The industrial PC market grows by 6% every year… SyncusTech is reinforcing  its ODM business by increasing the compatibility of our motherboards

By Geumnan, Im (August 2016, AUTOMATION SYSTEMS magazine special article)

“The worldwide industrial PC market is growing at an average of 6% per year. SyncusTech is responding by reinforcing its compatibility with customers’ software and hardware, allowing us to serve a variety of markets.” Yong-ho Song, Sales Manager of SyncusTech, says that the company has advanced technical expertise with industrial PC motherboards, but until recently still lacked ideal compatibility with some customers’ software. That changed in June when SyncusTech hired engineers who specialize in software and firmware. These hires address SyncusTech’s previous weak points and allow SyncusTech to have a strong base of software technology. SyncusTech has continually improved on the technical ability of its original x86 embedded motherboard hardware design, which was developed in 1992. Now, SyncusTech mainly supplies the EMB-BYT1000 and Haswell EMB-QM87 boards. This year, SyncusTech is marketing other products of various system levels in addition to motherboards. In this interview, we discuss the main issues in the Industrial PC market and SyncusTech’s marketing strategy with Sales Manager Yong-ho Song.

Q. What are SyncusTech’s main business pursuits this year?
A. SyncusTech is mainly focusing on three development projects this year. First, we have our Xeon platform development project. SyncusTech and Korea Testing Certification have been working on the project for the past year, and were granted 150 million won from the Small and Medium Business Administration. The project aims to develop an Intel Xeon server board system by targeting the Xeon E5 V3 series processor and platform, which is the most common in the domestic industrial server board market. Through this project SyncusTech will secure a Xeon platform, which can replace imported server boards with ones developed and produced in Korea.
Second, SyncusTech is working on developing a portable server. This project is in tune with the smart factory supply project promoted by the government in 2014. Currently, the smart factory supply project aims to computerize the data of manufacturing facilities. To collect and analyze big data in a factory, it is necessary to set up a server using IoT technology which can apply smart sensors. However, ready-made servers supplied by IBM, HP, etc. do not have durability suitable for the factory environment, and could not realistically be purchased by small and medium companies due to the high price. SyncusTech aims to develop a portable server optimized for the manufacturing sites of small and medium enterprises. It will be a key product for smart factory supply projects for small and medium enterprises, as it will help with mounting distributed files, distributed DB’s, distribution-based MES’s, and big data solutions. The server will allow for analyzing quality and production with portable H/W, as opposed to expensive rack-mounted H/W.
Finally, we are focusing on developing a fanless box PC, the SNAF-QM87. We started the project in 2015 with a specialized motion controller company whose equipment is used as the main controller for automation hardware like wafer cleaners. We have completed a test product in the first half of 2016, and now we are promoting it.

Q. What are the main challenges in the domestic industrial computer market?
A. Firstly, there is the challenge of the industrial IoT, which is a major current topic in the IT industry. The industrial internet of things is emerging as a means to control production systems in real time, applying ICT technology to the whole process from planning to sales. With these benefits, IoT is spreading rapidly in the manufacturing industry. Another issue is the fourth industrial revolution, where automatic production systems to optimize production processes is emphasized. The production system is evolving to a smart factory, where traditional industries such as manufacturing are combined with an IT system.
Machines, industrial equipment, and parts at manufacturing sites can share data through ICT, with all work processes and repairs achieved without a human. Because of this, productivity will increase and the innovation of creative technology will be at the center of the manufacturing industry. And now, previously unimagined data are continually being created at the industrial site because of IoT and Industry 4.0. Demand expectations for hardware platforms capable of collecting, storing, and analyzing big data are also reflected in the server market.

Q. What are the prospects for the industrial computer market, and what is SyncusTech’s strategy?
A. According to HIS, it is expected that the worldwide market for PC’s used in industrial sites will grow continuously, at a 6% annual average, and will reach a size of 43 trillion won in 2019. And it seems that the growth of industrial PC market will positively impact the semiconductor industry. An industrial PC is mounted with an SSD, which has durability even at industrial sites, instead of a hard disc. SSD’s, unlike hard discs, have semiconductor memory inside, so that the growth of industrial PC market means an increase in the demand for memory.
SyncusTech has three main strategies to address these trends. First is the reinforcement of our ODM service. SyncusTech has supplied high performance ODM industrial computer motherboards for a long time at a competitive price. We will continue to market high performance motherboards optimized by ODM solutions, which have huge advantages over ready-made motherboards. Customers can have an custom ODM optimized solutions satisfying the necessary technologies, all for a competitive price.
Second is reinforcement of customer support and service. SyncusTech provides customers with technical support immediately if a technical problem occurs, and we maintain a partnership under which long-term and continuous supply can be made by preparing a replacement product in advance before a product is discontinued. Customers who use ready-made motherboards run into difficulty from out-of-stock or discontinuations, however, SyncusTech guarantees a continuous supply, ensuring customer satisfaction and project stability.
Third is our market-leading new product line up. SyncusTech completed the development of Com Express Module, which until now has been 100% imported from foreign countries. We expect that it will be widely utilized in the medical, defense and precision semiconductor areas. We also recently completed development of a cloud server for processing industrial big data, and, as I mentioned earlier, are preparing the a fanless box PC, the SNAF-QM87, with high performance CPU adopted and ARM-based solutions.

Q. What about product development capability and technical competitiveness?
A. Since its establishment in 1992, SyncusTech has continually grown original technology capability for the x86 embedded motherboard hardware design. It is impossible to run an ODM business, which is called ‘custom made’, without the original technology. SyncusTech’s key technical ability is to develop a board in accordance with various hardware specifications needed by customers.
There are many markets that cannot be satisfied with ready-made products, which are manufactured in quantity and sold at low prices. Examples would be tooling constraints of some industrial equipment with PC motherboards applied, different specifications for each equipment, poor industrial environments, etc. Such markets include semiconductors, vision inspection equipment, and ultrasonic diagnostic devices, among others. SyncusTech has supplied optimized motherboards to the customers in those niche markets for a long time. Over time, we have developed and supplied hardware solutions for various industrial fields,gaining significant competitiveness in Korea. However, the compatibility to software has been our weakness. It is important to secure the compatibility to software in ODM business as it applies to industrial equipment.
In order to extend our capability to support compatibility with software of customer’s equipment while maintaining hardware development ability, SyncusTech searched for talented professionals with extensive software experience in foreign countries. Recently, SyncusTech was chosen as one of the companies for which acquisition of overseas engineering persons of talent is supported, and we have been successful in hiring a expert engineer from Taiwan with more than 20 years experience. His expertise in S/W and F/W comes from a background as a key engineer at Foxconn, Dell, and ASUS, among others.This hire provides SyncusTech with an opportunity to expand its existing hardware technology skills as well as secure a base of software technology skills, which has been our weak point. In particular, we expect that he could play a key role in the R&D of smart control modules, BIOS development and securing signal and power integrity for Xeon platform development.

Q. What are SyncusTech’s hottest products?
A. We are supplying the atom boards, ‘EMB-BYT1000’ and ‘Haswell EMB-QM87’, both newly launched, to customers as featured items. Key functions of chipsets are integrated to the EMB-BYT1000 of EPIC(115×165mm) specification. Above all, it is a defining feature that the product can be supplied according to customer specifications at minimum cost with minimum modification. The ‘Haswell EMB-QM87’ was developed and launched through a government supported development project. Two kinds, MiniITX(170×170mm) Form Factor and Com Express Type6 module, are available. This product is optimized with defense and medical equipment in mind.
Based on our questionnaire and e-mail market survey from 2015, SyncusTech improved our plan for a Skylake-based motherboard, which is the latest platform of Intel, and we are developing the circuit and manufacturing a test product now in 2016. We are planning to develop a Skylake-based EMB-QM170 motherboard which supports Intel Core i7, i5 and i3, finish field testing, and introduce it as one of our feature products in 2017.
Besides motherboards, we are marketing a few system-level feature products this year. Among those, there is the SNAF-QM87 I mentioned earlier. The SNAF-QM87 is a newly developed control system applying SynucsTech’s EMB-QM87 Fanless Mini ITX Board. With a fanless design, it guarantees high stability without the controller shutdown problems caused from CPU fan failure. It adopts a motherboard extension rather than backplane like general controller.

Q. What is your growth target this year?
A. As certain platforms which have taken significant part of our sales for recent years were discontinued, our growth slowed. However, as the new demand for recently launched products increases, we expect a sales increase of more than 30% from 2015.

Q. How will SyncusTech achieve continuous growth?
A. The company name, SyncusTech (Synchronizing with the Customer), shows our corporate philosophy of ‘thinking together with customers’. Under our corporate philosophy, we have established ourselves in the industrial PC industry as a specialized partner providing optimized solutions to customers in various fields. SyncusTech has searched for international manpower in order to secure technology skills, and has made an up-front investment in technology development of up to 10% of annual sales.
One important task remains though. That is the partnership. Without a close partnership between SyncusTech and customers who desire ODM development, we cannot continue custom made development. A partnership with customers from planning stage of their project allows us to offer better hardware solutions, which simultaneously reduce cost and project time.