[Letters] Becoming a leader in the production of partsIn October, the F1 Korean Grand Prix was held in Yeongam County, South Jeolla, and the race cars dashing around the track at speeds of 350 kilometers (220 miles) per hour attracted an audience of 160,000. Most F1 race cars are less than 600 kilograms (.66 tons) and have as much as 750 horsepower. They weigh one-third of a regular automobile but have three times the power, thanks to the high-tech material called carbon fiber.
Carbon fiber is considerably lighter than other metals and has outstanding elasticity, intensity and heat resistance. The best car parts make up the best cars, and the high-performance automobiles make the race ever more exciting.
Until the 1990s, Korean industry development had largely relied on the assembly of final products rather than parts and materials. However, China’s rapid growth and the emergence of global corporations with manufacturing plants around the world have decreased the assembly capacity’s economic advantage.
The capability of producing key materials and high-tech parts became the core of national industrial competitiveness. Having acknowledged the importance of the materials and parts industry, Korea enacted a special law in 2001 with great success.
In the last 10 years, the exports of Korea’s materials and parts industry has grown by 3.7 times and the trade surplus has increased by 29 times. Korea’s market share surpassed the traditional industrial powers such as France and Italy and is currently ranked sixth in the world.
In the GP Japan Korean Industrial Exhibition held in Tokyo in September, leading Japanese corporations such as Toyota, Sony, Hitachi and Nissan visited the booths set up by Korean parts makers. They expressed the intention to make new contracts and expand business.
While many parts produced in Korea have already approached the world’s leading level, the high-tech material industry is four to seven years behind the most advanced level of developed nations.
The key materials used in the IT industry, such as the semiconductor and LCDs, rely on Japanese products. Ironically, as the semiconductor and LCD exports grow, the trade deficit with Japan is also growing. Moreover, it is a concern that the small and midsized companies have little foundation to enhance their technological development and professional training capacity.
From now on, Korea needs a paradigm shift to become established as a leader in the production of materials and parts. We need to focus on developing the first and the best parts and materials in the world.
Moreover, we need to make efforts to understand the needs of the consumers and develop materials that correspond to the sentiment of the consumers through constant communication.
At the same time, we should keep up with the fast-changing trend of the global market and establish a healthy industrial ecosystem to facilitate advancement to the global market through effective partnership between large conglomerates and small and midsized businesses.
With these endeavors, Korea would be able to become one of the top four leaders in the materials and parts industry by 2020. Hopefully, 10 years from now, a Korean race car made completely of parts and materials produced in Korea will become a champion in the F1 Grand Prix race.
Kim Yong-geun, president of the Korea Institute for Advancement of Technology
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