoHS), Sun East CEO and marketing director Ivan Leung estimates that mainland manufacturing businesses will require around 7,500 lead-free soldering systems per year for the next four years.
"We are well ahead of the game," Leung maintains. "We already have extensive experience in manufacturing, installing and servicing this machinery and I believe we are currently the market leader in electronics assembly equipment in Greater China."
The 22-year-old company designs and manufactures screen printers, soldering, wire bonding and die-attach machines, cleaning equipment and accessories under its own Sun East brand name.
Sun East, whose fully automatic screen printer won a Hong Kong Industry Award for Machinery and Equipment Design in 2003, also provides a full range of after-sales services to the PCB assembly and microelectronics packaging industries.
"We started in this area about six or seven years ago when nobody knew much about lead-free," Leung explains. "We have a very good relationship with some big Japanese manufacturers with mainland factories, who were the first to introduce the lead-free idea to the market."
Japan banned lead soldering in 2000, and Toshiba was looking to convert its Shanghai production line to lead-free production. "That meant installing new equipment, which would have cost around US$200,000 in Japan," Leung says.
The same equipment could be produced for half that cost on the mainland, which encouraged Toshiba to cooperate with Sun East to establish a service centre in Shanghai.
"They sent engineers to educate us in lead-free technology," Leung recalls, adding that Sun East made its first lead-free soldering machine within six months.
Toshiba was so happy with the result that it immediately ordered another six machines and has placed repeat orders each year since, together with other customers such as Ricoh, Canon, Epson, Sharp and Kenwood.
Building on these foundations, Sun East has developed its own technology through R&D, working with universities on the mainland and in Hong Kong.
Today the company employs some 1,700 people, including more than 300 professional engineers and technicians, at its Hong Kong headquarters, mainland plants in Shenzhen and regional head office in Shanghai.
One major result of their efforts is the NT-8A-V3 intelligence lead-free reflow soldering system. "This is around one-third lower in price than competitive models and offers the best cost/performance ratio in the world," Leung claims.
However, some markets and specialised sectors do not yet require lead-free soldering and remain sceptical about its performance, though Leung expects this to change.
"Some countries like the US and specific application areas like aerospace and medical equipment are still using lead because they think it is more reliable," he says. "We have developed a new concept and technology and want to overcome that preconception because we think this technology can be as reliable - or more reliable - than lead."
His enthusiasm is bolstered by research which indicates that 30,000 sets of soldering machines with an average working lifespan of seven years are currently operating on the Chinese mainland.
He believes a further 4,300 are being sold per year, 35% of which are imported while 65% are manufactured on the mainland. "The market is expected to grow by a further 24% in 2006," he maintains.
However, Leung laments the fact that smaller factories still don't understand the technology. "We have been conducting seminars to try to correct that and there has been a lot of interest - recently we held a seminar on the mainland where we only expected 300-400 people and 1,000 turned up," he notes.
Above all, lead-free is a concept, Leung insists, stressing that "everything" should be lead-free and that Sun East helps its customers work to achieve that goal.
Sun East educates, prepares the equipment and supplies the service. "We show them how to use a green production line and help companies obtain the certificates so they can get lead-free orders," Leung emphasises. "We supply a one-stop solution to our customers."
WRITTEN BY ROBERT PIERCE
Sun East Technology (Holdings) Ltd